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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

I’ve treated myself to another new Yi book – Geoffrey Redmond’s I Ching (Book of Changes) – a critical translation of the ancient text – and it got me thinking about the different aspects of the book that are visible to different people.

The good…

To start, though, a sort-of book review. There’s a lot to appreciate about Redmond’s work: a sense of humour and unpretentious straightforwardness that permeate the book; how widely-read he is (not just the ‘obvious’ people like Rutt, Kunst and Shaughnessy, but also SJ Marshall and Bradford Hatcher); his desire to make ordinary sense of the lines, and rejection of unnecessary character substitutions.

So far I’ve found the chapters surrounding the translation – on the Zhouyi’s composition and ideas – particularly interesting. I’m still reading through the translation  itself, and it has quite a few intriguing little, ‘Huh, never thought of seeing it that way…’ moments. 9.3, for instance: ‘Like the cart scolding the wheel, husband and wife quarrel.’

He says that the book is meant for ‘reconstruction of the early meanings’, not for divination, ‘but it can be used for this purpose, though with some exercise of imagination.’ (Damn, just as we were hoping for a text that would enable us to divine without use of imagination…)

Still, he also writes sensitively about divination. He’s done readings himself (and scholars willing to admit to this in public are still a fairly rare breed) – not with any expectation that Yi will speak and reveal the unknown, but with an active interest all the same. He has given some thought to what divination implies about the world (‘the nature of the Zhouyi itself implies a deeper reality that can be accessed through the use of the book for divination’), and what it might have been like 3,000 years ago, and includes a section to explain the ‘quality of the time’.

(Then he does rather spoil this impression of divinatory knowhow by giving a perfectly accurate table of yarrow/16-bead vs 3-coin probabilities, only to say, twice, that he prefers beads because they mean fewer changing lines overall. This while looking at a chart that shows 3+1 possibilities for changing lines in one method, and 2+2 in the other. Odd.)

Also interesting is what he writes about oral traditions, the beginnings of writing, and what gives words charisma. He adds the intriguing idea that some of the words of the text are not so much ‘what the oracle says’ as what the diviner must recite: yuan heng li zhen not a prognostication but an invocation; ‘no blame’ perhaps said to ward off blame.

…and the ridiculous

Redmond is apparently privy to a whole lot of knowledge about what the Zhouyi definitely doesn’t contain.

‘Of the wisdom for which I Ching has been admired, not much is to be found in the Western Zhou text.’

The division into Upper and Lower Canons ‘has no thematic significance.’

‘There is no sign of literary creativity in the work.’

I wonder how he knows?

He does actually explain the beliefs that give rise to this kind of thing. For instance, yuan heng li zhen is an invocation to be recited at the beginning of every divination, and hence ‘when incomplete or omitted from the written text, it would be assumed.’ It would follow that the differences in what’s in fact in the written text – all four characters together, or none, or a subset, or with interpolations – are accidental, barely real at all. Hexagram 4, for instance, where the phrase heng li zhen is interrupted by the passage about an importunate diviner whose repeated questions interrupt the flow of divination – nothing to see here. Certainly not a sign of literary creativity, anyway…

His core assertion is this:

‘The unit of meaning is not the chapter, nor entire line text, nor the sentence, but the phrase. Put bluntly, the Zhouyi is a collection of scraps. Thus a line of text often assembles phrases without evident thematic relationship.’

and again,

‘Confusion is greatly reduced once it is recognized that the fundamental unit of meaning in the Zhouyi is not the chapter, nor paragraph (of which there are none), nor even the line, but the phrase. Phrases within the judgments or numbered lines are only sometimes related to each other.’

I’ve spent uncountable hours asking myself questions like, ‘Why would a harmonious gathering at the ancestral temple mean shame?’ Redmond doesn’t actually assume all such questions are pointless (for 13.2 he suggests the gathering might be to atone for an error, which is not a bad idea), but he does give himself a ready-made answer.

Confusion might be reduced this way, or at least interpretation might become a whole lot less time-consuming, but meaning is reduced too – and I’m not sure he doesn’t create almost as many translation and interpretation problems for himself as he solves. 51.2, for instance:

‘Thunder comes, harshly.
Many thousands of cowry shells for the funeral.
Ascend nine times to the burial mound.
Do not pursue, in seven days will be obtained.’

There are some intriguing ideas here: the thousands of cowries as a funeral offering, giving ‘funeral’ instead of ‘lost’; nine ascents of a single burial mound instead of nine hills. But as to what might be obtained after seven days, it’s impossible to say.

Or 62.6:

‘Not meeting but passing.
Soaring birds in the distance, ominous.
Truly called a calamitous mistake!’

Redmond says, ‘It is hard to make any connection between the phrases here’. Really? Hard to connect ‘not meeting but passing’ with ‘soaring birds in the distance’ when line 5 was about a successful hunt with arrows? But then if the unit of meaning is the phrase, the preceding line certainly can’t help.

What you see depends on where you stand

That’s always true – Yi interpretation just makes it more obvious than usual.

‘The unit of meaning is the phrase’ for Redmond. If two phrases in a line don’t make sense together, that doesn’t matter – we don’t understand because there’s nothing there to be understood.

He theorises that the Zhouyi was put together by compilers who were presented with a collection of divinatory phrases and sayings gathered from across the realm, and told to arrange them somehow among the hexagrams. (‘To be fair to the compilers, given that they had to work with a collection of randomly chosen phrases, they made the best they could with the material they had. To give an analogy, putting the phrases together into an organized book would have been comparable to taking documents out of a paper shredder and trying to make sense of them.’) All the phrases had to go somewhere, after all.

For Stephen Field, the unit of meaning seems to be the hexagram. He finds more myth and history in the hexagrams than anyone, so that his Hexagram 23 becomes a step-by-step story of Wang Hai, and 46 becomes the history of Danfu’s ‘Great Climb’ to a new Zhou homeland. This means he has a tremendously coherent concept of each hexagram. But there are also things he doesn’t see – notably, he seems to see the book more as a compilation of stories and divination records than as a working oracle, so that for him it doesn’t matter if the omens make no sense in relation to the stories.

For Bradford Hatcher, I think it’s also the hexagram: he often tells people that they need to remember which hexagram they’re reading in order to understand a line text. But he draws the line there, and is likely to mention apophenia and/or pareidolia when anyone starts finding meaningful patterns in the Sequence. (Which always means I have to stop and look them up again…) And many authors who comment on the Sequence would agree: if you can’t say why 35 follows 34, that’s because there is no reason why. Every hexagram had to go somewhere.

Stephen Karcher clarified that we need to be aware of the pair as a unit, not just the hexagram.

And at the opposite extreme from Redmond is Scott Davis, for whom the Sequence as a whole conveys meaning. It was Davis who introduced me to the possibility that the text of one hexagram can refer to others and their position within the Sequence. Since that had never occurred to me before, I’d never thought to look for such things, and – in a couple of decades of staring at the book pretty much every day – had never seen any. Now Davis has stirred me from this oblivious state, it’s amazing what becomes visible. (Redmond, we can be fairly sure, isn’t going to translate ‘in seven days return’ and start counting 7 hexagrams forward from 24; he already knows that the division into Upper and Lower Canons has no significance!)

What we’ll see depends on where we stand and what we can imagine seeing. Of course that works both ways, and there’s such a thing as an over-active imagination. But let’s keep our certainties to a minimum…

Scott Hilburn rhino comic

 

I’ve been thinking about Hexagram 35 – and especially how it shows up as a relating hexagram.

Introducing Hexagram 35

The name of this hexagram is ‘Advancing’, or ‘Progress’ or ‘Flourishing’. The oldest form of the character seems to show arrows in their sheath:

the character 'jin', advancing

Those arrows – along the text of the oracle – suggest readiness to seize whatever opportunities present themselves and make things happen. LiSe Heyboer sums it up well:

“Prosperity does not arrive by itself, it visits the people with the right attitude. The one who always carries along arrows is probably the only one who comes home from a walk with a rabbit for dinner. The lord of Kang grasped the opportunity of a gift to breed a meadow full of horses. The first one who sees a gap in the market builds up the multinational. Grasp the small chances, do not wait for the big one to arrive, stay alert with eyes and ears and hands ready, and a quiver filled with arrows.”

The Lord of Kang has his story told in the Oracle:

‘Advancing, Prince Kang used a gift of horses to breed a multitude.
In the course of a day, he mated them three times.’

Prince Kang was the younger brother of King Wu, rewarded for helping him. He was made Lord of Kang after the Zhou conquest, and then also Lord of Wei as a reward for his military role during the consolidation of Zhou authority. Perhaps ‘Advancing’ could be a military advance? (‘Kang’ wasn’t known to be someone’s name until it was found in bronze inscriptions in the 1920’s, which is why Wilhelm translates simply ‘the powerful prince’.)

The gift of horses is also a sign of royal favour and trust – and Kang, breeding the horses, makes the most of this.

Hexagram 35 is the inverse of 36, Brightness Hiding. This also tells the story of a virtuous lord, Ji, who was neither recognised nor rewarded, and had to hide his light for fear of persecution. The contrast is clear – and the Zagua, the Wing of contrasts, says that Advancing means daylight while Brightness Hiding means punishment.

:::|:|‘Daylight’ is apparent in the trigrams of 35: fire and light above the earth. Comparing the fate of Kang to the equally-virtuous Ji, we might think of the English expression, ‘your day in the sun’. In such times, mate the horses to breed a multitude, carry arrows ready to seize your opportunities, seize the day, make hay while the sun shines. Hexagram 35 does not mean, ‘Work on your tan.’

This is the kind of hexagram you might think of as ‘positive’ (if, that is, you hadn’t read Bradford’s excellent post on the subject of ‘Positive and negative hexagrams’). So… what happens when 35 is the relating hexagram?

35 as relating hexagram

That is… what happens when your cast hexagram is moving to 35 – when the changes in the answer reveal 35 in the background? It might be an attitude or tendency; it might well be a ‘positive thinking’ kind of mindset, that always asks, ‘What is the gift in this situation, and how can I make the most of it?’

Of course, a full answer to this question would involve looking at 63 possible readings… but let’s try just six of them, the ones where a single line changes to 35. Here they are:

21.1 > 35

‘Shoes locked in the stocks, feet disappear.
Not a mistake.’

64.2 > 35

‘Your wheels dragged back.
Constancy, good fortune.’

56.3 > 35

‘Traveller burns down his resting place
Loses his young helper.
Constancy: danger.’

23.4 > 35

‘Stripping the bed by way of the flesh.
Pitfall.’

12.5 > 35

‘Resting when blocked.
Great person, good fortune.
It is lost, it is lost!
Tie it to the bushy mulberry tree.’

16.6 > 35

‘Enthusiasm in the dark.
Results bring a change of heart,
No mistake.’

Maybe not as sunny as we might expect?

These lines seem to me to belong in pairs, corresponding to the three ‘layers’ of a hexagram: lines 1 and 2 (earth realm), 3 and 4 (human) and 5 and 6 (spirit). I’ll have a look at how Advancing shines through each of these.

Earth (lines 1 and 2)

21.1

‘Shoes locked in the stocks, feet disappear.
Not a mistake.’

The traditional view on this line – which I like – is that someone who has made a minor error is being stopped in their tracks before they can do anything worse. The stocks keep you out from running into trouble.

Since this changes to 35, we can ask, how is this the Advancing of Biting Through? What’s the opportunity in Biting Through that someone might seize and make the most of in this line?

Surely it’s having time to think: the opportunity to reflect, and make some progress in understanding. To make a connection with truth. So let’s make the most of biting through – since we can do nothing else, let’s learn something.

64.2

‘Your wheels dragged back.
Constancy, good fortune.’

This is very similar to line 1, isn’t it? What’s the opportunity in being Not Yet Across? Not to have to rush into crossing; not to lose control of your momentum and be sent crashing down the bank into the river. So let’s make the most of not being across the river – let’s protract the crossing, take more time to think, be as safe as we can be while still moving forward.

These two lines, down in the ‘earth’ realm, obviously share a theme of festina lente (make haste slowly). To ‘seize the day’ at ground level doesn’t mean making stuff happen; it means accepting what is happening, and engaging with that. Here we are, getting into the basic conditions of the situation. How might these be an opportunity, or how might we engage with them to open out that opportunity? (How can we make lemonade while the sun shines?)

If you compare the reading where lines 1 and 2 change to reveal 35 – 38.1.2 to 35 – I think you see similar themes: slow down and see what’s real; accept that and find the best way to engage with it.

Humanity (lines 3 and 4)

In these two lines, having an attitude of Advancing turns out to be not such a great idea.

56.3

‘Traveller burns down his resting place
Loses his young helper.
Constancy: danger.’

Here I am at a resting place on my journey – what’s the opportunity here? How can I make the most of this? Let’s get a really good blaze going and warm the place up!

(oops)

Another layer of meaning in this line (one LiSe found) is that it can be the moment when the traveller decides to go on alone. Burning down the resting place, forfeiting the helper – this is like ‘burning your boats’, a way to express your confidence in your journey. And that’s also in the spirit of Hexagram 35: onward! No looking back!

(‘Constancy, danger’ in that case would make this one of those lines that says, ‘This strategy will work this time, but it wouldn’t make such a good guiding principle.’ 35.6 is another of those.)

23.4

‘Stripping the bed by way of the flesh.
Pitfall.’

What’s the opportunity in Stripping Away? To get rid of everything that’s old and redundant! Let’s make the most of this good, sharp knife! Out with the old! Onward!

(ouch)

Stephen Field associates hexagram 23 with the story of Heng and Hai, which would make this a terrible contrast between two pairs of brothers. Kang supported Wu, and was rewarded. Heng betrayed Hai to the authorities and had him chopped into bits – only to suffer his own come-uppance later, at the hands of Hai’s son.

So… a 35, make-the-most-of-it approach in the realm of human nature can be a destructive force. ‘Make hay while the sun shines’? You can have too much fire, and too much scything.

Advancing in the human realm seems to mean identifying with the ‘time’ of the hexagram – not in the sense of conscious choice (‘What might a traveller encounter? Where do I want to arrive?’), but just getting stuck in. And if we look at the two-line change of the human realm to 35 – 52.3.4 to 35 – then I think we’re looking at two ways of identifying with stillness, or identifying as still. (Not just ‘I’ll keep my feet still,’ or ‘I’ll keep my mouth quiet,’ but ‘I am still’.) And this is not straightforward, although it could be beautiful.

Heaven (lines 5 and 6)

In the spiritual/mental realm of lines 5 and 6, we might expect to see more awareness and more choice…

12.5

‘Resting when blocked.
Great person, good fortune.
It is lost, it is lost!
Tie it to the bushy mulberry tree.’

How can you make the most of being blocked? What’s the opportunity in that?

Well… there’s the opportunity to have a rest.

Although we might also be inclined to ‘make the most of’ the drama (‘it is lost!’), ultimately we’re learning to be philosophical about how things are. Sometimes things naturally flow our way and our ideas bear fruit; sometimes, they don’t. And when they don’t, this is an opportunity to reconnect with the natural pace of growth and change: tie it to the mulberry. (This opportunity is so well-hidden that it’s also tucked away in the nuclear hexagram of 12: 53, Gradual Progress, the hardy tree growing on the mountain.)

16.6

‘Enthusiasm in the dark.
Results bring a change of heart,
No mistake.’

You can imagine Hexagram 16 – Enthusiasm, imagination on a grand scale – multiplying with the vigorous, optimistic engagement of 35. You’d surely have technicolor imaginings – but they’re still in the dark. Real-world results will make a difference.

I think this is a line of animal enthusiasm and energy: dancing and moving on in the dark (in all senses of the phrase), because you’ll only learn where you are by moving and creating change – maybe succeeding, or maybe running headlong into a pit or two. Is this wise? Hardly… but then, is wisdom really called for? It’s no mistake to be in motion – better, surely, than sitting down and brooding. Enthusiasm in the dark actually contains the opportunity to go beyond enthusiasm into understanding.

So in this realm, there does seem to be more of a conscious choice to participate in the full nature of the time: when Blocked, to rest and bind to the growing mulberry; to maintain the energy of Enthusiasm even in the dark, and use it to carry you further. Again, comparing the two-line change: 45.5.6 to 35 does enter fully into the spirit of 45, by investing everything, holding nothing back – ‘leaving it all on the field’. And… mightn’t the cry of ‘It is lost! It is lost!’ or the ‘change of heart’ be accompanied by ‘Sighs, tears and snot’? I get the feeling from all three readings that this higher-level Advance is led by full emotional engagement.

Summing up…?

Clearly, having 35 as relating hexagram, that eager ‘make the most of this!’ mindset, isn’t the most reliable guide. It seems to work well when the original situation (the cast hexagram) is one that might slow you down and give you pause for thought – 21, 64 or 12 – something that puts obstacles in the way of Progress. (6.2.5 to 35 is another good one.) Asking, ‘What’s the gift in this? What is there here to work with?’ in such times is a help. When the situation has its own momentum, Advancing might multiply it – and it could run away with you.

galloping horses

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

From the I Ching Community

I’ve treated myself to another new Yi book – Geoffrey Redmond’s I Ching (Book of Changes) – a critical translation of the ancient text – and it got me thinking about the different aspects of the book that are visible to different people.

The good…

To start, though, a sort-of book review. There’s a lot to appreciate about Redmond’s work: a sense of humour and unpretentious straightforwardness that permeate the book; how widely-read he is (not just the ‘obvious’ people like Rutt, Kunst and Shaughnessy, but also SJ Marshall and Bradford Hatcher); his desire to make ordinary sense of the lines, and rejection of unnecessary character substitutions.

So far I’ve found the chapters surrounding the translation – on the Zhouyi’s composition and ideas – particularly interesting. I’m still reading through the translation  itself, and it has quite a few intriguing little, ‘Huh, never thought of seeing it that way…’ moments. 9.3, for instance: ‘Like the cart scolding the wheel, husband and wife quarrel.’

He says that the book is meant for ‘reconstruction of the early meanings’, not for divination, ‘but it can be used for this purpose, though with some exercise of imagination.’ (Damn, just as we were hoping for a text that would enable us to divine without use of imagination…)

Still, he also writes sensitively about divination. He’s done readings himself (and scholars willing to admit to this in public are still a fairly rare breed) – not with any expectation that Yi will speak and reveal the unknown, but with an active interest all the same. He has given some thought to what divination implies about the world (‘the nature of the Zhouyi itself implies a deeper reality that can be accessed through the use of the book for divination’), and what it might have been like 3,000 years ago, and includes a section to explain the ‘quality of the time’.

(Then he does rather spoil this impression of divinatory knowhow by giving a perfectly accurate table of yarrow/16-bead vs 3-coin probabilities, only to say, twice, that he prefers beads because they mean fewer changing lines overall. This while looking at a chart that shows 3+1 possibilities for changing lines in one method, and 2+2 in the other. Odd.)

Also interesting is what he writes about oral traditions, the beginnings of writing, and what gives words charisma. He adds the intriguing idea that some of the words of the text are not so much ‘what the oracle says’ as what the diviner must recite: yuan heng li zhen not a prognostication but an invocation; ‘no blame’ perhaps said to ward off blame.

…and the ridiculous

Redmond is apparently privy to a whole lot of knowledge about what the Zhouyi definitely doesn’t contain.

‘Of the wisdom for which I Ching has been admired, not much is to be found in the Western Zhou text.’

The division into Upper and Lower Canons ‘has no thematic significance.’

‘There is no sign of literary creativity in the work.’

I wonder how he knows?

He does actually explain the beliefs that give rise to this kind of thing. For instance, yuan heng li zhen is an invocation to be recited at the beginning of every divination, and hence ‘when incomplete or omitted from the written text, it would be assumed.’ It would follow that the differences in what’s in fact in the written text – all four characters together, or none, or a subset, or with interpolations – are accidental, barely real at all. Hexagram 4, for instance, where the phrase heng li zhen is interrupted by the passage about an importunate diviner whose repeated questions interrupt the flow of divination – nothing to see here. Certainly not a sign of literary creativity, anyway…

His core assertion is this:

‘The unit of meaning is not the chapter, nor entire line text, nor the sentence, but the phrase. Put bluntly, the Zhouyi is a collection of scraps. Thus a line of text often assembles phrases without evident thematic relationship.’

and again,

‘Confusion is greatly reduced once it is recognized that the fundamental unit of meaning in the Zhouyi is not the chapter, nor paragraph (of which there are none), nor even the line, but the phrase. Phrases within the judgments or numbered lines are only sometimes related to each other.’

I’ve spent uncountable hours asking myself questions like, ‘Why would a harmonious gathering at the ancestral temple mean shame?’ Redmond doesn’t actually assume all such questions are pointless (for 13.2 he suggests the gathering might be to atone for an error, which is not a bad idea), but he does give himself a ready-made answer.

Confusion might be reduced this way, or at least interpretation might become a whole lot less time-consuming, but meaning is reduced too – and I’m not sure he doesn’t create almost as many translation and interpretation problems for himself as he solves. 51.2, for instance:

‘Thunder comes, harshly.
Many thousands of cowry shells for the funeral.
Ascend nine times to the burial mound.
Do not pursue, in seven days will be obtained.’

There are some intriguing ideas here: the thousands of cowries as a funeral offering, giving ‘funeral’ instead of ‘lost’; nine ascents of a single burial mound instead of nine hills. But as to what might be obtained after seven days, it’s impossible to say.

Or 62.6:

‘Not meeting but passing.
Soaring birds in the distance, ominous.
Truly called a calamitous mistake!’

Redmond says, ‘It is hard to make any connection between the phrases here’. Really? Hard to connect ‘not meeting but passing’ with ‘soaring birds in the distance’ when line 5 was about a successful hunt with arrows? But then if the unit of meaning is the phrase, the preceding line certainly can’t help.

What you see depends on where you stand

That’s always true – Yi interpretation just makes it more obvious than usual.

‘The unit of meaning is the phrase’ for Redmond. If two phrases in a line don’t make sense together, that doesn’t matter – we don’t understand because there’s nothing there to be understood.

He theorises that the Zhouyi was put together by compilers who were presented with a collection of divinatory phrases and sayings gathered from across the realm, and told to arrange them somehow among the hexagrams. (‘To be fair to the compilers, given that they had to work with a collection of randomly chosen phrases, they made the best they could with the material they had. To give an analogy, putting the phrases together into an organized book would have been comparable to taking documents out of a paper shredder and trying to make sense of them.’) All the phrases had to go somewhere, after all.

For Stephen Field, the unit of meaning seems to be the hexagram. He finds more myth and history in the hexagrams than anyone, so that his Hexagram 23 becomes a step-by-step story of Wang Hai, and 46 becomes the history of Danfu’s ‘Great Climb’ to a new Zhou homeland. This means he has a tremendously coherent concept of each hexagram. But there are also things he doesn’t see – notably, he seems to see the book more as a compilation of stories and divination records than as a working oracle, so that for him it doesn’t matter if the omens make no sense in relation to the stories.

For Bradford Hatcher, I think it’s also the hexagram: he often tells people that they need to remember which hexagram they’re reading in order to understand a line text. But he draws the line there, and is likely to mention apophenia and/or pareidolia when anyone starts finding meaningful patterns in the Sequence. (Which always means I have to stop and look them up again…) And many authors who comment on the Sequence would agree: if you can’t say why 35 follows 34, that’s because there is no reason why. Every hexagram had to go somewhere.

Stephen Karcher clarified that we need to be aware of the pair as a unit, not just the hexagram.

And at the opposite extreme from Redmond is Scott Davis, for whom the Sequence as a whole conveys meaning. It was Davis who introduced me to the possibility that the text of one hexagram can refer to others and their position within the Sequence. Since that had never occurred to me before, I’d never thought to look for such things, and – in a couple of decades of staring at the book pretty much every day – had never seen any. Now Davis has stirred me from this oblivious state, it’s amazing what becomes visible. (Redmond, we can be fairly sure, isn’t going to translate ‘in seven days return’ and start counting 7 hexagrams forward from 24; he already knows that the division into Upper and Lower Canons has no significance!)

What we’ll see depends on where we stand and what we can imagine seeing. Of course that works both ways, and there’s such a thing as an over-active imagination. But let’s keep our certainties to a minimum…

Scott Hilburn rhino comic

 

I’ve been thinking about Hexagram 35 – and especially how it shows up as a relating hexagram.

Introducing Hexagram 35

The name of this hexagram is ‘Advancing’, or ‘Progress’ or ‘Flourishing’. The oldest form of the character seems to show arrows in their sheath:

the character 'jin', advancing

Those arrows – along the text of the oracle – suggest readiness to seize whatever opportunities present themselves and make things happen. LiSe Heyboer sums it up well:

“Prosperity does not arrive by itself, it visits the people with the right attitude. The one who always carries along arrows is probably the only one who comes home from a walk with a rabbit for dinner. The lord of Kang grasped the opportunity of a gift to breed a meadow full of horses. The first one who sees a gap in the market builds up the multinational. Grasp the small chances, do not wait for the big one to arrive, stay alert with eyes and ears and hands ready, and a quiver filled with arrows.”

The Lord of Kang has his story told in the Oracle:

‘Advancing, Prince Kang used a gift of horses to breed a multitude.
In the course of a day, he mated them three times.’

Prince Kang was the younger brother of King Wu, rewarded for helping him. He was made Lord of Kang after the Zhou conquest, and then also Lord of Wei as a reward for his military role during the consolidation of Zhou authority. Perhaps ‘Advancing’ could be a military advance? (‘Kang’ wasn’t known to be someone’s name until it was found in bronze inscriptions in the 1920’s, which is why Wilhelm translates simply ‘the powerful prince’.)

The gift of horses is also a sign of royal favour and trust – and Kang, breeding the horses, makes the most of this.

Hexagram 35 is the inverse of 36, Brightness Hiding. This also tells the story of a virtuous lord, Ji, who was neither recognised nor rewarded, and had to hide his light for fear of persecution. The contrast is clear – and the Zagua, the Wing of contrasts, says that Advancing means daylight while Brightness Hiding means punishment.

:::|:|‘Daylight’ is apparent in the trigrams of 35: fire and light above the earth. Comparing the fate of Kang to the equally-virtuous Ji, we might think of the English expression, ‘your day in the sun’. In such times, mate the horses to breed a multitude, carry arrows ready to seize your opportunities, seize the day, make hay while the sun shines. Hexagram 35 does not mean, ‘Work on your tan.’

This is the kind of hexagram you might think of as ‘positive’ (if, that is, you hadn’t read Bradford’s excellent post on the subject of ‘Positive and negative hexagrams’). So… what happens when 35 is the relating hexagram?

35 as relating hexagram

That is… what happens when your cast hexagram is moving to 35 – when the changes in the answer reveal 35 in the background? It might be an attitude or tendency; it might well be a ‘positive thinking’ kind of mindset, that always asks, ‘What is the gift in this situation, and how can I make the most of it?’

Of course, a full answer to this question would involve looking at 63 possible readings… but let’s try just six of them, the ones where a single line changes to 35. Here they are:

21.1 > 35

‘Shoes locked in the stocks, feet disappear.
Not a mistake.’

64.2 > 35

‘Your wheels dragged back.
Constancy, good fortune.’

56.3 > 35

‘Traveller burns down his resting place
Loses his young helper.
Constancy: danger.’

23.4 > 35

‘Stripping the bed by way of the flesh.
Pitfall.’

12.5 > 35

‘Resting when blocked.
Great person, good fortune.
It is lost, it is lost!
Tie it to the bushy mulberry tree.’

16.6 > 35

‘Enthusiasm in the dark.
Results bring a change of heart,
No mistake.’

Maybe not as sunny as we might expect?

These lines seem to me to belong in pairs, corresponding to the three ‘layers’ of a hexagram: lines 1 and 2 (earth realm), 3 and 4 (human) and 5 and 6 (spirit). I’ll have a look at how Advancing shines through each of these.

Earth (lines 1 and 2)

21.1

‘Shoes locked in the stocks, feet disappear.
Not a mistake.’

The traditional view on this line – which I like – is that someone who has made a minor error is being stopped in their tracks before they can do anything worse. The stocks keep you out from running into trouble.

Since this changes to 35, we can ask, how is this the Advancing of Biting Through? What’s the opportunity in Biting Through that someone might seize and make the most of in this line?

Surely it’s having time to think: the opportunity to reflect, and make some progress in understanding. To make a connection with truth. So let’s make the most of biting through – since we can do nothing else, let’s learn something.

64.2

‘Your wheels dragged back.
Constancy, good fortune.’

This is very similar to line 1, isn’t it? What’s the opportunity in being Not Yet Across? Not to have to rush into crossing; not to lose control of your momentum and be sent crashing down the bank into the river. So let’s make the most of not being across the river – let’s protract the crossing, take more time to think, be as safe as we can be while still moving forward.

These two lines, down in the ‘earth’ realm, obviously share a theme of festina lente (make haste slowly). To ‘seize the day’ at ground level doesn’t mean making stuff happen; it means accepting what is happening, and engaging with that. Here we are, getting into the basic conditions of the situation. How might these be an opportunity, or how might we engage with them to open out that opportunity? (How can we make lemonade while the sun shines?)

If you compare the reading where lines 1 and 2 change to reveal 35 – 38.1.2 to 35 – I think you see similar themes: slow down and see what’s real; accept that and find the best way to engage with it.

Humanity (lines 3 and 4)

In these two lines, having an attitude of Advancing turns out to be not such a great idea.

56.3

‘Traveller burns down his resting place
Loses his young helper.
Constancy: danger.’

Here I am at a resting place on my journey – what’s the opportunity here? How can I make the most of this? Let’s get a really good blaze going and warm the place up!

(oops)

Another layer of meaning in this line (one LiSe found) is that it can be the moment when the traveller decides to go on alone. Burning down the resting place, forfeiting the helper – this is like ‘burning your boats’, a way to express your confidence in your journey. And that’s also in the spirit of Hexagram 35: onward! No looking back!

(‘Constancy, danger’ in that case would make this one of those lines that says, ‘This strategy will work this time, but it wouldn’t make such a good guiding principle.’ 35.6 is another of those.)

23.4

‘Stripping the bed by way of the flesh.
Pitfall.’

What’s the opportunity in Stripping Away? To get rid of everything that’s old and redundant! Let’s make the most of this good, sharp knife! Out with the old! Onward!

(ouch)

Stephen Field associates hexagram 23 with the story of Heng and Hai, which would make this a terrible contrast between two pairs of brothers. Kang supported Wu, and was rewarded. Heng betrayed Hai to the authorities and had him chopped into bits – only to suffer his own come-uppance later, at the hands of Hai’s son.

So… a 35, make-the-most-of-it approach in the realm of human nature can be a destructive force. ‘Make hay while the sun shines’? You can have too much fire, and too much scything.

Advancing in the human realm seems to mean identifying with the ‘time’ of the hexagram – not in the sense of conscious choice (‘What might a traveller encounter? Where do I want to arrive?’), but just getting stuck in. And if we look at the two-line change of the human realm to 35 – 52.3.4 to 35 – then I think we’re looking at two ways of identifying with stillness, or identifying as still. (Not just ‘I’ll keep my feet still,’ or ‘I’ll keep my mouth quiet,’ but ‘I am still’.) And this is not straightforward, although it could be beautiful.

Heaven (lines 5 and 6)

In the spiritual/mental realm of lines 5 and 6, we might expect to see more awareness and more choice…

12.5

‘Resting when blocked.
Great person, good fortune.
It is lost, it is lost!
Tie it to the bushy mulberry tree.’

How can you make the most of being blocked? What’s the opportunity in that?

Well… there’s the opportunity to have a rest.

Although we might also be inclined to ‘make the most of’ the drama (‘it is lost!’), ultimately we’re learning to be philosophical about how things are. Sometimes things naturally flow our way and our ideas bear fruit; sometimes, they don’t. And when they don’t, this is an opportunity to reconnect with the natural pace of growth and change: tie it to the mulberry. (This opportunity is so well-hidden that it’s also tucked away in the nuclear hexagram of 12: 53, Gradual Progress, the hardy tree growing on the mountain.)

16.6

‘Enthusiasm in the dark.
Results bring a change of heart,
No mistake.’

You can imagine Hexagram 16 – Enthusiasm, imagination on a grand scale – multiplying with the vigorous, optimistic engagement of 35. You’d surely have technicolor imaginings – but they’re still in the dark. Real-world results will make a difference.

I think this is a line of animal enthusiasm and energy: dancing and moving on in the dark (in all senses of the phrase), because you’ll only learn where you are by moving and creating change – maybe succeeding, or maybe running headlong into a pit or two. Is this wise? Hardly… but then, is wisdom really called for? It’s no mistake to be in motion – better, surely, than sitting down and brooding. Enthusiasm in the dark actually contains the opportunity to go beyond enthusiasm into understanding.

So in this realm, there does seem to be more of a conscious choice to participate in the full nature of the time: when Blocked, to rest and bind to the growing mulberry; to maintain the energy of Enthusiasm even in the dark, and use it to carry you further. Again, comparing the two-line change: 45.5.6 to 35 does enter fully into the spirit of 45, by investing everything, holding nothing back – ‘leaving it all on the field’. And… mightn’t the cry of ‘It is lost! It is lost!’ or the ‘change of heart’ be accompanied by ‘Sighs, tears and snot’? I get the feeling from all three readings that this higher-level Advance is led by full emotional engagement.

Summing up…?

Clearly, having 35 as relating hexagram, that eager ‘make the most of this!’ mindset, isn’t the most reliable guide. It seems to work well when the original situation (the cast hexagram) is one that might slow you down and give you pause for thought – 21, 64 or 12 – something that puts obstacles in the way of Progress. (6.2.5 to 35 is another good one.) Asking, ‘What’s the gift in this? What is there here to work with?’ in such times is a help. When the situation has its own momentum, Advancing might multiply it – and it could run away with you.

galloping horses

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

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