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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?

Welcome - I’m glad you’ve come. Clarity’s here to help you deepen, explore and enjoy your relationship with Yi. You might like...

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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’ve been mulling over this line – part of a recent open reading of mine – for a while.

‘Seeing the realm shining out.
Fruitful and useful to be a guest of the king.’

Changing this line takes you to Hexagram 12, Blocked – a situation where no messages get through and basically nothing’s working. But why – what’s the connection between that and the shining realm?

The story – or a story – might go something like this:

You have held back from action; you have created a still space where you watch for what arises. Maybe you build an observation tower you will climb to watch the skies for signs – and at the top of its mound of pounded earth, you start to look out and up. Since this is line 4, perhaps you’re asking, ‘What is there for me to do here?’

And… hexagram 12 prevails. There are no shooting stars, no portentous alignments, no significant patterns of sunspots*. (Or more generally, in modern-day readings, you still feel more or less stuck. Your ideal job has not fallen into your lap, or the one you love hasn’t contacted you, or you’ve gone unacknowledged… really, not much about your life has budged.)

Now what?

Well… instead of peering up at the receding skies, you could use this vantage point to look out into the human world, and see what comes into view there. (A hexagram is built of three ‘layers’: pairs of lines, representing earth, humanity and heaven. Lines 3 and 4 make up the human realm.) This may not be your moment to be visited by your own signs and portents, but this doesn’t mean that all the spirit-light has disappeared. On the contrary: there it is, reflected in the shining realm below. Its good order, its prosperity, is a sign that this state is favoured by the spirits. The ruler here has the Mandate of Heaven, and you can become his guest.

In practice, this past week or two, I’ve experienced this line as suggesting I might almost borrow someone else’s inspiration or confidence, just by fully witnessing it. I’ve had the privilege of reading the first chapter of a friend’s new book, which tells the story of how she was given a shining vision to guide her. I’ve also had the sheer joy of witnessing a long-standing client doing her work for a moment, radiantly confident, weaving magic with her voice. In such moments I’m only a helper, a guest, but the light is unmistakable.

So I take a stroll round the line pathway, to see how this looks from some different perspectives…

It might feel like the fan yao 12.4:

‘There is a mandate, no mistake.
Work with clarity, fulfilment.’

Ah… perhaps the city’s light is mandate made visible? This line just says, ‘there is a mandate’ or possibly ‘one has a mandate’, without a possessive particle – no ‘your mandate’. So perhaps it means only that you see there is a mandate, and if you will work with the light it casts, all is well.

Behind that line is its pair, 11.3 offering a deeper awareness:

‘There is no level ground without a slope,
No going out without a return.
Constancy in hardship is not a mistake.
Do not sorrow about its truth.
In eating and drinking there is blessing.’

I do like this line – it’s one of those where I seem to hear Yi’s tone of voice particularly clearly. It sounds like an answer to the perennial cry of, ‘I’m not getting anywhere!’ and of course, ‘I ought to be past that by now!’ Ground comes with hills, and paths come with meanderings and the occasional U-turn, and arguing with reality just isn’t the best use of your energy. Have some chocolate.

Now, of course, I wonder whether the ‘eating and drinking’ might not be at the king’s table – allowing yourself to be nourished here, while you recognise the truth.

The other side of that realisation, and the beginning of a story that culminates in 20.4, would be 19.3:

‘Sweetness nearing,
No direction bears fruit.
Already grieving it, no mistake.’

On the one hand, not sorrowing over the truth of hardship, and on the other hand, not setting too much store by what tastes sweet. Sweetness doesn’t offer you a direction or purpose – has nothing to do with it, really – so move on, and be past this already. (This begins to sound like the words of the meditation teacher who, whether the student reported hideous distractions or heavenly visions, always responded, ‘Never mind – just keep meditating, and it will go away soon.’)

As the paired line to 20.4, this carries a subtle reminder that you’re only a guest of the king: the realm behind this dazzle of lights isn’t your home – but you can borrow its clarity for a while.

out of focus city lights

(*Note: I know there is a view that in fact a ‘shining realm’ means precisely that there are celestial signs and portents. That would make for a very different ‘story of the line’, perhaps one in which the signs received show this is the moment to perform the bin rite and invite an ancestor to be present.

This doesn’t tally with my experiences of the line, though, and nor does it seem to me to connect well with Hexagram 12’s dynamic of the separation of heaven and earth.

Also, looking through all occurrences of this word for ‘shining’ in the Book of Songs, I didn’t find any that meant celestial signs. There was just one (relatively late) meaning ‘moonlight’ and then about nine describing the glory of either the state or its nobles – typically, on a ceremonial occasion with a lot of gleaming polished metal. This lustre is the outward and visible sign of a noble person and of a state that is blessed by the spirits; the nearest English translation might be ‘illustrious’.)

 

Integrating trigram imagery into a full reading is sometimes tricky: we don’t, after all, know what the trigrams represented to the people who first wrote the book. So attempting to justify text in terms of trigrams can get one tied up in all sorts of over-elaborate knots.

However… those original writers were surely aware of trigrams, and letting our own trigram-awareness permeate our readings (gently, and without trying to nail things down) can make for a more vivid understanding of a line.

For instance…

Hexagram 17, Following, is ‘thunder in the lake’. The Image draws guidance from this –

‘At the centre of the lake is thunder. Following.
A noble one at nightfall
Goes inside for renewal and rest.’

This has always seemed to me as though the creative energy of thunder itself were sleeping within the lake. It reminds me of the story I learned from SJ Marshall’s Mandate of Heaven, of how the dragon over-winters on the lake-bed, and awakens in spring. There’s a season for waking, and a season for sleep, rest and renewal, and the noble one is like the dragon and knows both.

The Sequence adds to this sense that thunder itself is ‘going inside’. As the eldest son in the trigram family, thunder is the very first child trigram to appear in the Sequence, as the inner trigram of 3, Sprouting. On its next appearance, it ‘bursts forth from the earth’ in Hexagram 16 – where it’s the outer trigram, thunder above the earth – in harmony with the celebratory music of the ancient kings.

Then, in Following, the creative spark is taken back inside. It rests there all the way through hexagrams 21, 24, 25 and 27, only emerging again in 32. So to me, it’s in Hexagram 17 that inner thunder begins to feel like the pulse of natural cyclic rhythm, one we can Follow through days or (as in the Images of 24 and 25) seasons.

Of course, the Image is far younger than the original Yi, maybe 800 years or more, so you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find these ideas echoed in the original, Zhouyi text… of line 5, for instance, at the centre of the outer lake:

‘True and confident in excellence.
Good fortune.’

And in that rather bland translation (mine!), they don’t seem to be. But just under the surface, it turns out that the character translated ‘excellence’, jia 嘉, has the components 加 – ‘add, increase’, made of ‘strong’ and ‘mouth’ – and 壴, a drum. Together this means what is fine, good and praised – something worth drumming about.

Here we are at the centre of the lake, at the line that changes it to thunder and – in my imagination, at least… – synchronises it with the pulse of the inner trigram. ‘Truth to excellence’ as the fifth line and guiding principle of Following looks something like being in rhythm – perhaps with the dragon’s heartbeat.

lake ripples

When we approach a reading, we generally have some principles in mind for how the parts of the answer will fit together and work as a whole. In the beginners’ course on this site, I outline the framework I’ve found works best: the cast hexagram’s the basic answer, the relating (changed) hexagram underlies this and is typically ‘what it’s about for you’, the changing lines are the heart of the reading and the most immediate answer to your question. (And yes, you can expect Yi to answer your question.)

I’ve been thinking about this again as I teach the ‘Reading for Others’ class – encouraging people to begin their readings with an overview, so the querent won’t get lost in a sea of imagery, and sharing a lot more detail of the structures and relationships that help me draw out what Yi’s saying. And I’ve also been wondering at the unique relationship each person has with Yi, and thinking it might be possible to impose too much ‘framework’. There do seem to be pros and cons to this…

The pros: why you need a reading framework

The framework tells you – and anyone you might read for – where you are. This is true at every point in the reading journey, even before it starts. Before you open the book, you need to know what kind of question invites a clear answer – but even before you start to think about putting your question into words, you need to know that Yi answers questions (and that’s why it’s important for you to understand what you’re asking). And when you look at hexagrams, and lines, and trigrams, and maybe line pathways and nuclear hexagrams and change patterns and nuclear stories and shadows and complements and the arcs of the Sequence… you still use your framework (maybe quite a complicated architecture by now) to know where you are.

That’s a first benefit of a framework: it’s what lets you interpret the reading at all. And as you get into the detail, it’s your awareness of ‘what goes where’ that keeps you from being baffled by ‘contradictions’ within the reading.

It also makes it harder to understand your reading selectively, as in, ‘I like the sound of that fan yao/ the look of those trigrams/ the text of this oracle, so I’ll take that as my answer.’

In all this, I think another word for ‘framework’ is relationship. This is about having a dependable, real relationship with Yi, a sense of an agreement between us – almost a contract. (Like being able to ask for walnut bread and not expect tentacles.) “I have a rapport with Yi, so we can have conversations. So long as I’m sincere, clear and thoughtful, I can expect Yi to answer in a way I can understand.” Without this, there’d be no readings.

Cons: how a framework can get in the way

The trouble with frameworks is that they’re at least somewhat rigid. Our most valued relationships typically aren’t the ones mediated by contracts. The purpose of a contract, after all, is to leave nothing to chance and not to depend on trust.

Too much ‘framework’ and not enough trust leaves people fretting about ‘getting the question right‘, or denying their intuitive response to a reading because it doesn’t fit the rules. Or starting sentences with ‘You must…’ or ‘You can’t…’ or – most absurd of all – ‘The Yijing can’t…’.

And it can lead to formulaic readings: asking yet another ‘how can I?’ or ‘what if I?’ question, treating the oracle as a mechanism to dispense answers.

We might get the idea that we tell Yi what to do: respond to a certain question with a certain kind of answer for our use. Worse, we might get the idea that Yi tells us what to do. Small people doing readings with a small oracle – what happened to the mystery?

As this is what we need, with Yi: a living, spontaneous, spacious conversation. We need to be able to ask questions no-one’s ever thought of before, and hear the answer as if the words were being spoken for the first time, and allow Yi to say something strange and utterly unexpected that changes everything.

So on the one hand, we need to retain our intuitive response: maybe just the hexagram name on its own, or its trigrams, or one of the lines, will give you the answer you need now. And on the other hand, we also need a framework that holds the reading open, as it were, for long enough that we can receive, honour and learn from the whole answer, not just stop at the most easily-recognisable thing. That’s part of the relationship, too: when I ask, Yi will answer; when it does, I’ll listen to what it says.

(I don’t have a tidy conclusion for this post about how we can all achieve this synthesis. I think it’s a unique, individual process, as relationships with Yi always are.)

leaf skeleton against the sky

 

 

A thought on Hexagram 4. We think of Not Knowing as a default state, a starting position: children don’t know at first, so they learn; we start off not knowing, so then we consult the oracle. (Though preferably not for a second and third time…)

In today’s news, the BBC announces the results of a poll about people’s belief in the Resurrection of Jesus and in life after death. They write the headline, ‘Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians.’ Here’s an alternative headline from the same poll: ‘95% of people know for certain whether or not the Resurrection happened.’ Only about 5% of respondents said they didn’t know.

So perhaps not knowing isn’t a default starting position?

Things I’ve noticed about my own mental habits lately: it’s very hard, almost impossible, to stay quietly in a state of not knowing – so much so, in fact, that I’ll whizz through that state at light speed on the way to knowing, barely noticing I was ever there. I ‘know’ what people must mean by their actions. I ‘know’ what I need to do today (and tomorrow and next month): I have a list. (And if I don’t know what to do next, there are always cat videos and chocolate.)

If I don’t know what someone meant, I can ask them. If I don’t know what to do next, perhaps I can be guided. But to make that first consultation, I’ll need at least to stay quiet for long enough to notice that I don’t know.

(I’ve often noticed that Hexagram 4 can describe not only wanting a specific answer, but also just wanting a response of some kind: feedback, validation, or recognition. Maybe another word for what we want is stimulus – stirring up the waters, filling the disconcertingly still space of not knowing with motion. Like I said, if the to-do list fails, there are always cat videos.)

I think that’s how Not Knowing contains its nuclear hexagram: 24, Returning. If ignorance can bring you to a standstill, then you can return, reconnect and get back on track. As the Image of 24 says, it’s not something that happens in the midst of ‘business as usual’.

In his challenging Ted talk, The Gospel of Doubt, Casey Gerald makes a remarkable choice of image to describe his 12-year-old self’s experience, when the Rapture didn’t happen on schedule, of discovering he (and the Church elders) didn’t know after all:

“It was possible the answers I had were wrong, that the questions themselves were wrong. And now, where there was once a mountain of certitude, there was, running right down to its foundation, a spring of doubt, a spring that promised rivers.”

stream under mountain

Crossing the line: guo

Da GuoHexagram 28 shares its core concept with 62: Exceeding, guo, great or small. I wrote about this a while ago:

Hexagrams 28 and 62 are both about guo: ‘passing, going by, exceeding’. The central idea is crossing a line – whether that’s a standard of morality or of customs, or a border in time (such as the change of the year). LiSe has broken the character down into component parts: footsteps, and a mountain pass. And so in readings, these hexagrams tend to describe transitions: complete this crossing, go beyond what’s familiar or expected, and you’ll find yourself in a whole new landscape.

You cross the line, go beyond the ordinary – which can mean either transgression or transcendence, excess or exceeding. At least nowadays, the character also means ‘passing’ from life to death – and this must surely also be behind the invention credited to 28 in the Dazhuan:

‘In antiquity, for burying the dead, people wrapped them thickly with firewood and buried them out in the wilds, where they neither made grave mounds nor planted trees. For the period of mourning there was no definite amount of time. The sages of later ages had this exchanged for inner and outer coffins. They probably got the idea for this from the hexagram Daguo.’ (Lynn)

Great and small

The distinction between hexagrams 62 and 28 isn’t necessarily in the scale of the transition, though, but more in how you make the crossing and what it requires of you. Small Exceeding calls for exceeding smallness: caution, humility, and above all careful attention to present reality, so you can ‘get the message’ of each moment and respond. Great Exceeding means crossing the line in a big way – impelled by necessity, but responding with imagination, seeing how things can be different

The roofbeam

‘Great Exceeding, the ridgepole warps.
Fruitful to have a direction to go.
Creating success.’

This is one of Yi’s clearest images. ‘The ridgepole,’ you say, ‘bears the whole weight of the roof…’ and at once people recognise it. Three thousand years later, on the other side of the globe, we think in the same imagery: being over-burdened, under stress, buckling under the strain, nearing breaking point.

The ridgepole hasn’t broken yet – and of course there are English houses whose timbers have been steadily warping for a few centuries and not broken yet – but this hexagram is the sign that it will break unless something’s done.  The shape of things is already changing: the roof over your head was once a straight line, but now it’s curving; it will fall. Strikingly, Yi doesn’t say ‘Disaster!’ but ‘fruitful to have a direction to go’ – a similar kind of optimism to that found in Hexagram 18, Corruption. If your house is coming down, it’s fruitful to cross the threshold and go out beyond its walls. Explore purposefully, go to the far places, test the depth of the fords.

This shows two meanings of ‘exceeding’ in these first few words: both overload, what’s happening to the ridgepole, and what you do in response: going out to explore. Kong Yingda referred to this same dual significance:

‘In Daguo there are two meanings. One refers to the natural world where something rises superior to its ordinary condition, as here where the lake submerges the tree, and the other refers to the great man who, by rising above the common run of humanity, manages to save difficult situations.’ (from RJ Lynn’s Classic of Changes)

Not that the Yijing itself says anything about who is saved – but there is this core idea of a human being who rises to the occasion.

Finally, the oracle says heng – ‘creating success’ or ‘successful offering’. That’s a word that quite often comes immediately after the name of a hexagram: ‘Small taming, creating success,’ ‘Gathering, creating success,’ implying that small taming or gathering is a way of creating success. Here, it’s the combination of the bending ridgepole and direction to go that creates success: when things are on the verge of change and you respond with purpose and curiosity, then you are joining with the spirits and getting involved in the creative process. Necessity gives birth to invention!

Tipping point: 28 in the Sequence

|::::|    :||||:

Hexagram 28 is one of those with rotational symmetry (you can turn it upside down and it’s still the same hexagram), so in the Sequence it’s paired with its complement, 27, Nourishment:

‘Great Exceeding overbalances.’

‘Nourishment nurtures correctly.’

And also,

‘With no nurturance, it is not possible to act, and so Great Exceeding follows.’

So Nourishment is a perfect contrast to Great Exceeding, but also provides the energy for that ‘direction to go’.

The name of Hexagram 27 is actually more literally translated ‘Jaws’: it’s specifically about the supporting structure that makes nourishment possible. The jaws represent a system that will work as a balanced whole to sustain you. Oddly enough, the character guo, exceeding, also contains the components ‘bone’ and ‘mouth’. The bones of the mouth, the roof of the home – these are the structures that allow life to continue, self-sustaining and in balance…

…until they don’t. Something shifts, and there must be change. (The demand for change – the idea that nourishment creates momentum – is present in 27, too, in the moving line texts.) So the Zagua says specifically that 28 overbalances. Equilibrium gets punctuated; the seesaw tips over…

 

…and lands. The one thing we know, as the plank shifts under our paws, is that it can’t stay the same.

Looking beyond its immediate pair, 28 is also part of the larger-scale ‘tipping point’ between the Upper and Lower Canons (between hexagrams 30 and 31), in a highly cohesive set of 10 hexagrams from 25 to 34. The big question of this decade, I think, is how to create a guided way of life that’s both stable and also alive and flexible. (For more on this see the recently-updated Sequence article available to Change Circle members.) The nourishment of hexagram 27 really demands action and new ways of being; then 28 overbalances and falls into uncertainty (29) from which new pattern and cohesiveness (30) might emerge. Already in 28’s lines there’s new willow growth, new partnership, prefiguring 31-32. Or, of course, everything might fall to rubble and meaning and structure might be lost in the waters. Things certainly won’t stay the same.

Trigrams

:||The inner trigram of hexagram 28 is xun, wind or wood. It represents inner nature: both its sensitivity and intuition (wind and roots feel their way into everything) and its capacity for growth and development.

||:And on the outside is dui, the lake, which has to do with social exchange and interaction. As water is to plants, so society is to human growth and development (‘without nurturance, it is not possible to act!’) –

– unless, until, there is too much of it. Just like an over-watered pot plant, a tree with its roots below the water level for too long will drown. (Funnily enough, willows – as in 28.2.5 – are one of the most water-tolerant species. Where other species could die within a week, they can survive for months in winter with their roots underwater and still put out new flowers and shoots in spring.)

‘The lake submerges the tree. Great Exceeding.
A noble one stands alone without fear,
Withdraws from the time without sadness.’

Too much water drowns the tree; too much society will drown individual growth, or intuition, or initiative. Society is a force for stability and continuity, all of us according with the culture of our ‘time’. Hexagram 28 is a time for individual initiative, and so the noble one will withdraw from the time without sadness.

Hexagram 28 in readings

I think the first question to ask when you receive 28 in a reading is, ‘What ridgepole?’

What is there that can’t go on – what’s crossing a line – what is too much? What’s at breaking point, or tipping point? It might be something you’ve been tolerating for a while, something that ‘hasn’t broken yet’, so you no longer notice it much.

The next question is for the second meaning of guo: ‘…and what do you need to do about it?’

When 28’s the relating hexagram, the beam may or may not really be at breaking point. The more important factor in these readings seems to be a mindset of ‘Something must be done!’ or ‘I must manage this somehow!’ Great Exceeding in the background might inspire resolute practicality, or it might trigger premature, compulsive action, falling over yourself in your eagerness to ‘do something’.

A few common ridgepoles I’ve seen in readings:

  • physical health (of the body as a whole, or the one weak point that’s under particular strain)
  • mental health and stress levels
  • a marriage
  • some vital piece of technology (that thing with the fraying wires that hasn’t broken yet…)
  • the cohesion of a group of people

(If you can’t see anything at breaking point in the situation you asked about, keep looking around! When I searched in my journal for 28, I found one reading that I’m fairly sure was a change of subject: nothing remarkable was happening in the situation I asked about, but Yi was drawing my attention to something more pressing. I wonder whether this kind of change of subject might not be more likely with Hexagram 28 than others. After all, a warping roofbeam, more than most situations, is something you need to notice right away.)

Willow trees by water

From the I Ching Community

I’ve been mulling over this line – part of a recent open reading of mine – for a while.

‘Seeing the realm shining out.
Fruitful and useful to be a guest of the king.’

Changing this line takes you to Hexagram 12, Blocked – a situation where no messages get through and basically nothing’s working. But why – what’s the connection between that and the shining realm?

The story – or a story – might go something like this:

You have held back from action; you have created a still space where you watch for what arises. Maybe you build an observation tower you will climb to watch the skies for signs – and at the top of its mound of pounded earth, you start to look out and up. Since this is line 4, perhaps you’re asking, ‘What is there for me to do here?’

And… hexagram 12 prevails. There are no shooting stars, no portentous alignments, no significant patterns of sunspots*. (Or more generally, in modern-day readings, you still feel more or less stuck. Your ideal job has not fallen into your lap, or the one you love hasn’t contacted you, or you’ve gone unacknowledged… really, not much about your life has budged.)

Now what?

Well… instead of peering up at the receding skies, you could use this vantage point to look out into the human world, and see what comes into view there. (A hexagram is built of three ‘layers’: pairs of lines, representing earth, humanity and heaven. Lines 3 and 4 make up the human realm.) This may not be your moment to be visited by your own signs and portents, but this doesn’t mean that all the spirit-light has disappeared. On the contrary: there it is, reflected in the shining realm below. Its good order, its prosperity, is a sign that this state is favoured by the spirits. The ruler here has the Mandate of Heaven, and you can become his guest.

In practice, this past week or two, I’ve experienced this line as suggesting I might almost borrow someone else’s inspiration or confidence, just by fully witnessing it. I’ve had the privilege of reading the first chapter of a friend’s new book, which tells the story of how she was given a shining vision to guide her. I’ve also had the sheer joy of witnessing a long-standing client doing her work for a moment, radiantly confident, weaving magic with her voice. In such moments I’m only a helper, a guest, but the light is unmistakable.

So I take a stroll round the line pathway, to see how this looks from some different perspectives…

It might feel like the fan yao 12.4:

‘There is a mandate, no mistake.
Work with clarity, fulfilment.’

Ah… perhaps the city’s light is mandate made visible? This line just says, ‘there is a mandate’ or possibly ‘one has a mandate’, without a possessive particle – no ‘your mandate’. So perhaps it means only that you see there is a mandate, and if you will work with the light it casts, all is well.

Behind that line is its pair, 11.3 offering a deeper awareness:

‘There is no level ground without a slope,
No going out without a return.
Constancy in hardship is not a mistake.
Do not sorrow about its truth.
In eating and drinking there is blessing.’

I do like this line – it’s one of those where I seem to hear Yi’s tone of voice particularly clearly. It sounds like an answer to the perennial cry of, ‘I’m not getting anywhere!’ and of course, ‘I ought to be past that by now!’ Ground comes with hills, and paths come with meanderings and the occasional U-turn, and arguing with reality just isn’t the best use of your energy. Have some chocolate.

Now, of course, I wonder whether the ‘eating and drinking’ might not be at the king’s table – allowing yourself to be nourished here, while you recognise the truth.

The other side of that realisation, and the beginning of a story that culminates in 20.4, would be 19.3:

‘Sweetness nearing,
No direction bears fruit.
Already grieving it, no mistake.’

On the one hand, not sorrowing over the truth of hardship, and on the other hand, not setting too much store by what tastes sweet. Sweetness doesn’t offer you a direction or purpose – has nothing to do with it, really – so move on, and be past this already. (This begins to sound like the words of the meditation teacher who, whether the student reported hideous distractions or heavenly visions, always responded, ‘Never mind – just keep meditating, and it will go away soon.’)

As the paired line to 20.4, this carries a subtle reminder that you’re only a guest of the king: the realm behind this dazzle of lights isn’t your home – but you can borrow its clarity for a while.

out of focus city lights

(*Note: I know there is a view that in fact a ‘shining realm’ means precisely that there are celestial signs and portents. That would make for a very different ‘story of the line’, perhaps one in which the signs received show this is the moment to perform the bin rite and invite an ancestor to be present.

This doesn’t tally with my experiences of the line, though, and nor does it seem to me to connect well with Hexagram 12’s dynamic of the separation of heaven and earth.

Also, looking through all occurrences of this word for ‘shining’ in the Book of Songs, I didn’t find any that meant celestial signs. There was just one (relatively late) meaning ‘moonlight’ and then about nine describing the glory of either the state or its nobles – typically, on a ceremonial occasion with a lot of gleaming polished metal. This lustre is the outward and visible sign of a noble person and of a state that is blessed by the spirits; the nearest English translation might be ‘illustrious’.)

 

Integrating trigram imagery into a full reading is sometimes tricky: we don’t, after all, know what the trigrams represented to the people who first wrote the book. So attempting to justify text in terms of trigrams can get one tied up in all sorts of over-elaborate knots.

However… those original writers were surely aware of trigrams, and letting our own trigram-awareness permeate our readings (gently, and without trying to nail things down) can make for a more vivid understanding of a line.

For instance…

Hexagram 17, Following, is ‘thunder in the lake’. The Image draws guidance from this –

‘At the centre of the lake is thunder. Following.
A noble one at nightfall
Goes inside for renewal and rest.’

This has always seemed to me as though the creative energy of thunder itself were sleeping within the lake. It reminds me of the story I learned from SJ Marshall’s Mandate of Heaven, of how the dragon over-winters on the lake-bed, and awakens in spring. There’s a season for waking, and a season for sleep, rest and renewal, and the noble one is like the dragon and knows both.

The Sequence adds to this sense that thunder itself is ‘going inside’. As the eldest son in the trigram family, thunder is the very first child trigram to appear in the Sequence, as the inner trigram of 3, Sprouting. On its next appearance, it ‘bursts forth from the earth’ in Hexagram 16 – where it’s the outer trigram, thunder above the earth – in harmony with the celebratory music of the ancient kings.

Then, in Following, the creative spark is taken back inside. It rests there all the way through hexagrams 21, 24, 25 and 27, only emerging again in 32. So to me, it’s in Hexagram 17 that inner thunder begins to feel like the pulse of natural cyclic rhythm, one we can Follow through days or (as in the Images of 24 and 25) seasons.

Of course, the Image is far younger than the original Yi, maybe 800 years or more, so you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find these ideas echoed in the original, Zhouyi text… of line 5, for instance, at the centre of the outer lake:

‘True and confident in excellence.
Good fortune.’

And in that rather bland translation (mine!), they don’t seem to be. But just under the surface, it turns out that the character translated ‘excellence’, jia 嘉, has the components 加 – ‘add, increase’, made of ‘strong’ and ‘mouth’ – and 壴, a drum. Together this means what is fine, good and praised – something worth drumming about.

Here we are at the centre of the lake, at the line that changes it to thunder and – in my imagination, at least… – synchronises it with the pulse of the inner trigram. ‘Truth to excellence’ as the fifth line and guiding principle of Following looks something like being in rhythm – perhaps with the dragon’s heartbeat.

lake ripples

When we approach a reading, we generally have some principles in mind for how the parts of the answer will fit together and work as a whole. In the beginners’ course on this site, I outline the framework I’ve found works best: the cast hexagram’s the basic answer, the relating (changed) hexagram underlies this and is typically ‘what it’s about for you’, the changing lines are the heart of the reading and the most immediate answer to your question. (And yes, you can expect Yi to answer your question.)

I’ve been thinking about this again as I teach the ‘Reading for Others’ class – encouraging people to begin their readings with an overview, so the querent won’t get lost in a sea of imagery, and sharing a lot more detail of the structures and relationships that help me draw out what Yi’s saying. And I’ve also been wondering at the unique relationship each person has with Yi, and thinking it might be possible to impose too much ‘framework’. There do seem to be pros and cons to this…

The pros: why you need a reading framework

The framework tells you – and anyone you might read for – where you are. This is true at every point in the reading journey, even before it starts. Before you open the book, you need to know what kind of question invites a clear answer – but even before you start to think about putting your question into words, you need to know that Yi answers questions (and that’s why it’s important for you to understand what you’re asking). And when you look at hexagrams, and lines, and trigrams, and maybe line pathways and nuclear hexagrams and change patterns and nuclear stories and shadows and complements and the arcs of the Sequence… you still use your framework (maybe quite a complicated architecture by now) to know where you are.

That’s a first benefit of a framework: it’s what lets you interpret the reading at all. And as you get into the detail, it’s your awareness of ‘what goes where’ that keeps you from being baffled by ‘contradictions’ within the reading.

It also makes it harder to understand your reading selectively, as in, ‘I like the sound of that fan yao/ the look of those trigrams/ the text of this oracle, so I’ll take that as my answer.’

In all this, I think another word for ‘framework’ is relationship. This is about having a dependable, real relationship with Yi, a sense of an agreement between us – almost a contract. (Like being able to ask for walnut bread and not expect tentacles.) “I have a rapport with Yi, so we can have conversations. So long as I’m sincere, clear and thoughtful, I can expect Yi to answer in a way I can understand.” Without this, there’d be no readings.

Cons: how a framework can get in the way

The trouble with frameworks is that they’re at least somewhat rigid. Our most valued relationships typically aren’t the ones mediated by contracts. The purpose of a contract, after all, is to leave nothing to chance and not to depend on trust.

Too much ‘framework’ and not enough trust leaves people fretting about ‘getting the question right‘, or denying their intuitive response to a reading because it doesn’t fit the rules. Or starting sentences with ‘You must…’ or ‘You can’t…’ or – most absurd of all – ‘The Yijing can’t…’.

And it can lead to formulaic readings: asking yet another ‘how can I?’ or ‘what if I?’ question, treating the oracle as a mechanism to dispense answers.

We might get the idea that we tell Yi what to do: respond to a certain question with a certain kind of answer for our use. Worse, we might get the idea that Yi tells us what to do. Small people doing readings with a small oracle – what happened to the mystery?

As this is what we need, with Yi: a living, spontaneous, spacious conversation. We need to be able to ask questions no-one’s ever thought of before, and hear the answer as if the words were being spoken for the first time, and allow Yi to say something strange and utterly unexpected that changes everything.

So on the one hand, we need to retain our intuitive response: maybe just the hexagram name on its own, or its trigrams, or one of the lines, will give you the answer you need now. And on the other hand, we also need a framework that holds the reading open, as it were, for long enough that we can receive, honour and learn from the whole answer, not just stop at the most easily-recognisable thing. That’s part of the relationship, too: when I ask, Yi will answer; when it does, I’ll listen to what it says.

(I don’t have a tidy conclusion for this post about how we can all achieve this synthesis. I think it’s a unique, individual process, as relationships with Yi always are.)

leaf skeleton against the sky

 

 

A thought on Hexagram 4. We think of Not Knowing as a default state, a starting position: children don’t know at first, so they learn; we start off not knowing, so then we consult the oracle. (Though preferably not for a second and third time…)

In today’s news, the BBC announces the results of a poll about people’s belief in the Resurrection of Jesus and in life after death. They write the headline, ‘Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians.’ Here’s an alternative headline from the same poll: ‘95% of people know for certain whether or not the Resurrection happened.’ Only about 5% of respondents said they didn’t know.

So perhaps not knowing isn’t a default starting position?

Things I’ve noticed about my own mental habits lately: it’s very hard, almost impossible, to stay quietly in a state of not knowing – so much so, in fact, that I’ll whizz through that state at light speed on the way to knowing, barely noticing I was ever there. I ‘know’ what people must mean by their actions. I ‘know’ what I need to do today (and tomorrow and next month): I have a list. (And if I don’t know what to do next, there are always cat videos and chocolate.)

If I don’t know what someone meant, I can ask them. If I don’t know what to do next, perhaps I can be guided. But to make that first consultation, I’ll need at least to stay quiet for long enough to notice that I don’t know.

(I’ve often noticed that Hexagram 4 can describe not only wanting a specific answer, but also just wanting a response of some kind: feedback, validation, or recognition. Maybe another word for what we want is stimulus – stirring up the waters, filling the disconcertingly still space of not knowing with motion. Like I said, if the to-do list fails, there are always cat videos.)

I think that’s how Not Knowing contains its nuclear hexagram: 24, Returning. If ignorance can bring you to a standstill, then you can return, reconnect and get back on track. As the Image of 24 says, it’s not something that happens in the midst of ‘business as usual’.

In his challenging Ted talk, The Gospel of Doubt, Casey Gerald makes a remarkable choice of image to describe his 12-year-old self’s experience, when the Rapture didn’t happen on schedule, of discovering he (and the Church elders) didn’t know after all:

“It was possible the answers I had were wrong, that the questions themselves were wrong. And now, where there was once a mountain of certitude, there was, running right down to its foundation, a spring of doubt, a spring that promised rivers.”

stream under mountain

Crossing the line: guo

Da GuoHexagram 28 shares its core concept with 62: Exceeding, guo, great or small. I wrote about this a while ago:

Hexagrams 28 and 62 are both about guo: ‘passing, going by, exceeding’. The central idea is crossing a line – whether that’s a standard of morality or of customs, or a border in time (such as the change of the year). LiSe has broken the character down into component parts: footsteps, and a mountain pass. And so in readings, these hexagrams tend to describe transitions: complete this crossing, go beyond what’s familiar or expected, and you’ll find yourself in a whole new landscape.

You cross the line, go beyond the ordinary – which can mean either transgression or transcendence, excess or exceeding. At least nowadays, the character also means ‘passing’ from life to death – and this must surely also be behind the invention credited to 28 in the Dazhuan:

‘In antiquity, for burying the dead, people wrapped them thickly with firewood and buried them out in the wilds, where they neither made grave mounds nor planted trees. For the period of mourning there was no definite amount of time. The sages of later ages had this exchanged for inner and outer coffins. They probably got the idea for this from the hexagram Daguo.’ (Lynn)

Great and small

The distinction between hexagrams 62 and 28 isn’t necessarily in the scale of the transition, though, but more in how you make the crossing and what it requires of you. Small Exceeding calls for exceeding smallness: caution, humility, and above all careful attention to present reality, so you can ‘get the message’ of each moment and respond. Great Exceeding means crossing the line in a big way – impelled by necessity, but responding with imagination, seeing how things can be different

The roofbeam

‘Great Exceeding, the ridgepole warps.
Fruitful to have a direction to go.
Creating success.’

This is one of Yi’s clearest images. ‘The ridgepole,’ you say, ‘bears the whole weight of the roof…’ and at once people recognise it. Three thousand years later, on the other side of the globe, we think in the same imagery: being over-burdened, under stress, buckling under the strain, nearing breaking point.

The ridgepole hasn’t broken yet – and of course there are English houses whose timbers have been steadily warping for a few centuries and not broken yet – but this hexagram is the sign that it will break unless something’s done.  The shape of things is already changing: the roof over your head was once a straight line, but now it’s curving; it will fall. Strikingly, Yi doesn’t say ‘Disaster!’ but ‘fruitful to have a direction to go’ – a similar kind of optimism to that found in Hexagram 18, Corruption. If your house is coming down, it’s fruitful to cross the threshold and go out beyond its walls. Explore purposefully, go to the far places, test the depth of the fords.

This shows two meanings of ‘exceeding’ in these first few words: both overload, what’s happening to the ridgepole, and what you do in response: going out to explore. Kong Yingda referred to this same dual significance:

‘In Daguo there are two meanings. One refers to the natural world where something rises superior to its ordinary condition, as here where the lake submerges the tree, and the other refers to the great man who, by rising above the common run of humanity, manages to save difficult situations.’ (from RJ Lynn’s Classic of Changes)

Not that the Yijing itself says anything about who is saved – but there is this core idea of a human being who rises to the occasion.

Finally, the oracle says heng – ‘creating success’ or ‘successful offering’. That’s a word that quite often comes immediately after the name of a hexagram: ‘Small taming, creating success,’ ‘Gathering, creating success,’ implying that small taming or gathering is a way of creating success. Here, it’s the combination of the bending ridgepole and direction to go that creates success: when things are on the verge of change and you respond with purpose and curiosity, then you are joining with the spirits and getting involved in the creative process. Necessity gives birth to invention!

Tipping point: 28 in the Sequence

|::::|    :||||:

Hexagram 28 is one of those with rotational symmetry (you can turn it upside down and it’s still the same hexagram), so in the Sequence it’s paired with its complement, 27, Nourishment:

‘Great Exceeding overbalances.’

‘Nourishment nurtures correctly.’

And also,

‘With no nurturance, it is not possible to act, and so Great Exceeding follows.’

So Nourishment is a perfect contrast to Great Exceeding, but also provides the energy for that ‘direction to go’.

The name of Hexagram 27 is actually more literally translated ‘Jaws’: it’s specifically about the supporting structure that makes nourishment possible. The jaws represent a system that will work as a balanced whole to sustain you. Oddly enough, the character guo, exceeding, also contains the components ‘bone’ and ‘mouth’. The bones of the mouth, the roof of the home – these are the structures that allow life to continue, self-sustaining and in balance…

…until they don’t. Something shifts, and there must be change. (The demand for change – the idea that nourishment creates momentum – is present in 27, too, in the moving line texts.) So the Zagua says specifically that 28 overbalances. Equilibrium gets punctuated; the seesaw tips over…

 

…and lands. The one thing we know, as the plank shifts under our paws, is that it can’t stay the same.

Looking beyond its immediate pair, 28 is also part of the larger-scale ‘tipping point’ between the Upper and Lower Canons (between hexagrams 30 and 31), in a highly cohesive set of 10 hexagrams from 25 to 34. The big question of this decade, I think, is how to create a guided way of life that’s both stable and also alive and flexible. (For more on this see the recently-updated Sequence article available to Change Circle members.) The nourishment of hexagram 27 really demands action and new ways of being; then 28 overbalances and falls into uncertainty (29) from which new pattern and cohesiveness (30) might emerge. Already in 28’s lines there’s new willow growth, new partnership, prefiguring 31-32. Or, of course, everything might fall to rubble and meaning and structure might be lost in the waters. Things certainly won’t stay the same.

Trigrams

:||The inner trigram of hexagram 28 is xun, wind or wood. It represents inner nature: both its sensitivity and intuition (wind and roots feel their way into everything) and its capacity for growth and development.

||:And on the outside is dui, the lake, which has to do with social exchange and interaction. As water is to plants, so society is to human growth and development (‘without nurturance, it is not possible to act!’) –

– unless, until, there is too much of it. Just like an over-watered pot plant, a tree with its roots below the water level for too long will drown. (Funnily enough, willows – as in 28.2.5 – are one of the most water-tolerant species. Where other species could die within a week, they can survive for months in winter with their roots underwater and still put out new flowers and shoots in spring.)

‘The lake submerges the tree. Great Exceeding.
A noble one stands alone without fear,
Withdraws from the time without sadness.’

Too much water drowns the tree; too much society will drown individual growth, or intuition, or initiative. Society is a force for stability and continuity, all of us according with the culture of our ‘time’. Hexagram 28 is a time for individual initiative, and so the noble one will withdraw from the time without sadness.

Hexagram 28 in readings

I think the first question to ask when you receive 28 in a reading is, ‘What ridgepole?’

What is there that can’t go on – what’s crossing a line – what is too much? What’s at breaking point, or tipping point? It might be something you’ve been tolerating for a while, something that ‘hasn’t broken yet’, so you no longer notice it much.

The next question is for the second meaning of guo: ‘…and what do you need to do about it?’

When 28’s the relating hexagram, the beam may or may not really be at breaking point. The more important factor in these readings seems to be a mindset of ‘Something must be done!’ or ‘I must manage this somehow!’ Great Exceeding in the background might inspire resolute practicality, or it might trigger premature, compulsive action, falling over yourself in your eagerness to ‘do something’.

A few common ridgepoles I’ve seen in readings:

  • physical health (of the body as a whole, or the one weak point that’s under particular strain)
  • mental health and stress levels
  • a marriage
  • some vital piece of technology (that thing with the fraying wires that hasn’t broken yet…)
  • the cohesion of a group of people

(If you can’t see anything at breaking point in the situation you asked about, keep looking around! When I searched in my journal for 28, I found one reading that I’m fairly sure was a change of subject: nothing remarkable was happening in the situation I asked about, but Yi was drawing my attention to something more pressing. I wonder whether this kind of change of subject might not be more likely with Hexagram 28 than others. After all, a warping roofbeam, more than most situations, is something you need to notice right away.)

Willow trees by water

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