...life can be translucent

I Ching with Clarity

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:

To learn the I Ching

Start with the Beginners’ I Ching Course

It has all you need to get started from scratch. Then if you’re familiar with the basics and want to develop your confidence in interpretation, have a look at the Foundations Course.

To get the I Ching’s help

Start with a free online I Ching reading

(There’s help at hand to explain how it works.)

If you’d like my help, have a look at the I Ching reading services.

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,

From the blog

I’ve had some questions about the Paired Hexagrams Course. Rather than just talking about it, I thought it would be better to show you some of it – so here’s the introductory lesson.

It simply runs through the three kinds of pair, so you can see clearly what they are and how they differ. Then the subsequent lessons describe each kind of pair in turn: how the hexagrams are related, what this means for readings, what questions to ask yourself to engage with them in practice. I also added an example reading for each type, which should give you more of a feel for how this works.

This preview is just for Clarity members

…so you will need to log in to your account to see it!

If you’re already a member, use the ‘log in’ link in the top right-hand corner of this page, and the lesson will magically appear in place of this message 😉 .

If you’re not yet a member, please do join here: it’s free, and gives you access to participate in the I Ching Community and access a nice assortment of I Ching pdfs – and when you return to this post as a logged-in user, you’ll see the preview lesson here.

Marriage is one of the Yijing’s most-used recurring images – and in relationship readings, it’s one of the easiest to relate to. Hexagram 54, the Marrying Maiden, has told a lot of women, quite straightforwardly, that she’s not the most important thing to him. (Maybe another woman is, or maybe it’s his career, or any of six other things – but not you.) Hexagram 44, Coupling, has indeed been known to warn men away from women who could wreck their home or ruin their peace.

Beyond ‘relationship readings’

However – of course – marriage imagery isn’t always talking about marriage, or any kind of romantic relationship. Yi can use ‘the woman marries,’ or ‘taking a woman’ to describe any kind of relationship – with a job, for instance, or a calling, a place, a school of thought, your own body, and so on.

(And since divining with Yi has always meant trusting a random process to give you the hexagram you need, hexagrams ‘about’ marriage have always answered questions that had nothing to do with marriage.

This also means that since it was first written down, the Yi has never stopped inviting men to imagine themselves in the position of marrying women, and vice versa. If you’re ever irritated by the patriarchal framework behind a hexagram like 54, it’s worth remembering that the act of divination has been confusing these hierarchies for thousands of years.)

For full description of early Chinese marriage traditions, how they’re used as imagery in the Yijing and ways to interpret and apply them in readings, see Language of Changemy Yijing glossary. In its ‘Marriage’ chapter, I walk you through…

  • how marriage worked in old China and what it meant
  • where it appears in the Yijing
  • interpretation ideas
  • lists of example applications

…for marriage in general, and then for the woman’s marriage, including the ‘not robbers but marital allies’ vignette, and the man’s marriage.

In this post, I’d like just to compare two ‘marriage’ hexagrams, Hexagram 53, Gradual Progress, and 31, Influence. 31 speaks of ‘taking a woman’, so this is marriage from the man’s point of view; 53 is about ‘the woman marrying’, the opposite perspective.

The woman marries

‘Gradual progress. The woman marries.
Good fortune.
Constancy bears fruit.’

The verb ‘marrying’ here is gui, 歸 – the same word you find in the name of Hexagram 54, the Marrying Maiden. In addition to ‘marry’, it also means to return, come home to, belong with or converge towards, and even ‘take refuge’ in the Buddha. LiSe adds that ‘it is often used for dying: returning home.’

This is what marriage signified for a woman in ancient China: she would leave her childhood home and travel to live with her husband. And since for noble families, marriage was a means of forging alliances between different clans, she would have to travel a long way and leave everything familiar behind her.

You can see how this ties in with the other big, vivid image of Hexagram 53, the migratory geese. They have a long way to go, over inhospitable terrain (the barren ‘high mountains’ of lines 3 and 6), to reach their home. The new wife has a long way to go, even after her physical travels are over, to establish herself and be truly at home in this new place.

In readings, Hexagram 53 has to do with integrating deeply into a situation, ‘coming home’ into your own life. Running a ‘cast history search’ in my Resonance Journal shows me how it’s described…

  • someone coming to terms with and ‘settling into’ her current situation
  • someone gradually learning to live with a health issue (‘this is my body now, this is where I live’)
  • ‘migrating’ (!) the website to newer technology: first the server, then WordPress, then its themes, step by slow step.
  • the evolution of a marriage over decades –  how you’ve never finished learning the other person
  • how people naturally settle in with their right teacher
  • how Clarity grows and develops over the years

There’s a constant sense of ‘coming home into’ things – often with the feeling that you can always go deeper and always belong more fully.

Taking a woman

‘Influence, creating success.
Constancy bears fruit.
Taking a woman, good fortune.’

The expression ‘taking a woman’ (as in Hexagram 44) is about a man marrying. It’s completely different from the woman’s experience: the man doesn’t move house, but instead courts the woman to invite her to come to him. He will need to make space for her and welcome her in – her, and the children that will follow. His life will not be the same!

In this way, ‘taking a woman’ amounts to asking to be moved and changed by something new. Your home identity will be enriched, expanded, challenged… all of which is a risky undertaking, as you can see in Hexagram 44, and Hexagram 4 line 3, and indeed in the moving lines of 31 itself. Will the change be welcome – is the ‘Influence’ moving you to a good place?

Another ‘Cast History’ search paints a very consistent picture of ‘taking a woman’ in Hexagram 31: readings about creating space for new ideas, so they can move me and create change. Space for a new vision that takes on a life of its own… for an idea I was inclined to dismiss… for music (in several readings)… for spirit, for readings… for love and its propensity to turn your life upside down… and so on.

In Hexagram 31, ‘taking the woman’, making space for the these rich new experiences, fundamentally means good fortune; in Hexagram 44, not so much. There’s a fine line between ‘expanding’ and ‘exploding’.

Comparing nuclear hexagrams

Here’s an interesting point of comparison between Gradual Progress and Influence: the nuclear hexagram of 53 is 64, Not Yet Across, while the nuclear hexagram of 31 is 44, Coupling.

A nuclear shows ‘hexagram DNA’, the core theme and inner work of the cast hexagram. So it might give us pause for thought that 53/54, the two hexagrams about the woman marrying, have at their core 64/63, hexagrams about a great transition, and how the journey continues afterwards. The woman marrying is still integrating into her home, attending with care to each step forward into her new place – needing to be as sensitive to the nuances of relationship as that fox on the ice.

Meanwhile, the man taking a woman needs, still, to wonder how he can find space for all this and still stay in one piece. From one of my Hexagram 31 journal entries:

It’s true that ‘The Muse’ can take over. Maybe that’s a risk you have to take, to get that power into the heart of your life? If you want to be overwhelmingly powerfully motivated, moved by real emotion, you have to let that flow.

Comparing trigrams

Both 53 and 31 contain a ‘marriage’ of trigrams, each combining a son and a daughter of the trigram family.

Influence is made of gen, mountain, the youngest son, joined by dui, lake, the youngest daughter: a perfect match of complementary trigrams:

::| ||:


Gradual Progress also has mountain inside, with xun, wood, the eldest daughter, outside:

::| :||


Both pairs of trigrams come together to paint a single natural landscape: the lake, or the tree, on the mountain. The differences are apt, though.

The mountain needs to form a crater, allowing space so the lake can gather:

‘Above the mountain is a lake. Influence.
Noble one accepts people with emptiness.’

The tree will root slowly into the rocky flanks of the mountain, gradually integrating and creating its own miniature ecosystem:

‘On the mountain is a tree. Gradual progress.
A noble one abides in virtuous character and improves the ordinary.’

Further reading

If you’re interested in Yi’s ancient imagery and how it works in readings, I’d definitely recommend you pick up a copy of Language of Change – not just for the ‘marriage’ chapter, but also the sections on river-crossing, compass directions, omens and so on.

You could purchase it on its own as a pdf ebook, but it’s also included in its entirety inside the Resonance Journal.

crater lake with shady trees

The ‘powerful woman’ problem

In Hexagram 44, we are encountering, meeting or ‘coupling’ with a powerful woman.

‘Coupling, the woman is powerful.
Do not take this woman.’

To ‘take’ her means to seize, as one might seize a criminal, but in this usage it’s something like the old-fashioned English, ‘taking a woman in marriage’ – maybe with overtones of bringing her under control in the process! And that’s exactly what you should not try to do. Why not? The Commentary on the Judgement says,

‘Do not take this woman: it cannot last long.’

– which is pretty clear: she can’t be absorbed into your life, she won’t fit, not in the long run. This is the stuff of brief encounters, not an enduring relationship. (See this post for more about this ‘not fitting in’ of 44.)

In this post, I’d like to tackle two questions: how to recognise what the ‘powerful woman’ represents in your readings, and how you might respond to her. (And in the process respond to requests for me to write about 44’s moving lines.)

Who is she?

I’ve run a search in my own Yijing journal for all the readings with Hexagram 44, as both primary and relating hexagram, and also looked through some notes on other people’s readings, to help paint a portrait of this ‘powerful woman’. When people receive Hexagram 44, what are they encountering?

There was the story Mary ‘Midaughter’ Halpin told, in which Hexagram 44 predicted a storm and she only just brought her boat to shore in safety. There are readings about an addiction, or perhaps the addictive personality.

There was a logically-minded man ‘meeting’ the idea of someone taking divination seriously and having no idea what to do with this. But then there was also the querent who ‘met’ the realm of emotion, sexual desire and messy humanity invading the realm of abstraction created by (far too many) Yijing readings.

And there was someone receiving demands for debt repayment, and the tennis player encountering an opponent whose game he couldn’t read.

In all these cases, the ‘powerful woman’ showed up as an irruption of unmanageable reality, perhaps of chaos – something unplanned-for, disruptive, and also potentially creative.

I’ve received 44 as primary hexagram again and again when encountering people I can’t… quite… cope with in the way I’d imagined. (Another kind of ‘irruption of reality’!) I’d be trying to maintain a harmonious relationship with people who simply didn’t want one.

Tradition says the powerful woman seeks to dominate, and for some of these people that actually was their only priority. I was running round looking for ways to make friends, while they were simply looking for ways to defeat me. But others were simply in a fragile mental state, driven by powerful emotional needs of their own that had nothing to do with me or the issue I was concerned about. In one of these journal entries I wrote,

‘You can no more have a stable friendship with that than you can with a flood – so you just have to do the best you can – which isn´t always so great…’

I needed to understand that these people’s motivations were not the straightforward, rational ones I was attributing to them, and – above all – that the kind of harmonious relationship I was trying to create just wasn’t available.

(The mistake I was making in a lot of these situations is nicely summed up by the Shadow hexagram: 21, Biting Through. It looked to me as though there was a specific obstacle to relationship, that I could argue out like a lawyer and bite through; then things would fit together and work perfectly, like good teeth. This was not a useful way to conceive of the situation.)

As relating hexagram, 44 quite often represented an aspect of myself: some irreducible will, or intent, or desire that isn’t available to rational thought; an inner imperative that might change everything.

Sometimes it isn’t clear exactly whom or what the unmarriageable woman represents. There’s a reading about some software, with many attempts to imagine how I’d incorporate it into my way of working – as you might guess, that never happened. Likewise, there’s one about someone else’s organisational system, that wouldn’t work for me. So who’s who in these readings: was this about me meeting the software/ system, or the system meeting me? For the purposes of interpretation, it really doesn’t matter: the point is simply that this is not relationship material. That option doesn’t exist.

Her portrait in trigrams

The trigrams of Hexagram 44 show the wind below heaven, so I’ve been trying to visualise that:

Mary Halpin’s reading of the storm comes to mind, of course. With the whole force of heaven behind the wind, everything is really going to be moved.

What can you do with this?

Hexagram 44 represents the arrival of an uncontrollable, unpredictable great force. The Oracle text tells us we can’t marry this; it doesn’t tell us what we can do with it, probably because there is no dependable, universal answer. What do you ‘do’ with a tornado? Admire its power, stay out of its path if you can, and let it pass. That’s often the best message we can take from a Hexagram 44 reading, too.

However, the power of Coupling isn’t solely destructive. That much is clear from the name of the hexagram, which shows a woman giving birth – perhaps it means the heir, or the woman who gives birth to him. (Here’s Harmen’s article on the subject.) This could also be generative power: witness the fertility imagery in the line texts, the fish in the basket and wrapped melon.

As you read the lines, especially the wonder of line 5, 44 looks like a fertile chaos: there could be a baby; it could generate a whole new world, if it could just be contained and shaped with sufficient care. Maybe. Sometimes.

How could we respond to Coupling?

Be like the prince?

‘Below heaven is the wind. Coupling.
The prince sends out mandates and commands to the four corners of the earth.’

The prince uses this heaven-powered wind to transmit mandates that reach to the corners of the earth. Or perhaps ‘uses’ is the wrong word: perhaps he’s understanding the true nature of the energy involved and engaging with its power to bring creative change.

Perhaps you can align yourself with this wind – and also, perhaps you can’t. People aren’t generally advised to take their glider up in a tornado, after all.

There are signs of the prince’s kind of engagement in the line texts, too. (As so often, the Daxiang authors seem to have been inspired by the lines, especially line 5.)

The first sign of 44 as ‘mandate at work’ comes at line 3, which I believe alludes to Yu the Great and the injuries he suffered as he struggled to conquer the floods:

‘Thighs without flesh,
Moving awkwardly now.
No great mistake.’

This line isn’t about the honour of receiving the mandate for this work, nor the glories of success, but the whole miserable struggle inbetween: we see him stumbling and limping along (‘the image of someone starved and worked to death,’ says Stephen Field), and Yi only comments that this is ‘no great mistake’. (A joke on ‘Yu the Great’? Could be.)

Line 5 –

‘Using willow to wrap melons.
Containing a thing of beauty,
It comes falling from its source in heaven.’

– captures more of a sense of gifts from heaven. Literally, this is talking about using willow to shape a growing gourd for use as a bottle. As an image, of course, it looks like a successful pregnancy. (The willow in 28.2.5 is to do with sex and fertility, too.) The ‘thing of beauty’ is ‘structure, composition, rules’, and in the context of this line, which changes to 50, the Vessel, I reckon it refers to a new constitution.

It’s a very beautiful line – and, in practice, I’ve found that the gift that falls to you here is not necessarily something you have a use for – not as things stand.

When these two lines, 3 and 5, change together, you have the properly-tentative background of Hexagram 64, Not Yet Across.

Control it?

Can you contain the Coupling power, bring it under control? That’s the first positive recommendation of the hexagram:

‘Held fast by a golden chock. Constancy: good fortune.
With a direction to go, see the pitfall:
A scrawny pig can be trusted to kick and struggle.’

That’s the only time we see ‘good fortune’ in Hexagram 44: when it’s being contained and held fast. If you identify with the impulse, let it become your direction, then you look a great deal like that pig. Stop and steady the ship; beware of unconscious desires that, left unchecked, might end up running the whole show.

In the I Ching Community some years back, this line described the attitude a man was taking to his very demanding mistress after his wife had given birth to twins. In the end, after some stopping and starting, he no longer responded to her.

The other line I think has to do with containing and controlling is line 6:

‘Coupling with your horns.
Not a mistake.’

This one, overwhelmed and probably not thinking too clearly, goes in with horns lowered to wrestle things into some sort of relationship. ‘Shame, not a mistake,’ says Yi, sounding (to me) pretty unenthusiastic; perhaps this is the best you can manage.

When those two lines change together, you have the paired hexagram, 43, Deciding. Someone is quite decisive and determined about how Coupling shall be. Will that work? Perhaps.

Use it as basis for a relationship?

And finally, there are lines 2 and 4, the two about fish traps. This is a fertility image and omen: a basket lowered into the river to catch fish. If you trap some, this bodes well for a marriage and future fertility – as in line 2:

‘In this basket there are fish.
No mistake.
Not fruitful to entertain guests.’

So the omens are good, or at least not actively bad; now, you need to hold onto the potential and not get ahead of yourself. Margaret Pearson thinks of this as the early stages of pregnancy, to be safeguarded with quiet and Retreat (Hexagram 33, revealed by this line change). SJ Marshall pointed out to us that ‘entertaining guests’ also means the bin rite, performed to introduce the new bride to the groom’s ancestors: you don’t want to go that far yet, just on the strength of a few fish. Drawing on both these ideas, I wrote in my book,  “What you do not have is a guarantee of results. It is far too early to introduce your hope to a wider context and expect it to bear fruit. For now, it should have your inner space to itself, free from premature expectations. You can best care for any long term possibilities by not presuming on them.”

But in line 4 –

‘In this basket, no fish.
Rising up, pitfall.’

– there are no fish, so there’s no possibility of starting anything. As the fourth line, this one may have a positive, ‘What can I do with this?’ attitude; as the line joining with Hexagram 57, Subtle Penetration, it’s moved by a desire to integrate the new energy: ‘How can I use this, make it part of my plans?’

The short answer is that you can’t, because you don’t have a relationship with it. It’s not that there are no fish in the river, but there are none in your basket; it’s not that there is nothing new, it’s that you need to connect with it consciously, as something new that doesn’t slot into the space you had for it.

(Somewhere in the I Ching Community archives, someone asked about the ‘energy’ between themselves and another person and received this line. 18 months later, they still hadn’t spoken.)

These two ‘fish basket’ lines together change 44 to Hexagram 53, Gradual Development: the hexagram of marriage and the geese flying home together. Coupling coming home, building a long-term relationship, is simply not reliable. Perhaps there’s conception, but perhaps there isn’t even that. Exactly as the Commentary on the Judgement says, ‘It cannot last long.’

I hope this post will make sense. It’s something I thought of in the small hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep, and started counting complementary hexagrams instead of sheep (as you do…) –

Here’s a picture of the Sequence of Hexagrams:

representing the hexagram pairs in a line (see text!)

Hm… maybe that could do with some explanation:

  • Each complementary pair (including the ones that are inverse pairs as well) is represented with ( ).
  • Every other pair is represented by an arrow: facing forward if that pair’s complement is ahead of it in the Sequence, facing backward if it’s behind it. You can think of it as which way the hexagrams are ‘looking’ to find the patterns that complement them.
  • The curly brackets don’t represent hexagrams – they just enclose groups of hexagrams that are one another’s complements. The big, orange brackets enclose the Vessel Casting group, 3-50; the others enclose hexagrams 7-16, 37-40 and 51-60. (I could have added more brackets around 51-64, but I thought we’d got enough to be going on with.) If you’re a Change Circle member, you may already be aware of a lot of very lovely – and very meaningful – patterns and reflections created inside those curly brackets that I described in the Exploring the Sequence book last year.
  • The little blue letters identify some interesting moments.

Now of course, you’d expect more of the hexagrams in the first half of the book to be looking forward to find their complements, and most of those in the second half to be looking back. The fun starts when you look at the exceptions: the moments when the expected flow forward or backward changes direction.

At ‘a’, you get the first hexagrams to look back to find their complement. Since we entered the Vessel Casting set, each pair has been looking forward – until you reach Hexagram 12, Blocked:


That turns us around to look back. I’ve written about this structure, and the historical moment I think it encodes, in Exploring the Sequence – but even without that level of detail, isn’t it interesting that Hexagram 12 should be the one to compel us to look back?

We start looking forward again at ‘b’. That’s Hexagram 19, Nearing:


We go past the complementary pairs at the end of the Upper Canon – 27/28, 29/30 – and into the Lower Canon, where (at ‘c’) we find the first backward-looking arrow for a while – at Hexagram 33, Retreat,


…which as you see is the complement of 19. 19 is about going forward, and 33 is about going back. (Also, from hexagrams 19/20 to 33/34 inclusive makes eight pairs. ‘Arrival at the eighth month…’?)

The letter ‘d’ marks a unique moment, when complementary/opposite hexagrams are adjacent in the Sequence without being part of a complementary pair. By this point it might not surprise you that this moment’s marked with Hexagram 38, Opposing.

As you can see from the arrows, this is another moment of changing direction. Travelling south and west instead of north and east, perhaps. Coming instead of going, as you might say: turning around.

‘Above the mountain, there is water. Limping.
Noble one turns himself around to renew his character.’

(Hexagram 39, the Image)

From then until the end of the Vessel Casting pattern at Hexagram 50, every pair is ‘coming back’. It takes a full-size Shock to flip us around again and make us look forward.

Really, you might think someone had done this on purpose.

Once you start looking at where individual pairs find their complements, there’s more to see. For instance, the greatest distance between two complementary pairs is that between 3 and 50: it takes a long time to complete a Vessel. The second greatest distance begins with Hexagram 5, which has to Wait until Hexagram 35 for its complement. (Oddly enough, 3/4, 5/6, 35/36 and 49/50 are eight of the twelve ‘Steps of Change’ reached by changing single lines in 63/64, at the very end. The remaining four are 37/38 and 39/40, the closest complements.)

(And isn’t the third-biggest distance between 21, Biting Through, and 48, the Well, two hexagrams about closing or bridging a gap?)

(Add your own parentheses ad lib; there is so much to this book that we haven’t yet seen. I can’t recommend it as a soporific, though.)

sheep in a field

I’ve left a longer gap between posts here than I intended, mostly because March has been very full of ’cello-y things. Still, there’s a reading from one of these that cast a new light on Hexagram 31 line 3 for me, so I can at least share that with you…

The background: I’d signed up months ago for the ’Cello Day. This is a lovely occasion where a very mixed bunch of amateur ’cellists get together and are taught by a superb, kind professional. As well as group work, there is a quasi-masterclass, in which a few people volunteer to play something and get individual feedback. Thoroughly scary, but a rare opportunity; I signed up, and had been working on the piece I wanted to play since Christmas.

And… then I learned that there would be no pianist available. What I wanted to play was very much a duet with the piano, so that the ’cello part on its own would sound very lonely and a bit daft. Should I persist with that, or switch to some solo Bach (for ’cello alone)? I prepared both, dithered and divined about which to play, and didn’t actually decide until the day to go with Bach.

So that’s why I have a reading in my journal titled, ‘Just Bach?’ Yi answered with 31, Influence, changing at line 3 to 45, Gathering.

A smidgen more background: I was playing the prelude to the D minor suite, which is an intensely emotional piece: I can’t play it without being moved – not even performing in front of a group, where I’d normally be too scared to be aware of anything much else. So you can see the Hexagram-31-ness of the moment in that. (The 45 is a combination of the setting, the amount of time I’d spent preparing, all I’d learned earlier in the day and wanted to integrate… which all meant I was emotionally invested in more ways than one.)

The line warns,

‘Influence in your thighs,
Holding on to your following
Going on, shame.’

It’s an odd, awkward line, about being pulled in opposite directions. (Aside: so are some other third lines in the mountain trigram – think of 52.3, or 33.3.) ‘Influence in your thighs’ suggests that your legs are walking you. You see something you want and your legs carry you towards it automatically. Or in my case, the music was ‘playing itself’ and my hands were following.

And then at the same time I was trying to be mindful of what I’d learned that morning about how to create a good sound. The teacher had spent a long time with us breaking down what we did automatically, so that each tiny component part was brought into consciousness and we became aware of the difference it made.

Anyway… for the most part, I played OK – except when, sometimes, I made an unpleasantly forced sound. The teacher (bless him) observed that ‘mostly’ the sound was nice and free – and when it wasn’t, that was because my shoulder was ‘locking’. I think I know what he means: I’m still moving the bow, but against the resistance of my own muscle tension.

Why? Because part of me’s moving more or less automatically, and part of me’s trying to exert conscious control over those automatic habits, to ‘hold onto my following’. I can do that with one note and nothing else to think about – but not so much mid-performance.

Back to Yi’s image: you might walk mindfully, making every movement fully intentional, if you went slowly enough. But if you tried to achieve the same level of control while racing down a hill (after a cheese, for instance), it’s safe to assume you’d fall flat on your face. We can have automatic processes moved by emotion, or conscious control, but if we try for both at once we tie ourselves in a giant knot.

Looking at the line this way gives me a different perspective on it. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the ‘influence in your thighs’, nor yet with the ‘holding on’: it’s the combination that has you falling over your feet. Hence, a wise response to the line isn’t necessarily going to mean either ‘getting a grip’ or ‘letting go’: it might just mean becoming better integrated. (Practising good bowing technique, for instance, until it becomes habitual and unconscious.)

my 'cello posing with the Bach suites


(You can listen to the Bach here.)

From the I Ching Community

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