A series of workshops I was giving in China in July 2016, began with a meeting with the I-Ching master Dr Shou Li. From the beginning I had a rapport with him. He said, “You know people think the I-Ching is about divination, but actually it is about wholeness!” Immediately I thought, “Wow! Here is a possibility of real connection!” This type of understanding of wholeness used to be evident everywhere in Taoism and the I-Ching, as an everyday understanding. It was used in Chinese medicine, in engineering projects, in spiritual understanding, in Tai-Chi, in many different expressions of this basic way of understanding. The I-Ching and the way of “organic unity” both begin by not fixing things.
We visited the Great Wall. It was a really hot day and there were these little roofed areas the guards used to find shelter in, every couple of hundred yards on it. Dr Shu Li said, “If you stand there by that window there will be a breeze”, which there was. He explained through I-Ching principles why a wind would be there and not in other places. Impressed by this insight into the principles of the dynamic behaviour of the air, I asked how the I-Ching viewed the development of the embryo, since this is particularly an enigma to science. How does this one cell know how to develop itself into the rounded complexity of form? We are completely at a loss to explain how this happens.
In the I-Ching there are trigrams of three lines, and any line can be whole or broken, giving 8 possible combinations. Each trigram represents a different fundamental character of change. Sometimes change is fast, sometimes stillness holds, sometimes the old gives way slowly to the new, etc.
There is a surprising relation of this to the way my book Time, Light and the Dice of Creation is structured. My book has two parts of three chapters. Each chapter looks at a tension of opposites, such as with Time or Light. All these different paradoxes must eventually submit to the throwing of the Dice of Creation. Throwing the Dice of Creation means becoming vulnerable to the way these paradoxes arrange themselves in time, so that they offer a practical completion of the very ground of which science sets itself up to explore, between form and part. This correlates with the practice of the I-Ching. Here the two parts, each with three chapters in the book translate into the two trigrams, of undivided or divided lines. The everyday practice of consulting the I-Ching with an individual question begins with an apparently random throwing of yarrow sticks or spinning coins, to determine which whole character of change is most appropriate. Chinese wisdom at its heart is about the completion of the premise of existence, in the partial meanings given to the various lines of the trigrams. Extraordinarily and without conscious design, the most perfect bridge suddenly appears between Chinese wisdom and western science!
If you look at an embryo, you start with one cell, then two, then four, going through these different types of change. From the perspective of the I-Ching, we do not begin by reducing the embryo to this cell and these proteins. Instead we explore how the principle of change is playing out in the context of the unfolding of whole form. We look at the generic qualities of change that the process of the embryo is exhibiting. We turn it around and do not try to fix what is happening but allow this elemental freedom, this potential and the different tensions between different ways things can change, to realise a structure.
I thought this was quite an amazing way of looking. So when we got to Little Donkey Farm for a further discussion, I talked of how we could turn around the way we see the genes and see them from the point of view of freedom and potential. It is the genes acting in the tensions of different qualities of how change exhibits itself that end up creating the structure. But we don’t find the structure if we start downstream with the things themselves, the proteins and the cells.
If we take seriously this “organic unity”, as it was taken seriously, then we see a lot of our perspectives about our relation to wholeness changes. We are not living in a world where everything is defined by science, we are living in a world of freedom, in which it is our responsibility to respond to and be an expression of the whole. That responsibility is through all existence.
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