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Hexagram 29: Repeating Chasms

“What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.”


Hexagram 29, Repeating Chasms, has a reputation as one of those ‘bad hexagrams’ – which is basically code for ‘hexagrams the experience of which we typically do not enjoy.’ Only, of course, it is more than that…

The two words of its name are equally important:

Repeating also means rehearsing and learning: this is the classic hexagram of ‘learning opportunities’ (also something we might prefer to avoid).

Chasms are pits, depth and absence, and also the dangers of running water. We experience them as the complete absence of anything solid – and for a comical take on this, see ‘Hexagram 29 and learning to swim’. (Though the experience I describe there would have been a better picture of 29 if I’d had no idea whether the pool had an opposite side I could reach.)

I have seen Hexagram 29 describe the experience of someone who is going blind and doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to cope. Someone who never hears from the one she loves. Someone who finds her ability to do her beloved work slipping away, and who has no idea what she might be or how she might live without it. The roof beam of Hexagram 28 has broken, the structure is falling, and there is no more support or reassurance to be had. What’s left?

There are many stories of Hexagram 4, Not Knowing, coming as Yi’s reproof to someone who asks too many questions. Repeating Chasms can do something similar, but whereas 4’s message is something like, ‘There is no answer for you because you’re too immature to understand,’ 29’s is more like, ‘No matter how desperately you want there to be a solid answer, there isn’t one.’

29 is not only chasms, but repeating chasms. The pit will yawn open on your path again and again until you stop searching for detours and travel through it. A few examples…

Someone close to me is suffering, and I don’t know how to cope; I never know how to cope. I write in my journal, ‘Oh, how I wish I had some kind of strategy to handle this!’ (Ultimately the answer is to stop wondering how and allow the free flow of compassion. This is scary in itself – it feels like pouring myself out into a bottomless pit – but it transforms the situation.)

Or there is Barbra’s experience, as she described it in her second comment on this post. When she received Hexagram 29, she imagined her life might be in danger – but what she and those close to her actually faced again and again was the need to go through the fears of illness, disability and lack.

It’s important to realise that 29 is not always about something big and life-threatening. Looking through my own readings, I find one occasion when it referred to a cold that came back for 24 hours because I did too much too soon, and another where the small cut on my fingertip was going to take many weeks to heal, and I’d learn this again and again every time I tried to find a new way to wrap it up so I could play the ‘cello.

Also, Hexagram 29 is not just a sign of repeating chasms to come. It also describes how to travel through them, living in the dark for as long as it takes:

‘Repeating chasms.
There is truth and confidence.
Holding your heart fast creates success.
Movement brings honour.’

In these times, certainty comes of an inner connection, by holding to your own heart (or from a ‘connected heart’). And it comes of being in movement: undertaking committed action without knowing; being present without trying to make it safe first. (You can’t.) This is a liquid hexagram (not unlike 59), where all you can know to be real is movement – though the moving line texts often advise moving with attention, noticing where you are before hurtling into action.

The Image – always a source of counsel – develops the idea of repetition as ‘learning opportunity’:

‘Waters flow on and reach the end. Repeating Chasms.
A noble one acts with constant character [de],
And teaches things by repeating.’

Water never loses its nature, and so it creates rivers that reach the sea. Sometimes this Image reminds me of what I’m communicating to another person; more often, though, it seems to be what I’m teaching myself. This crystallised for me when I heard Jennifer Louden suggest that I ask what I am teaching myself with each habit.

Come to think of it, that could be yet another way in which 30 emerges from 29.

A subscriber asked me to write about 29, and especially about 29 as relating hexagram. Well… it so happens that my reading for last year was 3 changing to 29, so I can respond with the full benefit of hindsight.

29 as relating hexagram says something like this:
“See this primary hexagram? You will be compelled to learn its depths and intensity, and the movement it demands of you in order to come through.”

Sometimes, especially if two or more lines change to reach 29, the line texts show both the depths of a hexagram – the ways you could fall into it and not be able to get out – and also its flow, what it will take to come through. For instance, I think this pattern’s visible in the lines that join hexagrams 3, 4, 5 and 6 to 29. (Maybe also in 7.2.)

You’re compelled to learn, of course, by repetition: the chasm keeps presenting itself until you do. I spent the first 8 months or so of last year looking for ways to keep on pursuing my chosen ‘direction to go’, and coming up against the same basic inability every time. I was searching diligently for a route round the chasm, and we know how well that works. Eventually, I had to learn Hexagram 3: growth without direction; coming up against my limitations; seeing the smallness of my own perspective compared to the larger scale and longer term.

Thoughts? Examples to share? Please comment…

15 responses to Hexagram 29: Repeating Chasms

  1. Dear Hilary,
    Of all the hexagrams, 29 is one of my favourites, especially since during a long period in my life this was the one that popped up most when consulting. I found great comfort in the I Ching translation by Javary & Faure (French). Here’s what I read there: “The name of this hexagram is formed by two characters: Xi + Kan. Xi figuratively shows the situation of the little bird, still in the nest, but pushed by its mother to leave the nest into the void, because it has to discover the art of flying, or how to be carried by this void. This image is used to express the idea of ‘learning by repeating’. Kan figuratively expresses the idea of a place where solid ground disappears under our feet, thus provoking a sudden sense of fear and anxiety. Xi & Kan together show that when vertigo paralyses, it is by action we have to react. Daring to advance, that’s the tool to prevent inertion to take over. When we doubt our possibilities, we can discover, buried deep down in ourselves, unsuspected possibilities when we dare to engage.” And he continues with a beautiful translation of “Movement brings honour”: ‘Agir amène à se surpasser’ or: ‘To act leads to surpass oneself’. Translating always is a kind of interpretation of course, but Javary & Faure’s view on 29 for me was an eye opener and helped a lot.In a way the image of this little bird appealed to me, because it overcomes the fear of flying simply by suddenly discovering it was its reason of being, it was printed in its dna. Our deepest fears sometimes lead the way to discover/uncover our reason of being, that which makes us unique.
    Grtz, Rombout

  2. A note on the subject from my new Gua Ming book:

    Rather than simply overreacting to the words Peril, Danger or Abyss, try asking instead: what is it that is deliberately and enthusiastically sought by people who climb about in these deep canyons and boat right through the white water rapids. There is a full-hearted commitment to the process of surviving, to the passing of this trial. There is a great simplicity in having most of our options removed by serious constraints to the path or the route ahead. The senses sharpen, the heart pounds, the whole being responds to the challenge by waking up, being more fully alive. It’s a Risk, but it’s life learning more about life and what it is capable of.

  3. Rombout – thank you for the quotations. I keep meaning to get that book!

    The bird… yes, there are wings in the ‘repeating’ (they match up, funnily enough, with the bird in the character for 30, ‘Clarity’), and 29 does have a ‘leap of faith out of the nest on the cliff’ feel to it – only without knowing whether you might turn out, unfortunately, to be a penguin.

    Not sure about ‘se surpasser’ – the idea is lovely, but does it belong in 29? It seems to me to be more self-discovery…

    Brad – good one. There has to be some reason why the Yi contains more than two gua, ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’.

    I first encountered 29 through Ritsema/Karcher, where there’s no ‘danger’ but only ‘venturing’. It makes for nonsense at times, of course, but good, constructive nonsense.

  4. >>>I first encountered 29 through Ritsema/Karcher, where there’s no ‘danger’ but only ‘venturing’. It makes for nonsense at times, of course, but good, constructive nonsense.<<<

    As a curious note, it should be noted that, according to the etymology of the character, there are no records of a character such ? (kan) until the Seal Script. The fact that the word appears in the received texts of the Book of Odes, the Zhouyi, Mozi, etc., is kind of paradoxical and may very well point to the fact that this is a borrowed character. No OBI or Bronze Characters are known for it.

    IMO, Ritsema might be on the right track with 'venturing'. The character xi isassociated with 'habit' and the formal meaning of the character kan is 'pit' 'hole', etc., as noted, but also with 'ridge' and 'bank', as in:

    Definition of BANK
    : a mound, pile, or ridge raised above the surrounding level: as a : a piled-up mass of cloud or fog b : an undersea elevation rising especially from the continental shelf
    : the rising ground bordering a lake, river, or sea or forming the edge of a cut or hollow
    a : a steep slope (as of a hill)

    For example, the expression ??? tian kanr means a “raised path through fields”…

    Ritsema’s “venturing” and xi kan can be interpreted, IMHO, as a “trodden path”.

  5. k’an, the teachings of danger.

    Lise said about k’an:
    To get out of dangers or misery is not by solving problems. It is by leaving the fear. In the arts of fighting one learns to get used to danger, so it does not call up fear anymore, and defense can come entirely out of one’s skill. No fear interfering.
    Then one can be like water, adapting, fitting into any form. Water in a cup acquires the form of the cup, in a lake the form of the lake. It is smooth and flowing – and can be terribly crushing.
    Deep inside one has a stable, quiet and safe core, but in the course of life, most people forget about it. Just remember and no danger can afflict you. Visit the dark secret depths of your heart and bring the wisdom of your soul back to life.
    Water is the primeval chaos, the great mother of everything, without form or limit, eternal. It is a gift of the gods, and to go to its source is to return to holiness.

    And her vision reminds me of me and my son grinning at each other in difficult times: “fear nothing”

    K’an reminds me of the thrill-seekers, but most of all it reminds me of the heart and the brain. Hex 29 stands for the heart, following the rhythm and resonances of the heart, hex 30, li, stands for the brain, the structures we create and call memory.

    A month ago I received a healing from an inca-shaman. Later in that night I dreamt I went down-stairs, and with every step I shedded an identity, actually I went down the stairs like water. Downstairs people were exercising with heart-rhytms, as I had been doing for some time. Then I went upstairs again as a spirit.
    Shedding identity (identity means “the same”) can be fearful, we attach (30!) our personality, our ego to it, the patterns that make us feel secure.

  6. “I repeat myself when I am in and under stress
    I repeat myself when I am in and under stress
    I repeat myself when I am in and under stress”
    (King Crimson, LP “discipline”)
    still grinning

    When hex 29 is about rhythm, or better said, frequency, then hex 30 is about the patterns a frequency can make an we can hold on to, cling to,
    like the grains that make those perfect patterns on a flat surface when resonating with a frequency.

  7. Luis, sorry about the characters that weren’t. There is a way to get characters into posts – involves creating a new file with them in Wenlin and converting the file to hexadecimal (and then managing to publish before WordPress changes them back to gibberish). I don’t know if this will work for comments – let me try:

    How apt of kan to have invisible etymological roots. And how interesting to think of it as maybe a bank as well as a chasm.

    Bert – thank you for sharing such an amazing dream. Very, very 29 and 30.

  8. Hello,

    I am in real danger and as a long-time I Ching student hoped to find a real answer here. Mostly I find, as with some other sites, somewhat casual interpretations of life challenges, as if we are all watching movies about unhappiness and how we must get through it or face it. What about actual danger?

    The Oracle has few ways of depicting it for us. Clearly, when people don’t see that real danger exists, it’s because they’re pretty well protected from it. Many Tarot authorities now like to see the Death card as “transformation” only; they actually tell people it’s never about death at all. They see the Ten of Swords as stress and anxiety only, a negative focus, or even a “victim mentality.” If anything indicates a self-created distance from reality, this would. There is no other way for the cards to indicate an actual death or total catastrophe than with serious cards, and it feels a travesty to me to see interpreters lighten them up in this way. One Tarot practitioner noted that The Tower in his area indicates a Molotov cocktail or bombing. Ancient readers of the I Ching had no doubt about risk. That’s why they invented their own martial arts.

    A week ago someone was talking in my hearing about the kind of behaviour therapy that helps patients see that their feelings and beliefs can lead to negative outcomes. The work is through comparisons: “How likely is that bad thing to happen? Since it probably won’t, aren’t you just scaring yourself or being melodramatic, instead of getting on with your life and possibilities?” This is a highly popular type of treatment in Western countries, built on the assumption that most people are just neurotic. Well, America has a form of mass shooting nine days out of ten, now. There are FBI statistics and charts illustrating it for all. Some days it’s only four people in one place. Other days it’s nine, fifteen, or twenty-four. There is no war currently in America. But mass death happens nine days out of ten. Remembering one’s heart and core is not protection from affliction. Action is. But what is that action? In consulting oracles, we actually need answers more than platitudes, just as in daily life. Not only is it inappropriate to assume that life is essentially safe, it’s just wrong. Some of us are just slightly–or really heavily–more protected.

    There’s value in learning the inner strengths that can hold us through dangers. But I find that those values are seldom revealed or studied.

    CBT treatment (CBT) would be deemed laughable in the Middle East or in Northern Ireland in recent years. Can anybody go at this hexagram from the perspective that danger can, and often is, very real? That it requires skills beyond just being sure of oneself? What if there are no answers at the moment–then does asking indicate silliness or immaturity?

    Thanks for listening. I know this thread ended years ago, but I hope someone is listening. I do like generally what I find here on this site.


    • Hi L.N.,

      Thank you for your comment – yes, still listening!

      Yes, of course Yi has its ways of depicting physical danger. And, you are right, most people consulting with Yi nowadays are not in that kind of danger most of the time. (Also, I’m British not American, and so both safer and freer.)

      So it’s important to be aware, talking with Yi, that the images it offers can be understood at different scales, from huge and life-changing to small and subtle. There’s the danger of being shot, and the danger of social embarrassment, and both might be described by the same line.

      (…not that I mean to imply that all serious danger is physical, and psychological danger is trivial. Far from it.)

      You say,

      “Remembering one’s heart and core is not protection from affliction. Action is.”

      …yes, and you know Yi in hexagram 29 advocates both. Both ‘the connected heart’ / ‘holding fast your heart’ and ‘movement brings honour’. Well… honour is not the same as protection, but still…

      In fact, I wouldn’t think of Hexagram 29 as the most obvious way for Yi to warn about danger, especially not one you can protect yourself against by action. There is the omen of ‘danger’, which does imply something where foreknowledge is some protection. There is Hexagram 36, about injury. There’s 59.6, or 3.6 – if I received either of those to describe a proposed course of action, I would head very fast in the opposite direction.

      But 29 is not just about chasms but about repeating or rehearsing or learning the chasms. In other words, not avoiding the chasms but navigating them. Going blind, one of the examples I mentioned in the post, is not a danger you can protect against.

    • Dear All

      L.N., I hope you’re safe and well, please let us know. Thanks very much, your post still resonates loudly!

      I grew up in a dangerous country, lots of horrifying stuff. I value experts who’ve walked the hard yards.

      My metaphor for Self Development … played by a Beginner the violin squawks yet in the hands of a Virtuoso the same instrument sings.

      Hilary, your website is so beautiful & thought-provoking. Great intro to I-Ching.

      Take care Everyone,

      MsGvious xx

  9. I love the interpretation of Hexagram 29 as an invitation to navigate the experience. Danger unchanging reminds me of Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” – essentially at some point the unthinkable happened: we fell into the abyss, screamed in terror while trying to grasp a lifeline only to realize that life itself is in the falling…

    • Dear Hilary
      Appreciate the space you have created for conversation, Interpreting the I ching can be quite challenging for me, in the last year I’ve been looking online for interpretations. It’s very beautiful and eloquent what I’ve read here.
      I received hexagram 29 without changing lines. While seeking advice regarding leaving a place where I have lived for many years.
      In this context how would you And your contributors interpret hexagram 29?
      Thank you all,

      • Hi Sophie,

        Thanks for the appreciation!

        The real ‘conversation space’ for readings here is the Shared Readings forum, so do join and post your reading there with a bit more background.

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