I have an old drawer in my room at my parents’ home in the mountains. When I was a teenager I used to smoke, and every time something interesting happened in my life like some romantic mishap or the day I graduated school I’d write it down on a piece of paper and stick that paper in the cigarette pack that I used up that day, then I’d write a title and date on that pack.

At the time, I knew I was saving these for my future self to look at. At one point, in my early twenties, I quit smoking. So, instead of saving cigarette packs, I started keeping a journal where I’d write down my thoughts and tell present stories to my future self. One person read a page from that journal and condemned it, “these sound like they’re written for someone to read”. She meant that an authentic journal should be messy with emotion, which wasn’t the case for mine, it was more like meditation.

The drawer never lost its purpose. It still contained all these old memories and now instead of throwing in cigarette packs, I’d keep items that I had picked up during experiences that felt worth remembering. For example, there are a couple of rocks in there that I probably picked up while having one of those ever-changing “spiritual awakenings” during a hike somewhere all alone. There are some seagull feathers I picked up from some islands off the coast of Lebanon. Some seashells, photographs, and a bone of some kind.

One particular piece of paper that got my attention had this written for a title “Should I pursue my master’s degree in PCC, Holland?” This was how you were supposed to set up a paper for the I-Ching to work. The I-Ching, also referred to as The Book of Changes, is one of the oldest Chinese texts. It is a book with a set of instructions and codes which are designed to help the user gain insight into a situation or answer a fateful question such as the one written on this paper I found.

So, after the question has been formulated, you pick up three coins and toss them. Each coin can have either a value of 2 (tail), or 3 (head). The coins are tossed six times, and each time the total is written down. So, now you have six numbers from the coin tosses. Each number corresponds to a code (hexagram) in the book. So, you go and find these codes, and then you proceed to decode them in another part of the book where each combination of hexagrams corresponds to short phrases to be combined with other phrases, all depending on the sequence you got. Confused? I know, but don’t worry.

Anyway, you’ll end up with some weird but interesting phrases. The ones I got were:

  • One adorning (decorating) his beard.
  • One looking as if adorned, but only in white. As if mounted on a white horse, furnished with wings, seeks union with the subject of the first line. While the third intervenes, not as a robber, but intent on matrimonial alliance.
  • We have a large wagon with its load. In whatever direction advance is made, there will be no error.
  • Subject keeping his great resources under restraint. There will be no error.

Now, you have to remember. I asked a difficult question. I wasn’t sure about my decision to travel, and I had already done most of the paper work; I was set to travel in a couple of weeks. But, you can imagine the relief an unsure man would get from a phrase like “In whatever direction advance is made, there will be no error.”

That’s when it hit me, this book is used for answering difficult questions like should I quit my job? Should I get out of this relationship? And the answers that the I-Ching provides are these abstractly poetic answers that could be subjectively interpreted in any number of ways. In other words, it doesn’t answer you with anything close to Yes or No. But, what this does, is that it brings out your stronger feelings about the issue. You know indecision comes from two or more possibilities pulling in different directions within us. Consulting the I-Ching simply made it clear to me which one of these forces I preferred.

I have to say though, now that I had done this whole process, I was not entirely convinced. It did bring me up from 50% to about 85% on the certainty scale. Then came the day when I had to go to the embassy to have my student VISA printed on my passport, which was supposed to be with me at the time. My appointment was the next morning, and I was preparing my papers for my final visit to the embassy. I got everything together except the most important piece: my passport. I couldn’t find it, and there was absolutely no place that I could think of that had it. I searched for hours and called my parents to search my room, and to even look in the memory drawer, because that’s where sometimes I hid my passport. Nothing!

Finally, after a lot of anger and frustration, I laid down on my bed watching the ceiling. And I caught myself thinking this: “All this anger can mean one thing… You really want to go and study abroad. Otherwise, why would you be angry about losing your passport?” And, I know what I’m about to say sounds too good to be true, but it’s honest… the minute I made that realization, I remembered where I had left my passport, in the front pocket of a carry-on bag that I had used on my last trip to another country. I called my mother and she looked through the bag, the passport was there.