Readings with adjoining hexagrams from the Sequence have a particular resonance, I think. In this reading, the changing lines reveal how the Well stands behind Radical Change. Such change, after all, doesn’t happen by itself: it takes energy to overcome inertia. The Sequence of Hexagrams points to where that energy might come from:
‘The way (dao) of the Well does not allow things not to change radically.’
That double negative – ‘does not allow not changing radically’ – is potent stuff. It’s not possible to tap into the Well without bringing about Radical Change.
This always reminds me (not least because the name of 49 also means ‘leather’) of the saying in the Gospels, that you don’t store new wine in old wineskins. That’s just practical common sense: new wine would still be fermenting, and the stiff, unyielding leather of the old skins would burst under the pressure. If the essence is fresh and alive, then the form must also be new and flexible – and if it isn’t, it will break. Likewise, if our readings tap into unchanging essence, then they will require that our way of living be flexible enough to change. (Many people seem to know this intuitively, and avoid asking Yi a question they ‘logically’ should be asking because they sense their unreadiness.)
The way of the Well requires Radical Change; Radical Change needs an underlying resource to justify and sustain it.
‘The Well. Moving the city, not moving the well.
Without loss, without gain,
They come and go, the well wells.
Almost drawn the water, but the rope does not quite reach the water,
Or breaking one’s clay jug,
Hexagram 48 is an old friend in readings about the oracle. Jung, in his famous foreword to the Wilhelm translation, wasn’t the last person to find Yi referring to itself as a Well, and I don’t imagine he was the first. It’s a very natural, fitting image – the unchanging resource, always present, ‘wholly connected’ (Zagua); the efforts needed to reach it and keep our connection in good order.
The text says that all kinds of human things can change (foreshadowing 49), and the well is what doesn’t change. Literally it says, ‘No loss, no gain, going-coming, welling-welling.’ Welling-welling… personally I think this is making a ‘deep’ point about the changing and the unchanging, and the relationship between them.
So Hexagram 49 is about timeliness, the fu (trust, truth, confidence) of the right moment. And the relating hexagram, behind it, is about the timeless – only, as you might expect from Yi, not just about the elegant metaphysics of the thing, but about the work we have to do to maintain it. If our well-usage and -maintenance skills are not up to the task, disaster. (And there are, goodness knows, plenty of ways to approach the oracle with a short rope, or smash the jug.) This is pointing to divination as (part of) a practice of staying connected to source.
Taking one step further back in the Sequence sets this in context, and reflects the human need for divination in a way we can recognise. The Well follows from Hexagram 47, Confined: an image of frustration, entrapment and isolation. This is when we ask: when we’re stuck, when the answers or help to be had ‘out there’ are just not sufficient to the need. Then,
‘Confined in reaching upward naturally means turning inward, and so the Well follows.’
Naturally – where else?
One other thing about the Well: to be literal-minded for a moment, one person unaided cannot dig and maintain one. While we can read this relating hexagram as talking purely about an individual process – being blocked, reaching inward for spiritual connection, doing the work to keep that connection alive, and…
‘Above the wood is the stream. The Well.
A noble one toils with the people, encouraging them to help one another.’
…involving all parts of yourself in the work with plenty of ‘positive self-talk’ – I think that would be missing some of the point. On the one hand, divination speaks perfectly to this ‘age of the individual’: it’s just you and the oracle, in conversation, and that sense of being spoken to individually is the heart of the experience. On the other hand… the Yijing is the product of a huge, living tradition of people exploring, meditating, divining and sharing. Consulting the oracle, you may find yourself immersed in the tradition – or beyond that, in common humanity.