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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

Looking simply at the shape of hexagram 33 with a naïve, imaginative eye…

::||||

…we might see the entrance to a cave. And if you look at the picture painted by the trigrams, heaven above the mountain, then it conjures up the idea of a hermit who Retreats to the mountain-top.

Retreat from…

All this is part of the meaning of the hexagram, but its Chinese name is more down-to-earth:

Early form of Chinese character 'dun', retreat

As LiSe explains, this shows the way a piglet, meant for dinner, would move – presumably, away from the people who want to eat it.

Naturally, there’s a school of thought that makes the whole hexagram all about the piglet: from its tail at line 1 to the whole hog roast by line 5. There is, I think, a bit more to Retreat than that. For one thing, I find it most helpful to identify with the pig: when I receive this one I’d ask myself, ‘What wants to eat me?’ (maybe worry, or distractions, or the never-ending to-do list) and concentrate first on getting out of its reach.

As the ever-practical authors of the Image wrote, this is going to mean ‘keeping small people at a distance’:

‘Below heaven is the mountain. Retreat.
A noble one keeps small people at a distance,
Not with hatred, but through respect.’

Naturally, the small people can be internal as well as external – either way, we need to create enough distance to have a clear space to be ourselves. And as long as we’re hating or resenting or pushing away, of course, there’s no distance at all. Wilhelm captured this when he wrote, ‘Hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object.’

For another perspective on what to retreat from, we could look at the Sequence. Hexagram 33 follows from 32, Lasting.

(An aside: Stephen Karcher came up with the idea of the ‘Shadow hexagram’. In a nutshell, this represents exactly how not to think about the cast hexagram, and is found by counting backwards from Hexagram 64 to the number of your hexagram. That is, 64 is the shadow of 1, 63 is the shadow of 2, and so on.

Well… 32 and 33 are the exact numerical centre of the book, so Hexagram ‘minus 33’ is actually 32: Lasting is the shadow of Retreat. To me that suggests a stronger sense than is usual in the Sequence of don’t stay there – move on from this.)

The Xugua – the Wing dedicated to the Sequence – says,

‘They cannot last long in the place where they settle, and so retreat follows. Retreat means withdrawing.’

This is a bit odd. Shouldn’t Lasting – well – last? This is where we take the Influence of Hexagram 31 and weave it into the fabric of our lives: where love becomes marriage, insight translates into practice, and omens are fixed. Customs and practices turn into the stuff of life, into identity. The nuclear hexagram of 32 is 43: Deciding, the messenger holding up the token of authority, ‘Here I am, this is me, here is what I have to say.’

I think you cast 33 when the ‘fabric of life’ woven in 32 is starting to smother you. ‘This is what I do, so this is who I am, so this is what I do…’ – a self-tightening loop. Your piglet might start to hear the clink of cutlery.

(Also, the nuclear hexagram of 33 is 44 – the irruption of everything unpredictable that won’t be contained in marriage. Those who retreat might be visited by Muses, angels or devils.)

…and Retreat to

‘Retreat, creating success.
Constancy yields a small harvest.’

Constancy, in Lasting, brings harvest; constancy in Retreat yields only a small one. After all, Retreat isn’t about harvest. A fleeing piglet isn’t trying to collect trophies, and nor is a retreating army; they’re concentrating on staying in one piece. It might be similar for the hermit disappearing into her cave.

However, it’s not no harvest, just a small one, and Retreat – just like Lasting – is a way of ‘creating success’ – of successful creative engagement with the world.

Hexagram 33 isn’t only about getting away from whatever (or whoever) wants to eat you – it’s also about what you retreat to. Or to put this another way, it’s not about getting away from all your relationships, becoming a misanthropic recluse, but about transforming them. The hermit on his way up the mountain looks to be leaving the world behind, but is really also joining a larger whole.

At the top of the mountain

Perhaps the key turning point comes at the top of the mountain, at 33.3 – which is really the hardest point, when the sky seems further away than ever (33.3 changes to 12)

‘Tied retreat. There is affliction, danger.
Nurturing servants and handmaidens, good fortune.’

Lines 3 and 4 make up the hexagram’s human realm, sandwiched between two ‘earth’ lines’ below and two ‘heaven’ lines above. Tied retreat: your human nature (and bonds, and needs) might pull you back, might haunt you with feverish anxiety. Or… they might become helpers, a store of strength that enables you to break free.

To unpack that a little…

‘Tied’ is 係, xi. It means to be connected, related, or even part of a lineage; etymologically, the character is made of ‘person’ and ‘hand drawing out silk threads’. Not captivity – simply ties.

‘Affliction’ (疾 ji) is a person struck by an arrow – suffering, illness, and also haste, going too fast. ‘Danger’ (厲 li) is the scorpion under the rock, also perhaps associated with angry ghosts. All excruciatingly anxious and insecure.

‘Nurturing’, xu, is a resonant word in the Yi: the name of hexagrams 9 and 26 (Small and Great Taming). Hexagram 26 is also formed of the trigrams mountain and heaven, and at the mid-point between 25-26 and 33-34 stand 29-30, where Clarity is sustained by ‘nurturing female cattle’. So ‘nurturing’ here – its final appearance in the book – has powerful echoes. (For more on this set of 10 hexagrams – and the whole idea of seeing readings through the lens of bigger arcs in the Sequence – see the Sequence article in the Wiki. Also, part 1 of the Sequence course will be available inside Change Circle very soon!)

If you shift your perspective on 33.3 to find its paired line –

(OK, the simpler way to describe that is to say ‘turn the hexagram upside-down’, but it makes more sense to me to think of it as changing your own perspective)

– then you find yourself looking at 34.4, in which the cart breaks through the hedge thanks to the power stored up in its smallest component, the axle straps.

And also this line reminds me of another ‘mountaintop’, 41.6, where you ‘gain a servant, not a home’ – and the point there, surely, is that a home is static but a servant can move with you and help you to move. You can’t settle, and so you retreat – and your connected, human nature can help.

Retreat into

So… where are you retreating to? Up above the mountain, into loving retreat, praiseworthy retreat, rich retreat – not into misanthropy, and certainly not deprivation. When Retreat joins again with the inspiration of Hexagram 31 at line 6, its ‘small harvest’ is enough to make you rich.

Overall… I think Retreat has the sense of retreating into something bigger, submerging and hiding yourself within it. (Maybe a similar idea to ‘hiding’ as in Psalms 31:20 and 32:7?)

There are a few different sources that give me that sense of it: both the shape of the and its texts. To start with the trigrams: you reach the top of the mountain at line 3, and keep going, into the skies. And then… this is one of the dabagua (‘great trigram’) hexagrams, meaning it takes the shape of a trigram with each line individually doubled. 33

is formed by individually doubling each line of the trigram xun

,

whose action is to penetrate into things like wind or roots. Dabagua hexagrams have the qualities of their trigram magnified. Hexagram 34 is dabagua dui, the communicative lake writ large, and looks like a megaphone; Hexagram 33 seems to be a way of Retreating into the very nature of things and hiding yourself there.

And the Tuanzhuan, the Commentary on the Judgement, says of ‘constancy bears small fruit,’ ‘penetrating, and hence long-lasting.’ The word ‘penetrating’ means soaking in, permeating, like water. A conventional view of this would be to say that only small fruit is available because the evil yin lines are encroaching on the yang, so everything is going wrong – albeit only slowly. I don’t find the ‘beginning of the end’ interpretation very persuasive, but I can readily imagine the movement of yin into yang as like water soaking into the earth. That would be the perfect retreat: your nature unchanged, but nonetheless becoming invisible, indistinguishable from the whole.

(This shows how Retreat is quite different from Hiding Brightness, Hexagram 36. Prince Ji doesn’t disappear into the mountains: he keeps his light shining at court, clear and distinct from hostile surroundings.)

In practice…

I’ve had Hexagram 33 invite me to retreat from the treadmill of work habits and into awareness, and also to retreat from the room with my little brother in it (and from my own short temper!). 33 changing to 27 described retreating from one’s own ideas and judgements and into the substance of the reading when interpreting for another person. 33 unchanging described the benefits of using brain.fm – putting on headphones and listening to focus-inducing audio – to retreat from distractions that devour my attention. (I think that one’s unchanging because brain.fm can’t do anything about what I decide to retreat to.)

…and you?

 

Pig on the mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now what?

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

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

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

It might feel like the fan yao 12.4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

out of focus city lights

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

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

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

 

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

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

For instance…

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘True and confident in excellence.
Good fortune.’

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

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

lake ripples

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

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

The pros: why you need a reading framework

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

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

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

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

Cons: how a framework can get in the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

leaf skeleton against the sky

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stream under mountain

From the I Ching Community

Looking simply at the shape of hexagram 33 with a naïve, imaginative eye…

::||||

…we might see the entrance to a cave. And if you look at the picture painted by the trigrams, heaven above the mountain, then it conjures up the idea of a hermit who Retreats to the mountain-top.

Retreat from…

All this is part of the meaning of the hexagram, but its Chinese name is more down-to-earth:

Early form of Chinese character 'dun', retreat

As LiSe explains, this shows the way a piglet, meant for dinner, would move – presumably, away from the people who want to eat it.

Naturally, there’s a school of thought that makes the whole hexagram all about the piglet: from its tail at line 1 to the whole hog roast by line 5. There is, I think, a bit more to Retreat than that. For one thing, I find it most helpful to identify with the pig: when I receive this one I’d ask myself, ‘What wants to eat me?’ (maybe worry, or distractions, or the never-ending to-do list) and concentrate first on getting out of its reach.

As the ever-practical authors of the Image wrote, this is going to mean ‘keeping small people at a distance’:

‘Below heaven is the mountain. Retreat.
A noble one keeps small people at a distance,
Not with hatred, but through respect.’

Naturally, the small people can be internal as well as external – either way, we need to create enough distance to have a clear space to be ourselves. And as long as we’re hating or resenting or pushing away, of course, there’s no distance at all. Wilhelm captured this when he wrote, ‘Hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object.’

For another perspective on what to retreat from, we could look at the Sequence. Hexagram 33 follows from 32, Lasting.

(An aside: Stephen Karcher came up with the idea of the ‘Shadow hexagram’. In a nutshell, this represents exactly how not to think about the cast hexagram, and is found by counting backwards from Hexagram 64 to the number of your hexagram. That is, 64 is the shadow of 1, 63 is the shadow of 2, and so on.

Well… 32 and 33 are the exact numerical centre of the book, so Hexagram ‘minus 33’ is actually 32: Lasting is the shadow of Retreat. To me that suggests a stronger sense than is usual in the Sequence of don’t stay there – move on from this.)

The Xugua – the Wing dedicated to the Sequence – says,

‘They cannot last long in the place where they settle, and so retreat follows. Retreat means withdrawing.’

This is a bit odd. Shouldn’t Lasting – well – last? This is where we take the Influence of Hexagram 31 and weave it into the fabric of our lives: where love becomes marriage, insight translates into practice, and omens are fixed. Customs and practices turn into the stuff of life, into identity. The nuclear hexagram of 32 is 43: Deciding, the messenger holding up the token of authority, ‘Here I am, this is me, here is what I have to say.’

I think you cast 33 when the ‘fabric of life’ woven in 32 is starting to smother you. ‘This is what I do, so this is who I am, so this is what I do…’ – a self-tightening loop. Your piglet might start to hear the clink of cutlery.

(Also, the nuclear hexagram of 33 is 44 – the irruption of everything unpredictable that won’t be contained in marriage. Those who retreat might be visited by Muses, angels or devils.)

…and Retreat to

‘Retreat, creating success.
Constancy yields a small harvest.’

Constancy, in Lasting, brings harvest; constancy in Retreat yields only a small one. After all, Retreat isn’t about harvest. A fleeing piglet isn’t trying to collect trophies, and nor is a retreating army; they’re concentrating on staying in one piece. It might be similar for the hermit disappearing into her cave.

However, it’s not no harvest, just a small one, and Retreat – just like Lasting – is a way of ‘creating success’ – of successful creative engagement with the world.

Hexagram 33 isn’t only about getting away from whatever (or whoever) wants to eat you – it’s also about what you retreat to. Or to put this another way, it’s not about getting away from all your relationships, becoming a misanthropic recluse, but about transforming them. The hermit on his way up the mountain looks to be leaving the world behind, but is really also joining a larger whole.

At the top of the mountain

Perhaps the key turning point comes at the top of the mountain, at 33.3 – which is really the hardest point, when the sky seems further away than ever (33.3 changes to 12)

‘Tied retreat. There is affliction, danger.
Nurturing servants and handmaidens, good fortune.’

Lines 3 and 4 make up the hexagram’s human realm, sandwiched between two ‘earth’ lines’ below and two ‘heaven’ lines above. Tied retreat: your human nature (and bonds, and needs) might pull you back, might haunt you with feverish anxiety. Or… they might become helpers, a store of strength that enables you to break free.

To unpack that a little…

‘Tied’ is 係, xi. It means to be connected, related, or even part of a lineage; etymologically, the character is made of ‘person’ and ‘hand drawing out silk threads’. Not captivity – simply ties.

‘Affliction’ (疾 ji) is a person struck by an arrow – suffering, illness, and also haste, going too fast. ‘Danger’ (厲 li) is the scorpion under the rock, also perhaps associated with angry ghosts. All excruciatingly anxious and insecure.

‘Nurturing’, xu, is a resonant word in the Yi: the name of hexagrams 9 and 26 (Small and Great Taming). Hexagram 26 is also formed of the trigrams mountain and heaven, and at the mid-point between 25-26 and 33-34 stand 29-30, where Clarity is sustained by ‘nurturing female cattle’. So ‘nurturing’ here – its final appearance in the book – has powerful echoes. (For more on this set of 10 hexagrams – and the whole idea of seeing readings through the lens of bigger arcs in the Sequence – see the Sequence article in the Wiki. Also, part 1 of the Sequence course will be available inside Change Circle very soon!)

If you shift your perspective on 33.3 to find its paired line –

(OK, the simpler way to describe that is to say ‘turn the hexagram upside-down’, but it makes more sense to me to think of it as changing your own perspective)

– then you find yourself looking at 34.4, in which the cart breaks through the hedge thanks to the power stored up in its smallest component, the axle straps.

And also this line reminds me of another ‘mountaintop’, 41.6, where you ‘gain a servant, not a home’ – and the point there, surely, is that a home is static but a servant can move with you and help you to move. You can’t settle, and so you retreat – and your connected, human nature can help.

Retreat into

So… where are you retreating to? Up above the mountain, into loving retreat, praiseworthy retreat, rich retreat – not into misanthropy, and certainly not deprivation. When Retreat joins again with the inspiration of Hexagram 31 at line 6, its ‘small harvest’ is enough to make you rich.

Overall… I think Retreat has the sense of retreating into something bigger, submerging and hiding yourself within it. (Maybe a similar idea to ‘hiding’ as in Psalms 31:20 and 32:7?)

There are a few different sources that give me that sense of it: both the shape of the and its texts. To start with the trigrams: you reach the top of the mountain at line 3, and keep going, into the skies. And then… this is one of the dabagua (‘great trigram’) hexagrams, meaning it takes the shape of a trigram with each line individually doubled. 33

is formed by individually doubling each line of the trigram xun

,

whose action is to penetrate into things like wind or roots. Dabagua hexagrams have the qualities of their trigram magnified. Hexagram 34 is dabagua dui, the communicative lake writ large, and looks like a megaphone; Hexagram 33 seems to be a way of Retreating into the very nature of things and hiding yourself there.

And the Tuanzhuan, the Commentary on the Judgement, says of ‘constancy bears small fruit,’ ‘penetrating, and hence long-lasting.’ The word ‘penetrating’ means soaking in, permeating, like water. A conventional view of this would be to say that only small fruit is available because the evil yin lines are encroaching on the yang, so everything is going wrong – albeit only slowly. I don’t find the ‘beginning of the end’ interpretation very persuasive, but I can readily imagine the movement of yin into yang as like water soaking into the earth. That would be the perfect retreat: your nature unchanged, but nonetheless becoming invisible, indistinguishable from the whole.

(This shows how Retreat is quite different from Hiding Brightness, Hexagram 36. Prince Ji doesn’t disappear into the mountains: he keeps his light shining at court, clear and distinct from hostile surroundings.)

In practice…

I’ve had Hexagram 33 invite me to retreat from the treadmill of work habits and into awareness, and also to retreat from the room with my little brother in it (and from my own short temper!). 33 changing to 27 described retreating from one’s own ideas and judgements and into the substance of the reading when interpreting for another person. 33 unchanging described the benefits of using brain.fm – putting on headphones and listening to focus-inducing audio – to retreat from distractions that devour my attention. (I think that one’s unchanging because brain.fm can’t do anything about what I decide to retreat to.)

…and you?

 

Pig on the mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now what?

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

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

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

It might feel like the fan yao 12.4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

out of focus city lights

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

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

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

 

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

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

For instance…

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘True and confident in excellence.
Good fortune.’

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

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

lake ripples

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

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

The pros: why you need a reading framework

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

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

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

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

Cons: how a framework can get in the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

leaf skeleton against the sky

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stream under mountain

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