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 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’: