Writers love to offer other writers ideas for inspiration. Seeking inspiration myself, I selected from the shelf one morning a volume entitled Essential Changes: The Essence of the I Ching. “Why did you buy this?” I asked my husband.
“It was during college, a girl friend I once had was interested in it,” came the reply. (It figured—my husband was a philosophy major.)
I’d had only cursory previous introduction to the I Ching, but understood it simply as a kind of philosophical guide for the path of life, an ancient one. The I Ching, in fact, may be the oldest extant book of the world, dating from about 1000 B.C.
With my notebook in hand I decided to do a little exercise: describe the superior man. Feeling very naïve I wrote, nevertheless, what I regarded as simple condensations, by a Western mind, of examples I’d gained from my brief perusal of the ancient text.
“What constitutes a superior man?” I wrote, and proceeded to record these 12 tenets.
1. One who follows virtuous behavior
2. One who seeks gain, or one who seeks no gain
3. One who overcomes limitations
4. One who “crosses the great stream”
5. One who carries the blessings of sincerity
6. One who feasts
7. One who exists in the “firm and correct,” i.e., walks resolutely
8. One who does not walk astray (similar to, but not quite the same as, No.7)
9. One who reserves his strength (note: small man expends all his strength)
10. One who keeps still
11. One who suppresses evil
12. One who thanks the God of heaven (note: I inserted “God” in place of “gift”)
Aware that these condensations might offer a thousand years’ worth of laughter to an Eastern mind, or even to a Western mind, I thought I’d offer them to you, dear readers, as an example of how writers might find inspiration. The advice would be: select a philosophy that differs from your own and try to define for yourself the congruence or incongruence to your own world view. Or simply apply your world view directly to your writing, “soak it in,” so to speak.
What I think I gained from the exercise, in addition to a sense of mental calm, was feeling I’d discovered new source material for future writing. The source material was “new” in the sense that I’d allowed it to filter through my mind. Something from that process inspired me. One could write a story, for example, about a woman who determines to act with sincerity in spite of great temptation. Or, about a man, who in facing specific difficulties fails to achieve the goal because he expends all, and how there might yet be hidden virtue in this, which redeems him.
Additional phrases I entered into my notebook included:
Superior Man, Ceaselessly Active
Remorse Comes and Goes
Severely Difficult Limitation Cannot Last
Geese Approaching Mountain: For three years a barren wife; in the end, a natural birth
These provide me with food for meditational digestion, and with potential, perhaps, for the unfolding of a short story. But a caution to the writer may be in order. With a smile I offer this warning from my essay’s title: hidden dragon, do not act. My personalized version of this phrase (for the writer) is: Think before you take up your pen!
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editor's note: All reviews are the sole opinion of the author. They are not an endorsement by Page & Spine. -NKW