Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Questions of choice

April 28th, 2016

choicetreeI spend a lot of time thinking about what we ask the Yi and helping other people find their questions. This is a bit odd, because finding the question really isn’t complicated at all. It’s not a matter of devising a question nor even really of deciding on one, but of finding it: discovering what you’re already asking.

I think it’s one of those things that are simple but not necessarily easy. And when it isn’t easy – when your question doesn’t leap to the eye – then talking to yourself helps to unearth it. It works well to ask yourself questions.

The simplest one is, ‘What do I need to know?’

(It’s worth digging a bit more into the answer to that one, to test its truth. Why do you need to know this? What difference will the answer make?)

Another good question question: 

‘Where is my choice?’

One way I sometimes help people find questions is through the application of some quite dry logic, to find just where they’re perched among the branches of their ‘decision tree’ –

‘If I do x, I could do it this way or that way or maybe that way, and I could do that now or later and when should I tell my friends…?’

– well, your question might be about how to do x, but it might be about whether to do it at all. We often need to disentangle ourselves from the twiggy bits to get back towards the trunk of the decision and find the choice we have now.

This kind of ‘decision reading’ seems to be only a small subset of possible readings. Certainly the ‘decision tree’ approach isn’t always the most effective way to find someone’s true, heartfelt question. (You might end up barking up the wrong tree altogether… 😉 ) However… while not all readings are ‘decision readings’, it’s hard to think of any reading that isn’t about choice.

There is always a choice somewhere. It’s not necessarily ‘what to do’, of course – there may not be anything to be done, or you may not have much meaningful choice in your actions. But you’re still consulting Yi about a choice – maybe how to be with the thing, how to think about it, how to relate to it…

And if you’re getting tangled up in the ‘decision tree’, it may be that there’s a prior choice of how to be and relate.

For example – I’ve been sunk deep in redesign work for months now, and while I’m making respectable progress, ye gods and small fishes is this taking ages. What should or could I be outsourcing, and to whom, and how could I avoid having an experience like last time (outsourcing to an ‘absentee web designer’), if it’s even possible to be sure of avoiding people like that…?

But before I get embroiled in what and how and even whether to outsource – where is my choice, really? I think it’s in how to think about what I’m doing, as I spend hours and hours every day up to my neck in templates and css files. Is this wise? Is this self-sabotage? Time-wasting? Is it some other thing I haven’t imagined? I don’t want to start taking decisions about what to do next until I’m more settled in my attitude to what I’m doing.

So my first question was What am I doing with the redesign? (and my second one was …and what should I be doing with it? closely followed by how about hiring this person to help with the forum menu?)

(What I’m doing, by the way, turns out to be Hexagram 31 changing at lines 4 and 5 to 15 – in other words, not self-sabotage nor yet completely off-track, though with some to-ing and fro-ing. I’ve added a note to WikiWing about line 4.)

Yijing as the Source of Nine Star Ki – London course

April 27th, 2016

This sounds interesting: a two day course in London on 9 Star Ki astrology and its roots in the Yijing. If you’re interested I would recommend getting in touch with the organisers soon, as they’re only taking six students. Click the image for more information:




Could Stripping Away be painless?

April 17th, 2016

Hexagram 23 is called Stripping Away. The old character shows a knife, and a less-clear component that might be a well winch or a bag for filtering wine, separating the wine from the dregs. As LiSe shows, that blends into the meaning of the whole. But the knife component is very clear – in etymology and in experience.

When you receive Hexagram 23, something is coming ‘under the knife’. The traditional version of the etymology says the knife is carving, cutting away what is not required. That’s often the lived experience of the hexagram: something outworn, something no longer of use, is cut away. The difficult part is that until the knife comes down, we might have been quite attached to our plans/ideas/self-image/social position/security/relationship… etc. The ‘stripping away’ might feel something like being skinned alive.

Living through this hexagram can be excruciating – but it isn’t necessarily so. This depends on two things – scale, that I wrote about the other day, and also on the degree of attachment. That’s the message of the Image –

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

That isn’t an Image of pain and loss, but of kindness, generosity and peace. Mountains don’t develop neurotic attachments to ‘their’ minerals, and so the valley below is well-nourished.

Funnily enough, that mysterious ‘wine-bag’ part of the hexagram name is also a loan for three characters meaning the place at the foot of a mountain (see Harmen Mesker, Cutting Through Hexagram 23). Such a place might be in the mountain’s rain-shadow, arid and deprived, but it could also be – on the other side of the mountain – particularly moist and cool. I think the Image authors were imagining a fertile, sheltered valley.

How interesting that of all the Image texts in the book, this is the only one with no explicit human protagonist: no noble one, no ancient kings. Of course ‘heights’ implies upper social strata, but it literally only means ‘above’, the opposite of ‘below’. The human element – that part that can say ‘this is mine!‘ – is stripped back and disappears into the landscape.

Tradition says that the mountain rests on the earth like a government rests on the people, and this hexagram portrays a bad government that has eroded its foundations, exhausted popular support and is on the verge of collapse. It needs to practise generosity, because the society’s very structure is being pulled apart. (‘Pulling apart’ is Minford‘s name for the hexagram in his Part I, ‘Book of Wisdom’.)

It’s not about propping up the status quo with a pre-election tax cut, though: this scene, the mountains above the valley, shows that erosion is a natural constant: it’s just what happens. If we could participate in a spirit of generosity – if we were a little more like mountains, a little less attached – Hexagram 23 might be painless.

Generous heights and a tranquil home below

Hexagrams and their scale

April 14th, 2016

big dog, small dogI started work recently to research a post on Hexagram 23, Stripping Away – a hexagram of loss, whether that means painlessly shedding what’s outlived its usefulness, or having something you’re very much attached to torn away. Looking through a dozen reading experiences with this one, I was struck again by how much hexagrams don’t describe scale.

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.

(Of course the same is true of ‘nice’ hexagrams – but it isn’t really in human nature to look at Hexagram 14, say, and confidently expect a lottery win, whereas people do greet Hexagram 23 with dread.)

23? Stripping Away is happening – something is being taken away. 47? Something is Confined, shut away. 29? A deep dive, a recurring ‘learning opportunity’ (heh), calling for absolute commitment.

A hexagram is like a living diagram of energy flows and structures… or like a detailed relief map, but without the little ‘1:10000’ scale marking in the corner. If your reading for the week ahead shows Repeating Chasms, you know you’re entering a space with this shape –

– but you don’t know whether it’ll be a vast windswept landscape of ravines and torrents, or something more like our back lawn. (It has moles.)

Looking at this logically, from the outside, it might make you wonder what the point is. Why consult an oracle that might not differentiate between major surgery and a bruised ego?

But knowing it from the inside, this reveals something about how a relationship with Yi works. Pragmatically, we usually know the scale from our question. Hexagram 23 for a new computer? You might lose your data. Hexagram 23 for a new business venture? You might lose your house – or your belief in your own competence – or both, of course.

And at a deeper – and still more pragmatic – level: Yi helps now, in the present; readings show you where you are. I don’t need a reading to tell me ‘this is life-changing’ or ‘this is ordinary’; I need it for the ‘energy diagram’ that shows me the nature and shape of the time, and how to navigate my way around it.

What is resonance?

March 26th, 2016

I imagine anyone who’s lived with Yi for a while has also got used to the idea that the world around them gives them signs, and often these signs resonate strongly with readings. I had a ‘big’ Hexagram 10 reading a few years ago, and saw tigers everywhere. (Pictures of tigers, I mean. This is rural England, and there are – fortunately – limits to synchronicity.) You might have Hexagram 53 and hear the migrating geese flying overhead. Dreams and readings speak together, too: you might dream of losing your bag on the train and cast Hexagram 40 line 3. You might have the feeling that all these things – readings, dreams, the waking world – are made of the same resonant stuff, and all play the same chord together.

What got me thinking about this now was the experience, a few days ago, of being the resonant stuff used to play the chord. I was talking through a reading with a client, about the ‘king in his temple’ – that phrase that appears in hexagrams 45, 55 and 59. As I try to make that concept easier to relate to, I often add another image, like ‘bringing the king into the temple is like completing an electrical circuit, so the current can flow.’ But on this occasion, for no particular reason I was aware of, I said instead, ‘It’s like putting the key into the lock.’ And the reading’s owner visibly jumped, because she’d dreamt the previous night that she was trapped in a confined space, handed a key and told that only she could unlock the door and release herself.

Hearing the chord played is one thing; being played like an instrument myself is another.

So I thought to ask Yi about the whole thing. What is resonance?

Yi answered with Hexagram 58, Opening, changing at lines 2 and 5 to 51, Shock.

changing to

Isn’t that a beautiful reading?

58, Opening: the hexagram of communication, of exchange. Inner and outer lakes: the inner conversation of the heart, the outer conversation with the world, and the constant circulation between those two –

‘Lakes joined together. Opening.
A noble one joins with friends to speak and practise together.’

(It seems to me the ‘friends’ in question might just as well be dream teachers or migratory geese.)

And our experience of resonance in 51, Shock, the hexagram of repeated thunder: that moment of abrupt realisation, and re-realisation – this is speaking to me. The matrix of our usual comfortable assumptions about how the world works breaks open. Inner and outer shocks echo one another; this wakes us up; we jump.

Thunder resounds through the lake and its surface vibrates: lines 2 and 5, the lines at the surface of inner and outer lakes, are moving. Yi paints us a moving picture of resonance as it happens.

That means the two lines’ individual steps of change are the two hexagrams combining thunder and lake: 17, Following, and 54, the Marrying Maiden.

I was actually half-expecting to receive Hexagram 17 in response to this question, because I’ve seen it describe the phenomenon of synchronicity a few times before. There is a current flowing through things; if we’re aligned with this we experience the alignment as synchronicity. 58.2 shows Opening’s way of Following:

‘True and confident opening, good fortune.
Regrets vanish.’

This is one of several places in the Yijing where fu – truth, confidence, trust – stands in contrast to regrets. Regrets mean separating myself from the present moment, wishing I were in some fictional realm instead; fu means full presence. Naturally, regrets vanish in the presence of trust. Here’s resonance at work: opening and following, experiencing the deep rapport with what-is we call synchronicity. Total participation.

And… there is also line 5, joined with Hexagram 54:

‘Trusting in stripping away,
There is danger.’

Interesting, that resonance also comes with this health warning. What might be stripped away? Hexagram 54 – the hexagram for the girl who’s married off as a second wife, and has no say in the matter herself – suggests it’s self-determination.

I think this is a recognisable danger – something we can do with both readings and signs, and especially with the combination of the two.

‘I was going to fly to visit my mother for her 90th birthday, but a bird crashed into the window, so I knew I shouldn’t risk it.’

‘It’s true he never contacts me, but I saw a pair of swans dancing together in the park today. That’s the universe giving me a sign that our love is forever. And driving home, I happened to look at the clock in my car just when it said 11:53!

And so on. If we place our trust in signs, human discrimination, intelligence and good old-fashioned common sense (which, as my mother’s mother used to say, isn’t common) may be stripped away. There is danger.

Of course, this line only observes ‘there is danger’; it doesn’t say this means disaster. Sometimes in the Yijing it’s worth persisting despite danger. Very occasionally, the marriage of Hexagram 54 can lift you to a higher level of being, to participate in something greater than you would ever have attained alone. So perhaps trusting in what strips away autonomy is a way to become a ‘bride of creation’. (Or perhaps it isn’t.)

Thunder over the lake

Nourished by synchronicity: 38 zhi 27

March 17th, 2016

The relating hexagram, the one revealed by the moving line changes, can show the aspect or quality of the cast hexagram embodied in those lines. One way to imagine this is to say to yourself, ‘The reading shows how [primary hexagram] might do [relating hexagram].’ That works well in readings, because the relating hexagram typically represents where you are – the title for this chapter of your experience, as it were, where you stand, and probably the filter you’re seeing through.

If your relating hexagram is 27, Nourishment (literally ‘Jaws’), then the situation for you is going to be all about getting fed – on all levels. It’s not just having a framework in place that provides for you, but also – ‘See the jaws!‘ – bringing awareness to that framework as a way of transformation.

So suppose Hexagram 38, Opposing, is changing to 27. How might Opposing find – or transform – Nourishment? How does the outsider, alone and away from the home, get fed? Also, how is her way of living and nourishing herself to be changed? After all, the isolated eccentric, beyond social pressures to adjust, might get set in her ways.

Here’s how that happens: 38.2.4:

‘Meeting a master in the lane.
Not a mistake.’

‘Opposed, alone.
Meet an inspiring man.
Joining together in trust,
Danger, no mistake.’

This is one of those eye-opening two-line changes I’ve written about before, where two changing lines together reveal the connection between the hexagrams just as clearly as a single line usually does. (One of the examples in that post is the reverse of this one – 27.2.4 changing to 38 through ‘unbalanced nourishment’.)

How is the outsider nourished? Through meetings. While every line of 38 describes some kind of encounter, these are the only two to use the word ‘meeting’, 遇 yu4, and describe an encounter with a single person.

What’s a ‘meeting’, exactly? According to Richard Sears’ online dictionary, it means meet, run into, come across, encounter, treat, treatment, opportunity, luck, meeting of minds, to win confidence (of a superior), to rival, to match with. The signific part of the character means ‘walking on the road’. So there’s 38’s 27: the outsider runs into new people on the road, and can be nourished and changed by the encounter.

38 zhi 27 - path through the forest

Nuclear families of 37 and 38

March 12th, 2016

Back in 2007, I wrote about the nuclear family of Hexagram 37, People in the Home. That’s the four hexagrams that contain 37 as a nuclear, coiled in potential within their inner lines. If you unpack lines 2,3,4 and 3,4,5 from any of these hexagrams –

:|:|||  ||:|||  ||:||:  :|:||:

– you see Hexagram 37:

I’ve just been looking at 37 as nuclear alongside its contrasting pair, 38 – Opposing. I especially like the way the Zagua sums up these two as meaning ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. There’s a single structure here – one home, and one configuration of 6 lines – that can be seen from two perspectives.

From the inside, you see the Home: the ‘powerful organic structure of relationships and connections’ I talked about in that earlier post: a well-ordered whole whose parts work together to support and secure one another. From the outside, you see Opposing: the outsider, the orphan, not belonging, and seeing differently – not participating in the family’s consensus view of the world.

I’ve come to think of nuclears as not only the potential inside the cast hexagram, but also their inner work. Hexagrams 6, 10, 47 and 58 are all ways of doing the work of People in the Home, of working out how to embody that principle or meet that challenge in real life. And likewise, hexagrams 5, 9, 48 and 57 (paired hexagrams have paired nuclear hexagrams, of course) are ways of doing the work of Hexagram 38, Opposing:

|||:|:  |||:||  :||:||  :||:|:

all contain


I’m also starting to think that, in the realm of nuclears, hexagrams might show up in different dimensions of meaning. After all, a nuclear hexagram isn’t a cast hexagram – it’s actually only four lines, and to appear in a hexagram ‘out here’, it needs another two lines to connect it to the world. Looking at a nuclear hexagram is a bit like looking at a dot –


That looks like a dot from here, but perhaps we’re really seeing the end of a line, extending away from us into another dimension behind the screen. And in the same way, the nuclear looks like four lines, but we could be really seeing something that unfolds and extends into a whole hexagram behind the cast hexagram – in another dimension of time or possibility.

Anyway, half-baked metaphysics aside – as cast hexagrams, 37 and 38 are inside and outside the home, and the ‘inside/outside’ contrast is mostly about human relationships and ways of thinking. In the nuclear realm, they seem to be about the tension of living inside and outside the present moment – it’s more to do with actual and potential.

Doing the work of 37

People in the Home as ‘nuclear hexagram work’ looks like planting yourself firmly and securely in the present – working out how to be at home here, how to relate and belong. This has the paradoxical result that the hexagram containing this challenge frequently doesn’t feel like home at all. Arguing, Treading the tiger’s tail, being Confined… none of those three feels remotely welcoming. But if you consider them as ways of learning how to belong, it makes altogether more sense.

We must learn how to relate to realities we don’t accept (6) and to magnetically attractive power (10). (Spiritual power also has its place in the home.) At the deepest core, Confined without support from outside, we must learn an inner economy by tapping into deeper resources. The home isn’t only sustained by mutually dependent identities propping one another up – ‘so long as you’re the child, I can be the mother’ – but by a vital core of purpose.

And after all this comes Hexagram 58: constantly interacting and exchanging with others, like the water flowing between the two lakes, is certainly part of learning to belong – and arguably the most advanced lesson.

What’s the ‘work’ of Opposing?

And meanwhile on the outside… Hexagrams 5, 9, 48 and 57 are all ways of living out an inner core of 38, Opposing. So what inner work or challenge do these have in common?

In the first three hexagrams, I think you can recognise Opposing as an inner experience. They’re all finding ways to hold the tension between actual and potential, learning to see the present moment differently, as if from outside.

Hexagram 5 does this in the simplest way. You’re Waiting for what you need. You don’t have it yet. But just being here, living with that, isn’t enough: you have to imagine receiving it, believe it will come, even celebrate it with eating and drinking, cross the river – in a way you have to be both here and there, out in the imagined future, stretching and extending yourself across the gulf between now and then.

Hexagram 9 experiences a similar gulf: the clouds that promise rain are here, but the rain is not. You need to extend yourself across that gulf again, this time with steady, small-scale work of cultivation. Cultivate the fields, ‘cultivate the natural pattern of character’. The will to concentrate on pulling out the next weed, and the next, comes of seeing the clouds and knowing there will be rain – just not yet. You extend yourself across the gulf by doing the work.

Hexagram 48 draws a very clear contrast between potential and actual. The well wells; the people come and go, and may or may not have a sound jug or long enough rope to reach the water. The gulf of hexagram 38, now, is the full depth of the well, the great distance between life up on the surface and the timeless waters; everyone must toil together to build and maintain the connection between surface and depths. We have to be able to look at the well and see it in other dimensions – time, possibility – more than just a place to shoot fish.

It’s a lot harder to understand how Hexagram 57, Subtly Penetrating, could contain Opposing at its core. No-one is ‘standing outside’ anything here – on the contrary, it’s all about getting inside the nature of things and becoming part of them – submitting, accepting the seals, receiving your identity as you become part of the whole. In fact, it sounds more like 37 than 38.

However… the oracle of 57 actually says it is fruitful to have a direction to go and fruitful to see the great person. Subtly Penetrating bears fruit when it contains a vision of possibility. What’s the prevailing wind? What might be the emergent inner nature, the mandate or calling, conveyed and translated into work?

This makes me think of the saying attributed to Michelangelo, about first seeing David in the block of marble, then chiselling away all that wasn’t David. If a block of marble were to perceive its own inner sculpture, that might be hexagram 57.

The inner work of Hexagram 38 has evolved since Hexagram 5. There’s no ‘outside’ any more – in fact, if you follow the Sequence from 5 through 9, 48 and 57, you see that there’s less and less ‘standing outside to see differently’, as the awareness of potential becomes more integrated into the present. The noble one in the Image of 48 must see the potential in the well – but from the inside, as fully immersed in the work as the wooden well-frame (as illustrated by the trigrams). And in 57 the ‘view from outside’, the awareness of more dimensions of possibility, is so deeply integrated that it becomes the view from inside.