...life can be translucent

The elusive hexagram 57

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Hexagram 57

‘No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.’
AA Milne, ‘Wind on the Hill

Xun has to be the most elusive hexagram. It’s awkward to translate (you need one word that means penetrating, interpenetrating, subtly, imperceptibly, gently, submitting…) and really tricky to pin down in readings. But then this is only its nature: it’s made of the wind trigram, doubled, and the wind isn’t known for being easily pinned down.

Most hexagrams can be read partly as verbs, partly as nouns. Hexagram 19 – Nearing, and an Approach. Hexagram 37 – the home and its people, and also home-making of all kinds. But Hexagram 57 feels like pure verb, or sometimes like pure adverb: not even a thing you do, but a way you might do many different things. Hopefully this comes across in how I described it for my book:

‘Subtly penetrating, creating small success.
Fruitful to have a direction to go,
Fruitful to see the great person.’

Subtly penetrating means becoming part of something, or someone. It describes all-pervading influences, like the wind shaping the landscape.

You penetrate subtly by feeling your way into things, yielding gently to their nature. You shift your own ideas and expectations, and come to understand the situation from inside, on its own terms. And so, as you allow things to shape you, you also reach a place where you can shape them.

The old Chinese character for ‘Subtly Penetrating’ shows a stand bearing the official seals a ruler would bestow on those he trusted. Someone who bows down and accepts a seal is submitting to the order of things, entering in and receiving his place within it. Then his seal, sign of personal authenticity, endows him with influence and the power to ‘make his mark’.

Whatever penetrates subtly becomes influential – not by acting on situations or people to change their nature, but by becoming part of their nature and acting in them. Because it never acts as an antagonist, it never creates resistance and permeates everywhere…”

It’s about getting inside, being inside, being part of something and having it be part of you. This can be a way of understanding (non-analytically), or a way of influencing. I think of it as the opposite of waterproofing: becoming mutually permeable with your environment, and hence completely at home.

That experience can show up as synchronicity. Many years ago, someone at the I Ching Community asked what a string of synchronicities was and received hexagram 57: life inside the current, where the inner nature of things is apparent.

Xun is also your own inner nature becoming apparent. LiSe’s description of this is brilliant:

“The blueprint or the seal that one carries, decides all what one is or does. It penetrates every action like wind or roots can enter anything. It has no name, often its existence is not even known, but it is always there and directs everything one does or thinks. It decides the way one listens or looks to the world.”

We have a tendency to think of inner nature and the influences of the environment as being in opposition – not necessarily conflicting, but as two separate and contrasting things: ‘Am I being myself, or am I being influenced? Is this part of my true nature, or a product of conditioning?’ But this self-evident distinction evaporates like dew when you consider that your identity and authority, the way you show who you are and ‘make your mark’ on the world, is the seal bestowed on you as you submit to your place in the whole.

(Of course there are other hexagrams in which the distinction between self and environment is very real – essential thinking-material. 64 hexagrams: 64 different ways to see the world.)

Xun the hexagram shares its name with the doubled trigram that composes it: xun, the trigram of wind or wood. The elusiveness continues. Other trigrams have multiple associations but are identified primarily with one thing: fire; lake; mountain. Why, for xun, do we have to cope with ‘wind or wood’? Granted, you can see the similarity of movement between the draft under the door and the roots coming up through the tarmac… but still, they’re clearly two different things.

Except that, in fact, they aren’t. To demonstrate, let me ask you a question: is it windy, where you are? Have a look.




So you just looked for the wind – and unless you’re in a pitilessly barren urban environment, I’m guessing you looked to see how the plants are moving. You looked for xun, for wind-wood – as a single, indivisible thing. (Try looking at plants without seeing the movement of the air…) Xun is the trigram ‘blowing-in-the-wind’ – we just call it ‘wind/wood’ for short, and because we’re used to labelling things with nouns rather than verbs.

Here’s a very tiny snippet from module 2 of the Foundations Course (the one that’s becoming available now in Change Circle), on xun the trigram – click the big ‘play’ button first, then the ‘full screen’ one at the bottom right –

So there’s a quick summary of that adapting-is-influencing, outside-is-inside way of xun. In the hexagram it’s doubled: both inner and outer trigram.

‘Wind follows wind, Subtly Penetrating.
A noble one conveys mandates and carries out the work.’

The authors of the Image conveyed a great deal within their modest little formula. 隨 風 , wind following wind – that’s ‘following’ as in the name of Hexagram 17 (another hexagram about that ‘current’ we sometimes experience as synchronicities), and so it’s a word pregnant with meaning. (It isn’t used in any other hexagram’s Image.) Inner nature – or received mandate – naturally and inevitably flows outward, where it translates into work done. The mysterious intangible becomes wholly practical and tangible.

‘…So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes . . .
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.’
A.A. Milne



6 responses to The elusive hexagram 57

  1. Its a great description of healing experience , when you penetrate slowly into the energy body of another human being and by that can help him to transform and heal. i can actually sense this light quality of the hexagram.

    and also, it is very much a like in TaiChi battles , when two people are trying to penetrate each other by forgetting them self and connecting subtly and gently to the other person, and then uprooting him wisely.
    Thank you , its a great article full of insights. 🙂

  2. Hi Eyal,

    Thanks for your comment!

    Your tai chi comparison is very interesting, because it seems to suggest the moment when 57 ‘turns around’ into 58. Harmen Mesker talks about how hexagram 58 might be a ‘salient’, a formation used to penetrate into enemy lines. A reminder that 57-58 are really one hexagram, just seen from two different perspectives.

  3. Hi Hilary,

    again, this casting was so spot-on, 57 to 53; my question being: what does my son need. He’s 5 yrs old, very bright, but cannot seem to find his place, integrating in larger social settings–he is a quiet observer rather than connecting to other children. There’s a feeling of pressure from outside to fit in, to nudge him into situations beyond his comfort zone, and this expectation is frustrating, with notions of self-doubt, for me.
    I find myself in the process of just shedding the always present pressure of external expectations in my own life and finally being able to hear and nurture my own voice.
    My question is this, then, which I still don’t see clearly: to nurture my son’s own inner voice and resilience and strength, at his own pace, with acceptance and respect, or subtly “pushing” him beyond his current limits..?
    I would so love to hear your take on this.
    Wishing all the best, and thanks for this work you are doing; immensely helpful.

    • Hi Tunde,

      I’m sorry, I missed seeing this! (The best place to get reading insight for free round here is the I Ching Community, or there are I Ching chats if you’d like to talk in confidence.)

      About 57.2 to 53 – I think any ‘pushing’ going on in that line can be quite playful and experimental, for you as well as your son. You pick up an idea from some outside source (one of the ‘historians and diviners of many kinds’ in the line) and see if your son would like to try it and whether it suits him.

      The line says it’s good fortune and no mistake to make use of all the different experts, and goodness knows there’s no shortage of them, but I think it can be gentle, playful and without pressure. The feeling of the line’s more ‘Oh good, so many resources to help!’ than ‘Oh no, so many things I should be doing!’

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