“The master potter leaves no trace.”
— Taoist proverb
The goal of any genuine spiritual practice is the same as that of any effective psychotherapy: to draw unconscious and preconscious content into awareness, through a gradual and naturally measured process of opening, realization, and release.
In the literature of psychotherapy, I learned much that guided my practice from the work of Les Havens — particularly A Safe Place. As for spiritual practice, I owe a lot to the work of Carol Anthony, who made her crossing into the invisible world last month.
“The master potter leaves no trace” was one of her favorite quotations, which she would bring out unexpectedly during the seminars she led along with Hanna Moog.
Probably without any conscious intent, Carol was adept at saying the right thing at just the right moment. It was almost eerie, especially as it occurred to you much later that she’d struck exactly the perfect note, usually at a crucial moment of encounter amid a group filled with emotional tension.
In other words, she lived the lesson of that old Taoist proverb. The master potter obviously leaves something — otherwise why call her the potter at all? The “trace” that she doesn’t leave is the mark that says “I made this,” or, “I did that.” Only the art and its personal meaning to each individual who encounters it remains. Genius is not something owned or otherwise proprietary: it is the space where the division between the individual and the universal dissolves.
Carol once told me that whenever people complimented her on her writing, she thanked them, but her gratitude was always directed simultaneously to the person and to the cosmic source of the creative, which for her was the true origin of her work.
So yes, there are several books with her name on them, and I would recommend a few of them as core texts to any study of Taoist philosophy and particularly the use of the oracle commonly known to English readers as I Ching or Yijing. But she didn’t really see herself as the owner or originator of the insights and art contained in those works.
Beginning with her seminal Guide to the I Ching (1980), she brought a perspective of practical psychology to the old oracle, which drew upon and extended the vision that Carl Jung had of Richard Wilhelm’s 1924 German translation that Cary Baynes brought to English readers in 1950.
It is difficult to resist a generational interpretation of this flow through the 20th century, with its roughly 30-year span between these literary events. It is even more interesting when you also account for the original Legge translation at the turn of the century (1899). The Legge I Ching was the first serious and reliable translation of the I Ching to appear in the West.
Once it had come to the west, I Ching became enveloped in a fog of mystery as an instrument of divination, fortune-telling. The old oracle has been cast as everything from a silly parlor game to a map for hyper-intellectual disquisitions on binary computer code, algorithmic mathematics, and the structure of DNA. Worse still, its philosophy was too often portrayed in shades of patriarchal grey, to promote an obsolete spiritual and earthly hierarchy. In short, the I Ching has suffered from its very popularity, in much the same way as other ancient visionary texts have, from Lao Tzu’s poems to Socrates’ philosophy to the Gospels of Christ.
Carol began the process of correcting these trends, and she did it with a simple and optimally practical approach. The content of her first book came out of a recipe card box. She would cast a hexagram (or an entire series of them), and would scribble some notes onto index cards. These cards, containing her unique impressions and meditations on the oracle’s messages, were stored away as noted. She organized informal seminars on the I Ching at her home, and the recipe card box would be available for anyone to examine.
That material became popular because her approach was common — that is to say, deeply personal to a point of universality. She brought the same questions and challenges to the oracle as many of her fellow seekers did: problems in relationships, with physical and psychological health, and material concerns such as personal finances. There was far less concern with knowing the future than with understanding the present; Carol realized that this was the oracle’s genuine purpose and value. This is how she set out to teach it.
What she added to this process was a vision of the invisible realm that one connects with during the use of an oracle like the I Ching. She saw recurring words and phrases in the text as pointing simultaneously inward and beyond. “Helpers” — a term first introduced in the third hexagram and repeated many times after — pointed not merely to human assistants or servants; but to invisible (one might even say quantum) streams of functionally-specific energies designed to certain purposes or circumstances.
Over the course of her career, particularly after her union with Hanna Moog, Carol expanded this vision of the oracle’s metaphors. Recurring terms such as “superior man,” “crossing the great water,” “see the great man,” “no blame,” and of course, “good fortune” found fresh meaning beyond the more narrow and parochial interpretations of both ancient (Confucian) and modern commenters.
This perspective found a comprehensive expression around the turn of the millennium in I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way. Here, Carol’s original vision of the oracle as a kind of user manual for the true self found its broadest voice. That book, along with the many seminars centered around its content, inspired me and a number of other people toward a psychological interpretation that we took back to our own personal and professional practices.
Carol’s vision of another world, from which we — as individuals, families, and societies — are not separate, is not unlike what you may find in other works of spiritual insight. If you have read the memoirs of Black Elk, the great Lakota Native American seer, you already have a sense of the common ground that Carol shared in her work.
The continuing proof of the value of Carol’s work with Hanna is to be found in the currency — right now, amid a year of global pandemic, social revolution, economic catastrophe, and political decadence — of the psychological, spiritual, and eminently practical guidance to be found in their work of the past two decades.
I recently mentioned to Hanna that neither she nor anyone else should have any thought of carrying on Carol’s life, work, and legacy: these would all carry themselves just fine. Yet I cannot imagine my own personal practice, and the counseling and psychotherapy that I provide to others, without reference to their foundation in Carol’s work, vision, and the unique force of her character. All the writing you find at this site, despite its flaws, bears her influence.
I owe her more than I could calculate. But as she would remind me right now, I owe her nothing more than the “cosmic coincidence” (her term) of us having been in the right place at the right time for encountering one another as we did some 20 years ago. The rest of the credit, she would add, goes to The Sage — the Sublime Essence of the invisible world that we all carry within us; that we all can connect to, in this moment.