I sometimes think of Stephen Karcher as the alchemist of Yijing interpretation, working away in his divination-laboratory and emerging from time to time with new techniques and tools of interpretation for diviners to test out. I’ll always try what he offers, and often find it immensely useful – though by the time I’ve spent a few years using a tool in my own style of reading, it generally seems to ‘wear’ into a different shape from the original.
One of his most recent suggestions is the idea of a ‘shadow’ hexagram. You find this in a nice, simple way, by counting backwards through the Sequence of hexagrams. So Hexagram 1’s shadow is 64, 2’s shadow is 63, and so on. I suppose you could say you are ‘pairing’ the whole Sequence with itself by inverting it in this way. Stephen explains how he uses this, in conjunction with the ‘Ideal’ hexagram, in this essay (pdf link, right-click to download):
“The Shadow Site gives you a hexagram that represents what is, at the moment, counter-indicated in your situation, covered by a sort of negative screen that can contain often painful memories. This screen or shadow is blocking transformative energy. If you completely release your awareness from these configurations by focusing on the Ideal, the necessary energy the Shadow Site contains will manifest itself spontaneously.
I had been pondering the possible meanings of what I call the Shadow Site, the reflection of a given hexagram in the Reverse Sequence of the 64 hexagrams, for quite a while. One of its functions made immediate sense to me when it was paired with the Ideal Form as a sort of negative mirror. This is the way Change seems to work, tactically pairing opposites with a situational rather than an abstract moral judgment on their innate qualities. Another realization came as I was working in depth with the Reverse Sequence in deep divinations as representing a kind of mystical re-birth, a union that can only be achieved through indirection or not-acting (wu-wei). From this came the awareness that whatever is shadowed is necessary for the completion of the transformative possibilities of the moment but cannot be reached through conscious action. It can and will manifest synchronistically, however, when there is no conscious effort directed towards it. This sort of indirection frees the quality in question from the linear flow of time and the karmic chain of cause and effect.”
(See the full essay for an example reading as well.)
The ‘ideal’ hexagram hasn’t quite gelled for me yet, or at least not as having any necessary connection to the ‘shadow’. But the shadow, in a series of readings now, has started to make a great deal of sense.
It turns out to be precisely the wrong way to conceive of the situation. In this it’s subtly different from the complementary hexagram (created by changing each line to its opposite), which is simply what the hexagram is not. If you are hiding your light, for instance (hexagram 36) then you cannot also be arguing (hexagram 6, its complement). You must decide which you’re doing, and find an overall balance between these two complementary approaches.
The shadow, though, is more specifically the wrong idea. This mindset will entangle you, have you going in circles and getting exactly nowhere. If you think of a situation and try to engage with it in the style of its shadow, you will be well and truly stuck – a very distinctive kind of ‘stuckness’, not so much ‘confronting immoveable obstacles’, more being perfectly ineffectual.
Funnily enough, this is also quite often the shape the issue has taken on as you grapple with it: it’s exactly what you’re wrestling with and finding insoluble.
This only becomes really clear in readings, when that particular form of ‘shadow stuckness’ is easy to recognise. But a few examples might help to show how this is taking shape for me:
The Shadow of hexagram 36, Brightness Hidden, is 29, Repeating Chasms. If you are in a situation where your light is threatened and needs to be hidden away, it’s not good to think of this as a test of faith, or to keep asking, ‘What am I supposed to be learning from this?’ Movement, now, does not ‘bring honour’ (as in the Oracle of 29); it would only get you hurt.
The Shadow of hexagram 58, Opening, is 7, the Army. If it is a time to be enriched by joining and exchanging with others, then it is not time to look for a single focal point, to ask yourself, ‘What is my objective here?’ It’s not about marching on an objective in an orderly way; it’s about receiving the gift that emerges from exchange and cross-fertilisation.
The Shadow of hexagram 59, Dispersing, is 6, Arguing. If the barriers and boundaries are all gone and the floods are washing over you, this is not time to define your position, argue your corner and look for ways to win. You have to allow all the ‘positions’ to be swept away, too, and let the flow of things find its course naturally.
And a story: recently, but before I received I Ching, the Symbolic Life in the post and started looking at shadows, I asked Yi for advice on how to approach someone to propose working together on a project. The primary hexagram was 46, Pushing Upward. I thought long and hard about the best way to go about this, how to start small, how to follow the advice of the lines – and finally made my approach.
Later, I found out that the shadow hexagram for 46 is 19: Nearing, or Approaching. That was exactly how I had been thinking of the situation, and what had been asking myself: how to approach, how to modulate my approach when it received no response, and so on. All my thoughts about this fit neatly into the mould of 19.
I never did get a reply, so it’s becoming pretty clear that 19 was the wrong mindset. But this is highlighting for me another aspect of the Shadow: it is extraordinarily hard to get your thoughts free of it! How can approaching someone with a proposal not be – well – an approach?
I don’t have enough distance from this situation yet to learn all the lessons that dear old Professor Hindsight has to teach me. What I’ve realised so far, though, is that while Nearing has an overview of the whole picture and can ‘teach’ it to the other person, Pushing Upward is wholly present to what is growing, identifying fully with each stage of growth and not trying to anticipate what comes next. Perhaps I should just have said ‘hello’, tried only to begin a conversation, and allowed things to grow from there.
As I said, getting free from the Shadow way of seeing things is not easy. This, as I understand it, is where the Ideal is meant to come in:
“If you completely release your awareness from these configurations by focusing on the Ideal, the necessary energy the Shadow Site contains will manifest itself spontaneously.”
In The Symbolic Life, the presentation of ideal and shadow actually focusses entirely on that spontaneous manifestation, so the Shadow hexagram only appears as something that offers its blessings, or solves its problems, by itself.
So for 36, (Ideal 9, Shadow 29): “Accumulate small things and gather in your ghosts. The dangers you face will spontaneously dissolve.”
For 58 (Ideal 29, Shadow 7): “Confront the danger again and again and your inner world will organize itself.”
For 59 (Ideal 45, Shadow 6): “If you gather the resources for a great new project your words will spontaneously persuade others.”
And for 46 (Ideal 61, Shadow 19): “Open your heart and bring your inner and outer lives together and the spirit will draw near.”