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What is New Year?

It’s the New Year. There are resolutions, fresh intentions, and a sense of finishing off one ‘segment’ of life and starting a new one. And my Inbox is filled fit to burst with offers, every one of which is the only thing I must have to ensure that 2008 is a success.

I’m as encouraged and revitalised by this as anyone – but at the same time, it strikes me as an odd idea of ours, this drawing a line in the calendrical sand and declaring an ending on one side of it, a beginning on the other. What are we getting at – what’s going on here?

Yi, what is a New Year?

Sprouting with Brightness Hidden (Hexagram 3 moving to Hexagram 36).

A New Year is Sprouting: it’s the beginning. This is where we put down roots into new soil, establish our ‘home base’, centre ourselves, and start venturing out to explore the new realm.

‘Sprouting.
Creating success from the source, harvest in constancy.
No use to have a direction to go,
Harvest in establishing feudal lords.’

‘Creating success from the source, harvest in constancy’ – yuan heng li zhen. There is creative power and potential here; we’re not just imagining it. But our ideas of how best to use that power may be a little off track.

Yi insists there’s no use having a direction to go, which casts an interesting light on our obsession with making resolutions at this time of year. Perhaps it makes sense to think that because the year’s new, it can be different; but perhaps it makes less sense to think that we can lay down the law, on January 1st, as to exactly how it’ll be different. A better use of this creative energy would be to ‘establish feudal lords’: strengthen our network of helpers of all kinds.

But a New Year isn’t only Sprouting, it’s Sprouting’s Brightness Hidden, which takes some thinking about. A core idea of Hexagram 36 is that the world is hostile to our light: we need to hide it away to avoid getting hurt. The idea of an ‘old year’ that’s done and finished with is maybe just such a self-protective gesture: just because my world’s been a bit on the dark side lately doesn’t mean my own light is extinguished. My resolutions (still unsullied by the mud of real life!) are as pure and shiny as ever.

Given this idea that the light can be kept pure by keeping it away from the world, I think Yi is being somewhat ironic here about our resolution-habit. The ‘hiding’ of hexagram 36 can point to a sense of powerlessness to change anything, which may or may not be justified.

But ‘Hiding Brightness’ can also have a nurturing quality. It makes a lot of sense (at least from my northern-hemisphere perspective) that New Year should be a midwinter holiday. We don’t just flip from old to new – we pause in a narrow, liminal space, away from the glare of public view. We can clarify things inwardly before we turn the lights back on.

The nuclear hexagrams say it well. Hexagram 3 contains the hidden possibility (and demand) of Stripping Away the old to make space for new growth. Brightness Hidden has the hidden possibility of Release (Hexagram 40), freedom to choose our own path. It’s when you’re in the dark, removed for a moment from the regular definitions of role and routine, that your mandate becomes clear.

(P.S. Moving lines to come in a later post. Happy New Year!)

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