If you’ve studied Stephen Karcher’s Total I Ching or listened to How to make Change a working part of your life, you’ll be familiar with the idea that the I Ching’s hexagrams come in Pairs, and that these Pairs are units of meaning in themselves. If you receive Hexagram 6, Dispute, in an answer, he would say that you’d received the ‘Arguing’ aspect of ‘Attending-Dispute’, Hexagrams 5 and 6. The traditional Sequence of the I Ching is arranged straightforwardly in Pairs: 1-2, 3-4, and so on, each odd-numbered hexagram pairing with the even-numbered one that follows.
The more common kind of Pair is created simply by inverting a hexagram. Hexagram 5 upside-down is Hexagram 6; Hexagram 7 upside-down is Hexagram 8, and so on.
The not-so-common kind is found where a hexagram is the same when inverted – like Hexagram 61:
Then its Pair will be its opposite, or complement (two ways of describing the same relationship): every whole line replaced with a broken one, and vice versa. So Hexagram 62 follows:
(This is actually something of an over-simplification. There is a third kind of Pair, where the hexagrams are both complementary and inverted. 17 and 18, for example:
The ‘usual’, inverted Pairs each consist of just one pattern of six lines. The easy way to describe this is to say that the pattern is inverted; a maybe more helpful way, for readings, is to say that our perspective or direction has changed. It’s like a landscape –
– our experience of it depends on where we’re coming from.
So when you approach this abstract landscape –
– from one direction, you find Hexagram 37, People in the Home. Turn yourself around and approach it the other way (travelling from right to left), and you are moving through Hexagram 38, Diverging.
This is one of those places where the angle of view makes an extreme difference. There’s a group of people who share a home and a world-view, but the view from the outside is altogether different from that on the inside.
The contrast in perspective in this kind of Pair can be very helpful in readings. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being aware of both sides of the coin; sometimes it’s a more pointed reminder to concentrate on the view you’ve been given. For instance, I received Hexagram 5, Attending, just recently about something I was much more inclined to Dispute – arguing with myself, taking myself to task, rather than paying Attention. So the gentle advice from Yi might be something like,
‘Yes, disputing and thrashing this out with yourself might be one way of approaching it – but try a little patience and attention as well…’
The four complementary Pairs can’t be seen in the same way. Hexagrams 61 and 62 aren’t the same pattern approached from different directions: they are absolutely different from one another. In Yijing Wondering and Wandering by Schorre and Dunne, Carrin Dunne calls these opposite/complementary Pairs Dragon Gates, after hexagrams 1 and 2. (She contrasts these with the opposite-and-inverted Pairs, which she calls River Crossings.) As she explains:
“The gate is the dragon’s maw, which both swallows us down and spits us forth transformed. They are Dragon Gates because there is something irrevocable and incomprehensible about passing through them.”
For far more in-depth insight into the nature of the different kinds of Pair, I can recommend this book very highly.
For a visual impression of the complete, pathless gap within a complementary Pair, have a look at the Rubin illusion (link opens in a new window – close it to come back). Is that a vase, or a pair of faces? You can see the picture one way or the other, you can make yourself giddy alternating between the two at speed, but you can’t see both at once. It’s something like going through a ‘Dragon Gate’: a perceptual leap. (Another, harder visual leap: how old is this woman?)
Is this optical illusion idea an anachronism? Maybe. Look into the eyes of the voracious taotie that gaze out at you from the centre of this vessel, or from this one. Are you seeing one monster, or two?