This post is #21 of 64 hexagrams in a series of posts about the I Ching, an ancient Taoist text that has many ties to the Tao Te Ching. For those of you new to this series, you may want to start by reading my post called “What is a Hexagram?” that helps to explain more about the general idea of the I Ching.
This post has been a long time coming. I think perhaps today, in reviewing this hexagram’s details for the third time, I am finally ready to write about it!
This last month or so has been hard. On the surface, I can’t really complain. My life is pretty easy. But it has been a challenging month and it started with the first reading of this hexagram. Every time I would think of writing about it, I would groan internally. It seemed so negative and I had a hard time dealing with it. It just felt like I had nothing to say about it! But then I realized that part of the reason I was stuck is because I wasn’t writing about it, so here goes!
The essential message of this post is about dishing out a punishment of some kind. I am not big on the idea of punishment, so I had a hard time with that. But as I read through it again this morning, it seems that I have finally been able to accept its advice. We all must succumb to old-fashioned punishment at times. As I am spending this month immersed in my 30 Day Self-Love Challenge, I am acutely aware of how much I punish myself already! I was raised on a philosophy that my parents learned from a book called Children the Challenge by Rudolph Dreikurs. When I became a parent, my mom gave me a copy and I am forever grateful for it. The main philosophy that this book suggests is to let the consequences for behavior be dealt with naturally. If you forget to wear shoes, your feet get dirty and you might step on something nasty. You let the consequences be the bad guy instead of you. Then, last year my mom also bought me The Conscious Parent, which is also an amazing book on a similar vein.
As parents, we often try and shield our children from these natural consequences. When left with a dilemma, we then attempt to compensate by creating artificial consequences which often don’t work… or, we just yell at them which REALLY doesn’t work. (Been there, done that.) Just last month, my daughter forgot her gym shoes at home. I happened to be off that day, so I could have driven them over to her school. I felt like a super mean mom when I said no. This was a perfect opportunity to let natural consequences dole out her punishment. It was very hard to do. MUCH harder than running her shoes over to the school! She would have to take the zero for gym that day and make it up – and she might hate me in the process. But this way, next time she certainly won’t forget her shoes. We only get 18 years to work with them before we send them off into the big world. We must make every moment count. As it turned out, she texted me a few hours later and told me that the gym teacher told her she didn’t need them that day. I almost cried. We got to share a moment together about how wonderful it was that she lucked out this time AND she will never again forget her shoes. I also shared with her how difficult it was for me to not run them over to her but that I felt that it was important not to do that. I think she understood. We have a pretty good relationship.
The other day, I was talking with a friend of mine. She was having some challenges with her teenage son. It seemed that he did not want to have much to do with school. She struggled with this. She tried many things but nothing seemed to have any effect. As we talked, I wanted to help her find a peaceful way to help him through this difficulty without direct punishment as I know from my own experience that direct punishments for teenagers are often ineffective. In fact, they are more likely to push them in the opposite direction – as teenagers are prone to go. It seemed perhaps that a better way to resolve this was to present him with the natural consequences that come from such a path. Let the natural consequences be the bad guy! She decided to sit down with him and go over his options for college, based on his current choices and this seems to have opened a door for both of them to move through this difficulty.
One thing that challenges me about this idea of punishment is that it so often inspires an “us vs them” mentality. When we take it upon ourselves to dole out the punishments, instead of letting nature do it, we end up being the bad guy. Inevitably, the situation ends up being about something else besides the actual transgression. For example, if my daughter stays up too late she ends up being very tired the next day. Do I punish her with something else like making her do extra chores which are completely unrelated to the event or do I point out to her that her choice to stay up late has caused her to be extra crabby today and puts bags under her eyes? When I chose the second option, I am merely a guide for her. When I chose the first, there is an opportunity for a power struggle. As adults, no one is there to dole out our punishments except ourselves so we may as well learn early how to deal with that. I have seen many adults that still live as if there is a parent present and their choices reflect a desire to go against authority rather than towards what is best for themselves. I see it in the media all the time with television shows and movies.
The lesson of this hexagram is to bite through the difficulty. Whether it be a teenager struggling with schoolwork or a struggle with your own indiscretions – bite through it, let the punishment take its course and do your best to learn from it. That’s all we can ever do.
How about you? What difficulties have you been struggling with lately and how have you dealt with them?