I have been using the I Ching regularly now for several years. For basic interpretations I use the book "How To Use The I Ching" by Stephen Karcher (although I disagree with a few of his interpretations), and for reference I use the exhaustive translation by Rudolf Ritsema and Stephen Karcher called "I Ching -- The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change -- The First Complete Translation With Concordance" published by Element, which has been out of print for some years now but is probably still available from some second-hand book sites.
I liked Stephen Karcher's book in the first place over other interpretations because it is down-to-earth and it doesn't obscure too much of the original meaning. Since everything written in the I Ching has many meanings, it is really important to be able to connect with the original sense of the words (the sense of the ideograms, really) in order to find the meaning that applies to your particular situation. Also, Stephen Karcher's work is expressed in terms that I have some understanding of from my experience with shamanic work, especially the Toltec courses I have attended with Victor Sanchez and the AVP. When you have experienced forms of direct communication with elemental powers such as the Earth, the Sun, Water, Fire and Wind, the perspective from which the I Ching was written is a little less alien.
The method I use for divination is the "marble method" from Stephen Karcher's book. Once you have formulated your question and written it down (as always), this is very straightforward. You need 16 marbles in a bag, and for each of the 6 lines of the hexagram, starting from the bottom, you pick a marble, note the colour, and return it to the bag. This builds up two hexagrams from the bottom simultaneously -- the primary figure and the relating figure. The primary figure is the main answer to your question, the relating figure gives information on a wider perspective or the surrounding situation, and the transforming lines from one to the other give additional detail on particular aspects. The marbles are as follows (the colours don't matter, these are just an example):
|Marbles in bag||Conventional
This ratio of numbers of marbles apparently reflects the probabilities of the traditional sticks-of-wood method. The only reason I mention this is that it appears that many people, even in China, are unaware of this method. One Chinese friend, who is deeply proficient in several styles of Tai Chi, studied the I Ching in China, but was never shown how to do a divination! So this is certainly worth mentioning.
Everything up to this point should be familiar to anyone who has read the books commonly available in the West. However, it seems clear to me that there is much more to the I Ching hexagrams than most people are aware of.
The open and closed lines of the hexagrams can be understood within a flow of energy from bottom to top (from the earth to the sky). Imagine the closed 'yang' lines as a line with a very small gap in it, and the open 'yin' lines as a line with a large gap in it. Now you can understand the eight basic trigrams by imagining what the energy might do as it passes through these gaps in the lines (it helps to imagine how water might flow through them):
|SHAKE: The energy is initially constrained, and then flows freely. The effect is like a fountain. See how this leads on to the commonly understood meanings of SHAKE.|
|PENETRATING: The flow enters freely through one line, and then slows due to the two closed lines (with small gaps in, remember). This means that the energy penetrates the space, but further flow is restricted and gradual.|
|RADIANCE: The flow is restricted, released and restricted again. This gives a small expansion or pool in the middle. This connects with the association of RADIANCE with sticking together as well as brightness and burning. The sun, for instance, is a big ball of stuff pooled or stuck together, yet at the same time radiating.|
|FIELD: There is no impediment to the flow, and the energy passes steadily through. This is the relaxed state with no direction in itself, from which state any movement is possible. This state also permits healing and recovery.|
|OPEN: The energy flow is constrained for two lines, and is finally released in the final one. Given that the outside world is towards the top, this gives an expansion of energy towards the outside.|
|FORCE: All the lines are constrained, and the energy flows through under pressure. The hardness or strength of this energy under pressure permits force to be applied in the world.|
|GORGE: Energy flows and then stops due to the restriction and then flows again. This start-stop-start splitting of the space into two halves feels like a disruption to an otherwise smooth flow. The restriction seems somehow unexpected.|
|BOUND: Energy flows in for two lines and is then restricted, so it pools in something like a lake with a dam. This gives the stillness and limits associated with BOUND.|
Perhaps I'm not explaining this as best as I could, and really this all needs to be read in conjunction with a conventional explanation of the meanings associated with the trigrams, but the main point is that it is possible to get a feeling connection with the figures, rather than a purely intellectual one. Getting a good connection through feeling will take you a lot deeper into the subject than any amount of intellectual study.
This is something that came to me, and I am not aware of it being written down anywhere else. Perhaps it is common knowledge in some places, but I am not aware of that. The idea is simply this:
You can hold any hexagram as a 'shape' in your body by holding or releasing tension in various parts of your torso in the areas listed below.
I believe that this is the true meaning of the I Ching hexagrams, from which all the other meanings are derived. Actually, if you start to 'hold' the hexagrams as 'shapes' in your body like this, I'm sure your understanding of them will deepen immensely. The areas of the body are as follows, illustrated using the hexagram for "Leading":
|Upper chest / collar bone level|
|Breastbone / heart / middle tan tien|
|Lower ribs level|
|Soft bit just below ribs|
|Mid-belly / lower tan tien|
|Lower belly / pubic bone level|
The upper three lines of the hexagram, commonly associated with the outer world, cover the upper torso, i.e. the area of the rib cage. The lower three lines of the hexagram, commonly associated with the inner world, cover the lower torso, i.e. the belly area. Note that there is a tan tien (i.e. Chinese energy centre) in the middle of each of these areas.
The way to hold a hexagram in your body is to feel tension in the areas where there is a closed (yang) line, and to feel openness and lack of tension in the areas with an open (yin) line. For example, to take the shape of "Leading", hold a tension around your lower tan tien, and release any tension in the other 5 locations. You may be surprised to find that the feeling is similar to the kind of determination you might be familiar with from standing up to talk to and influence a group of people.
You can try holding other I Ching hexagram shapes in your body to see what they feel like too. This is likely to give much greater understanding of the hexagrams, and make much more sense of the hexagram interpretations given by the I Ching.
Another significant use for this technique is to make use of an answer that comes as a result of a divination. Sometimes I find that I am unable to understand quite how the I Ching's answer applies to my question exactly. However, by holding the shape of the primary figure or relating figure, I can often experience a profound shift. Sometimes the hexagram that comes as the answer is exactly the shape I need to hold in my body in order to deal with the situation I was asking about. In this case, no intellectual understanding is necessary -- holding the shape is enough to make good use of the divination.
I hope the techniques I have outlined here will be of use to others. They have certainly been of use to me. If you pass this knowledge on to others, I would appreciate it if you would include a link back to this page.