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Stripping Away, no mistake

Stripping Away, no mistake

Hexagram 23, Stripping Away, is not generally much fun.

Of course, we all know there is no such thing as a negative hexagram. But it’s a rare reading when the sight of 23 fills one with joy. Stripping away means loss; usually, it means having something taken from you that you would really have preferred to keep.

Often it’s a sense of life direction, a plan, a self-concept – though, of course, anything can be stripped away: material, emotional, spiritual or social. The name of the hexagram originally means peeling or even flaying, a reminder that what you are losing is superficial.

But then we’re not wired to enjoy losing anything, and especially not our sense of purpose and agency. Hexagram 23 can be a particularly blunt response to questions of ‘Where next? What’s the next step?’ –

‘Stripping away.
Fruitless to have somewhere to go.’

Hexagram 23, the Oracle

Nothing doing: there isn’t a ‘next step’ or a place to go. As the Commentary on the Oracle puts it:

‘Accept and stop here
Look at the image
The noble young one respects waning and waxing as surplus and want
And as heaven’s behaviour.’

Hexagram 23, Tuanzhuan, translated by Bradford Hatcher

In other words: this is how it works.

That’s the point of line 3, too:

‘Stripping away. No mistake.’


I’ve found Yi usually says ‘no mistake’ when we think something must be wrong – and it can be a challenge to understand why/how it isn’t. Here at line 3, on the verge of stepping across the threshold between the trigrams and out into the world, we might well be gearing up for action. So Yi reminds us that Stripping Away – nothing to do, nowhere to be – is not a mistake.

As for why it isn’t… the relating hexagram for this line is 52, Stilling: a time to stop. More from the Tuanzhuan (Commentary on the Oracle):

Means to keep still.
If time to stop, then stop
If time to move, then move.
When activity and rest do not lose their timing
One’s path is revealed and clarified.’

52, Tuanzhuan, trans. Bradford Hatcher
changing to

Hexagram 23’s inner trigram earth is solidifying into mountain: a natural boundary, offering solid footing where we can stop on this side of the threshold, look out at the world and understand how much doesn’t need doing. (Line 4, by contrast, out across the threshold and looking for something useful to do, gets into real trouble.)

In my part of the world, November is a good time of year to understand this. Leaves are falling – and don’t need sticking back on the branches. The trees are becoming dormant for the winter, metabolism slowed, growth suspended.

‘Stripping away.
Fruitless to have somewhere to go.’

You don’t always have to be going somewhere. Sometimes it’s winter, time to rest – to slow down, not to grow. If time to stop, then stop.

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