...life can be translucent
Menu

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...

And so you can get to know some like-minded Yi-enthusiasts and we can keep in touch, do join Clarity

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

My publishers have asked me to come up with a short introduction outlining the history of the Yi. So – wanting to do a good, thorough job – I have started by reading Richard J. Smith’s The I Ching: a biography. It’s a fascinating book, very readable, and it’s given me much more insight into the tradition and influence of the Yi through the millennia.

And… here’s its final paragraph, listing all the things he can imagine might happen to the Yi in future:

What, then, does the future hold for the Yijing, both domestically and internationally? No one can answer this question with certainty, of course, but it will probably continue to serve as a source of inspiration for creative thinkers, East and West, as it has for many hundreds of years. It will also continue to be studied by Chinese scholars as a foundational cultural document, with possible practical applications in the modern world. And it will no doubt continue to be translated by foreigners eager to understand and transmit its arcane wisdom for scholarly purposes or commercial gain. Perhaps most important, it will continue to offer us new opportunities for the comparative study of the lives of great religious books – how they came to be born, how they evolved, and how they traveled across space and time. By engaging in such comparisons we will not only learn more about other cultures; we will also assuredly learn more about ourselves.

And there ends this nice, erudite book. The Yi can be an artistic and cultural inspiration, or an object of commercial or scholarly interest, especially for comparative studies.

Can anyone here think of anything else it might be? Maybe even some other way it could help us learn more about ourselves?

Good grief.

Hexagram 48 line 6 says,

‘The well gathers,
Don’t cover it.
There is truth and confidence,
Good fortune from the source.’

Bradford Hatcher, who has dug more wells than your average Yijing scholar, suggests that this is an artesian well, one where the water rises spontaneously. That certainly fits with my experience of the line, and also seems to me to fit with the hexagram it changes to: 57, Subtly Penetrating, with the water flowing unseen through strata deep in the earth.

Only I just noticed something that goes under the capacious heading of, ‘Turns out the people who wrote the Yi knew what they were doing, who’d’ve thought?’

My ‘who’d’ve thought?’ moment came when I looked again at the Wikipedia article on artesian aquifers, while also looking at the paired line: Hexagram 47, Confined, line 1.

(Aside: to find the paired line, draw your hexagram and mark the line that’s changing; then rotate the paper 180 degrees, so that you’re looking at the same pattern of lines from a different angle. If you draw Hexagram 48 with line 6 changing, and then change your angle of view like this, you’ll find yourself looking at 47.1. Same line, different perspective.)

‘Buttocks oppressed with a wooden stick,
Entering into a gloomy valley,
For three years, meeting no-one.’

Each of these lines is in the trigram kan, associated with deep pits and flowing water: line 1 at the very bottom of the valley, line 6 at the top of a water column. Line 1 to line 6 – the most distant of line pairs.

Now… here is a diagram from that Wikipedia article:

By Andrew Dunn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image by Andrew Dunn
(Would you believe it, water trapped in porous rock strata is technically known as a confined aquifer?)

There you have it: at the very bottom of the valley, below the water table, you can dig a ‘gathering well’.

In the cross section, you can see the strata: one flowing line between two containing ‘banks’ of impervious rock, like the lines of kan. Move the uppermost inactive layer, and the water rises. Hexagram 57 describes the way the water seeps inward through the pervious rock; its pair, 58, describes pools and reservoirs, and also rising and breaking through.

The whole thing is not just mentioning an artesian well, it’s showing us a diagram of how it works – watch the line move, and it’s even an animated diagram.

In other news, I have looked at these lines for going on 20 years without noticing any of this. So as I file this observation under, ‘Turns out they knew what they were doing, who’d’ve thought?’ I’ll cross-reference with ‘How much more am I missing?

By and large, we know what sort of thing we expect Yi to say (though not, heaven knows, what it will say): ‘Here’s what you’re doing’ or ‘here’s what would happen’ or ‘here’s how to cope with that’ – something along those lines, describing or advising. Only every now and then – just eleven times, in fact, in the whole book – it speaks in a different way: it says ‘I’.

The best-known example is the first in the book, the Oracle of Hexagram 4:

‘Not knowing, creating success.
I do not seek the young ignoramus, the young ignoramus seeks me.
The first consultation speaks clearly.
The second and third pollute the waters,
Polluted, and hence not speaking.
Constancy bears fruit.’

The ‘I’ and ‘me’ here are the same character, 我, wo, which translates I/me/my/we/us/our.

(I’ve linked them to the etymology and definition at Richard Sears’ invaluable site, in its shiny new incarnation. One effect of his website update has been to hide the donation button, but you can find it here.)

There are many stories of people mucking around with the Yi, asking the same question repeatedly, and pretty much jumping out of their skins when they receive this hexagram. You thought you were just playing with a book, and now suddenly an oracle is talking to you. You’re not the only person here.

So in this case, ‘me’ is surely the voice of the oracle itself. In practice, it’s very often the voice of the universe at large (maybe not such a different idea): yes, you want answers; no, there are no more to be had, so keeping on asking like this is counter-productive. I’ve also seen several readings where ‘I do not seek the young ignoramus’ seemed to be words spoken by another person: an exasperated parent, a reluctant tech support department, a man who just isn’t that into the woman who keeps messaging him.

Something similar happens at 27.1:

‘Giving up your own spirit tortoise,
Gazing at me with jaws hanging down.
Pitfall.’

Here there’s a contrast drawn between your sacred tortoise and my jaws. Normally, I would read this as a warning from the oracle about forfeiting your own inner knowing. However, the line can, as in Hexagram 4, also lend words to other people and entities – anywhere you might be looking for nourishment that you already own. It still has that strong sense of someone speaking.

Who’s speaking? Is it always Yi, or the cosmos?

I don’t think so, no. Take the oracle of Hexagram 9:

‘Small taming, creating success.
Dense clouds without rain
Come from our Western altars.’

(And the same phrase about clouds without rain used in 62.5.)

I’ve translated this one ‘our Western altars’ because this time the words seem to come from the Zhou people as a whole: our altars. Still, spirits (probably spirits of nature – earth, mountains, rivers, directions) could also claim these altars as their own, so who knows?

But things get clearer in 20.3.5:

‘Seeing my own life.
Advancing, withdrawing.’

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

We only ever read these as being our voice, the querent, in a state of heightened self-awareness. This, says Yi, is what you need to be saying to yourself. (Changing these two ‘my own life’ lines together shows you Hexagram 52, Stilling – a picture of introspection.)

Again in 42.5:

‘True and confident, with a benevolent heart,
No question: good fortune from the source.
Truth, confidence and benevolence are my own strength.’

This is a line of tremendous power. It has a strong sense of implicit speech marks: with these qualities, these can be your words. This is what you should be able to say.

So this is quite different: not words addressing the querent, but words for the querent to speak, at a moment of heightened self-awareness.

That quality of heightened awareness seems to be quite a common feature of ‘me’ lines. I think it characterises 48.3, 50.2 and 56.4:

‘Well is dredged, no drinking.
This makes my heart ache.
It can be used to draw water,
With the king’s clear vision
People together accept its blessing.’

 

‘The vessel contains something real.
My companions are afflicted,
Cannot come near me.
Good fortune.’

 

‘Traveller in a place to stay,
Gains property and an axe.
My heart is not glad.’

In each case, the speaker has a strong, independent awareness of the situation: clearer insight into the well than the king or the people; confidence untouched by the companions’ anxiety; not glad even when the traveller is apparently secure. It’s like an omniscient – or at least more knowledgeable – narrator, telling the story from a higher vantage-point.

Who is this narrator? You can hear it as the querent – or as the oracle itself. In practice, in readings, it quite often turns out to be our inner knowing. 56.4: ‘I’ve got everything, I ought to be happy, yet somehow I’m not.’ Here and at 48.3, Yi can help people reconnect with their heart’s intuition, and perhaps understand why it says what it says. Perhaps this ‘me’ comes from the intersection of inner knowing and oracle voice?

And finally, there’s 61.2…

‘Calling crane in the shadows,
Her young respond in harmony.
I have a good wine vessel,
I will share with you, pouring it all out.’

…which surely is just the song of the cranes.

Possibly the most Frequently Asked Question about interpreting readings:

‘This line says one thing, but that one says the opposite! How can I make sense of the reading when it contradicts itself?’

It happens a lot: you ask how to go about something, and one hexagram says it’s fruitful to cross the great river, and the other says not. Or you ask what if you try this, and one line says it’s wonderful and the next says it’s a disaster. This is genuinely confusing…

until you realise that Yi may talk about contexts as well as experiences, and causes as well as effects. In other words, it can say, ‘If… then…’ – and it does this quite often.

‘If… then…’ in one line

Sometimes it does this even within a single line. Think of the ones that explicitly describe two different kinds of people:

‘A prince makes a summer offering to the son of heaven.
Small people are in no way capable of this.’

or

‘Small people use vigour,
Noble one uses a net.
Constancy: danger.
The ram butts a hedge,
Entangles his horns.’

If you are like the prince, then you can make this offering; if you are like a small person, then you can’t. If you are using vigour, then you are being more like a small person, and you look disconcertingly like that ram.

Then there are lines that depict two alternative scenarios, but without making the distinction between them quite so obvious:

‘People in the home scold and scold,
Regrets, danger: good fortune.
Wife and child giggle and giggle.
In the end, shame.’

or

‘Vigour in the cheekbones means a pitfall.
Noble one decides, decides.
Goes alone, meets the rain,
And is indignant as if he were soaked through.
Not a mistake.’

If there’s scolding in the household, then expect regrets and danger but good fortune, but if the woman is giggling with the children, then there’ll be shame in the end. If your strength is in your cheekbones, then this means misfortune – but if instead you are like the noble one who goes decisively into the rain and suffers the indignity of a soaking, then nothing will be wrong.

(How interesting that the first four examples I come up with of these ‘bifurcating’ lines are all third lines…)

‘If… then…’ in two (or more) lines

Suppose that instead of 34.3 (the example above with the ram), you received 34.4.6…

‘Constancy, good fortune.
Regrets vanish.
The hedge broken through, no entanglement.
Vigour in the axle straps of a great cart.’

‘The ram butts the hedge.
Cannot pull back, cannot follow through,
No direction bears fruit.
Hardship, and hence good fortune.’

…and suppose you’d asked a ‘what if?’ question, like ‘What if I take this up with them?’ or ‘What if I lodge a complaint?’ Now you have an answer that says both you will break through the hedge and be free, and that you’ll get hopelessly stuck. So which is it?

Well… if you are at line 4, then you break through; if you are at line 6, then you get stuck. Or… insofar as you act like line 4 or line 6, here’s what you can expect. Having a well-constructed cart with especially strong connecting pieces is one thing, and barging in relying just on your own muscle and unfortunately-curly horns is another. ‘What if I lodge a complaint?’ ‘Well, it depends how you go about it…’

Finding the ‘if’s

It can be trickier than that, of course. Suppose you ask a similar ‘What if I…?’ sort of question and Yi gives you 28.3.4 as your answer:

‘The ridgepole buckles.
Pitfall.’

‘The ridgepole at its peak, good fortune.
If there is more, shame.’

Since these lines can’t both be true at once (Schrödinger’s Ridgepole?), they must be alternatives. Either the ridgepole will just about hold up, which would be good, or it won’t, and that would be disastrous. But where’s the ‘if…’ to these ‘then’s? How can you tell which line you’re occupying/embodying, and how can you avoid line 3?

Yi is still telling you these things – just through the broader context instead of in the words of the line itself. There’s the difference between third and fourth lines in general, for instance: their position within the structure, the stance or approach they imply. Also, there are the zhi gua – the individual hexagrams created by each line’s change: line 3 alone would change to Hexagram 47, line 4 to Hexagram 48. So instead of, ‘If you’re acting more like a ram, then…’, this reading’s saying, ‘If your perspective on this is more like line 3, and if you’re approaching/feeling it in a more 47-ish way, then…’

And beyond those two essentials, line position and zhi gua – both covered in the Foundations Course – you could also look at the full line pathways, or the associated lines in the nuclear story, or each line’s position relative to the hexagram’s component trigrams. If you’re ready to look, then you’re likely to find all the clarity and distinctions and in-depth explanation you could want within your reading.

Tram tracks bifurcating

Name and Nature

The name of Hexagram 27 translates literally not as ‘Nourishment’ but as ‘Jaws’ – not something we call it, because shark. But it does help to remember that it’s not specifically about nourishment (of whatever kind), but rather about the framework that makes nourishment possible. Just looking at the shape of the hexagram itself, this is visible: it looks like an open mouth.

|::::|

‘Food,’ it says, ‘goes in here.’ Something like this –

Baby bird's gape

 

This can be about all kinds of nourishment – material, emotional, social, spiritual – and hence many kinds of supporting framework: economy, society, friendships, mental habits, spiritual practice, an oracle.

Searching my own journal for Hexagram 27 as primary hexagram, I find it’s tended to nudge me to look at objective supportive frameworks – the forum software, for instance. As relating hexagram it’s been more subjective, more to do with the motivating power of hunger of all kinds. It can describe the hunger for beauty, or connection, or meaning (I found 27 relating in several readings about readings) – but even when it’s pointing to a desire that might be met in material, practical ways (like a steady income), it’s still more to do with the emotional need (eg for security).

(Aside: being able to search your journal like this is the best way to take a deep dive into a hexagram’s real meaning. This is why search features are such a big part of the Resonance Journal. Recommended!)

Oracle

‘Nourishment: constancy brings good fortune.
See the jaws,
Your own quest for something real to fill your mouth.’

First of all, this hexagram calls for constancy: steadiness, persistence (maybe with a hint of doggedness), loyalty to truth. Then, I think, it goes on to specify what kind of constancy.

‘Jaws’ is the name of the hexagram, and ‘see’, here and in line 1, is the same word as the name of Hexagram 20, so it comes with echoes of that hexagram’s themes. This is a clear and strong exhortation to step back from action and see what’s really happening. (There aren’t any other hexagrams that tell you to ‘see’ them, so this is quite striking.)

What are your desires? How are your needs governing your behaviour?

The need for nourishment is simple, powerful and primal. In readings, this may be pointing to any strong hunger, from emotional neediness to material survival fears to spiritual thirst. There could be someone looking for admiration, or for the rent, or even to fill the void by buying another gadget. However, the next line speaks of your quest for ‘something real‘.

The word ‘real’ is 實, shi, and the early forms of the character show a string of cowries (ie cash) under a roof. (No imaginary money here, only hard cash.) It means true, substantial, solid, and also a fruit or seed.

If you are still hungry, chances are that you haven’t found real nourishment. It’s interesting that the word means ‘fruit’, as the nutritional value of fruit is what gave us our instinctive craving for sweet things. Then we invented refined sugar, which can’t satisfy our hunger. And this, of course, is a perfect image for any amount of emotional or spiritual ‘junk food’. Receiving Hexagram 27 is a good cue to stop and ask about the real underlying need.

The Sequence (small scale)

Nourishment follows from Hexagram 26, Great Taming:

‘Things are tamed, and so there can be nurturing, and so Nourishment follows. Nourishment means nurturing.’

It could hardly be simpler or more literal: we need farmers and their ‘taming’ skill to feed us. And then, of course, you need to translate this image to the kind of nourishment in your own reading. What reserves do you need, what must you cultivate, what skills will you foster, so that ‘there can be nurturing’?

The Sequence (slightly larger scale)

Looking at the bigger context in the Sequence of hexagrams, you can see that this is a turning point. Starting with hexagrams 21 and 22, every hexagram pair of the 20s has had thunder as an inner trigram in one hexagram, and mountain as the outer trigram of its pair. The initiative of inner thunder encounters different situations, and outer mountain tries to absorb and contain them. The effect is one of experiments, trials and that wonderful euphemism, the ‘learning experience’.

And then in Hexagram 27, inner thunder and outer mountain come together: inner spark with outer stability, both experimenting and integrating. The combination creates a great mix of questions: ‘What to do here? How do I engage?’ joining with ‘What do I take in? How do I grow from this?’ to make ‘How can I find nourishment?’

Although in the larger scale of things, Hexagram 27 represents equilibrium in contrast to the imbalance of Hexagram 28, its inner workings (as represented in the moving line texts) are pretty fraught. Much as 13 is about trying to create Harmony among People, so 27 is about the search for complete, dependable nourishment. The question is, how can we have a structure that’s both strong enough to hold, and also flexible enough to work? The willow tree of 28 is one answer; the jaws are another…

Trigrams and Image

…because, if you think about it, your jaws are solid and yet mobile (and wouldn’t be much use to you if they were only one or the other). This is also portrayed in the component trigrams: thunder below, that moves (like the lower jaw) and mountain above, that doesn’t (like the upper).

The Image authors contemplated this landscape of mountain and thunder, and seem most of all to have heard how the thunder echoes:

‘Below the mountain is thunder. Nourishment.
The noble one reflects on his words in conversation,
And is discriminating about what he eats and drinks.’

The noble one joins thunder and mountain by coupling his impulse to act with reflection and discrimination. I imagine thunder as the desire to speak up, as hunger and thirst, and mountain as the conscious ‘container’ for those impulses.

An interesting feature here is that the noble one isn’t only thinking about what he consumes, but also what he sends out into the world. I believe the Image authors were exceptionally skilful readers of the ancient text. Here, it seems they saw how the line texts progress towards the top line, where you might become not only a consumer but an ‘origin of nourishment.’

Lines

The line texts make clear that balanced, successful nourishment is not straightforward. Just reading through them, one after another, you can see they have as much to do with rejecting nourishment as receiving it. They don’t describe a stable status quo – it’s much more often about rejecting what’s available and yearning after something more and different.

Lines 2 and 4 talk about unbalanced nourishment/jaws – a word that means something is toppled, upset, turned on its head. (Brad Hatcher uses ‘top-heavy’ in one line and ‘subverted’ in the other.) In the context (looking to the hilltop, and the tiger’s gaze), this seems to be about the unbalancing power of desire – more wanting than the existing framework can contain.

Lines 2 and 5 speak of ‘rejecting the standard’ – the standard, 經 jing, is the word that subsequently came to mean ‘Classic’, as in Yijing – the canonical works. Its original meaning: the warp threads of a loom, around which everything else is woven. Traditional interpretation says that this is someone turning away from the right path – and that may be so, but they’re certainly rejecting what’s normal or paradigmatic or ‘just how it’s done’. The jing is what holds everything together in its current pattern: without it, the weave will unravel and the pattern will vanish.

There’s an unusually straightforward pattern to the lines: the lower trigram is ill-omened, the upper trigram is favourable – even ‘rejecting the standard’ and ‘unbalanced nourishment’ become auspicious. What might be behind this? Perhaps the different natures of the two component trigrams?

Thunder is active by definition: moving, hankering, aspiring to something distant. It can’t simply be present – there’s no such thing as thunder that isn’t in motion. ‘Seeing’, the name of 20, recurs in line 1 – but whereas in the oracle you were ‘seeing the jaws’, becoming aware of what’s present, now you’re looking at someone else. To expect your nourishment to come from elsewhere, and push away what’s available here and now, is destabilising and disempowering.

Mountain is still and solid – and this is the outer world, so there’s scope for real, effective action here. Lines 4-6 have progressively more ownership of nourishment. The tiger has claws and teeth to match his intense desire, so he’s supremely capable of feeding himself – yet not on the same level as the less spectacular humans of line 5, who can make their dwelling in one place because they will grow their own food…

‘Rejecting the standard,
Dwelling here with constancy: good fortune.
Cannot cross the great river.’

An old meaning of ‘dwelling here with constancy: good fortune’ is ‘divination for a settlement: good fortune’. Here is the steadiness advocated by the oracle, now associated with settling down and staying put.

It’s interesting that this also begins with ‘rejecting the standard’: settling down is not the same as accepting convention. Perhaps it has overtones of ‘opting out of the rat race’? This is the only line that doesn’t mention ‘jaws’/’nourishment’, and I imagine that could be because it feels confident that it’s settling in a good place, where rain will fall and the crops will grow, and we can trust in heaven and care for one another (see the fan yao, 42.5). We’re not equipped to cross rivers, but being here will be enough.

And then line 6 is at the ‘origin of nourishment’ – ‘origin’ 由 representing a sprout in a field, or a sprouting seed. It’s a perilously exposed position – everything’s up to you, there is no safety net – but auspicious and empowered. This one can cross rivers, carrying all he needs with him.

From the I Ching Community

My publishers have asked me to come up with a short introduction outlining the history of the Yi. So – wanting to do a good, thorough job – I have started by reading Richard J. Smith’s The I Ching: a biography. It’s a fascinating book, very readable, and it’s given me much more insight into the tradition and influence of the Yi through the millennia.

And… here’s its final paragraph, listing all the things he can imagine might happen to the Yi in future:

What, then, does the future hold for the Yijing, both domestically and internationally? No one can answer this question with certainty, of course, but it will probably continue to serve as a source of inspiration for creative thinkers, East and West, as it has for many hundreds of years. It will also continue to be studied by Chinese scholars as a foundational cultural document, with possible practical applications in the modern world. And it will no doubt continue to be translated by foreigners eager to understand and transmit its arcane wisdom for scholarly purposes or commercial gain. Perhaps most important, it will continue to offer us new opportunities for the comparative study of the lives of great religious books – how they came to be born, how they evolved, and how they traveled across space and time. By engaging in such comparisons we will not only learn more about other cultures; we will also assuredly learn more about ourselves.

And there ends this nice, erudite book. The Yi can be an artistic and cultural inspiration, or an object of commercial or scholarly interest, especially for comparative studies.

Can anyone here think of anything else it might be? Maybe even some other way it could help us learn more about ourselves?

Good grief.

Hexagram 48 line 6 says,

‘The well gathers,
Don’t cover it.
There is truth and confidence,
Good fortune from the source.’

Bradford Hatcher, who has dug more wells than your average Yijing scholar, suggests that this is an artesian well, one where the water rises spontaneously. That certainly fits with my experience of the line, and also seems to me to fit with the hexagram it changes to: 57, Subtly Penetrating, with the water flowing unseen through strata deep in the earth.

Only I just noticed something that goes under the capacious heading of, ‘Turns out the people who wrote the Yi knew what they were doing, who’d’ve thought?’

My ‘who’d’ve thought?’ moment came when I looked again at the Wikipedia article on artesian aquifers, while also looking at the paired line: Hexagram 47, Confined, line 1.

(Aside: to find the paired line, draw your hexagram and mark the line that’s changing; then rotate the paper 180 degrees, so that you’re looking at the same pattern of lines from a different angle. If you draw Hexagram 48 with line 6 changing, and then change your angle of view like this, you’ll find yourself looking at 47.1. Same line, different perspective.)

‘Buttocks oppressed with a wooden stick,
Entering into a gloomy valley,
For three years, meeting no-one.’

Each of these lines is in the trigram kan, associated with deep pits and flowing water: line 1 at the very bottom of the valley, line 6 at the top of a water column. Line 1 to line 6 – the most distant of line pairs.

Now… here is a diagram from that Wikipedia article:

By Andrew Dunn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image by Andrew Dunn
(Would you believe it, water trapped in porous rock strata is technically known as a confined aquifer?)

There you have it: at the very bottom of the valley, below the water table, you can dig a ‘gathering well’.

In the cross section, you can see the strata: one flowing line between two containing ‘banks’ of impervious rock, like the lines of kan. Move the uppermost inactive layer, and the water rises. Hexagram 57 describes the way the water seeps inward through the pervious rock; its pair, 58, describes pools and reservoirs, and also rising and breaking through.

The whole thing is not just mentioning an artesian well, it’s showing us a diagram of how it works – watch the line move, and it’s even an animated diagram.

In other news, I have looked at these lines for going on 20 years without noticing any of this. So as I file this observation under, ‘Turns out they knew what they were doing, who’d’ve thought?’ I’ll cross-reference with ‘How much more am I missing?

By and large, we know what sort of thing we expect Yi to say (though not, heaven knows, what it will say): ‘Here’s what you’re doing’ or ‘here’s what would happen’ or ‘here’s how to cope with that’ – something along those lines, describing or advising. Only every now and then – just eleven times, in fact, in the whole book – it speaks in a different way: it says ‘I’.

The best-known example is the first in the book, the Oracle of Hexagram 4:

‘Not knowing, creating success.
I do not seek the young ignoramus, the young ignoramus seeks me.
The first consultation speaks clearly.
The second and third pollute the waters,
Polluted, and hence not speaking.
Constancy bears fruit.’

The ‘I’ and ‘me’ here are the same character, 我, wo, which translates I/me/my/we/us/our.

(I’ve linked them to the etymology and definition at Richard Sears’ invaluable site, in its shiny new incarnation. One effect of his website update has been to hide the donation button, but you can find it here.)

There are many stories of people mucking around with the Yi, asking the same question repeatedly, and pretty much jumping out of their skins when they receive this hexagram. You thought you were just playing with a book, and now suddenly an oracle is talking to you. You’re not the only person here.

So in this case, ‘me’ is surely the voice of the oracle itself. In practice, it’s very often the voice of the universe at large (maybe not such a different idea): yes, you want answers; no, there are no more to be had, so keeping on asking like this is counter-productive. I’ve also seen several readings where ‘I do not seek the young ignoramus’ seemed to be words spoken by another person: an exasperated parent, a reluctant tech support department, a man who just isn’t that into the woman who keeps messaging him.

Something similar happens at 27.1:

‘Giving up your own spirit tortoise,
Gazing at me with jaws hanging down.
Pitfall.’

Here there’s a contrast drawn between your sacred tortoise and my jaws. Normally, I would read this as a warning from the oracle about forfeiting your own inner knowing. However, the line can, as in Hexagram 4, also lend words to other people and entities – anywhere you might be looking for nourishment that you already own. It still has that strong sense of someone speaking.

Who’s speaking? Is it always Yi, or the cosmos?

I don’t think so, no. Take the oracle of Hexagram 9:

‘Small taming, creating success.
Dense clouds without rain
Come from our Western altars.’

(And the same phrase about clouds without rain used in 62.5.)

I’ve translated this one ‘our Western altars’ because this time the words seem to come from the Zhou people as a whole: our altars. Still, spirits (probably spirits of nature – earth, mountains, rivers, directions) could also claim these altars as their own, so who knows?

But things get clearer in 20.3.5:

‘Seeing my own life.
Advancing, withdrawing.’

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

We only ever read these as being our voice, the querent, in a state of heightened self-awareness. This, says Yi, is what you need to be saying to yourself. (Changing these two ‘my own life’ lines together shows you Hexagram 52, Stilling – a picture of introspection.)

Again in 42.5:

‘True and confident, with a benevolent heart,
No question: good fortune from the source.
Truth, confidence and benevolence are my own strength.’

This is a line of tremendous power. It has a strong sense of implicit speech marks: with these qualities, these can be your words. This is what you should be able to say.

So this is quite different: not words addressing the querent, but words for the querent to speak, at a moment of heightened self-awareness.

That quality of heightened awareness seems to be quite a common feature of ‘me’ lines. I think it characterises 48.3, 50.2 and 56.4:

‘Well is dredged, no drinking.
This makes my heart ache.
It can be used to draw water,
With the king’s clear vision
People together accept its blessing.’

 

‘The vessel contains something real.
My companions are afflicted,
Cannot come near me.
Good fortune.’

 

‘Traveller in a place to stay,
Gains property and an axe.
My heart is not glad.’

In each case, the speaker has a strong, independent awareness of the situation: clearer insight into the well than the king or the people; confidence untouched by the companions’ anxiety; not glad even when the traveller is apparently secure. It’s like an omniscient – or at least more knowledgeable – narrator, telling the story from a higher vantage-point.

Who is this narrator? You can hear it as the querent – or as the oracle itself. In practice, in readings, it quite often turns out to be our inner knowing. 56.4: ‘I’ve got everything, I ought to be happy, yet somehow I’m not.’ Here and at 48.3, Yi can help people reconnect with their heart’s intuition, and perhaps understand why it says what it says. Perhaps this ‘me’ comes from the intersection of inner knowing and oracle voice?

And finally, there’s 61.2…

‘Calling crane in the shadows,
Her young respond in harmony.
I have a good wine vessel,
I will share with you, pouring it all out.’

…which surely is just the song of the cranes.

Possibly the most Frequently Asked Question about interpreting readings:

‘This line says one thing, but that one says the opposite! How can I make sense of the reading when it contradicts itself?’

It happens a lot: you ask how to go about something, and one hexagram says it’s fruitful to cross the great river, and the other says not. Or you ask what if you try this, and one line says it’s wonderful and the next says it’s a disaster. This is genuinely confusing…

until you realise that Yi may talk about contexts as well as experiences, and causes as well as effects. In other words, it can say, ‘If… then…’ – and it does this quite often.

‘If… then…’ in one line

Sometimes it does this even within a single line. Think of the ones that explicitly describe two different kinds of people:

‘A prince makes a summer offering to the son of heaven.
Small people are in no way capable of this.’

or

‘Small people use vigour,
Noble one uses a net.
Constancy: danger.
The ram butts a hedge,
Entangles his horns.’

If you are like the prince, then you can make this offering; if you are like a small person, then you can’t. If you are using vigour, then you are being more like a small person, and you look disconcertingly like that ram.

Then there are lines that depict two alternative scenarios, but without making the distinction between them quite so obvious:

‘People in the home scold and scold,
Regrets, danger: good fortune.
Wife and child giggle and giggle.
In the end, shame.’

or

‘Vigour in the cheekbones means a pitfall.
Noble one decides, decides.
Goes alone, meets the rain,
And is indignant as if he were soaked through.
Not a mistake.’

If there’s scolding in the household, then expect regrets and danger but good fortune, but if the woman is giggling with the children, then there’ll be shame in the end. If your strength is in your cheekbones, then this means misfortune – but if instead you are like the noble one who goes decisively into the rain and suffers the indignity of a soaking, then nothing will be wrong.

(How interesting that the first four examples I come up with of these ‘bifurcating’ lines are all third lines…)

‘If… then…’ in two (or more) lines

Suppose that instead of 34.3 (the example above with the ram), you received 34.4.6…

‘Constancy, good fortune.
Regrets vanish.
The hedge broken through, no entanglement.
Vigour in the axle straps of a great cart.’

‘The ram butts the hedge.
Cannot pull back, cannot follow through,
No direction bears fruit.
Hardship, and hence good fortune.’

…and suppose you’d asked a ‘what if?’ question, like ‘What if I take this up with them?’ or ‘What if I lodge a complaint?’ Now you have an answer that says both you will break through the hedge and be free, and that you’ll get hopelessly stuck. So which is it?

Well… if you are at line 4, then you break through; if you are at line 6, then you get stuck. Or… insofar as you act like line 4 or line 6, here’s what you can expect. Having a well-constructed cart with especially strong connecting pieces is one thing, and barging in relying just on your own muscle and unfortunately-curly horns is another. ‘What if I lodge a complaint?’ ‘Well, it depends how you go about it…’

Finding the ‘if’s

It can be trickier than that, of course. Suppose you ask a similar ‘What if I…?’ sort of question and Yi gives you 28.3.4 as your answer:

‘The ridgepole buckles.
Pitfall.’

‘The ridgepole at its peak, good fortune.
If there is more, shame.’

Since these lines can’t both be true at once (Schrödinger’s Ridgepole?), they must be alternatives. Either the ridgepole will just about hold up, which would be good, or it won’t, and that would be disastrous. But where’s the ‘if…’ to these ‘then’s? How can you tell which line you’re occupying/embodying, and how can you avoid line 3?

Yi is still telling you these things – just through the broader context instead of in the words of the line itself. There’s the difference between third and fourth lines in general, for instance: their position within the structure, the stance or approach they imply. Also, there are the zhi gua – the individual hexagrams created by each line’s change: line 3 alone would change to Hexagram 47, line 4 to Hexagram 48. So instead of, ‘If you’re acting more like a ram, then…’, this reading’s saying, ‘If your perspective on this is more like line 3, and if you’re approaching/feeling it in a more 47-ish way, then…’

And beyond those two essentials, line position and zhi gua – both covered in the Foundations Course – you could also look at the full line pathways, or the associated lines in the nuclear story, or each line’s position relative to the hexagram’s component trigrams. If you’re ready to look, then you’re likely to find all the clarity and distinctions and in-depth explanation you could want within your reading.

Tram tracks bifurcating

Name and Nature

The name of Hexagram 27 translates literally not as ‘Nourishment’ but as ‘Jaws’ – not something we call it, because shark. But it does help to remember that it’s not specifically about nourishment (of whatever kind), but rather about the framework that makes nourishment possible. Just looking at the shape of the hexagram itself, this is visible: it looks like an open mouth.

|::::|

‘Food,’ it says, ‘goes in here.’ Something like this –

Baby bird's gape

 

This can be about all kinds of nourishment – material, emotional, social, spiritual – and hence many kinds of supporting framework: economy, society, friendships, mental habits, spiritual practice, an oracle.

Searching my own journal for Hexagram 27 as primary hexagram, I find it’s tended to nudge me to look at objective supportive frameworks – the forum software, for instance. As relating hexagram it’s been more subjective, more to do with the motivating power of hunger of all kinds. It can describe the hunger for beauty, or connection, or meaning (I found 27 relating in several readings about readings) – but even when it’s pointing to a desire that might be met in material, practical ways (like a steady income), it’s still more to do with the emotional need (eg for security).

(Aside: being able to search your journal like this is the best way to take a deep dive into a hexagram’s real meaning. This is why search features are such a big part of the Resonance Journal. Recommended!)

Oracle

‘Nourishment: constancy brings good fortune.
See the jaws,
Your own quest for something real to fill your mouth.’

First of all, this hexagram calls for constancy: steadiness, persistence (maybe with a hint of doggedness), loyalty to truth. Then, I think, it goes on to specify what kind of constancy.

‘Jaws’ is the name of the hexagram, and ‘see’, here and in line 1, is the same word as the name of Hexagram 20, so it comes with echoes of that hexagram’s themes. This is a clear and strong exhortation to step back from action and see what’s really happening. (There aren’t any other hexagrams that tell you to ‘see’ them, so this is quite striking.)

What are your desires? How are your needs governing your behaviour?

The need for nourishment is simple, powerful and primal. In readings, this may be pointing to any strong hunger, from emotional neediness to material survival fears to spiritual thirst. There could be someone looking for admiration, or for the rent, or even to fill the void by buying another gadget. However, the next line speaks of your quest for ‘something real‘.

The word ‘real’ is 實, shi, and the early forms of the character show a string of cowries (ie cash) under a roof. (No imaginary money here, only hard cash.) It means true, substantial, solid, and also a fruit or seed.

If you are still hungry, chances are that you haven’t found real nourishment. It’s interesting that the word means ‘fruit’, as the nutritional value of fruit is what gave us our instinctive craving for sweet things. Then we invented refined sugar, which can’t satisfy our hunger. And this, of course, is a perfect image for any amount of emotional or spiritual ‘junk food’. Receiving Hexagram 27 is a good cue to stop and ask about the real underlying need.

The Sequence (small scale)

Nourishment follows from Hexagram 26, Great Taming:

‘Things are tamed, and so there can be nurturing, and so Nourishment follows. Nourishment means nurturing.’

It could hardly be simpler or more literal: we need farmers and their ‘taming’ skill to feed us. And then, of course, you need to translate this image to the kind of nourishment in your own reading. What reserves do you need, what must you cultivate, what skills will you foster, so that ‘there can be nurturing’?

The Sequence (slightly larger scale)

Looking at the bigger context in the Sequence of hexagrams, you can see that this is a turning point. Starting with hexagrams 21 and 22, every hexagram pair of the 20s has had thunder as an inner trigram in one hexagram, and mountain as the outer trigram of its pair. The initiative of inner thunder encounters different situations, and outer mountain tries to absorb and contain them. The effect is one of experiments, trials and that wonderful euphemism, the ‘learning experience’.

And then in Hexagram 27, inner thunder and outer mountain come together: inner spark with outer stability, both experimenting and integrating. The combination creates a great mix of questions: ‘What to do here? How do I engage?’ joining with ‘What do I take in? How do I grow from this?’ to make ‘How can I find nourishment?’

Although in the larger scale of things, Hexagram 27 represents equilibrium in contrast to the imbalance of Hexagram 28, its inner workings (as represented in the moving line texts) are pretty fraught. Much as 13 is about trying to create Harmony among People, so 27 is about the search for complete, dependable nourishment. The question is, how can we have a structure that’s both strong enough to hold, and also flexible enough to work? The willow tree of 28 is one answer; the jaws are another…

Trigrams and Image

…because, if you think about it, your jaws are solid and yet mobile (and wouldn’t be much use to you if they were only one or the other). This is also portrayed in the component trigrams: thunder below, that moves (like the lower jaw) and mountain above, that doesn’t (like the upper).

The Image authors contemplated this landscape of mountain and thunder, and seem most of all to have heard how the thunder echoes:

‘Below the mountain is thunder. Nourishment.
The noble one reflects on his words in conversation,
And is discriminating about what he eats and drinks.’

The noble one joins thunder and mountain by coupling his impulse to act with reflection and discrimination. I imagine thunder as the desire to speak up, as hunger and thirst, and mountain as the conscious ‘container’ for those impulses.

An interesting feature here is that the noble one isn’t only thinking about what he consumes, but also what he sends out into the world. I believe the Image authors were exceptionally skilful readers of the ancient text. Here, it seems they saw how the line texts progress towards the top line, where you might become not only a consumer but an ‘origin of nourishment.’

Lines

The line texts make clear that balanced, successful nourishment is not straightforward. Just reading through them, one after another, you can see they have as much to do with rejecting nourishment as receiving it. They don’t describe a stable status quo – it’s much more often about rejecting what’s available and yearning after something more and different.

Lines 2 and 4 talk about unbalanced nourishment/jaws – a word that means something is toppled, upset, turned on its head. (Brad Hatcher uses ‘top-heavy’ in one line and ‘subverted’ in the other.) In the context (looking to the hilltop, and the tiger’s gaze), this seems to be about the unbalancing power of desire – more wanting than the existing framework can contain.

Lines 2 and 5 speak of ‘rejecting the standard’ – the standard, 經 jing, is the word that subsequently came to mean ‘Classic’, as in Yijing – the canonical works. Its original meaning: the warp threads of a loom, around which everything else is woven. Traditional interpretation says that this is someone turning away from the right path – and that may be so, but they’re certainly rejecting what’s normal or paradigmatic or ‘just how it’s done’. The jing is what holds everything together in its current pattern: without it, the weave will unravel and the pattern will vanish.

There’s an unusually straightforward pattern to the lines: the lower trigram is ill-omened, the upper trigram is favourable – even ‘rejecting the standard’ and ‘unbalanced nourishment’ become auspicious. What might be behind this? Perhaps the different natures of the two component trigrams?

Thunder is active by definition: moving, hankering, aspiring to something distant. It can’t simply be present – there’s no such thing as thunder that isn’t in motion. ‘Seeing’, the name of 20, recurs in line 1 – but whereas in the oracle you were ‘seeing the jaws’, becoming aware of what’s present, now you’re looking at someone else. To expect your nourishment to come from elsewhere, and push away what’s available here and now, is destabilising and disempowering.

Mountain is still and solid – and this is the outer world, so there’s scope for real, effective action here. Lines 4-6 have progressively more ownership of nourishment. The tiger has claws and teeth to match his intense desire, so he’s supremely capable of feeding himself – yet not on the same level as the less spectacular humans of line 5, who can make their dwelling in one place because they will grow their own food…

‘Rejecting the standard,
Dwelling here with constancy: good fortune.
Cannot cross the great river.’

An old meaning of ‘dwelling here with constancy: good fortune’ is ‘divination for a settlement: good fortune’. Here is the steadiness advocated by the oracle, now associated with settling down and staying put.

It’s interesting that this also begins with ‘rejecting the standard’: settling down is not the same as accepting convention. Perhaps it has overtones of ‘opting out of the rat race’? This is the only line that doesn’t mention ‘jaws’/’nourishment’, and I imagine that could be because it feels confident that it’s settling in a good place, where rain will fall and the crops will grow, and we can trust in heaven and care for one another (see the fan yao, 42.5). We’re not equipped to cross rivers, but being here will be enough.

And then line 6 is at the ‘origin of nourishment’ – ‘origin’ 由 representing a sprout in a field, or a sprouting seed. It’s a perilously exposed position – everything’s up to you, there is no safety net – but auspicious and empowered. This one can cross rivers, carrying all he needs with him.

Join Clarity

You are warmly invited to join Clarity and -

  • access the audio version of the Beginners’ Course
  • participate in the I Ching Community
  • subscribe to ‘Clarity Notes’ for I Ching news

Join here!

Clarity,
PO BOX 255,
Witney,
Oxfordshire,
OX29 6WH,
United Kingdom

Phone/ Voicemail:
+44 (0)20 3287 3053 (UK)
+1 (561) 459-4758 (US).