In a strange and fun song written twenty years ago (seriously) about taking hallucinogenic drugs on a beach, Dave Matthews sang, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we’ll die.” I’ll let you decide whether Sage Matthews knew this previously or not, but a couple-ish thousand years before that, the same words can be found written in Ecclesiastes 8:15. If you ask me, a far prettier translation of this verse can be found in the New Revised Standard Version:
“So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.”
It’s almost as if the Bible itself is saying that the labor of all of our lives is much easier if we are permitted to live it up a little bit. (And yeah, I know this is a series about the I Ching and this is my second Ecclesiastes reference in as many posts. So what? Ecclesiastes is awesome. Besides, it’s my first—and probably only—Matthews reference.)
In the I Ching’s fifth hexagram, we are presented with two primary aspects of rain. On the one hand, rain means nourishment, of the land and of our souls. On the other hand, rain represents inevitable danger. What the nourishment, which we need, and the danger, which we can’t escape, have in common is that we cannot force or even hasten their arrival any more than we can make it rain. The rain is definitely coming, that’s for certain. All we can do, though, is wait for it.
Waiting isn’t easy, either—it’s kind of a pain in the ass. But if you’ll indulge me a direct quote from the Wilhelm/Baynes (emphasis mine):
“There is nothing to do but wait until the rain falls. It is the same in life when destiny is at work. We should not worry and seek to shape the future by interfering in things before the time is ripe. We should quietly fortify the body with food and drink and the mind with gladness and good cheer. Fate comes when it will, and thus we are ready.”
That’s right, not only are tripping young Dave Matthews and the wisdom scribes of the ancient Hebrew Tribes telling you how important it is to chill out and have a good time, but the I Ching itself has weighed in with full agreement. Eating and drinking with good cheer is how we can best pass the time while waiting for the inevitable, both good and bad, not only because it’s awesome in and of itself, but we’re told it’s the best way to make use of the time and be prepared for what’s ahead. The commentary later goes on to remind us further that not everything can be accomplished at once, and that work is always better and more efficiently completed if the workers have a sufficient amount of recreation to balance with their labor. It would seem, perhaps, that our modern workplaces might do well to heed the kind of timeless human truths we hear and receive on different continents and in different millennia. Little things count.
The lines themselves give us a suspenseful narrative depicting approaching danger that we can see from a great distance. At first, the danger is still far. Though it may be hard with the anxiety we undoubtedly feel, and though it may sound counterintuitive, the best course of action is always to live a normal life for as long as possible before the rain starts to fall. As the danger gets closer, a general air of unrest settles upon everyone. People actually begin to turn on one another, and maybe even talk a little shit about you. The key at this stage is to keep your cool (an advantage over everyone who is panicked and frantic) and to adopt a firm policy of ignoring all shit-talk. It will have no effect if you don’t answer it.
As time goes on, you mustn’t get distracted and forget the importance of waiting for the right time to come on its own. If you make a false start and have to turn back, you’ll find yourself stuck in a weakened position. Wolves and vultures and other predators and scavengers will smell blood and start to circle. The only way out of this kind of predicament is to know how serious the situation is and exhibit the utmost level of caution. Ideally, though, you’ll want to avoid doing this altogether, as the next stage represents the arrival of the danger. Blood is definitely about to flow now. Facing the enemy, stand still and continue to keep your cool. If you do, you can avoid making the situation worse and keep it of a size that might just be manageable.
The narrative makes a bit of a pit stop, as it were, to remind us that there are certain times, even in the midst of imminent danger, when there’s a moment of rest before the entanglements are due to resume. Again, we are steered towards good food, good company, and good drink. Perhaps I might throw “good smoke” in there, even though it’s not explicitly in there. Take it for what it’s worth. Even the briefest of these calm periods are best spent having a good time, for nothing can better fortify us for more action ahead. When the storm resumes again afterwards, we find ourselves with danger upon us and surrounding us, and it seems like we’re actually being defeated—in fact, it seems like all that eating and drinking and smiling and keeping our cool was for nothing, because we lose out in the end anyway. It seems that way, but don’t be fooled. It is in this moment that we receive unexpected help from a very unusual source, and we need to accept it.
No two ways about it, despite all the promised fun, what you’re looking at here is both nourishment that you need and don’t yet have and some kind of danger that you absolutely have to face and defeat. But we’re told here not to confuse waiting with just kinda hoping around aimlessly and passively. We’re not acting on faith here, we’re acting in the knowledge that the rain is going to come, definitely, and that through the rain we will accomplish our goal.
The trick is to go ahead with sincere courage and dispense with all illusions. When you allow—maybe even require—yourself to see things exactly as they are, no more and no less, it is under these conditions that a light will spontaneously flicker on, and from there you can see the way home. If I may finish with another brilliant W/B quote:
“For only the man who goes to meet his fate resolutely is equipped to deal with it adequately.”
Fill your bellies, friends. Drink up, be warm, buzz a little, and smile. Then, when it’s time, resolutely and gladly go forth with clear eyes to meet your destiny.