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Gradually nearing the high plateau

Gradually nearing the high plateau
This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Two-line relationships


Hexagram 53, Gradual Progress, has two lines about the high plateau:

‘The wild geese gradually progress to the high plateau.
The husband marches out and does not return,
The wife is pregnant, but does not raise the child.
Pitfall.
Fruitful to resist robbers.’

Hexagram 53, line 3

‘Wild geese gradually progress to the high plateau.
Their feathers can be used to perform the sacred dances.
Good fortune.’

Hexagram 53, line 6

The auspices for these two lines are very different, so much so that they seem to refer to completely different places – not least in the Wilhelm/Baynes translation, which calls line 3 ‘the plateau’ but line 6 ‘the cloud heights’. However, the word used in both lines is the same: the geese are approaching 陸 lu: a high, arid plateau.

Also, I feel the atmosphere of the two lines is similar. The geese have travelled far away from their natural habitat in the river valley, and neither line feels in the least domestic or comfortable. There are no ‘honking flocks’ up here, no food – not so much as a branch to perch on.

When these two lines change together, Hexagram 53 becomes Hexagram 8, Seeking Union. This got me thinking because Hexagram 8 is associated with the story of Yu the Great and especially the gathering he called after he had conquered the floods and it was time to found a new order: a gathering on a mountaintop.

The high plateau where Yu the Great called his meeting was 會稽山, Kuaiji Shan, ‘Gathering and Investigation Mountain’ (or even ‘Gathering and Plastromantic Divination Mountain’, according to one dictionary), nowadays known as Xianglu peak. Might the geese of 53.3.6 be on a gradual journey towards Yu’s gathering?

Consider…

‘In one common story, Yu had only been married four days when he was given the task of fighting the flood. He said goodbye to his wife, saying that he did not know when he would return. During the thirteen years of flooding, he passed by his own family’s doorstep three times, but each time he did not return inside his own home. The first time he passed, he heard that his wife was in labor. The second time he passed by, his son could already call out to his father. His family urged him to return home, but he said it was impossible as the flood was still going on. The third time Yu was passing by, his son was more than ten years old. Each time, Yu refused to go in the door, saying that as the flood was rendering countless number of people homeless, he could not rest.’

Wikipedia

‘The wild geese gradually progress to the high plateau.
The husband marches out and does not return,
The wife is pregnant, but does not raise the child.
Pitfall.
Fruitful to resist robbers.’

This line changes to Hexagram 20, Seeing: someone who observes the whole picture from a distance, perhaps seeing everything and not just his own family. This is not a perfect match to the story as we know it now, of course, as Yu’s wife did succeed in raising her child on her own. All the same…

Also, that same mountaintop where Yu called his meeting is now the site of rites in his honour, and has been since ancient times.

‘Wild geese gradually progress to the high plateau.
Their feathers can be used to perform the sacred dances.
Good fortune.’

This line changes to Hexagram 39, Limping, associated with the limping flood hero. Perhaps we can even imagine the dance performed here.

In readings

I love finding these connections hidden away in plain sight in the structure of the Yijing. And then, of course, I always start to wonder how they might work in readings. There’s a broad range of possibilities here because Hexagram 8 covers such a broad range of motivations. Just as Hexagram 27, for instance, could mean anything from hunger for food to spiritual hunger, so Hexagram 8 could indicate a deep longing for spiritual significance and connection, or a desire to be part of a ‘tribe’ of your kind of people where you feel recognised and important – or, no doubt, many other possibilities in between.

Why would any of this lead to the high plateau – to relationship failure, and higher mysteries, and the awkward, empty gulf between the two? (Yu is a great ancient hero, but we might take a dimmer view, nowadays, of the way he ignored his wife and child.)

Maybe the key is the sense of restless haste in Hexagram 8. Seeking Union is good fortune, but there is disaster for the latecomer. Making a gradual journey towards Yu’s mountaintop gathering is liable to get you beheaded. What if you’re missing your chance? Yet the marriage and the journey home of Hexagram 53 do take time; you have to honour every step of the process. It’s a hexagram that requires tremendous patience – in my experience, always far more of it than expected. ‘Constancy bears fruit’!

So the two hexagrams are at odds, and perhaps the urgent need for belonging leads to abandoning one’s duty of care in line 3, as well as to the higher aspirations of line 6. (Though I’m not altogether sure that 53.6 represents an aspiration of the protagonist. The feathers are still there but the geese have gone; Yu will not be participating in his own commemorative dance. Maybe this is one of those lines 6 where a narrator looks back on the story and reflects, long after it’s all over.)

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