The Book of Change

The last days. The last hours. I have found it hard to concentrate, despite my best attempts at unplugging and focusing on the present moment. The present is fraught.

This afternoon, between calls and texts and updates galore, I decided to help myself through this tense collective moment by doing an I Ching reading. It is a thing that I do for myself, once in a while, when I feel in need of guidance or counsel. I Ching: The Book of Change is a Chinese text of divination, completed in the 3rd century BCE. It consists of a series of hexagrams (a symbol made up of 6 lines, see below) which are generated by those who consult it using divinatory actions: traditionally, the division and counting of bundles of flower sticks (from the yarrow root) or, more commonly today, through coin tosses that are rendered into the individual lines of the hexagram.

From the little that I understand (I am still studying), the principle underlying the I Ching is that the world is constituted by Heaven and Earth (agentive forces and receptive forces) which interact and generate the cosmos in a state of constant flux and change. The I Ching rests on a concept of reality as dynamic, generative, ever-emergent and coming into being. Its use participates in, and is a part of, this reality — consulting it is what translator David Hinton calls “a distilled moment in the process of change” (2015, xi).

Given this understanding of continuous unfolding, the role of the I Ching was to help people discern where they were in a process of transformation, and provide wisdom in choosing the best course of action for the future. The I Ching is a tool of practical philosophy, consulted in the spirit of agency, making decisions, and viewing these decisions in connection with cosmological forces and processes.

Consulting the I Ching will often produce one or several hexagrams (out of a set of 64 possible outcomes) that help the reader understand a current state of affairs and discern a course of action. In other words, a reading doesn’t “predict the future” but is more of an image-rich, evocative, and poetic description of the forces that guide change in a given circumstance. If you flip through the book, you’ll notice that each of the 64 symbols is a metaphorical world unto itself. Each one explores transformation through features of nature — an element, a process, a characteristic, a particular image from the natural world, and the qualities associated with it. From the themes, symbols, and images that emerge, readers can find what is useful for them. To be sure, there are many cultural concepts that may not translate easily for modern-day users — themes around emperors and kingdoms, concepts of consciousness and its relation to the Cosmos, and gendered ideas that I continue to question. But, then again, the hexagrams describe facets of transformation that continue to resonate, evoke, and stir echoes in ways that still prove meaningful for readers today.

Well. This is a lot of preamble to say that I did a reading — not to call the election(!), but to help myself reflect throughout this week while providing myself with resources for adopting a generative outlook, come what may. SO, coins were tossed and a hexagram was made. Not an expert and very much a dabbler, I’ve taken bits and pieces, direct quoted, from different translations of the I Ching [a combination of selective translations by Richard Wilhelm (1968) and David Hinton (2015)] to constitute an I Ching poem that says something discernible to me. I welcome any thoughts from more seasoned readers and users.

The hexagram that arose reflects on the theme of Confluence, which the Oxford English online dictionary defines as the “junction of two rivers.” The themes, images, and symbols that emerged (below) feel very timely and seem to resonate with the situation and challenges ahead. They are helping me to reflect on commonality; find possibilities for union in difference; and find a center in an uncertain moment. A tall order. None of which I feel prepared for. Can I, for instance, truly appreciate and realize that “confluence begins with strangers”? Can I tend to it and nurture it “with the dedication of a bird sitting on eggs”? Questions.

Anyhow. An unusual post for unusual times. I hope that you’re finding hope and solace this week.

hexagram 8

Holding together, union, junction, merging, confluence

Associated image: water on the earth, converging, flowing together

What is required is that we unite with others, in order that all may complement and aid one another through holding together. But such holding together calls for a central figure around whom other persons may unite. To become a center of influence holding people together is a grave matter and fraught with great responsibility. It requires greatness of spirit, consistency and strength. Therefore, let him who wishes to gather others about him ask himself whether he is equal to the undertaking, for anyone attempting the task without a real calling for it only makes confusion worse than if no union at all had taken place… But when there is a rallying point, those who at first are hesitant or uncertain gradually come in of their own accord….Common experiences strengthen these ties… (Wilhelm translation).

Begin in confluence, with the dedication of a bird sitting on eggs, and you never go astray. Live as a vessel brimful, with the dedication of a bird sitting on eggs, and you live at ease with good fortune whole and through to completion.

Begin in confluence from all that lies within you, and good fortune is inexhaustible indeed.

Confluence begins with strangers.

Inquiring at the source with shaman-flower sticks*, where you live all origins inexhaustible and on and on. How could you ever go astray? In this, you live centered as a steely mountain in cloud.

(Hinton translation)

[*traditional method of I Ching divination by dividing + counting a bundle of 50 flower stalks]

Back to the Blog, Take 2

It has been exactly one year and 12 days since my last blog post. I feel like that last post was just a blink ago. So much has changed since that time. Big things and small things. Thinking back to that period makes me realize how much I took for granted, and how much I am grateful for.

I thought it was about time to reflect on where the time has gone, and take an inventory (even if only for my own edification). Here are some highlights:

A Retreat

I spent some time in September 2019 on a silent (solo) retreat at an Anglican convent. I am not an Anglican, and it may sound like a strange thing to enter a convent right after getting married(!). But I found myself approaching the end of 2019 — after months of planning, and still attempting to make a dent on my academic work — in need of a serious period of recharge. The community of kind sisters at St. John the Divine (in Willowdale, Ontario) allow guests to customize their own retreats, and I thought the idea of spending some time in nature and silence would be restorative. I ended up spending a little over a week with them in solitude, reflection, and the green quiet of their grounds. Even meals were taken in silence. The stay was the perfect time & place to rest and recover. They had a medium-sized stone labyrinth that gave me many happy moments of walking meditation. If you have not tried a labyrinth, I recommend it.

After years of late-night work sessions and an irregular grad student schedule, I found the bell-timed rhythms of convent life very regulating and calming. The sisters, I discovered to my delight, also produced some truly beautiful lacework. No surprise that the contemplative life gives time to yield beautiful things (and finish puzzles, it seems).

I found myself leaving the retreat feeling much more centered.

A new job and a Defense under lockdown

This rest prepared me to start a new job in October, and eased my transition to part-time teaching again after 6 years of research and writing. Maybe it was the effect of the verdant surrounds with the sisters, but something in me felt green and open-hearted, ready to instruct and mentor students. It took some time and patience to make the shift to teaching after being in writing mode for so long, but I truly enjoyed this work.

Come January, I decided that 2020 would be the year that I finally earned my degree. My time in my Ph.D. program had dragged on into well over a decade (12 years!), and the resources spent were beginning to take a toll, in several senses. I was determined to graduate. I spent the subsequent months writing what was left to write (an Introduction and a Conclusion) while allowing myself to focus on only the most-needed revisions.

In the midst of that final push, our state’s COVID “shelter in place” order began; it started in March and lasted for 3 months, until the end of June. The good news, for me: classes were taught (online), students mentored, the thesis was done and submitted, and the degree was received. But my inadvertent switch to passive voice points to the stress and strangeness of the past 7 months — the ways in which, while ticking the TO DO boxes of life, I also felt somewhat dissociated and at a remove from things.

My Zoom thesis Defense happened in the living room, in front of two screens, some written notes, a cup of tea, and a picture of mom and dad back home.

Nowadays

These days…coping with multiple-scales and sorts of stressors has become the norm; I know that I am very much not alone in this. This period is acquainting me with anxiety all around — viral, professional, political, existential, relational (and on and on) as the bonds in my and others’ lives become even more tenuous. The relief of zoning out into everyday tasks — laundry, a trip to the grocery store — alternates with moments of gut-squeezing immediacy and realness. From my position as a person with Asian & African American heritage in particular, I feel ongoing grief at the current political and social situation — at witnessing systems of rhetoric, policing, and viral threat collude to harm and bring about the loss of precious lives. I dare to believe that a more just world is possible than what we have created, and want to align my energies towards that world.

These days, I am healing by making space for hope. Blogging will be part of that hopeful space. I’m opening myself to discovering different ways to serve, be present, amplify voices for justice, and steward recovery, within my capacity (even if small). I stay afloat by reading all of the wonderful books I wasn’t able to in past years, and am drawing strength from heroes, old and new.

I’m doing research and diving deep into my history, heritage(s), and identity, endowing this knowledge with value, sharing it with family and others, and holding it up as a shining gem; in doing this, I counter the words and actions of those who don’t yet see the value of the lives and legacies I hold dear. During tougher moments, I remind myself, simply, to take care of myself.

I hope that you are all staying as well as can be in the midst of these times. I hope that you’re finding a sense of safety and support from your near-and-dears, and I hope that, whatever your hands are working on, making is helping you to create spaces of peace, rest, relief, and love.

Speaking of makes, there are projects to discuss. I promise lighter reading on future posts! Things have been made, and they will be written about! Until next time. ❤️

The heart of a gardener

The other day, a very dear gardener friend gave me a beautiful and unexpected gift: some pickings from this summer’s yield!veggies july 27As you can see, this included some quite delicious things: lettuce, French chard, arugula, some sprigs of dill (of which one can never have enough), cherry tomatoes (that taste like the sun), a ton of basil + mint, and a few edible Nasturtium flowers (these bright orange buds are known for their zingy, peppery flavor which happens to be perfect for salads).

In past experience, I have tended to be chronically unlucky in my gardening attempts and exploits (where, yes, even a poor succulent didn’t quite thrive on my watch, I overwatered!). I’d like to continue to work on this, on my ability to steward and care for other forms of life. My gardener friend truly inspired me when he described a more recent project of nursing caterpillars to moth-hood — that is, adopting and feeding them, allowing them a safe place to build a chrysalis and grow their new bodies, then gently letting them go once their newly-sprouted wings had dried.

As a knitter and appreciator of the fact that good things take time (and also often only happen in their own time), I’d like to cultivate the heart of a gardener — a co-creator in an art whose medium is life itself! Maybe I’ll start small, sprout a few seedlings, and see what happens?


I’ve been sorely behind on my blogging and reading this month, but look forward to catching up on your creative exploits and adventures! 🙂

Fashion Revolution Week: April 23 – 29

Just a quick, mid-week post and reminder that it’s the 5th annual Fashion Revolution Week.

If you’ve ever been saddened and horrified by the workings of the modern fashion industry, then you know that the human and environmental costs of what has come to be known as ‘fast fashion’ are huge. By fast fashion, I refer to the high-turnaround cycles of seasonal clothing production that mass-produce largely disposable — but also ‘higher priced’ — clothes. The costs of fast fashion include environmental degradation (a result of both the chemically-intensive production of textile fibers as well as the fallout of having countless t-shirts and stretchy jeans wind up in landfills or sent back to countries in the global south); inequitable and exploitative international trade arrangements; and, perhaps already best publicized, forms of worker-exploitation (low wages or unremunerated work, disregard of labor laws, physical attacks on workers who attempt to unionize, unsafe/unsanitary conditions, etc.). It is no secret that the working conditions of the textile workers whose labour creates the brands and goods for sale on our fast fashion marketplace are, to put it simply, dismal. The 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh was the deadliest structural failure accident in recent history (wiki): after structural instabilities in their building were found, garment-labourers were ordered to return to work. 1,138 workers died in the building’s subsequent collapse. To call this, and events like it, ‘tragedies’ — and the workings of the global fast fashion industry that produced it ‘unethical’ — is an understatement. And, this is not new. Textile-production and social inequality have a very long history.

Clothing and textiles are central not only because they’re necessities, but because they reflect the ways we are compelled to be in the world. We have all known the need and pressure to find economical ways to clothe ourselves, for instance, in a world that often requires us not only to wear ‘many hats’ (garment-pun intended) but in which all kinds of social judgments are made about the hats we do wear. Unless one has access to all the right resources, it’s understandable to be compelled to reconcile our ethical vision of how textiles should be made and sourced with life’s very real demands and constraints (I may choose not to wear a handmade outfit for a job interview…. but, now, I’m thinking that the place that would hire me in handmade garb would kind of be awesome?).

Because of its importance, clothing is also transformative. As so many great bloggers have taught me (and as my grandma taught me, as she happily sewed clothing on her Singer while listening to the greatest hits of Julio Iglesias), how we source, approach, handle, create and care for the things we wear makes us, in turn. I don’t think the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week is to become an exemplar, or an ethically spotless consumer. Nor is it to say that we should all be makers (though, that could be a nice thing to aim for!). And, the point is not to take the fun out of clothes and replace it with the wagging finger of moral rectitude.

I see its spirit as bringing greater awareness, first, of the actual people and the supply chains by which most of us must already source our clothing and textiles so that we can generate better, more just, more humane, and human-centered practices (and, with that, more environmentally sustainable textile practices as well). And, to the extent that a kind of consumer-driven ‘desire’ and overconsumption are both the engines as well as the manufactured by-products of the fashion industry (I’m not above this!), I also think the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week is to examine my own motives and desires when it comes to clothing. This led me to ask myself a series of questions:

If it is true that I ‘vote with my dollar,’ how can I vote more ethically and sustainably? Where and when can I replace the shorter-term gratification of that ‘perfect steal’ with a longer-term, but richer gratification that comes with, say, making a garment, loving it, and wearing it (down) over time?

How can I develop a sense of style that feels right and timeless and enduring to me in a way that makes me a bit more autonomous from the pressure, generated by the logics of fast fashion, to run out and buy each seasonal must-have? 

Finally, how can I more creatively use what I do have — what is already on hand: materials, talents, resources — to meet my needs, not only for “clothing” in the bare sense but also for a sense of identity, justice, and also community?

Just some thoughts on where I stand. Thank you for reading. Read more about this worldwide week-long event at fashionrevolution.org


 

What is your view on fashion and its ethics? Does FRW inspire any new ideas or directions for you? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Please excuse our appearance

Excuse our appearance

Every so often, that energy hits you.

It’s the same source of energy that will see me re-configuring the living room furniture and cleaning up all those under-the-sofa dust bunnies after 3 years of being completely content and okay with its first arrangement. It’s the energy that can compel me, in an uncharacteristically confident bout of resolve, to weed through my closet and separate the wearables from the hanger-holders — those difficult-to-face clothes that require me to admit that not only have my tastes changed, but my body has (and is) as well. Continue reading “Please excuse our appearance”