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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...

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

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

How often have you heard someone say they need to consult with Yi (and perhaps need help with the interpretation) because they’re ‘too subjective’ or ‘too emotionally involved’ with the topic?

In a way, that can be true. We can be too close to something, too caught up in its ins-and-outs, and need to step back to find space to see the situation from a new angle. That’s something readings help with. Remembering Yi’s response to, ‘What do we give, when we give a reading?’ – 34.1.2.3.4 to 2 – it seems to me that this is what happens at line 4 –

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

– when we break through and are no longer trapped inside those thought-hedges that block most of the world from sight.

However, what we’re escaping here is not emotional involvement; in fact, the idea that emotion gets in the way of taking decisions turns out to be exactly wrong.

There have been famous medical cases of people with brain injuries that left their rational intelligence perfectly intact, while they lost the capacity to feel emotion: people who, in effect, are compelled to take decisions without emotional involvement. They either make atrociously bad decisions or make none at all.

An anecdote from a case history: a man with this type of brain damage is offered a choice of two dates for his next appointment. He pulls out his diary and begins enumerating the pros and cons of each option, lucidly and in detail. Thirty minutes later, he is still weighing the pros and cons; finally, the doctor tells him which day to come, and he says, ‘OK, fine’ and leaves.

So for this man stuck in an endless loop of ‘on the one hand… on the other hand…’ the problem was a lack of subjectivity. His situation is extreme, and tragic – but I think still has something in common with the kind of indecision we bring to the oracle.

To look at this from the opposite direction for a moment, think of that commonly-taught way of motivating yourself by tapping into the emotion associated with the end result. You vividly imagine attaining your end result, deliberately become aware of its full emotional impact, then connect that emotional state to the work you need to do today. Emotional involvement gives you the power to break through the hedge and get started.

And… I think readings, especially readings about decisions, work in a similar – if subtler – way. From what I’ve seen of how people struggle, where we get stuck and how we get unstuck, readings don’t work like a list of pros and cons. Instead, we ask ‘What about doing this?’ ‘What about doing that instead?’ and Yi says, ‘Here is what that would be like.’ It gives you a picture of the experience, something you can imagine yourself living, so you know how it feels.

Sometimes, of course, it also tells you that what you’re contemplating is objectively a good or bad idea (good fortune, pitfall…), but often the reading experience is more completely subjective than you might realise at the time.

This is something that’s easier to see when you watch other people respond to their readings. Someone might be discouraged by Hexagram 46, Pushing Upward (‘Do not worry, set forth to the south, good fortune!’) because they can’t face the prospect of a long, step-by-step climb. Someone else might welcome Hexagram 44, Coupling (‘Do not marry this woman!’), because they enjoy risk and uncertainty. Hexagram 29, the Repeating Chasms, might be greeted with ‘No, not that again!’ or ‘Yes, that’s how deeply I’m committed to this.’ And in each case, that unique and wholly subjective emotional response is what makes a decision possible.

In other words… Yi isn’t a way to become less emotionally involved; it’s more like the opposite. It gives us a clear and direct emotional connection to our reality, so we can rediscover the capacity to choose.

Identical doors in a grey wall

A friend who works as a coach/counsellor, who’s learned from and drawn on probably hundreds of sources as she develops her own way of helping, has recently had a couple of teachers ask her for payment for her use of their intellectual property.

I was bemused, because this is something I’ve never needed to think about at all. Which is just as well… imagine if I were paying Stephen Karcher for use of the terms ‘relating hexagram’ and ‘change pattern’, and Bradford Hatcher for every time anyone on this website mentions ‘fan yao’ or refers to a reading with the shorthand he developed of ‘23.4 to 35’. I’d be living in a bin bag.

(Note… I don’t mean copyright. Yijing authors, like other authors, claim copyright in their work and do their best to stop people from stealing it. When I found my whole book on a file-sharing site, I wasn’t slow to ask the person who put it there to remove it. But copyrighting your words is not the same thing as trying to own the ideas they express. My friend isn’t trying to copy chunks of her teachers’ books into her own work, but to use adapted versions of processes – guided meditations and the like – that she learned from them. And she needs to pay to do that.)

Happily, no-one seems to use ‘Yijing’ and ‘intellectual property’ in the same sentence. I’m very grateful –  and I also wonder, why not?

In the first place I suppose it’s because the Yi itself is about as far from anybody’s property as any human activity can be, except perhaps breathing. Anyone trying to claim ownership of any of it would feel ridiculous. What we can own – our translations, our writings, our own work – is obviously a drop in the ocean. (Bradford says something in his introduction about the great dragon, amused, allowing people to scrawl their names on its scales. That sounds about right.)

Also, it’s peculiarly difficult with the Yi to work out whose idea it is anyway.

Take for instance how we think about the changed hexagram of a reading: the one that results from changing any moving lines to their opposites. Most books will tell you that it represents the future, what happens after all the lines have happened – and as you probably know, that isn’t necessarily true. It’s more like a background, a ‘where-you-stand-in-relation-to-this’ hexagram, which is very much present at the moment of casting. That’s a pretty fundamental concept for understanding Yi; who owns it? Well… I think I must have learned this from Stephen Karcher – he’s certainly the first person I encountered who actually wrote this down. But whenever the subject’s come up at the I Ching Community, there have always been plenty of people who’ve come to the same conclusion on their own, simply by learning from their own readings.

It’s the same with more technical aspects of readings: if there is something to notice, more than one person will probably notice it. I believe LiSe Heyboer noticed ‘line mirrors’ and Stephen Karcher noticed ‘looms of change’ at much the same time. (I call these ‘line pathways’; they are not my idea.) Or change patterns – the hexagram-shape made visible by looking only at which line positions are changing, so for instance the ‘pattern’ of any reading with line 1 changing is either hexagram 24 or 44. This is another thing I learned about first from Stephen Karcher, who mentioned the yin pattern (but not the yang) in his How to Use the I Ching book. I adopted it, adapted it, looked at the yang one too – and subsequently found both yin and yang patterns described in lots of different ways by several different people around the internet, all of whom had ‘discovered’ them for themselves.

And I think it’s the same for our ideas of hexagrams, too. Who owns the idea that Hexagram 29 can mean, ‘Here you go again, back with this stuff you really need to learn’? Or that 16 can mean ‘castles in the air’? Anyone?

Putting technical things and hexagram ideas together… suppose I teach people that hiding your light from view, so no-one can really see who you are, is a way of doing the inner work of liberation. So too, I might say, are sitting in stillness, or doing one’s own work with authenticity and without inflation. And then, perhaps surprisingly, so is a focus on expressing truth (or an aspect of it) beautifully to make it fully visible.

I could unpack these ideas at some length – but that doesn’t make them mine: they’re encoded in nuclear hexagrams. Although I haven’t come across anyone talking about them in the same way, the odds are that someone else has said all this before me, and with greater understanding.

Everything we can notice about the Yi has always been there for anyone to see, and Yi is unimaginably ancient. Apparently nuclear hexagrams (as opposed to nuclear trigrams) are a comparatively recent discovery, so that leaves a mere millennium or so for someone to have got there before I did. Really, who is going to dare claim to be the first person to know anything about Yi?

Also… Yi is ancient, and it is present. Lots of people turned out to have noticed that the changed hexagram was not a future hexagram, because Yi had shown them as much in their own readings. I’ve just shared some ideas about nuclear hexagram 40, and maybe one of these days you’ll notice Yi is using a pattern of 40 as nuclear and primary hexagram in your readings to speak to you. If that were my ‘intellectual property’, what could I do about it? Invoice Yi for its unauthorised use of my ideas?

vast ocean

From the I Ching Community

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

How often have you heard someone say they need to consult with Yi (and perhaps need help with the interpretation) because they’re ‘too subjective’ or ‘too emotionally involved’ with the topic?

In a way, that can be true. We can be too close to something, too caught up in its ins-and-outs, and need to step back to find space to see the situation from a new angle. That’s something readings help with. Remembering Yi’s response to, ‘What do we give, when we give a reading?’ – 34.1.2.3.4 to 2 – it seems to me that this is what happens at line 4 –

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

– when we break through and are no longer trapped inside those thought-hedges that block most of the world from sight.

However, what we’re escaping here is not emotional involvement; in fact, the idea that emotion gets in the way of taking decisions turns out to be exactly wrong.

There have been famous medical cases of people with brain injuries that left their rational intelligence perfectly intact, while they lost the capacity to feel emotion: people who, in effect, are compelled to take decisions without emotional involvement. They either make atrociously bad decisions or make none at all.

An anecdote from a case history: a man with this type of brain damage is offered a choice of two dates for his next appointment. He pulls out his diary and begins enumerating the pros and cons of each option, lucidly and in detail. Thirty minutes later, he is still weighing the pros and cons; finally, the doctor tells him which day to come, and he says, ‘OK, fine’ and leaves.

So for this man stuck in an endless loop of ‘on the one hand… on the other hand…’ the problem was a lack of subjectivity. His situation is extreme, and tragic – but I think still has something in common with the kind of indecision we bring to the oracle.

To look at this from the opposite direction for a moment, think of that commonly-taught way of motivating yourself by tapping into the emotion associated with the end result. You vividly imagine attaining your end result, deliberately become aware of its full emotional impact, then connect that emotional state to the work you need to do today. Emotional involvement gives you the power to break through the hedge and get started.

And… I think readings, especially readings about decisions, work in a similar – if subtler – way. From what I’ve seen of how people struggle, where we get stuck and how we get unstuck, readings don’t work like a list of pros and cons. Instead, we ask ‘What about doing this?’ ‘What about doing that instead?’ and Yi says, ‘Here is what that would be like.’ It gives you a picture of the experience, something you can imagine yourself living, so you know how it feels.

Sometimes, of course, it also tells you that what you’re contemplating is objectively a good or bad idea (good fortune, pitfall…), but often the reading experience is more completely subjective than you might realise at the time.

This is something that’s easier to see when you watch other people respond to their readings. Someone might be discouraged by Hexagram 46, Pushing Upward (‘Do not worry, set forth to the south, good fortune!’) because they can’t face the prospect of a long, step-by-step climb. Someone else might welcome Hexagram 44, Coupling (‘Do not marry this woman!’), because they enjoy risk and uncertainty. Hexagram 29, the Repeating Chasms, might be greeted with ‘No, not that again!’ or ‘Yes, that’s how deeply I’m committed to this.’ And in each case, that unique and wholly subjective emotional response is what makes a decision possible.

In other words… Yi isn’t a way to become less emotionally involved; it’s more like the opposite. It gives us a clear and direct emotional connection to our reality, so we can rediscover the capacity to choose.

Identical doors in a grey wall

A friend who works as a coach/counsellor, who’s learned from and drawn on probably hundreds of sources as she develops her own way of helping, has recently had a couple of teachers ask her for payment for her use of their intellectual property.

I was bemused, because this is something I’ve never needed to think about at all. Which is just as well… imagine if I were paying Stephen Karcher for use of the terms ‘relating hexagram’ and ‘change pattern’, and Bradford Hatcher for every time anyone on this website mentions ‘fan yao’ or refers to a reading with the shorthand he developed of ‘23.4 to 35’. I’d be living in a bin bag.

(Note… I don’t mean copyright. Yijing authors, like other authors, claim copyright in their work and do their best to stop people from stealing it. When I found my whole book on a file-sharing site, I wasn’t slow to ask the person who put it there to remove it. But copyrighting your words is not the same thing as trying to own the ideas they express. My friend isn’t trying to copy chunks of her teachers’ books into her own work, but to use adapted versions of processes – guided meditations and the like – that she learned from them. And she needs to pay to do that.)

Happily, no-one seems to use ‘Yijing’ and ‘intellectual property’ in the same sentence. I’m very grateful –  and I also wonder, why not?

In the first place I suppose it’s because the Yi itself is about as far from anybody’s property as any human activity can be, except perhaps breathing. Anyone trying to claim ownership of any of it would feel ridiculous. What we can own – our translations, our writings, our own work – is obviously a drop in the ocean. (Bradford says something in his introduction about the great dragon, amused, allowing people to scrawl their names on its scales. That sounds about right.)

Also, it’s peculiarly difficult with the Yi to work out whose idea it is anyway.

Take for instance how we think about the changed hexagram of a reading: the one that results from changing any moving lines to their opposites. Most books will tell you that it represents the future, what happens after all the lines have happened – and as you probably know, that isn’t necessarily true. It’s more like a background, a ‘where-you-stand-in-relation-to-this’ hexagram, which is very much present at the moment of casting. That’s a pretty fundamental concept for understanding Yi; who owns it? Well… I think I must have learned this from Stephen Karcher – he’s certainly the first person I encountered who actually wrote this down. But whenever the subject’s come up at the I Ching Community, there have always been plenty of people who’ve come to the same conclusion on their own, simply by learning from their own readings.

It’s the same with more technical aspects of readings: if there is something to notice, more than one person will probably notice it. I believe LiSe Heyboer noticed ‘line mirrors’ and Stephen Karcher noticed ‘looms of change’ at much the same time. (I call these ‘line pathways’; they are not my idea.) Or change patterns – the hexagram-shape made visible by looking only at which line positions are changing, so for instance the ‘pattern’ of any reading with line 1 changing is either hexagram 24 or 44. This is another thing I learned about first from Stephen Karcher, who mentioned the yin pattern (but not the yang) in his How to Use the I Ching book. I adopted it, adapted it, looked at the yang one too – and subsequently found both yin and yang patterns described in lots of different ways by several different people around the internet, all of whom had ‘discovered’ them for themselves.

And I think it’s the same for our ideas of hexagrams, too. Who owns the idea that Hexagram 29 can mean, ‘Here you go again, back with this stuff you really need to learn’? Or that 16 can mean ‘castles in the air’? Anyone?

Putting technical things and hexagram ideas together… suppose I teach people that hiding your light from view, so no-one can really see who you are, is a way of doing the inner work of liberation. So too, I might say, are sitting in stillness, or doing one’s own work with authenticity and without inflation. And then, perhaps surprisingly, so is a focus on expressing truth (or an aspect of it) beautifully to make it fully visible.

I could unpack these ideas at some length – but that doesn’t make them mine: they’re encoded in nuclear hexagrams. Although I haven’t come across anyone talking about them in the same way, the odds are that someone else has said all this before me, and with greater understanding.

Everything we can notice about the Yi has always been there for anyone to see, and Yi is unimaginably ancient. Apparently nuclear hexagrams (as opposed to nuclear trigrams) are a comparatively recent discovery, so that leaves a mere millennium or so for someone to have got there before I did. Really, who is going to dare claim to be the first person to know anything about Yi?

Also… Yi is ancient, and it is present. Lots of people turned out to have noticed that the changed hexagram was not a future hexagram, because Yi had shown them as much in their own readings. I’ve just shared some ideas about nuclear hexagram 40, and maybe one of these days you’ll notice Yi is using a pattern of 40 as nuclear and primary hexagram in your readings to speak to you. If that were my ‘intellectual property’, what could I do about it? Invoice Yi for its unauthorised use of my ideas?

vast ocean

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