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Monthly Archives: September 2017

Hexagram 27, Nourishment

Name and Nature

The name of Hexagram 27 translates literally not as ‘Nourishment’ but as ‘Jaws’ – not something we call it, because shark. But it does help to remember that it’s not specifically about nourishment (of whatever kind), but rather about the framework that makes nourishment possible. Just looking at the shape of the hexagram itself, this is visible: it looks like an open mouth.


‘Food,’ it says, ‘goes in here.’ Something like this –

Baby bird's gape


This can be about all kinds of nourishment – material, emotional, social, spiritual – and hence many kinds of supporting framework: economy, society, friendships, mental habits, spiritual practice, an oracle.

Searching my own journal for Hexagram 27 as primary hexagram, I find it’s tended to nudge me to look at objective supportive frameworks – the forum software, for instance. As relating hexagram it’s been more subjective, more to do with the motivating power of hunger of all kinds. It can describe the hunger for beauty, or connection, or meaning (I found 27 relating in several readings about readings) – but even when it’s pointing to a desire that might be met in material, practical ways (like a steady income), it’s still more to do with the emotional need (eg for security).

(Aside: being able to search your journal like this is the best way to take a deep dive into a hexagram’s real meaning. This is why search features are such a big part of the Resonance Journal. Recommended!)


‘Nourishment: constancy brings good fortune.
See the jaws,
Your own quest for something real to fill your mouth.’

First of all, this hexagram calls for constancy: steadiness, persistence (maybe with a hint of doggedness), loyalty to truth. Then, I think, it goes on to specify what kind of constancy.

‘Jaws’ is the name of the hexagram, and ‘see’, here and in line 1, is the same word as the name of Hexagram 20, so it comes with echoes of that hexagram’s themes. This is a clear and strong exhortation to step back from action and see what’s really happening. (There aren’t any other hexagrams that tell you to ‘see’ them, so this is quite striking.)

What are your desires? How are your needs governing your behaviour?

The need for nourishment is simple, powerful and primal. In readings, this may be pointing to any strong hunger, from emotional neediness to material survival fears to spiritual thirst. There could be someone looking for admiration, or for the rent, or even to fill the void by buying another gadget. However, the next line speaks of your quest for ‘something real‘.

The word ‘real’ is 實, shi, and the early forms of the character show a string of cowries (ie cash) under a roof. (No imaginary money here, only hard cash.) It means true, substantial, solid, and also a fruit or seed.

If you are still hungry, chances are that you haven’t found real nourishment. It’s interesting that the word means ‘fruit’, as the nutritional value of fruit is what gave us our instinctive craving for sweet things. Then we invented refined sugar, which can’t satisfy our hunger. And this, of course, is a perfect image for any amount of emotional or spiritual ‘junk food’. Receiving Hexagram 27 is a good cue to stop and ask about the real underlying need.

The Sequence (small scale)

Nourishment follows from Hexagram 26, Great Taming:

‘Things are tamed, and so there can be nurturing, and so Nourishment follows. Nourishment means nurturing.’

It could hardly be simpler or more literal: we need farmers and their ‘taming’ skill to feed us. And then, of course, you need to translate this image to the kind of nourishment in your own reading. What reserves do you need, what must you cultivate, what skills will you foster, so that ‘there can be nurturing’?

The Sequence (slightly larger scale)

Looking at the bigger context in the Sequence of hexagrams, you can see that this is a turning point. Starting with hexagrams 21 and 22, every hexagram pair of the 20s has had thunder as an inner trigram in one hexagram, and mountain as the outer trigram of its pair. The initiative of inner thunder encounters different situations, and outer mountain tries to absorb and contain them. The effect is one of experiments, trials and that wonderful euphemism, the ‘learning experience’.

And then in Hexagram 27, inner thunder and outer mountain come together: inner spark with outer stability, both experimenting and integrating. The combination creates a great mix of questions: ‘What to do here? How do I engage?’ joining with ‘What do I take in? How do I grow from this?’ to make ‘How can I find nourishment?’

Although in the larger scale of things, Hexagram 27 represents equilibrium in contrast to the imbalance of Hexagram 28, its inner workings (as represented in the moving line texts) are pretty fraught. Much as 13 is about trying to create Harmony among People, so 27 is about the search for complete, dependable nourishment. The question is, how can we have a structure that’s both strong enough to hold, and also flexible enough to work? The willow tree of 28 is one answer; the jaws are another…

Trigrams and Image

…because, if you think about it, your jaws are solid and yet mobile (and wouldn’t be much use to you if they were only one or the other). This is also portrayed in the component trigrams: thunder below, that moves (like the lower jaw) and mountain above, that doesn’t (like the upper).

The Image authors contemplated this landscape of mountain and thunder, and seem most of all to have heard how the thunder echoes:

‘Below the mountain is thunder. Nourishment.
The noble one reflects on his words in conversation,
And is discriminating about what he eats and drinks.’

The noble one joins thunder and mountain by coupling his impulse to act with reflection and discrimination. I imagine thunder as the desire to speak up, as hunger and thirst, and mountain as the conscious ‘container’ for those impulses.

An interesting feature here is that the noble one isn’t only thinking about what he consumes, but also what he sends out into the world. I believe the Image authors were exceptionally skilful readers of the ancient text. Here, it seems they saw how the line texts progress towards the top line, where you might become not only a consumer but an ‘origin of nourishment.’


The line texts make clear that balanced, successful nourishment is not straightforward. Just reading through them, one after another, you can see they have as much to do with rejecting nourishment as receiving it. They don’t describe a stable status quo – it’s much more often about rejecting what’s available and yearning after something more and different.

Lines 2 and 4 talk about unbalanced nourishment/jaws – a word that means something is toppled, upset, turned on its head. (Brad Hatcher uses ‘top-heavy’ in one line and ‘subverted’ in the other.) In the context (looking to the hilltop, and the tiger’s gaze), this seems to be about the unbalancing power of desire – more wanting than the existing framework can contain.

Lines 2 and 5 speak of ‘rejecting the standard’ – the standard, 經 jing, is the word that subsequently came to mean ‘Classic’, as in Yijing – the canonical works. Its original meaning: the warp threads of a loom, around which everything else is woven. Traditional interpretation says that this is someone turning away from the right path – and that may be so, but they’re certainly rejecting what’s normal or paradigmatic or ‘just how it’s done’. The jing is what holds everything together in its current pattern: without it, the weave will unravel and the pattern will vanish.

There’s an unusually straightforward pattern to the lines: the lower trigram is ill-omened, the upper trigram is favourable – even ‘rejecting the standard’ and ‘unbalanced nourishment’ become auspicious. What might be behind this? Perhaps the different natures of the two component trigrams?

Thunder is active by definition: moving, hankering, aspiring to something distant. It can’t simply be present – there’s no such thing as thunder that isn’t in motion. ‘Seeing’, the name of 20, recurs in line 1 – but whereas in the oracle you were ‘seeing the jaws’, becoming aware of what’s present, now you’re looking at someone else. To expect your nourishment to come from elsewhere, and push away what’s available here and now, is destabilising and disempowering.

Mountain is still and solid – and this is the outer world, so there’s scope for real, effective action here. Lines 4-6 have progressively more ownership of nourishment. The tiger has claws and teeth to match his intense desire, so he’s supremely capable of feeding himself – yet not on the same level as the less spectacular humans of line 5, who can make their dwelling in one place because they will grow their own food…

‘Rejecting the standard,
Dwelling here with constancy: good fortune.
Cannot cross the great river.’

An old meaning of ‘dwelling here with constancy: good fortune’ is ‘divination for a settlement: good fortune’. Here is the steadiness advocated by the oracle, now associated with settling down and staying put.

It’s interesting that this also begins with ‘rejecting the standard’: settling down is not the same as accepting convention. Perhaps it has overtones of ‘opting out of the rat race’? This is the only line that doesn’t mention ‘jaws’/’nourishment’, and I imagine that could be because it feels confident that it’s settling in a good place, where rain will fall and the crops will grow, and we can trust in heaven and care for one another (see the fan yao, 42.5). We’re not equipped to cross rivers, but being here will be enough.

And then line 6 is at the ‘origin of nourishment’ – ‘origin’ 由 representing a sprout in a field, or a sprouting seed. It’s a perilously exposed position – everything’s up to you, there is no safety net – but auspicious and empowered. This one can cross rivers, carrying all he needs with him.

What’s wrong with carting corpses, anyway?

Simple Two lines in Hexagram 7, the Army, talk about carting corpses: line 3: ‘Perhaps the army carts corpses. Pitfall.’ and line 5: ‘The fields have game Fruitful to speak of capture: No mistake. When the elder son leads the army, And younger son carts corpses: Constancy, pitfall.’ The core meaning is surely intuitively obvious:… Continue Reading

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