(Sometimes I’m working through my notes and some small thing comes into focus. Here’s one of them.)
Hexagram 28 is ‘Great Overstepping’: the time of ‘overstepping the mark’ or ‘stepping over the line’, when the weight of things goes beyond what the structure can support, and the ridgepole begins to warp under the strain.
Often, we experience this simply as stress: the camel who very much hopes that there will be no more straws added to her burden. Sometimes it represents another form of ‘overload’ or ‘excess’: it can be a hexagram of death, that ‘great stepping over’ when spirit exceeds the capacity of the body to contain it. It’s part of the extraordinary nature of Yi that it offers a pure model of a configuration of energy – the greatness at the centre, the inadequacy of the framework – that we can recognise in anything from death to an electrical surge triggering the circuit breaker.
Another thing that all ‘Great Overstepping’ situations have in common: a sense that there must be movement in response. It’s ‘fruitful to have a direction to go,’ and indeed it feels impossible not to move.
So… with the roof about to fall in, what happens at 28, line 1, as the inner imperative to act makes itself felt for the first time? When Great Overstepping meets Deciding (Hexagram 43), and the message comes through loud and clear that there is danger, and ‘making do’ will not do?
‘For the offering mat, use white thatchgrass.
Thatch grass – a wrapping for ceremonial offerings, a cushioning mat for sacred vessels: an image of taking great care on a very fine scale. This is not, in any way, an image of running around with ladders and scaffolding and Doing Something.
As far as I know, Bradford Hatcher, in his exceptional Book of Changes (finally available in printed form), is the only one to suggest that there’s a joke here:
“One is cushioning one’s valuables from below, but it’s the roof which is about to come down. This line is about acting upon misplaced caution, as its fan yao, 43.1, is about misplaced incaution or vigor. This could be similar in meaning to our more modern ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic’.”
That’s certainly a possibility worth considering. And yet… it’s been my experience that when Yi says ‘No mistake’, it generally means this quite straightforwardly. Often, it needs to mention that something is ‘not a mistake’ because we’re naturally inclined to think that it must be one. I believe that’s the case here; it certainly fits with my experience of the line.
The Dazhuan, the Great Treatise, quotes the Master on this line:
“It does well enough simply to place something on the floor. But if one puts white rushes underneath, how could that be a mistake? This is the extreme of caution. Rushes in themselves are worthless, but they can have a very important effect. If one is as cautious as this in all that one does, one remains free of mistakes.”
Rushes in themselves are worthless – and with the roof creaking ominously overhead, the care you’re taking may seem absurd and pointless. But what you’re taking care of in this way is important, and so this is ‘no mistake.’
To use white thatchgrass marks out what you are attending to as special, as worthy of this ‘excessive’ care. It could be that Hexagram 43 hints at what could be so special: a jade token of parting from the old, a message brought, a decision in process. Wrapping this up as an offering is a way to ensure that these human actions ‘cross the threshold’ and connect with the spirits, finding their counterpart in the larger reality.