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Turnaround in Hexagram 39

Hexagram 39 is called ‘Difficulties’ or ‘Limping’. It describes the experience of a perpetual uphill struggle: just one thing after another, grinding on and on, battling with handicaps or with the elements or with an unforgivingly inhospitable world…

…and it also describes the moment when you turn this around.

I’ve told the story of Gun and Yu (article, audio) before: how Gun ultimately failed in his heroic struggle to conquer the floods single-handed, and how his body was laid out on the summit of Feather Mountain, where he was transformed into a turtle and Yu was born from his belly. Hexagram 39 is associated with Yu, the ‘limping hero’ with the ‘going and coming’ dance – but I find it resonates most strongly with Yu’s birth from Gun.

The oracle for Hexagram 39 says,

‘Limping. Harvest in the southwest,
No harvest in the northeast.
Harvest in seeing great people.
Constancy, good fortune.’

To go southwest suggests – amongst other things – seeking out allies, like Yu did. The Zhou people found their allies in the southwest, before they followed their unique mandate northeast. Also, in the ‘King Wen’ arrangement of the trigrams, southwest is the direction of earth, while the mountain stands in the northeast. A picture starts to emerge: fall back and head for level ground; become a bit more receptive and not quite so rock-solid in your determination.

The Commentary on the oracle makes it still clearer: ‘No harvest in the northeast: your path (dao) peters out.’ Going northeast is like trekking determinedly up a mountain alone, while the path dwindles away under your feet. Tremendously heroic, but maybe not so clever. A 180 degree turn would take you southwest. Yi’s gently suggesting that if life is an uphill struggle, you could always try going the other way.

The authors of the Image develop this idea, borrowing a key word from the third line, ‘coming back, turnaround’:

‘Above the mountain is the stream. Limping.
Noble one turns her self around to renew her de.’
This word for ‘turning around’ really does mean a complete change: turning something over, returning, rebelling, turning upside-down or inside-out. It seems to me to epitomise the key moment of Hexagram 39. It’s often the time when you really start to feel the weight of whatever trouble/ problem/ block you’ve been dragging up the mountain with you. And instead of just trudging on with it in tow, assuming it’ll work itself out somehow, you stop, and look at it, and resolve to do something differently.
I find that often just asking myself how I could see this differently will start the inner ‘turnaround’. But if that fails to shift anything, then Byron Katie’s The Work is a very simple, very powerful way to ‘turn yourself around and renew your de.’ (See the videos linked from the home page – a whole lot of de is being renewed there.)
Clouds rise above the mountain; the stream will flow down it. The mountain is the place to be transformed and reborn by turning round and flowing like the stream. There’s no more efficient, powerful way to turn the height of the mountain itself into forward momentum.

27 responses to Turnaround in Hexagram 39

  1. I just got 39 as a relating hexagram around a well-worn situation that I’ve been asking about. And yes, I did feel strongly that I just need to stop looking at it and let it go… turning around and going in another direction is what needs to happen!

  2. ‘Stop looking at it and let it go’ – I think that’s the tipping point between 39 and 40. 39: look at the obstruction/burden/handicap/struggle, hard, and then do something different. 40: the moment of doing something different – namely, only doing the things that have a real ‘direction to go’. Forgiveness, the knots are untied, the storm breaks, tension is released.

    That tipping point between 39 and 40 is actually clearly visible in a lot of the Byron Katie videos.

  3. hey Hilary

    You really did a good job on that 39 to 40 business. Often we beat ourselves against the wall over and over again, because the key is so often, never give up. But it is precisely at the moment that we do give up, and go a different direction, that the energy opens up and we achieve what we so strived for for so long. Sometimes it is important just to recognize the futility of a situation, and go a different direction, then there is a cloudburst and blessings flow down. We achieve release from the tension, and we are free to start again. There is somewhat of a variation on this in hexagram 3 and 4, with tension in hexagram 3, but the rain comes down, and eventually flows to the foot of the mountain. We give up struggling ourselves, and get the help of a teacher.


  4. When I read your blog on 39 Hilary, I thought ‘That’s what my working life’s like now – time for change’. But couldn’t think what to do or how to change things. Today I asked the YI ‘What can I expect at work?’ And Yi said 39 1,2,3, 5 => 19. I just had to laugh.

    So now all I have to work out is – what to do differently?!?

    I think I’ll go and look at Byron’s website!

  5. Yes – all of this…and when I read Wilhelm on this, I am reminded of another meaning (that strikes me)…it is turning inward…i.e., finding within ourselves resources deeper than the “conditioned” learning that the “Family” (37) can sometimes keep us in – this the necessity of leaving the famiily (38) and finding ourselves “alone” and not up to taking our place in the “real world.” So 39 is a Pivot I agree. My emphasis is on therefore a “turning” or even a “return” to the inner what lets us step into deliverance (40). Letting go of the past, the conditioned, the concensis reality, etc. It also reminds of me two things in the Western Tradition – one is the Hebrew Term, “Techuza” which means a turn around – and a return – and the other equivalent term is (in English) “repent”…but in the Greek it means a complete reversal/change of mind-heart. So to evolve from 39 to 40 means (in part) the willingness to turn and return to the Source what dwells within/without which has not suffered by taking up anything that is not authentically ourselves.
    – Glen

  6. Hi, Can you offer advice or suggestions about this particular hexagram applied to a relationship with a relative. ?????? How would the mountain analogy shed light on a relationship issue…..?? i would be very interested to know thankyou…….

  7. Maybe that what you’re struggling so hard to achieve in the relationship is against the flow? Do you feel as if you have to make the relationship work in a certain way just because it’s family?

  8. Hi Hillary, I received a 39 regarding my financial situation. It makes good sense to me, but would you discuss the idea of moving from 39 to 40? Thank you

  9. Well… I think the core demand of 39 is ‘turnaround’: stop battling heroically uphill into the teeth of the storm; find a different way. And 40 describes a moment of choosing your direction, quite simply, according to which paths lead somewhere you want to go – so there’s a way in which the possibility of 40 is contained within 39.

  10. Thank you for your response. Would you go a little further? I’ve been reading Hua-Ching Ni, (your recommendation?), and he instructs to use the inner trigrams to further understand the guidance. In the instance of 39 the inner hexagram is 64, and the inner hexagram for 64 is 63 which leads to 64. I used the seed method for this reading. The leading lines are as follows:
    39 – line 1,
    64 – line 2,
    63 – line 5.

  11. I have Hua Ching Ni on the shelf, but I’m afraid he rarely stirs from there. It’s probably time I had another look. What do you mean by ‘leading lines’?

    As regards inner/ nuclear hexagrams – I’d see that as something like the ‘inner work’ of it, what it’s about at its heart. Or looking at it the other way round, 39 is one way (of four) that 64 can ‘unfold’ into expression.

    Maybe 64 at the heart of 39 has to do with questioning when and how to commit yourself to the crossing?

  12. Thank you for your response. I’m eager to know your thinking on Hua Ching Ni. The term ‘leading lines’ is mine and refers to the line which is found through using the seeds method, and referred to by Hua Ching Ni as “the line which most specifically reflects your situation.”
    The inner hexagram of 39, 64, has an inner hexagram of 63, and those two are in and infinite relationship, and I agree, these readings are essentially addressing ‘inner work.’
    I am spending time reflecting on this expansive guidance, and the questions of how and when to make the crossing. Line 4 in 39 is giving an indication to wait. What do you think?

  13. Hillary- After 10months without I hv stated a new job/Employment and asked what is my future in my current employment. I Got Hex:39 with No changing lines. Kindly advs your thought on how I view this new job?

    • It’s very, very hard work. But try thinking about it differently – and especially, actively look for allies and helpers. Any time you catch yourself thinking that you’re too busy to do that, or that you’re the only one who can do the job properly… stop and re-read the hexagram.

      (The best source of allies to help with your Yijing readings is the I Ching Community here, by the way. Do join, if you haven’t already.)

  14. there seems to be an error in the links. i keep receiving the interpretation for hexagram 39 when i click on hex 36.

  15. Hilary I asked the what if I go back to India to serve dhamma? And I got 39.3 to 8. I came back from India in December I went there for Vipassana meditation and I wanted to serve also but I had difficult meditation course so afterwards I left the center and traveled in India now a friend suggested to go back with her! I find the importance in turning around means I’d better go back but financially another trip to India sounds difficult. Please help me to get the meaning

    • Dear Hilary I consulted the I Ching again this time asking what if I don’t go back this time I got to 2 and now I think I got the answer incorrectly and it’s probably better not to go.
      Thanks for the great job you’re doing

      • Hi Manijeh,

        I’m sorry I didn’t see these comments of yours before now. As you probably already realised, blog comments are not the best place here to get help with a reading. For free help from friendly I Ching people, try joining the I Ching Community, and if you’d like quick help from me you could look into an I Ching chat, or join Change Circle.

        The impression I get from both readings, fwiw, is that the most important thing for you is to walk your own path quietly and simply – and perhaps it doesn’t matter so much where you do that. No dramatically expensive sacrifices required, certainly.

  16. Amazing. I received 39 with line five . I have been struggling for near thirty years to find something I live to do but to make it my life and it enable me to earn a small but fair wage. Single parent, UK , Austerity. Out of desperation last week I wrote to three ballet schools to ask to return to study , do my grades , dance and then learn to teach it. Thirty years ago you could not get ballet lessons for anyone over eighteen. I had studied ballet for near three years in my teens and just when I got my first point shoes I was taken out of the Ballet School. Never to be able to return because I was over eighteen. I am now fifty and know the ballet world has opened up but mainly in big cities . I look very in the country . I contacted these schools to ask to see if I could train with them as an adult. Not one got back to me. So I phoned one near by about ten miles away and asked them could I train with them even up to teaching level , they said yes. I am ecstatic. All it took was some time and the courage to ask what feels like a silly question. I start next week. Two days per week.

  17. I have hexagram 39 as my Natal hexagram. As explained in A book by Denny Sargent. It’s a great book. I have had a difficult time. Going within and focusing on my intent helps the most. Letting go of seeing any problem as “outside myself”. The problems I encounter are ones I create. That’s it. Assume full responsibility. Relax. Go another way. LOVE self. ACCEPT self. Learn to laugh and let it all go.

  18. I got 37 changing (lines 1 and 6) into 39. This is about some ongoing problem that keep dragging behind me for over 10 years. I have an important meeting/interview about this problem on 5/9. Could anyone offer their insight on what’s the best way to read this?

  19. Hi Hilary, I recently asked the Yi about what I can do to get married. I have a boyfriend of almost a year now and we recently discussed it, particularly how I was not willing to wait for years (certainly no more than 2-3) to get a proposal, and how I fear that I may never marry. My boyfriend said he’s open to marriage, but he is worried about our joint financial situation and integrating our children (they have known each other for months now, too).

    I got 39.3.5, changing to 2.

    Clearly 39 means not pushing for marriage, which I don’t want to do anyway. But I do feel “blocked,” one way of interpreting this hexagram. According to the Wilhelm translation, line 3 refers to a father of a family – my boyfriend, whose children need him, as mine do me. It reflects our familial concerns in this regard; that I can see.

    Line 5 is really challenging to interpret here. What friends could come in the midst of this situation? Does this refer to other suitors for me? My boyfriend has a large social circle; could this mean that friends be influential in this question? It’s kind of strange to think that “friends could come” when a marriage proposal requires two people and not anybody else.

    Interestingly, the outcome – hexagram 2 – seems to reinforce 39: forgo friends in the east and north, find them in the west and south. But one is to be “led” with hexagram 2, no? Will another man come and lead me away for marriage? This seems silly to me, but I’d like another interpretation of all this.

    • Hi Storm,

      The best place at Clarity for free help with readings is the I Ching Community, so I’d certainly recommend posting there. About 39.5, ‘Greatly limping; partners come.’ The partners are sometimes human friends, but not always – they can also be spirit helpers, or your own inner resources

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