Dealing with Crescendo-of-Awfulness Situations
Graffiti on shuttered store in Lower Manhattan. As I interpret the image, an inflated, irate ego has come forward to challenge the conscious person. This interpretation parallels the Carol Anthony quote in the footnotes of this card. The I Ching metaphorically refers to unconscious people as "pigs and fishes," and the pink fantasy animal looks like a hybrid of the two. As I read into it, pigs are the yang version of unconscious people -- the loud, aggressive, greedy, self-righteous type. Fishes are the yin version of unconscious people -- weak characters who are easily misled by self and others and who might go passive-aggressive. Card URL:

Card #611 – Dealing with Crescendo-of-Awfulness Situations


I Ching scholar Carol Anthony came up with the phrase “crescendo of awfulness situations” in her commentary on hexagram 26. We’ve all been through situations where relations with others spiral out of control, get worse and worse, and seem to have their own dark momentum. In various crescendo-of-awfulness situations, we may be the prime instigator, someone else may be the prime instigator who pulls us in, or all parties contribute to the conflict.

Whatever the cause of the crescendo of awfulness, we should tend to the basics: keep breathing, stay as calm as possible, keep up all disciplines, and try to slow down the dark momentum if possible by being diplomatic, detached, impeccable, and centered on your own inner equilibrium. If possible, try to be the calm center in the midst of the storm. Remind yourself of the classic phrase: “This too shall pass.”

In a conflict that’s gaining dark momentum, I try to do a fearless search for my faults in the situation and to own them to the other or others as quickly and fully as possible. The worst crescendo of awfulness situations are ones where we are responsible for a significant part of the fault and don’t own it. These are the situations that can leave us with long-term guilt and regret. I try to get out in front of my faults by owning them as thoroughly as possible, and this is not only just — it minimizes the long-term emotional fallout of
realizing I had unowned faults contributing to the awfulness.

If you have been able to keep your inner dignity and discipline and it seems like the other or others have been at fault, avoid becoming a righteous crusader. Have tolerance and patience for the mistakes of others. Give a wrongdoer a face-saving way out of the awful situation if possible. The day before I revised this card, I had a classic crescendo of awfulness situation. Someone, not a close friend but one I had known for nearly thirty years without conflict, unexpectedly broke a written agreement we had and, for highly neurotic reasons, exposing poor character. It was one of those cases where the fault was unambiguously on the other side. I owned a tiny act of forgetfulness that was being used as a pretext and tried to be civil and give the other face-saving ways out of the conflict. They informed me of their breach of agreement in rude words and by text. When I tried to call and, in a diplomatic tone, reason with them, they became rude and angry and quickly hung up. Part of them knew what they were doing didn’t hold up to scrutiny, and therefore, they didn’t want to face me but preferred to use the disassociation of texting.

When someone wants to violate an agreement and chooses the flattest form of communication available — silence or SMS, it’s a sign of bad faith. Conflicts should not be allowed to escalate via texting. You must see this classic Key and Peele skit on texting gone wrong!) If the conflict is escalating via texting, try for in-person communication. Next best would be a video call so both tone and facial expressions are visible. Even an audio call is not as disassociating as texting. If people are talking over each other and/or monopolizing the time, insist on timed turns of about three minutes where each party gets to speak uninterrupted. To encourage listening, suggest note-taking while the other is speaking. This way, short-term memory isn’t exhausted by trying to hold on to points you wish to make when your turn comes up, and you can listen more attentively. Another great technique, if all parties have sufficient commitment to consciousness, is to have each person restate (to the other’s satisfaction) the points the other just made before they take a turn speaking.

If things are spiraling out of control in person, long-form written dialogue via email will slow things down. Writing often encourages people to be more thoughtful and considered and eliminates heated interruptions, etc.

After many exchanges where I retained some diplomacy and offered face-saving and friendship-preserving olive branches, it became clear that the offending party was only going to double down on stupidity and self-righteous defense of an act of petty evil; it was time to conclude both the exchange and the connection with the offender and to do it with a sharp and funny (at least to me) rebuke that included a shadow X-Ray of their bad character and its likely consequences. They deserved to get zapped, and they did — and the extreme weakness of their comeback showed that I had gotten through — not enough for them to reverse their foolish decision, but hopefully enough that when they get to see the karma of their choice play out, there could a slight chance of awakening.

It’s open to debate, but I feel confrontational aggression with a wrongdoer (when they are not a threat to safety or reputation) is sometimes warranted. There are times when people need pushback or at least deserve it. While the ultimate effect of a rebuke on them is unknown, it certainly made me feel better, knowing I’d made my point. I added a silent blessing that the sharpness of my rebuke might eventually help them self-correct, and then I felt perfectly at peace and ready to move on and make creative use of the crescendo of awfulness by having a relevant context in which to revise this card.

There is no formula for handling crescendo of awuflness situations — I merely give examples of the variety
of ways I’ve handled them, and all these strategies are context-specific.

If someone you are connected to by deep inner ties persists in inappropriate action the best response is often to lovingly withdraw energy from them. This withdrawal of energy could be anything from breaking eye contact during a conversation (which is a withdrawal of energy), walking out of the room, or even going your own way for a lifetime. To withdraw lovingly means that you do not judge the other as hopeless and assume that they will never change. To do so only helps to imprison them in their present eclipse. Instead, we try to cling to the image of the offending person when they are at their best or when we glimpse their highest potential. This does not mean, however, that we grant them trust based on this potential. Trust has to be earned by deeds.

In some cases, when the offending person is actively hurting others, for example, it may be necessary to confront them and intervene more actively. If the offending person makes reparative gestures or otherwise returns to appropriate behavior — meet them halfway and allow his return without erecting special hurdles for them to cross.

If we are the offending person — primarily or partially — we need to allow ourselves to be changed and positively transformed by the painful lessons of the crescendo-of-awfulness situation. We learn from history to avoid repeating it, but we do not look back paralyzed by self-recrimination and irreconcilable regret. Paralyzed reflection contains secret elements of pride — we cannot relinquish perfectionism and accept that we have contributed to the awfulness. It is part of the human condition to transgress, and we need to recognize ourselves as part of that, just as others are. Paralyzed regret is also a form of laziness. Allowing ourselves to be changed by the awful situation, we move forward with renewed commitment toward the good. We make amends where possible to those we have wronged, emphasize making energetic progress in the good, and stay vigilant to avoid further transgressions.

It is best to recognize crescendo-of-awfulness situations while they are happening and make immediate course corrections. If our dark emotions, compulsions, addictions, or reactive habits are in play, then we must quietly and humbly recognize we have gotten off track and return to our path as quickly as possible. Gain a calm, compassionate view of the situation, and don’t take decisive action until you can feel compassion for all concerned.

Consider this an auspicious time to up your game in dealing with crescendo of awfulness situations.

See: Dealing with Meltdowns
IUI — Incarnating Under the Influence in a Polywater World

I am indebted to Carol Anthony’s writings on the I Ching for many of the ideas and phrases presented in this card. In her commentary on hexagram 26, Anthony points out a particular aspect of crescendo of awfulness situations that people who work on themselves encounter:

“In the course of self-development we develop an inner power and independence which creates envy in others, particularly in those whose egos (fears) are firmly in control. This envy causes them to test us to see if we can be driven off-balance, or if we can be driven away from serenity to become doubtful or fearful. This effort succeeds if they can arouse our fears, spur us to anger, or otherwise cause us to become disturbed by their inferior behavior. This challenge to our inner independence succeeds if we give up our requirements of what is just and correct, or if we become involved in controversies they initiate. If they succeed in such efforts, they will feel satisfied that our virtues are not real, that they are no longer obligated to grow and change, and that they no longer have a ‘Cosmic obligation’ to deal correctly with us, or with the issue at hand. If we maintain our inner independence, firmness, and integrity, the testing will continue through a ‘crescendo-of-awfulness’ — an almost unendurable tension — then end. At this point the aggressors become repulsed by their behavior, and they make an important forward step in correcting themselves.

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