In the past, in times of uncertainty, I have sought answers from some interesting places…
A Psychic in Salem
There is (or was) an esoteric bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts across from the East India Mall. In addition to books on astrology, mythology, Zoroastrian religion, Christianity, Wicca, erotica, magic, incantations, covens, and vampires; they also sold crystals, dream catchers, wands, sage, myrrh, essential oils, tarot cards, talisman, semi-precious stones, and consultations with psychics.
I paid $15 and proceeded up the stairs to the second floor, a bright, airy space where women met in quiet consultation with other women who were psychic.
Desperate, nervous, and hopeful, I approached the laminated desk behind which sat the psychic.
Looking like a PTO member in good standing, she wore a blunt, no-nonsense haircut, a penetrating gaze, and a disinterested expression on her face.
I observed with my third eye that she had grown impatient with my troubles before I had even sat down, she was that good.
I was feeling persecuted at work.
She had me say the name of my persecutor.
I said it slowly and deliberately.
Mindy. (Not her real name.)
The psychic gazed into the middle distance….
Say it again?
Mindy’s not a bad person, she told me. Actually, she’s really okay.
It was clear from the Teflon look on her face that there was something about me that was not okay.
For my fifteen bucks, I wanted a roadmap out of a painful situation. Failing that, I wanted validation. Failing that, I wanted understanding.
I would have settled for pity.
What I got was an indictment.
That was not what I wanted, but it turned out to be what I needed to stop seeing myself as a victim and to start acting like a grownup at work, instead of the ADD-ingénue that I had been for most of my editorial so-called career.
Hindsight can be olfactory.
I now realize that I had been wearing the pungent odor of bitterness that year. Whenever I interviewed for other jobs ,my prospective employers could smell it. And they could see it, too, in the slack, dejected atrophy on my face.
She could have had a dedicated client in me, that psychic, with a little coddling, a little salve for my shell-shocked ego. She could have told me what I wanted to hear.
I can’t imagine that that withering gaze of hers was good for business.
But, if she’s tuning into my frequency right now, here’s to her for calling it like she saw it.
The Book of Changes: I Ching
One cannot easily disregard such great minds as Confucius and Lao-tse, if one is at all able to appreciate the quality of the thoughts they represent; much less can one overlook the fact that the I Ching was their main source of inspiration. I know that previously I would not have dared to express myself so explicitly about so uncertain a matter. I can take this risk because I am now in my eighth decade, and the changing opinions of men scarcely impress me any more; the thoughts of the old masters are of greater value to me than the philosophical prejudices of the Western mind.
Carl Gustaf Jung
When my first marriage was ending, (by my hand, as it were), I was in constant conversation with the I Ching.
A Chinese oracle, there are many translations, but the one I like is The I Ching Workbook by R.L. Wing. It’s more concise and easier to use than any of the unabridged translations.
To use the I Ching, you write down an open-ended question. You throw three pennies (or a bunch of taro sticks, if you happen to have some lying around). You look up the hexagram…There are 64 of them. Each one corresponds to a moment, a condition, a situation, a dilemma, a state of mind…
1. CREATIVE POWER. “Creative Power is nothing less than the detonating device in the evolutionary bomb. The time is exceptional in terms of inspiration, energy, and will….”
36. CENSORSHIP. “Unfortunately, your position in this situation is not powerful. It will be necessary to submit to this time of personal CENSORSHIP and step into the background.”
The middle paragraphs provide context and guidelines for navigating through this time.
31. HARMONIZE. …The Chinese compared this time to the composition of music. The persuasive and mathematical purity of harmony in music…The forceful mystery of this tonal relationship can be demonstrated as an invisible language of our perceptions of reality…
If you have no changing lines, you could be in a terminal situation—which isn’t always bad, but usually isn’t good.
Like the psychic, the I Ching pulled no punches.
No matter how often I asked, no matter how improbable the math, the I Ching reiterated the same themes:
GRACE …you are now perceiving the most idealistic aspects of love, where day-to-day concerns would bring certain disillusionment….
CONFLICT. It would have been wise to cautiously weigh all of the possible difficulties and oppositions at the beginning of your endeavors.
CALCULATED WAITING. You will waste valuable energy through agitation. When the time does come to act, your judgment may be impaired.
CRITICAL MASS When experiencing Critical Mass in personal relationships…you must realize that this may be a time of crisis…
According to the I Ching, I was a dangerously swirling vortex of hot air and humid feeling.
It was New York City, 1997. I was on a business trip, but my business was unclear to me.
I was between relationships in the way that a tightrope walker could be said to be between buildings with a strong headwind.
I had walked from mid-town Manhattan 25 blocks south in the rain. Now it was dark, and I was walking east for no particular reason.
Emotionally, I had hit bottom. (No substance abuse was involved in this story. I was organically miserable.)
I stopped into a café that looked warm and dry, and a young earnest fellow approached me. He shook my hand firmly, and I could tell with my third eye that he had taken my measure and found me in need of rescue, like a stray dog.
You’re such a warm person, he said. By implication, to be so miserable and alone.
I eyeballed the deck of tarot cards he had on his table, with suspicion. I no longer believed that the psychics and oracles would give me the pity or vindication that I sought, or even a roadmap (one that I would agree to follow; the I Ching and I were currently at an impasse about how I ought to conduct myself out of that chapter of my life).
I believed that that they would tell me only the truth, and at the moment, I needed none of that.
I don’t remember the name of this guy, so let’s call him Caleb.
Caleb insisted on giving me a reading for free.
Indeed, there in the cards he revealed one of the people to whom I had tethered one end of my tightrope. It wasn’t a good card.
As he turned over the cards, Caleb became visibly anxious. He wanted to cheer me up. But one after the other, the cards were not cheery.
I was beginning to worry about Caleb. He would be disappointed by a completely miserable set of cards that offered me no hope. (I, however, would not be disappointed or surprised.)
Finally, with trembling hands, and with so few cards left, Caleb turned over one that was in an exalted position—the one leading out into the future, toward…
Caleb beamed. He was so happy to see this card.
It was the Something Wonderful card.
Something Wonderful was going to happen to me, and soon.
Caleb hugged me.
Don’t think he was hitting on me. He was ministering to me, saying nice things earnestly.
I believed he had a clear view of every fathom of my emptiness.
To mix metaphors, he had extended his hand out just as I had reached the end of my rope.
So thank you, Caleb, wherever you are.
Shortly after that trip to New York, I moved in with my mom, because I hated living by myself. And that made me happy. I met Phil about two weeks later. And that was the beginning of a whole new chapter….