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A trigram sequence vignette

It’s a worthwhile exercise to look through the Sequence of hexagrams and see how it occasionally uses trigrams to tell stories – not just in its larger landscapes, but on a small scale. I’ve written about this quite a few times before, but I just noticed one that I’d missed out: the presence of thunder as outer trigram in both hexagrams 54 and 55. (And since I’ve spent the last several days working on a trigrams reference for the class, it’s especially good to come back to this.)

The experience of these two hexagrams is very different, on the surface of things: the junior wife arrives at her new home, without status, without influence; the king is at the heart of his garrison, the centre of a whirl of responsibilities and resources. She must learn to live at the periphery; he must take on the central role.

What they have in common, I think, is the way they find themselves in a situation not of their own choosing and must change their mode of action accordingly. The Sequence shows how Hexagram 55 goes one step further from this basic situation:

‘Arriving in your right place is bound to mean greatness, therefore Abundance follows.’

To ‘arrive in your place’ is another way of saying ‘to marry’ for women; the king taking on his charge in 55 has also ‘arrived in his place’, and found greatness in that.

So how might this be reflected in the trigrams? In both hexagrams, thunder – as a rule, the trigram of vigorous initiative – is on the outside. 54 has the lake below thunder –

– while 55 has fire –

Hexagram 54’s Image says:

‘Above the lake, there is thunder. Marrying maiden.
The noble one perpetually flows through endings
To know what is flawed.’

On the inside, the lake circulates currents of inner conversation. There’s plenty to reflect on and ‘flow through’, plenty to assimilate, in this very ‘thunder-ish’ experience of being abruptly transplanted to a new environment. The lake absorbs the thunder’s vibrations and keeps moving; it doesn’t attempt to ‘set’ into some ideal way of being.

And seen from the perspective of the outer trigram: thunder, on the outside, tends to work to translate the inner trigram into action. The noble one’s state of flow and foresight is lake-action, translating the inner conversation and reflection into fluid movement and even prescience.

Then lake becomes fire, and inner dialogue is overtaken by inner clarity of vision:

‘Thunder and lightning culminate as one.
In this way, the noble one decides legal proceedings and brings about punishment.’

Thunder and lightning come together; the storm must be right on top of us. Fire-action is instantaneous: as soon as there is insight, there is also vigorous action, bringing the outer world swiftly into alignment with the inner vision.

When the Image mentions legal proceedings, it’s usually most helpful to apply this as a metaphor for all kinds of decision-making. The noble one’s decision here is instantaneous: insight into what’s needed, action taken, consequences undergone, all ‘as one’. The marrying maiden was getting to know her situation; the king has seen the signs, and knows his. He does not stay in mourning, he takes on the mandate and marches out.

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