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Hexagram 5: Waiting

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In the context of readings, this sometimes turns out to be one of Yi’s more humorous responses. Just a few days ago I asked what changing to a well-known autoresponder service would bring my business, and received 5.5 to 11. So I went ahead and signed up, only to find I’d done so on the one day when they had technical issues, and their web interface was taking ages to load and constantly timing out. This gave me plenty of time to appreciate the wit of the reading.

However, there’s more to Hexagram 5 than an opportunity to cultivate patience.

The name of the hexagram –

Waiting, Chinese character

– shows falling rain, and means waiting for the rain to stop rather than start (I’m following Steve Marshall on this). Once it stops, you can go out and cultivate your fields; if it doesn’t stop in time, it’ll flood your home and ruin your crops. So this is not like our experience of waiting for the weather to change – it’s not just a matter of mild interest, but waiting for a change to bring you what you urgently need.

‘Waiting, with sincerity and confidence.
Shining out, creating success: constancy brings good fortune.
Harvest in crossing the great river.’

To wait ‘with sincerity and confidence’ or ‘with truth’ is to be absolutely present to the situation. It’s the opposite of being absent-minded – maybe imagining what it’ll be like when what you need arrives, or getting sucked into anxieties about the consequences if it doesn’t.

This is quite a challenge, because Waiting contains a natural inner division: that is, its nuclear hexagram is 38, Opposition. That implies a desire to be somewhere else – outside the home, away from this familiar picture. It evokes a mental image for me of the father of the family staring out over the threshold, trying to peer through the sheets of falling rain and see as far as his fields. He’s seeing two things: what he has, and what he needs. Hexagram 6, Conflict, shows another way of dealing with this tension – expressing it, in action or in protest. Hexagram 5 needs to contain and stay present to it.

On this foundation, we can ‘shine out, creating success’. The word for ‘shining out’ has taken the place here of yuan, ‘source’ or ‘sublime’, as the first word in the formula for the creative process. The character shows a human figure, and a flame. Presence and confidence in waiting are shining out like a beacon, and – I think – exerting the same creative, attractive power.

There’s more happening here than just waiting as we might wait for a bus, or indeed as we might sit inside and wait for the weather to change. Wilhelm says,

‘The rain will come in its own time. We cannot make it come; we have to wait for it.’

But of course this is a very modern way of thinking, to imagine a complete separation between what goes on ‘in here’ and what shows up as weather ‘out there’. And Wilhelm continues, ‘Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal.’ Exactly. We can’t ‘make it happen’, but nor is this a time for helpless passivity.

It’s not necessarily easy for us to conceive of a third way of being which is neither of these two, but I think it’s the way of the rainmaker. (I first heard the rainmaker’s story from Stephen Karcher – listen through, and you’ll see what I mean.)

It’s also what Jean Shinoda Bolen writes about in chapter 7 of The Tao of Psychology, when she talks about parapsychological effects as a kind of synchronicity:

‘By approaching this impossible ESP task with hopeful expectancy and mental intensity [my emphasis], a person evokes what Jung called “the archetype of the miracle” or the archetype of “magic effect.” In this state of expectancy, the “miracle” can occur; then ESP results are highly positive.

Prayer evokes the same psychological state of hopeful expectancy. The person who sincerely approaches the I Ching needing an answer or some direction about something about which he or she is highly concerned and focused, hoping for some help to resolve a decision, is also in a similar state of focused expectancy. In this state, the I Ching reading that results is likely to be highly relevant. Being in such a state of mind before bedtime and mentally requesting a dream that might help also often produces dreams that can provide symbolic answers to seemingly unresolvable psychological situations. In every one of these situations, the person has conceded that the personal ego cannot provide an answer…’

So the quality of our Waiting is important. And it also helps to ‘cross the great river’. How come, when we’re supposed to be waiting? I think this is simply a matter of being prepared and showing willing, going out of our way as far as we can to meet what we’re waiting for. We’re not asked to wait like the man who said to his fire, “You think I’m going to the trouble of fetching fuel for you when you’re not even burning yet?”

Even though we’re experiencing need and lack, Waiting still requires us to contribute. As the Sequence puts it:

‘Young things cannot do without nourishment,
And so Waiting follows.
Waiting means the way of eating and drinking.’

Of course, one of the lessons for the young ignoramus in Hexagram 4 is patience! He can learn from experience, and through the passing of time, not just by ‘instant gratification’ answers to his questions. So the flow of knowledge will be one form of ‘nourishment’ involved in Waiting.

The Image agrees that Hexagram 5 is about eating and drinking:

‘The clouds are above heaven. Waiting.
The noble one eats, drinks and relaxes with music.’

This has more than one layer of meaning. In the first place, there is the simple message not to fret – not to hover anxiously on the threshold watching the skies -but to relax and enjoy the wait. This is also a way to prepare yourself to take advantage of the change when it finally arrives: half-starved people, haggard with stress, don’t make the best farmers.

It’s also an impressive sign of confidence, a way of ‘crossing the great river’ in a big way. As a farmer, waiting and hoping for the right conditions to bring in this year’s harvest, it must take some conviction to celebrate the wait while cheerfully feasting on the last of the previous year’s supplies.

And finally, I don’t believe this is just about feeding yourself. When you feast and play music, you also feed your ancestors. You’re drawing them back into the circle of your life, getting them involved once again in the cycle of constant exchange that eventually creates good weather.

10 responses to Hexagram 5: Waiting

  1. Do you mean Hexagram 5 – you said 4 here in this paragraph – I ‘m assuming it’s a typo.
    “Of course, one of the lessons for the young ignoramus in Hexagram 4 is patience! He can learn from experience, and through the passing of time, not just by ‘instant gratification’ answers to his questions. So the flow of knowledge will be one form of ‘nourishment’ involved in Waiting.”

  2. No, no typo (this time 😉 ). Hexagram 4 is ‘Not Knowing’, where the young ignoramus seeks the oracle, the oracle doesn’t seek him, and with any luck he learns some patience. Waiting follows Not Knowing in the Sequence, so the two are connected. The Sequence says this is about nourishing the young one; I think there’s also a connection between not getting answers now (Hexagram 4) and not having what you need now (Hexagram 5), but patiently nourishing the possibility.

  3. Hello Hilary

    And anyone else.

    Yeah, not just about feeding, but about nourishing. The beginning in hexagram three produces a youthful situation that must be tended to in hexagram 4. And in hexagram five, the youth, the child must be nourished, so it can go out and meet its “conflict” with the world. This is why action is not forthcoming immediately, for we must wait for the change in conditions. (The rain stops.) But at the same time we must fortify ourselves for the “conflict” that is to come. We should do it in good cheer. Never our minds beset by worries due to the inevitable conflict, but peaceful and cheerful, always knowing that “now” is the only moment that exists. As in hexagram 25, one does not count on the harvest while planting, but simply does the work. When we prepare, we are able to meet our duties, and “cross the great water” later on.


  4. I am so thankful for the emphasis on “the quality of waiting” and the ways to understand and approach it in a very practical manner.

  5. …12 years after your initial post, its wisdom still ripples outward. I thank you for this. So very helpful to me in this moment, where I am all worked up about seeing a dream come to fruition and where, in my queries, 5’s pop up over and over again. This essay really helps to strengthen my understanding, and my resolve to be patient and glad for the opportunity to experience these moments, and the magic contained within them.

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