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Nuclear families of 37 and 38

Nuclear families of 37 and 38

Back in 2007, I wrote about the nuclear family of Hexagram 37, People in the Home. That’s the four hexagrams that contain 37 as a nuclear, coiled in potential within their inner lines. If you unpack lines 2,3,4 and 3,4,5 from any of these hexagrams –

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– you see Hexagram 37:

I’ve just been looking at 37 as nuclear alongside its contrasting pair, 38 – Opposing. I especially like the way the Zagua sums up these two as meaning ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. There’s a single structure here – one home, and one configuration of 6 lines – that can be seen from two perspectives.

From the inside, you see the Home: the ‘powerful organic structure of relationships and connections’ I talked about in that earlier post: a well-ordered whole whose parts work together to support and secure one another. From the outside, you see Opposing: the outsider, the orphan, not belonging, and seeing differently – not participating in the family’s consensus view of the world.

I’ve come to think of nuclears as not only the potential inside the cast hexagram, but also their inner work. Hexagrams 6, 10, 47 and 58 are all ways of doing the work of People in the Home, of working out how to embody that principle or meet that challenge in real life. And likewise, hexagrams 5, 9, 48 and 57 (paired hexagrams have paired nuclear hexagrams, of course) are ways of doing the work of Hexagram 38, Opposing:

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all contain


I’m also starting to think that, in the realm of nuclears, hexagrams might show up in different dimensions of meaning. After all, a nuclear hexagram isn’t a cast hexagram – it’s actually only four lines, and to appear in a hexagram ‘out here’, it needs another two lines to connect it to the world. Looking at a nuclear hexagram is a bit like looking at a dot –


That looks like a dot from here, but perhaps we’re really seeing the end of a line, extending away from us into another dimension behind the screen. And in the same way, the nuclear looks like four lines, but we could be really seeing something that unfolds and extends into a whole hexagram behind the cast hexagram – in another dimension of time or possibility.

Anyway, half-baked metaphysics aside – as cast hexagrams, 37 and 38 are inside and outside the home, and the ‘inside/outside’ contrast is mostly about human relationships and ways of thinking. In the nuclear realm, they seem to be about the tension of living inside and outside the present moment – it’s more to do with actual and potential.

Doing the work of 37

People in the Home as ‘nuclear hexagram work’ looks like planting yourself firmly and securely in the present – working out how to be at home here, how to relate and belong. This has the paradoxical result that the hexagram containing this challenge frequently doesn’t feel like home at all. Arguing, Treading the tiger’s tail, being Confined… none of those three feels remotely welcoming. But if you consider them as ways of learning how to belong, it makes altogether more sense.

We must learn how to relate to realities we don’t accept (6) and to magnetically attractive power (10). (Spiritual power also has its place in the home.) At the deepest core, Confined without support from outside, we must learn an inner economy by tapping into deeper resources. The home isn’t only sustained by mutually dependent identities propping one another up – ‘so long as you’re the child, I can be the mother’ – but by a vital core of purpose.

And after all this comes Hexagram 58: constantly interacting and exchanging with others, like the water flowing between the two lakes, is certainly part of learning to belong – and arguably the most advanced lesson.

What’s the ‘work’ of Opposing?

And meanwhile on the outside… Hexagrams 5, 9, 48 and 57 are all ways of living out an inner core of 38, Opposing. So what inner work or challenge do these have in common?

In the first three hexagrams, I think you can recognise Opposing as an inner experience. They’re all finding ways to hold the tension between actual and potential, learning to see the present moment differently, as if from outside.

Hexagram 5 does this in the simplest way. You’re Waiting for what you need. You don’t have it yet. But just being here, living with that, isn’t enough: you have to imagine receiving it, believe it will come, even celebrate it with eating and drinking, cross the river – in a way you have to be both here and there, out in the imagined future, stretching and extending yourself across the gulf between now and then.

Hexagram 9 experiences a similar gulf: the clouds that promise rain are here, but the rain is not. You need to extend yourself across that gulf again, this time with steady, small-scale work of cultivation. Cultivate the fields, ‘cultivate the natural pattern of character’. The will to concentrate on pulling out the next weed, and the next, comes of seeing the clouds and knowing there will be rain – just not yet. You extend yourself across the gulf by doing the work.

Hexagram 48 draws a very clear contrast between potential and actual. The well wells; the people come and go, and may or may not have a sound jug or long enough rope to reach the water. The gulf of hexagram 38, now, is the full depth of the well, the great distance between life up on the surface and the timeless waters; everyone must toil together to build and maintain the connection between surface and depths. We have to be able to look at the well and see it in other dimensions – time, possibility – more than just a place to shoot fish.

It’s a lot harder to understand how Hexagram 57, Subtly Penetrating, could contain Opposing at its core. No-one is ‘standing outside’ anything here – on the contrary, it’s all about getting inside the nature of things and becoming part of them – submitting, accepting the seals, receiving your identity as you become part of the whole. In fact, it sounds more like 37 than 38.

However… the oracle of 57 actually says it is fruitful to have a direction to go and fruitful to see the great person. Subtly Penetrating bears fruit when it contains a vision of possibility. What’s the prevailing wind? What might be the emergent inner nature, the mandate or calling, conveyed and translated into work?

This makes me think of the saying attributed to Michelangelo, about first seeing David in the block of marble, then chiselling away all that wasn’t David. If a block of marble were to perceive its own inner sculpture, that might be hexagram 57.

The inner work of Hexagram 38 has evolved since Hexagram 5. There’s no ‘outside’ any more – in fact, if you follow the Sequence from 5 through 9, 48 and 57, you see that there’s less and less ‘standing outside to see differently’, as the awareness of potential becomes more integrated into the present. The noble one in the Image of 48 must see the potential in the well – but from the inside, as fully immersed in the work as the wooden well-frame (as illustrated by the trigrams). And in 57 the ‘view from outside’, the awareness of more dimensions of possibility, is so deeply integrated that it becomes the view from inside.

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