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Confidence in Change

For some 3,000 years, people have turned to the I Ching, the Book of Changes, to help them uncover the meaning of their experience, to bring their actions into harmony with their underlying purpose, and above all to build a foundation of confident awareness for their choices.

Down the millennia, as the I Ching tradition has grown richer and deeper, the things we consult about may have changed a little, but the moment of consultation is much the same. These are the times when you’re turning in circles, hemmed in and frustrated by all the things you can’t see or don’t understand. You can think it over (and over, and over); you can ‘journal’ it; you can gather opinions.

But how can you have confidence in choosing a way to go, if you can’t quite be sure of seeing where you are?

Only understand where you are now, and you rediscover your power to make changes. This is the heart of I Ching divination. Once you can truly see into the present moment, all its possibilities open out before you – and you are free to create your future.

What is the I Ching?

The I Ching (or Yijing) is an oracle book: it speaks to you. You can call on its help with any question you have: issues with relationships of all kinds, ways to attain your personal goals, the outcomes of different choices for a key decision. It grounds you in present reality, encourages you to grow, and nurtures your self-knowledge. When things aren’t working, it opens up a space for you to get ‘off the ride’, out of the rut, and choose your own direction. And above all, it’s a wide-open, free-flowing channel for truth.

For I Ching Beginners -

How do you want to get started?

There are two different ways most people first meet the I Ching. There’s,

‘I’m fascinated by this ancient book and I want to learn all about it,’

and there’s,

‘I need help now with this thing (so I’ll learn whatever I need to know to get help with The Thing).’

Learning about the I Ching, or learning from the I Ching?

In the end, these two ways aren’t actually different. It isn’t possible to do one without the other, and people end up wanting both: the ‘learn about Yi’ people draw on its help more as their knowledge grows; the ‘learn from Yi’ people find they want to know more, once they’ve got the help they need.

But... they are different at the beginning:

Not a beginner?

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Hello, and thank you for visiting!

I’m Hilary - I work as an I Ching diviner and teacher, and I’m the author of I Ching: Walking your path, creating your future.

I hope you enjoy the site and find what you’re looking for here - do contact me with any comments or questions.

Clarity is my one-woman business providing I Ching courses, readings and community. (You can read more about me, and what I do, here.) It lets me spend my time doing the work I love, using my gifts to help you.

(Thank you.)

Warm wishes,
Hilary”

From the blog

I wrote about how Stripping Away, in its ideal form as depicted by the Image, might be painless – but that’s not how the process starts, and not our dominant experience of it. Hexagram 23 typically shows up as something you have to undergo; it is fruitless to have a direction to go. You don’t plan or explore your way out of this one, or have much of a say in the outcome. (Perhaps it’s one of those situations where you retain only the freedom to choose your response.)

Hexagram 23’s change in perspective – from Stripping Away as pure loss, to the possibility of generosity and tranquility – takes place between lines four and five.

Lines 1-4: Stripping Away as loss

Read through the first four line texts:

‘Stripping away the bed, by way of its supports.
To disregard constancy: pitfall.’

‘Stripping away the bed by way of its frame.
To disregard constancy: pitfall.’

‘Stripping away. No mistake.’

‘Stripping the bed by way of the flesh.
Pitfall.’

Thus far there is clear pattern: every line begins with ‘stripping’, and all except line 3 then tell you what’s being stripped.

Stephen Field suggests that this is the crisis in the story of Wang Hai (of hexagram 56 fame) and the end of his ill-advised liaison with the local ruler’s wife. Hai was betrayed by his jealous brother Heng, caught by the guards in the wrong bed, and butchered where he lay. These are certainly lines about loss.

Lines 5 and 6: a new perspective

What happens next?

‘String of fish
Through the favour of the palace people.
Nothing that does not bear fruit.’

‘A ripe fruit uneaten.
Noble one gets a cart,
Small people strip their huts.’

Line 5 brings a complete change of perspective: not stripping away, but stringing together; not loss, but a gift.

(It’s far from clear whether the palace people give or receive this favour: even RJ Lynn and Wilhelm differ on this. But at least we can say that gift-giving happens, and palace people are involved – and they are almost certainly women, because not only is ‘palace people’ a traditional expression for ‘palace women’, but ‘favour’ originally implied ‘favoured and favourite concubine’.)

It’s often the case that the Image can be read as commentary on the 5th line of a hexagram. That’s not surprising: the Image authors set out to describe the best response one might choose in the hexagram’s situation; naturally they would have studied the line texts, and line 5 is very often the line of autonomy and choice.

And here, line 5 describes a gift, and the Image –

‘Mountain rests on the earth. Stripping Away.
The heights are generous, and there are tranquil homes below.’

– speaks of the benefits of generosity. The word for ‘generous’ includes the idea of upside-down: the direction is changing; what was above flows down. Line 6 is the summit of the mountain, and line 5 already on its slopes.

Fish are an omen of good fortune, but this is a string of dried fish: good fortune stored up, just like the mountain’s store of mineral riches. The shift of perspective isn’t just from loss to gain but also from immediate experience to the longer term. As we climb higher, we can See Stripping Away as a necessary redistribution, one that also creates relationship.

23.5 changes to Hexagram 20, Seeing. This is Stripping Away seen from a higher and broader perspective, so the whole picture can come into view. There is ‘nothing that does not bear fruit’, even Stripping Away, if you can See it from here.

We’ve had four lines of stripping away and loss; now here are two of reconnection, relationship and coherence. The two lines are traditionally read as connected, with line 5 yin lending support to line 6 yang, as the people support the ruler. An analogy: lines 5 and 6 are like a hand picking an apple. As an apple ripens, a layer of cells in its stem naturally die off, until it falls. So to pick the fruit, you don’t pull at it; you cup it in your hand and lift. If the fruit’s ripe, it will come away from the tree.

The fruit not eaten is a sign that this story isn’t finished – at least, not for the noble one. The small people can see nothing beyond destruction, but a cart is for going somewhere else. There’s potential still unused and possibilities unexplored.

A new perspective on Hai and Heng

So how does this fit with the story of Hai and Heng? Field continues the story fluently through the fifth and sixth lines. After Hai was killed, Heng fled back to his people, telling them only that Hai was murdered and the flocks stolen. The people made him king and sent him to recover the flocks – but instead he ‘stayed and resumed his intemperate lifestyle.’ The people eventually made Hai’s son Wei their king, and it was Wei who finally sacked Yi and recovered the flocks. It’s another story – like Gun and Yu, like the Zhou story itself – in which the son completes the father’s work.

Field sees Heng’s return to favour in Yi in line 5, and the final triumph of Wei in line 6. He points out that the fish is a sexual symbol, so ‘this may be an indication that the consort of Yi is now cavorting with the younger brother, Heng.’ And at line 6, ‘if the fish of line 5 represents Heng, then the uneaten fruit of line 6 must represent the consort of Yi. The nobleman, Shang Jia Wei, would then gain the carriages of war, while the small man, the Chief of Yi, lost his kingdom.’

Yes, but, but… doesn’t this make line 5 sound rather sleazy? Heng isn’t keeping faith with his people, let alone his brother; also, he’s shortly to get his come-uppance at the hands of his nephew. An omen of ‘Nothing that does not bear fruit’ hardly seems to fit this story. But perhaps there is another perspective, besides that of Hang, Heng, Wei and the history of Shang…

Let’s go back to the source of the story in Questions of Heaven. Field translates its opening like this:

‘Danced for him [Hai] the aegis troupe,
Why was he enraptured?
Plump, with no ribs showing,
Why did he get fat?’

So there is a fairly staid story of Hai being corrupted by the good life. But the same passage is translated in Birrell’s Chinese Mythology like this:

‘When he danced with shield and plumes, why did someone desire him?
Why did her smooth flanks and firm flesh grow so plump?’

I’m in no position to say which is a more plausible translation, but I find Birrell’s version more convincing as story-telling.

As Field narrates Hexagram 23, Hai is dismembered in line 4, but the queen has already escaped in line 3. I think of how line 4 is in the outer trigram, but line 3 still on the inside – something hidden, not yet across the threshold into the outside world. What if she were already pregnant with Hai’s child? The fish isn’t only a sexual symbol, after all, but also specifically an omen of fertility – as in Hexagram 44, lines 2 and 4. ‘Nothing that does not bear fruit.’

Hexagram 20 as zhi gua of this line indicates the higher and longer-term perspective; 20.5, its fan yao, reads,

‘Seeing my own life.
The noble one is without mistake.’

Yet what we translate as ‘own life’ here also means ‘birth’ and ‘begetting.’

Just as in Hexagram 44, Coupling (or, in LiSe’s translation, Birth), the fish are followed by the fruit. If we can see the wrapped melon in 44.5 as an image of pregnancy, why not the ‘great fruit’ of 23.6?

I doubt we could ever piece together, from the surviving fragments of this story, what happened to the consort of Yi. But I would like to believe that as the huts of Yi were stripped, she was riding away in a carriage, under the first full moon of spring, with open fields before her.

apple

In a little post on hexagrams and scale I wrote,­

Just on this blog, I found three readings I’d shared with Hexagram 23. They were, in order:

  • auspices for using a certain technology during a webinar. (I persuaded myself I could use it anyway, and it failed impressively.)
  • foreshadowing my mother’s death after a debilitating illness
  • describing turning out my wardrobe

This kind of list is one reason why it’s not sensible to worry about receiving Hexagram 23 – or 29, or 47. They tell you the shape of things, not their size.

So… what is the shape of things, in a time of Stripping Away?

This is one hexagram shape that’s simple enough for us to see in the pattern of lines:

:::::|

If you look at this shape, and remember that energy always rises through a hexagram, then you can see that the solid line is on its way out. The hexagram does look like a process of ‘stripping’ or ‘peeling’.

Someone looking down on this hexagram – from the ‘outside’, as it were – would see only the top line, and might think it was solid all through. But because we see it in cross-section, we can see that it’s hollow. That outermost layer might seem to be almost detached from the rest of the hexagram – ungrounded, disconnected, coming unmoored. Or you might see a rising tide of open lines pushing out that last bit of solidity, and hence pushing on the wheel of change and turning it towards regrowth from the roots. (I touched on this in my post about 2.6 – which changes to 23 – and its fighting dragons.)

Another way to see the shape is as trigrams – especially in the light of the Sequence. In the preceding hexagram, 22, an inner fire cast light on the outer mountain and brought it to life. In 23, the light’s gone out; there’s only earth, or perhaps ash, under the mountain.

     :::::|

(Just as I was writing the above, the phone rang and I heard that an elderly friend had died.)

Stripping Away is a specific kind of change, with this specific shape – a shape that can describe death, or clearing out old clothes. Seeing those two readings reminded me of an account I read as a teenager in a book by a close family friend, Faith Bowers, Who’s this sitting in my pew?

A woman attending her funeral with her handicapped sister, looking for a way to explain, said that what was in the coffin wasn’t the person they’d known, but something like an old, worn-out coat:

‘What do you do with a coat when it’s worn out?’

‘Throw it away,’ replied her sister, ‘put it in the dustbin.’

‘That’s right. The coffin is a kind of dustbin.’

Yi tends to shape people’s thinking, and when it gets hold of an artist or writer the consequences can be thoroughly interesting…

I mentioned Will Buckingham’s Sixty-Four Chance Pieces once before, but I’ll happily jump on this opportunity to recommend them again. These are 64 short stories, one inspired by each hexagram, drawing on real knowledge of and insight into Yi and a true delight to read. (And maybe to use as a divination companion, as who knows what synchronicities might open up in response?)

And… I’ve just heard of a new work that looks very interesting: Changing, by Richard Berengarten. It’s a remarkable undertaking: a poem inspired by the whole Zhouyi, line by line. Here’s a pdf sampler that includes the first two hexagrams – though we’ll need to read the whole book to discover how much he’s been able to integrate of the Yi’s own internal architecture. I look forward to it.

(If you’re in Chicago, there’s a book launch and reading from Changing in the University of Chicago’s Wieboldt Hall 408 on October 3rd at 4.30pm.)

 

The second chapter of David Pankenier’s lovely book, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China – Conforming Earth to Heaven – rejoices in the title, ‘Watching for dragons.’ In it he talks in detail about the dragon of Hexagram 1, and also proposes a whole new idea about why the dragons are fighting in 2.6.

For a long time (since 1930 in the West and earlier than that in China), the scholarly consensus has been that Hexagram 1 describes the Cerulean Dragon. This was a vast constellation whose journey across the sky described the growing season in old China. Of course, the dragon is not only in the sky; rain dragons falso sleep in mountain lakes and must be woken at the right time in springn, as Steve Marshall wrote in The Mandate of Heaven. Also, Chinese alligators had remarkably dragon-like seasonal habits, and alligator-skin drums were the preferred way of imitating thunder and inviting rain. But the dragon that flies in the heavens is made of stars.

You can see illustrations of its flight in Pankenier’s book (page 49). It’s invisible in winter, in the watery abyss under the earth (‘submerged dragon’, line 1). In spring, its horn appears above the horizon at dusk, and you gather to conduct a great rain sacrifice in the month before the summer solstice (line 2 zhi 13). (Pankenier thinks line 3 isn’t part of the story, but wouldn’t farmers now have to work hard all day and still watch the sky at nightfall to check the dragon’s position?) The whole body of the dragon becomes visible, climbing vertically into the sky (‘dancing’ or ‘leaping’ in line 4), and levels off and soars over the fields in summer, spanning the sky (line 5). By mid-August, its horn is already dipping below the horizon again.

(Pankenier suggests that the dragon of 1.6 seems to be lingering too long or too high because the lunar month and stellar calendar have fallen out of sync – as they do, over time – and we need to interpose an intercalary thirteenth month to restore order. This would necessitate rethinking the translation a bit: not ‘an overweening dragon has regrets’ but ‘the dragon rising high, there will be regret.’ It doesn’t have to be the dragon who experiences regret; it could be the people who realise from this sign that their farming is not in harmony with the seasons.)

This dragon is an unmistakable, unfailing sign of when to work and when to rest – of how to ‘conform earth to heaven’ and bring the rhythm of your own life into harmony with the celestial power. For modern Westerners talk of being ‘in harmony with heaven’ or ‘in dao‘ can sound either esoteric, or a rather fluffy abstraction. But ‘riding the dragon’ is utterly different: you must plant and work at the right time; if you are too early or too late, your crops won’t grow and you won’t eat.

So the dragon belongs with Hexagram 1, the Creative, Heaven, as an active, celestial creature, bringer of growth and sign of the coming of summer.

Only… the dragon also appears in hexagram 2, line 6:

‘Dragons battling in the open country.
Their blood dark and yellow.’

…and hexagram 2 is associated with winter:  Stephen Field describes it as ‘a “works and days” that narrates the agricultural activities of fall and winter,’ beginning with frost underfoot in line 1 as a sharp reminder that it’s time to prepare.

So why are there dragons fighting in hexagram 2 – and why would they appear there in the first place?

In my book I suggested that one of the dragons was fighting for the earth quality of openness to all possibilities – to the point of ‘sheer inertia, resisting the creative impulse that would give a new and specific shape to things.’ (I also unfortunately betrayed my ignorance by calling it an ‘earth dragon’… ah, well…)

Well… dragons are not just heavenly creatures; they’re also water creatures, followed by clouds as they rise from and return to the watery abyss under the earth. And the celestial Dragon actually doesn’t disappear throughout the winter. Pankenier:

‘As any ancient farmer or sky-watcher certainly knew, the Dragon never disappeared from the sky during the season of cold and darkness, much as the yin force never completely overcomes the yang.’

Rather, the dragon would disappear below the horizon by September, but its horns would re-emerge above the Eastern horizon by mid-October, in the hours before dawn (as opposed to the spring/summer dragon who’s first seen at dusk).

‘After this, the Dragon, rising almost vertically, would follow the same soaring path across the heavens as in spring and summer, only in half the time.’

And this means that come February,

‘the Dragon’s horn Spica would reappear above the eastern horizon at dusk while a second Dragon could still be seen in the western sky on the very same day late at night until dawn. Given the appearance of differently postured Dragons in both predawn and evening skies at the start of the New Year, it follows that two Dragons would have been thought to coexist at the margins of the sky, one yin and one yang, contending with each other for supremacy.’

So the dragons fight: one for the persistence of winter stillness, the other for the return of spring.

In my book I drew on experience to suggest that one of the dragons was fighting for the earth quality of openness to all possibilities – to the point of ‘sheer inertia, resisting the creative impulse that would give a new and specific shape to things.’ (I also unfortunately betrayed embarrassing ignorance by calling it an ‘earth dragon’… ah, well…) These celestial dragons seem to fit the same idea: if the winter-dragon won (calling it a yin dragon as Pankenier does is anachronistic), the earth would stay quiet and open, spring would not come and nothing would grow. Quiescent potential vs active growth: in practice, 2.6 can mean someone is digging in her heels against changing times, against having something definite happen.

I find the zhi gua (23) and fan yao (23.6) of this line pretty interesting too. 23 is Stripping Away, the last of the old solid lines leaving the field of open lines. It’d be hard to talk about this in readings without mentioning clearing the ground for planting – which is also an agricultural task for the cusp of spring.

And the fan yao:

‘A ripe fruit uneaten.
Noble one gets a cart,
Small people strip their huts.’

 

The difference between noble one and small people parallels the conflict between the two dragons. One is forward-looking, one is not; one moves, one stays put. (You would have spent winter shut up in your hut, using up your food stores – but it’s time to come out.)

What about the ripe fruit uneaten, that contains the seed of potential for future growth? Well… here’s Pankenier again:

‘The first achronycal (evening) rising of the dragon’s horn above the Eastern horizon, “in the fields”, accompanied by the first full moon of Spring (the pearl the dragon is often depicted chasing or mouthing), signalled the quickening of vegetative life and the approach of spring planting.’

Could the uneaten fruit be this first full moon?

Flying dragon chasing a pearl through the clouds
Spring dragon and pearl – or uneaten fruit?

It’s about to be spring; everything is preparing to grow. Where are you? Travelling with the change, or fighting it?

Tracing this line pathway all the way round takes us full circle back to autumn:

‘Dragons battling in the open country.
Their blood dark and yellow.’
‘A ripe fruit uneaten.
Noble one gets a cart,
Small people strip their huts.’
‘Not far away, returning.
No regrets here.
From the source, good fortune.’
‘Treading on frost,
Hard ice is arriving.’

 

Now it’s time to find a partner and move into your hut for the winter. The pathway overall isn’t about a single time of year, but rather the moment – spring or autumn – when a new season is ‘not far away, returning’, and it’s time to respond and move.

The fourth kind of Yijing story I mentioned when I first called it a ‘Book of Stories’ was

  • the huge narrative arcs of the Sequence – ‘you are here’ on the grand scale.

Which is an easy bullet-point to write, but not so easy to expand on. Also, I’m no longer entirely sure that ‘narrative’ is the best way to describe these bigger patterns: they’re not so much telling stories as they’re revealing correspondences and relationships, conversations that bounce to and fro across the Sequence, not just unfolding in a straight line of ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Besides, what these bigger stories do for readings (at least for me, so far) is hard to describe. They place the reading in a big, broad context, and give you a sense of an underlying theme, which colours the rest of the interpretation in ways you can’t really pin down.

Perhaps a couple of examples would help…

An example reading

Question: ‘What next with this work?’

Answer: Hexagram 3, Sprouting, changing at lines 1, 2, 5 and 6 to 4, Not Knowing.

Receiving a pair of hexagrams as an answer offers rich food for thought, including an emphasis on this place in the Sequence: ‘You are here (nowhere else – only here).’  ‘Here’ is, naturally, the very beginning of everything: growing, reaching out, exploring, experimenting. Something as simple as that is useful to know.

This hexagram pair also stands at the beginning of the Vessel Casting arc that reaches from 3 to 50, creating a ‘container’ for the hexagrams in between, full of interesting reflections and symmetries – see the Vessel Casting posts. So the answer to ‘What next?’ is not only ‘Begin!’ but also ‘Begin casting – you’re creating the mould, the shape, for something solid, well-founded and potentially transformative.’

Another example reading

‘What about buying this webinar software?’

A ‘webinar’ is an online event accessible through your browser, normally a talk with slides with some Q&A. I haven’t really found a use for these in Clarity – too much broadcasting, not enough conversation – so when there was a special offer for lifetime access to a provider, I wasn’t that interested. But then again, considering it was lifetime access for something like the normal monthly fee, maybe I should think about it? So I asked Yi.

Answer: Hexagram 34, Great Vigour, changing at line 2 to 55, Abundance.

That was enough of a nudge that I bought the offer – which is odd, since I still don’t really know what to do with it.

So… I might look at the big Sequence patterns to get an idea of where I am with this, or where I need to be. This one is part of a more complex pattern in the Sequence that I haven’t written about before, so bear with me…

‘Livestock hexagrams’, 25 to 34

Hexagram 34 is the last in a set of ten hexagrams, originally pointed out by Scott Davis as part of a pattern of hexagrams with ‘big’ and ‘little’ in their names. I’ve noticed two things that make this a distinct set: the trigrams, and the imagery.

Trigrams first: the central pivot of the set is the pair 29-30 – Repeating Chasms and Clarity, ‘below and above’ according to the Zagua, water and fire. Flanking and reflecting across this centre are two pairs composed of the trigrams wind, lake, thunder and mountain (27-28 and 31-32), and the decade is framed by two pairs composed of thunder/mountain with heaven (25-26, 33-34). Perfect symmetry.

And imagery: there’s a lot in here about keeping livestock. (Livestock do show up elsewhere in the Yijing, but generally as offerings, whereas this decade concentrates specifically on farming.) The animals seem to be deliberately placed, in the outer pairs – 25-26, 34 – and in the centre, where hexagram 30 refers to ‘rearing cattle’. (‘Rearing’ there is the same word translated ‘Taming’ or ‘Accumulating’ in the names of hexagrams 9 and 26.)

What does that mean?

Well… I think there is an overarching theme for this 25-34 decade, about being guided in the use of power.

The outer hexagrams (25-26, 33-34) express a challenge: can you have a clear, functional relationship with heaven, in your action and stillness? You might call it ‘being in dao’, being guided. How might someone attain that?

The central pair, 29-30, provides the key: there must be light, insight and culture, a framework of connections to think with – Hexagram 30’s net, that catches the bird. And this doesn’t mean detaching from or expelling what’s dark and wild: 30 follows from 29, as the suns are bathed and renewed each night in the pool at the end of the earth. Rearing cattle is good fortune: we need to include and tame nature, so we can build up a resilient, flexible security that comes from inner resource, not from aggressive power.

The flanking pairs, 27-28 and 31-32, perhaps suggest the means: we could build a living structure to contain and nurture, and that might become a sustainable way of life.

Perhaps there could be a virtuous cycle: if you have sufficient understanding to keep and rear livestock, then animal vitality can nourish and sustain higher culture, which makes possible a more fully integrated relationship with heaven, so you are guided to greater insight and can exercise Great Vigour…

Applying the story to the reading

The trigrams of hexagram 34 really represent quite a tall order: heaven inside, absolute truth, to be translated into thunder’s action and initiative out in the world. Not easy, to apply all that energy without hubris and self-destruction; how am I to keep my horns out of hedges? Or – to put this in terms of my question – how am I to use this quite high-powered marketing tool in a way that’s truthful, gentle, helpful and not obnoxious?

(It’s one of those tools that’s regularly used to be thoroughly obnoxious, for instance by announcing a live event – ‘Show up now or miss out, there won’t be a recording!’ – and just setting a recording to play at the scheduled time, leaving unwitting visitors to wonder why the questions they submit in the ‘live’ chat aren’t answered. Ugh.)

The big story of the ‘livestock hexagrams’ is on a much grander scale than my little question about buying a webinar solution, of course – it really makes the question look remarkably silly. But it also acts as the individual steps of the Sequence often do, pointing me back towards what it takes, what’s required before this hexagram.

Buying the webinar software means Great Vigour – but Great Vigour, in this context, isn’t just about what I own. It’s about knowing how to use energetic resources, within a living structure that secures the connection between heaven and thunder, between inner truth and outward action. For me that might mean business structures or the patterns of my working life – both, I should think. This’ll mean Great Vigour – once I’ve travelled through this process of learning, understanding, nurturing and building.

So I still don’t know how to use webinars – but after looking at the Sequence, I at least have a much clearer idea of what it is I don’t know.

arch

 

From the I Ching Community

I wrote about how Stripping Away, in its ideal form as depicted by the Image, might be painless – but that’s not how the process starts, and not our dominant experience of it. Hexagram 23 typically shows up as something you have to undergo; it is fruitless to have a direction to go. You don’t plan or explore your way out of this one, or have much of a say in the outcome. (Perhaps it’s one of those situations where you retain only the freedom to choose your response.)

Hexagram 23’s change in perspective – from Stripping Away as pure loss, to the possibility of generosity and tranquility – takes place between lines four and five.

Lines 1-4: Stripping Away as loss

Read through the first four line texts:

‘Stripping away the bed, by way of its supports.
To disregard constancy: pitfall.’

‘Stripping away the bed by way of its frame.
To disregard constancy: pitfall.’

‘Stripping away. No mistake.’

‘Stripping the bed by way of the flesh.
Pitfall.’

Thus far there is clear pattern: every line begins with ‘stripping’, and all except line 3 then tell you what’s being stripped.

Stephen Field suggests that this is the crisis in the story of Wang Hai (of hexagram 56 fame) and the end of his ill-advised liaison with the local ruler’s wife. Hai was betrayed by his jealous brother Heng, caught by the guards in the wrong bed, and butchered where he lay. These are certainly lines about loss.

Lines 5 and 6: a new perspective

What happens next?

‘String of fish
Through the favour of the palace people.
Nothing that does not bear fruit.’

‘A ripe fruit uneaten.
Noble one gets a cart,
Small people strip their huts.’

Line 5 brings a complete change of perspective: not stripping away, but stringing together; not loss, but a gift.

(It’s far from clear whether the palace people give or receive this favour: even RJ Lynn and Wilhelm differ on this. But at least we can say that gift-giving happens, and palace people are involved – and they are almost certainly women, because not only is ‘palace people’ a traditional expression for ‘palace women’, but ‘favour’ originally implied ‘favoured and favourite concubine’.)

It’s often the case that the Image can be read as commentary on the 5th line of a hexagram. That’s not surprising: the Image authors set out to describe the best response one might choose in the hexagram’s situation; naturally they would have studied the line texts, and line 5 is very often the line of autonomy and choice.

And here, line 5 describes a gift, and the Image –

‘Mountain rests on the earth. Stripping Away.
The heights are generous, and there are tranquil homes below.’

– speaks of the benefits of generosity. The word for ‘generous’ includes the idea of upside-down: the direction is changing; what was above flows down. Line 6 is the summit of the mountain, and line 5 already on its slopes.

Fish are an omen of good fortune, but this is a string of dried fish: good fortune stored up, just like the mountain’s store of mineral riches. The shift of perspective isn’t just from loss to gain but also from immediate experience to the longer term. As we climb higher, we can See Stripping Away as a necessary redistribution, one that also creates relationship.

23.5 changes to Hexagram 20, Seeing. This is Stripping Away seen from a higher and broader perspective, so the whole picture can come into view. There is ‘nothing that does not bear fruit’, even Stripping Away, if you can See it from here.

We’ve had four lines of stripping away and loss; now here are two of reconnection, relationship and coherence. The two lines are traditionally read as connected, with line 5 yin lending support to line 6 yang, as the people support the ruler. An analogy: lines 5 and 6 are like a hand picking an apple. As an apple ripens, a layer of cells in its stem naturally die off, until it falls. So to pick the fruit, you don’t pull at it; you cup it in your hand and lift. If the fruit’s ripe, it will come away from the tree.

The fruit not eaten is a sign that this story isn’t finished – at least, not for the noble one. The small people can see nothing beyond destruction, but a cart is for going somewhere else. There’s potential still unused and possibilities unexplored.

A new perspective on Hai and Heng

So how does this fit with the story of Hai and Heng? Field continues the story fluently through the fifth and sixth lines. After Hai was killed, Heng fled back to his people, telling them only that Hai was murdered and the flocks stolen. The people made him king and sent him to recover the flocks – but instead he ‘stayed and resumed his intemperate lifestyle.’ The people eventually made Hai’s son Wei their king, and it was Wei who finally sacked Yi and recovered the flocks. It’s another story – like Gun and Yu, like the Zhou story itself – in which the son completes the father’s work.

Field sees Heng’s return to favour in Yi in line 5, and the final triumph of Wei in line 6. He points out that the fish is a sexual symbol, so ‘this may be an indication that the consort of Yi is now cavorting with the younger brother, Heng.’ And at line 6, ‘if the fish of line 5 represents Heng, then the uneaten fruit of line 6 must represent the consort of Yi. The nobleman, Shang Jia Wei, would then gain the carriages of war, while the small man, the Chief of Yi, lost his kingdom.’

Yes, but, but… doesn’t this make line 5 sound rather sleazy? Heng isn’t keeping faith with his people, let alone his brother; also, he’s shortly to get his come-uppance at the hands of his nephew. An omen of ‘Nothing that does not bear fruit’ hardly seems to fit this story. But perhaps there is another perspective, besides that of Hang, Heng, Wei and the history of Shang…

Let’s go back to the source of the story in Questions of Heaven. Field translates its opening like this:

‘Danced for him [Hai] the aegis troupe,
Why was he enraptured?
Plump, with no ribs showing,
Why did he get fat?’

So there is a fairly staid story of Hai being corrupted by the good life. But the same passage is translated in Birrell’s Chinese Mythology like this:

‘When he danced with shield and plumes, why did someone desire him?
Why did her smooth flanks and firm flesh grow so plump?’

I’m in no position to say which is a more plausible translation, but I find Birrell’s version more convincing as story-telling.

As Field narrates Hexagram 23, Hai is dismembered in line 4, but the queen has already escaped in line 3. I think of how line 4 is in the outer trigram, but line 3 still on the inside – something hidden, not yet across the threshold into the outside world. What if she were already pregnant with Hai’s child? The fish isn’t only a sexual symbol, after all, but also specifically an omen of fertility – as in Hexagram 44, lines 2 and 4. ‘Nothing that does not bear fruit.’

Hexagram 20 as zhi gua of this line indicates the higher and longer-term perspective; 20.5, its fan yao, reads,

‘Seeing my own life.
The noble one is without mistake.’

Yet what we translate as ‘own life’ here also means ‘birth’ and ‘begetting.’

Just as in Hexagram 44, Coupling (or, in LiSe’s translation, Birth), the fish are followed by the fruit. If we can see the wrapped melon in 44.5 as an image of pregnancy, why not the ‘great fruit’ of 23.6?

I doubt we could ever piece together, from the surviving fragments of this story, what happened to the consort of Yi. But I would like to believe that as the huts of Yi were stripped, she was riding away in a carriage, under the first full moon of spring, with open fields before her.

apple

In a little post on hexagrams and scale I wrote,­

Just on this blog, I found three readings I’d shared with Hexagram 23. They were, in order:

  • auspices for using a certain technology during a webinar. (I persuaded myself I could use it anyway, and it failed impressively.)
  • foreshadowing my mother’s death after a debilitating illness
  • describing turning out my wardrobe

This kind of list is one reason why it’s not sensible to worry about receiving Hexagram 23 – or 29, or 47. They tell you the shape of things, not their size.

So… what is the shape of things, in a time of Stripping Away?

This is one hexagram shape that’s simple enough for us to see in the pattern of lines:

:::::|

If you look at this shape, and remember that energy always rises through a hexagram, then you can see that the solid line is on its way out. The hexagram does look like a process of ‘stripping’ or ‘peeling’.

Someone looking down on this hexagram – from the ‘outside’, as it were – would see only the top line, and might think it was solid all through. But because we see it in cross-section, we can see that it’s hollow. That outermost layer might seem to be almost detached from the rest of the hexagram – ungrounded, disconnected, coming unmoored. Or you might see a rising tide of open lines pushing out that last bit of solidity, and hence pushing on the wheel of change and turning it towards regrowth from the roots. (I touched on this in my post about 2.6 – which changes to 23 – and its fighting dragons.)

Another way to see the shape is as trigrams – especially in the light of the Sequence. In the preceding hexagram, 22, an inner fire cast light on the outer mountain and brought it to life. In 23, the light’s gone out; there’s only earth, or perhaps ash, under the mountain.

     :::::|

(Just as I was writing the above, the phone rang and I heard that an elderly friend had died.)

Stripping Away is a specific kind of change, with this specific shape – a shape that can describe death, or clearing out old clothes. Seeing those two readings reminded me of an account I read as a teenager in a book by a close family friend, Faith Bowers, Who’s this sitting in my pew?

A woman attending her funeral with her handicapped sister, looking for a way to explain, said that what was in the coffin wasn’t the person they’d known, but something like an old, worn-out coat:

‘What do you do with a coat when it’s worn out?’

‘Throw it away,’ replied her sister, ‘put it in the dustbin.’

‘That’s right. The coffin is a kind of dustbin.’

Yi tends to shape people’s thinking, and when it gets hold of an artist or writer the consequences can be thoroughly interesting…

I mentioned Will Buckingham’s Sixty-Four Chance Pieces once before, but I’ll happily jump on this opportunity to recommend them again. These are 64 short stories, one inspired by each hexagram, drawing on real knowledge of and insight into Yi and a true delight to read. (And maybe to use as a divination companion, as who knows what synchronicities might open up in response?)

And… I’ve just heard of a new work that looks very interesting: Changing, by Richard Berengarten. It’s a remarkable undertaking: a poem inspired by the whole Zhouyi, line by line. Here’s a pdf sampler that includes the first two hexagrams – though we’ll need to read the whole book to discover how much he’s been able to integrate of the Yi’s own internal architecture. I look forward to it.

(If you’re in Chicago, there’s a book launch and reading from Changing in the University of Chicago’s Wieboldt Hall 408 on October 3rd at 4.30pm.)

 

The second chapter of David Pankenier’s lovely book, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China – Conforming Earth to Heaven – rejoices in the title, ‘Watching for dragons.’ In it he talks in detail about the dragon of Hexagram 1, and also proposes a whole new idea about why the dragons are fighting in 2.6.

For a long time (since 1930 in the West and earlier than that in China), the scholarly consensus has been that Hexagram 1 describes the Cerulean Dragon. This was a vast constellation whose journey across the sky described the growing season in old China. Of course, the dragon is not only in the sky; rain dragons falso sleep in mountain lakes and must be woken at the right time in springn, as Steve Marshall wrote in The Mandate of Heaven. Also, Chinese alligators had remarkably dragon-like seasonal habits, and alligator-skin drums were the preferred way of imitating thunder and inviting rain. But the dragon that flies in the heavens is made of stars.

You can see illustrations of its flight in Pankenier’s book (page 49). It’s invisible in winter, in the watery abyss under the earth (‘submerged dragon’, line 1). In spring, its horn appears above the horizon at dusk, and you gather to conduct a great rain sacrifice in the month before the summer solstice (line 2 zhi 13). (Pankenier thinks line 3 isn’t part of the story, but wouldn’t farmers now have to work hard all day and still watch the sky at nightfall to check the dragon’s position?) The whole body of the dragon becomes visible, climbing vertically into the sky (‘dancing’ or ‘leaping’ in line 4), and levels off and soars over the fields in summer, spanning the sky (line 5). By mid-August, its horn is already dipping below the horizon again.

(Pankenier suggests that the dragon of 1.6 seems to be lingering too long or too high because the lunar month and stellar calendar have fallen out of sync – as they do, over time – and we need to interpose an intercalary thirteenth month to restore order. This would necessitate rethinking the translation a bit: not ‘an overweening dragon has regrets’ but ‘the dragon rising high, there will be regret.’ It doesn’t have to be the dragon who experiences regret; it could be the people who realise from this sign that their farming is not in harmony with the seasons.)

This dragon is an unmistakable, unfailing sign of when to work and when to rest – of how to ‘conform earth to heaven’ and bring the rhythm of your own life into harmony with the celestial power. For modern Westerners talk of being ‘in harmony with heaven’ or ‘in dao‘ can sound either esoteric, or a rather fluffy abstraction. But ‘riding the dragon’ is utterly different: you must plant and work at the right time; if you are too early or too late, your crops won’t grow and you won’t eat.

So the dragon belongs with Hexagram 1, the Creative, Heaven, as an active, celestial creature, bringer of growth and sign of the coming of summer.

Only… the dragon also appears in hexagram 2, line 6:

‘Dragons battling in the open country.
Their blood dark and yellow.’

…and hexagram 2 is associated with winter:  Stephen Field describes it as ‘a “works and days” that narrates the agricultural activities of fall and winter,’ beginning with frost underfoot in line 1 as a sharp reminder that it’s time to prepare.

So why are there dragons fighting in hexagram 2 – and why would they appear there in the first place?

In my book I suggested that one of the dragons was fighting for the earth quality of openness to all possibilities – to the point of ‘sheer inertia, resisting the creative impulse that would give a new and specific shape to things.’ (I also unfortunately betrayed my ignorance by calling it an ‘earth dragon’… ah, well…)

Well… dragons are not just heavenly creatures; they’re also water creatures, followed by clouds as they rise from and return to the watery abyss under the earth. And the celestial Dragon actually doesn’t disappear throughout the winter. Pankenier:

‘As any ancient farmer or sky-watcher certainly knew, the Dragon never disappeared from the sky during the season of cold and darkness, much as the yin force never completely overcomes the yang.’

Rather, the dragon would disappear below the horizon by September, but its horns would re-emerge above the Eastern horizon by mid-October, in the hours before dawn (as opposed to the spring/summer dragon who’s first seen at dusk).

‘After this, the Dragon, rising almost vertically, would follow the same soaring path across the heavens as in spring and summer, only in half the time.’

And this means that come February,

‘the Dragon’s horn Spica would reappear above the eastern horizon at dusk while a second Dragon could still be seen in the western sky on the very same day late at night until dawn. Given the appearance of differently postured Dragons in both predawn and evening skies at the start of the New Year, it follows that two Dragons would have been thought to coexist at the margins of the sky, one yin and one yang, contending with each other for supremacy.’

So the dragons fight: one for the persistence of winter stillness, the other for the return of spring.

In my book I drew on experience to suggest that one of the dragons was fighting for the earth quality of openness to all possibilities – to the point of ‘sheer inertia, resisting the creative impulse that would give a new and specific shape to things.’ (I also unfortunately betrayed embarrassing ignorance by calling it an ‘earth dragon’… ah, well…) These celestial dragons seem to fit the same idea: if the winter-dragon won (calling it a yin dragon as Pankenier does is anachronistic), the earth would stay quiet and open, spring would not come and nothing would grow. Quiescent potential vs active growth: in practice, 2.6 can mean someone is digging in her heels against changing times, against having something definite happen.

I find the zhi gua (23) and fan yao (23.6) of this line pretty interesting too. 23 is Stripping Away, the last of the old solid lines leaving the field of open lines. It’d be hard to talk about this in readings without mentioning clearing the ground for planting – which is also an agricultural task for the cusp of spring.

And the fan yao:

‘A ripe fruit uneaten.
Noble one gets a cart,
Small people strip their huts.’

 

The difference between noble one and small people parallels the conflict between the two dragons. One is forward-looking, one is not; one moves, one stays put. (You would have spent winter shut up in your hut, using up your food stores – but it’s time to come out.)

What about the ripe fruit uneaten, that contains the seed of potential for future growth? Well… here’s Pankenier again:

‘The first achronycal (evening) rising of the dragon’s horn above the Eastern horizon, “in the fields”, accompanied by the first full moon of Spring (the pearl the dragon is often depicted chasing or mouthing), signalled the quickening of vegetative life and the approach of spring planting.’

Could the uneaten fruit be this first full moon?

Flying dragon chasing a pearl through the clouds
Spring dragon and pearl – or uneaten fruit?

It’s about to be spring; everything is preparing to grow. Where are you? Travelling with the change, or fighting it?

Tracing this line pathway all the way round takes us full circle back to autumn:

‘Dragons battling in the open country.
Their blood dark and yellow.’
‘A ripe fruit uneaten.
Noble one gets a cart,
Small people strip their huts.’
‘Not far away, returning.
No regrets here.
From the source, good fortune.’
‘Treading on frost,
Hard ice is arriving.’

 

Now it’s time to find a partner and move into your hut for the winter. The pathway overall isn’t about a single time of year, but rather the moment – spring or autumn – when a new season is ‘not far away, returning’, and it’s time to respond and move.

The fourth kind of Yijing story I mentioned when I first called it a ‘Book of Stories’ was

  • the huge narrative arcs of the Sequence – ‘you are here’ on the grand scale.

Which is an easy bullet-point to write, but not so easy to expand on. Also, I’m no longer entirely sure that ‘narrative’ is the best way to describe these bigger patterns: they’re not so much telling stories as they’re revealing correspondences and relationships, conversations that bounce to and fro across the Sequence, not just unfolding in a straight line of ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Besides, what these bigger stories do for readings (at least for me, so far) is hard to describe. They place the reading in a big, broad context, and give you a sense of an underlying theme, which colours the rest of the interpretation in ways you can’t really pin down.

Perhaps a couple of examples would help…

An example reading

Question: ‘What next with this work?’

Answer: Hexagram 3, Sprouting, changing at lines 1, 2, 5 and 6 to 4, Not Knowing.

Receiving a pair of hexagrams as an answer offers rich food for thought, including an emphasis on this place in the Sequence: ‘You are here (nowhere else – only here).’  ‘Here’ is, naturally, the very beginning of everything: growing, reaching out, exploring, experimenting. Something as simple as that is useful to know.

This hexagram pair also stands at the beginning of the Vessel Casting arc that reaches from 3 to 50, creating a ‘container’ for the hexagrams in between, full of interesting reflections and symmetries – see the Vessel Casting posts. So the answer to ‘What next?’ is not only ‘Begin!’ but also ‘Begin casting – you’re creating the mould, the shape, for something solid, well-founded and potentially transformative.’

Another example reading

‘What about buying this webinar software?’

A ‘webinar’ is an online event accessible through your browser, normally a talk with slides with some Q&A. I haven’t really found a use for these in Clarity – too much broadcasting, not enough conversation – so when there was a special offer for lifetime access to a provider, I wasn’t that interested. But then again, considering it was lifetime access for something like the normal monthly fee, maybe I should think about it? So I asked Yi.

Answer: Hexagram 34, Great Vigour, changing at line 2 to 55, Abundance.

That was enough of a nudge that I bought the offer – which is odd, since I still don’t really know what to do with it.

So… I might look at the big Sequence patterns to get an idea of where I am with this, or where I need to be. This one is part of a more complex pattern in the Sequence that I haven’t written about before, so bear with me…

‘Livestock hexagrams’, 25 to 34

Hexagram 34 is the last in a set of ten hexagrams, originally pointed out by Scott Davis as part of a pattern of hexagrams with ‘big’ and ‘little’ in their names. I’ve noticed two things that make this a distinct set: the trigrams, and the imagery.

Trigrams first: the central pivot of the set is the pair 29-30 – Repeating Chasms and Clarity, ‘below and above’ according to the Zagua, water and fire. Flanking and reflecting across this centre are two pairs composed of the trigrams wind, lake, thunder and mountain (27-28 and 31-32), and the decade is framed by two pairs composed of thunder/mountain with heaven (25-26, 33-34). Perfect symmetry.

And imagery: there’s a lot in here about keeping livestock. (Livestock do show up elsewhere in the Yijing, but generally as offerings, whereas this decade concentrates specifically on farming.) The animals seem to be deliberately placed, in the outer pairs – 25-26, 34 – and in the centre, where hexagram 30 refers to ‘rearing cattle’. (‘Rearing’ there is the same word translated ‘Taming’ or ‘Accumulating’ in the names of hexagrams 9 and 26.)

What does that mean?

Well… I think there is an overarching theme for this 25-34 decade, about being guided in the use of power.

The outer hexagrams (25-26, 33-34) express a challenge: can you have a clear, functional relationship with heaven, in your action and stillness? You might call it ‘being in dao’, being guided. How might someone attain that?

The central pair, 29-30, provides the key: there must be light, insight and culture, a framework of connections to think with – Hexagram 30’s net, that catches the bird. And this doesn’t mean detaching from or expelling what’s dark and wild: 30 follows from 29, as the suns are bathed and renewed each night in the pool at the end of the earth. Rearing cattle is good fortune: we need to include and tame nature, so we can build up a resilient, flexible security that comes from inner resource, not from aggressive power.

The flanking pairs, 27-28 and 31-32, perhaps suggest the means: we could build a living structure to contain and nurture, and that might become a sustainable way of life.

Perhaps there could be a virtuous cycle: if you have sufficient understanding to keep and rear livestock, then animal vitality can nourish and sustain higher culture, which makes possible a more fully integrated relationship with heaven, so you are guided to greater insight and can exercise Great Vigour…

Applying the story to the reading

The trigrams of hexagram 34 really represent quite a tall order: heaven inside, absolute truth, to be translated into thunder’s action and initiative out in the world. Not easy, to apply all that energy without hubris and self-destruction; how am I to keep my horns out of hedges? Or – to put this in terms of my question – how am I to use this quite high-powered marketing tool in a way that’s truthful, gentle, helpful and not obnoxious?

(It’s one of those tools that’s regularly used to be thoroughly obnoxious, for instance by announcing a live event – ‘Show up now or miss out, there won’t be a recording!’ – and just setting a recording to play at the scheduled time, leaving unwitting visitors to wonder why the questions they submit in the ‘live’ chat aren’t answered. Ugh.)

The big story of the ‘livestock hexagrams’ is on a much grander scale than my little question about buying a webinar solution, of course – it really makes the question look remarkably silly. But it also acts as the individual steps of the Sequence often do, pointing me back towards what it takes, what’s required before this hexagram.

Buying the webinar software means Great Vigour – but Great Vigour, in this context, isn’t just about what I own. It’s about knowing how to use energetic resources, within a living structure that secures the connection between heaven and thunder, between inner truth and outward action. For me that might mean business structures or the patterns of my working life – both, I should think. This’ll mean Great Vigour – once I’ve travelled through this process of learning, understanding, nurturing and building.

So I still don’t know how to use webinars – but after looking at the Sequence, I at least have a much clearer idea of what it is I don’t know.

arch

 

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