...life can be translucent

11, Flow

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I think this is the nearest the Yijing comes to a hexagram of love. Not so much love in its various expressions in human relationships, but as a pure, overwhelming cosmic force for creation.

It’s most easily understood as the complementary pair to Hexagram 12, Blocked. In Hexagram 12 there’s no communication, no movement, no chance to achieve anything of significance: ‘Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.’ (Sarah Dening chose that quotation from Waiting for Godot to epitomise Hexagram 12.) As human experiences, Hexagrams 11 and 12 are ‘of opposite kind’.

Hexagram 11 is a hexagram of intense dynamism: despite Wilhelm’s translation of its name, Tai, as ‘Peace’, I’ve never found it to be remotely peaceful in practice. (This was well illustrated back when someone at the I Ching Community asked ‘Will there be war with Iraq?’ and received hexagram 11 with no changing lines.)

TaiTai is the name of a sacred mountain where ‘the emperor performed sacrifices …in order to harmonise the great spirits with man’ (Wu Jing Nuan) and invite their power into human life. The ancient character shows a human figure, hands upraised as if in offering, and a river flowing down. So the name Tai means harmony, great powers, and the flow of good things:

Small goes, great comes.
Good fortune, creating success.’

Carried by the current of that river thundering down Mount Tai, small concerns dwindle away, and the energy to achieve great things pours in. It can be exhilarating – but it can also be overwhelming, as things that had never before seemed ‘small’ to us vanish down the river. When we’re given this hexagram unchanging, especially, the question of how (or whether) we can interact with such a force comes to the fore. It can sometimes mean being confronted with life and death issues that set the rest of life firmly in perspective.

This aspect of the experience comes out clearly in its hidden core – the nuclear hexagram, 54, the Marrying Maiden. She is ‘swept off her feet’, hoisted without ceremony out of her comfort zone and up into a realm of far greater possibilities, but one altogether beyond her control. So is this loss of control a hidden danger of Hexagram 11? Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s something you have to experience to know ‘Flow’ from the inside.

However we experience it, Tai is a positive force. And with Small Taming and Treading (hexagrams 9 and 10) behind it, it does actually hold out the promise of peace:

‘Treading and also Flowing
Mean that tranquility follows.’

It’s perhaps easiest to see how this can happen if you trace the path of the trigram qian, heaven’s creative force, through the preceding hexagrams:

hexagrams 9, 10 and 11

Small Taming has qian within, and seeks to express and contain it in small ways through the outer trigram, xun (the wind). Treading uses all the skills gathered here to dance below heaven (the lake dui below, qian above), treading the tiger’s tail,taking care not to let it swallow up her own identity. So Treading develops a ‘technology of the sacred’, an ability to live with this kind of intensity by following behind it, never coming to rest.

With hexagram 11, the power of qian is no longer ‘out there’ to be followed; it’s taken back inside, and made real through the outer trigram, Earth. Now there is a complete creative relationship between inspiration and realisation – and all things become possible:

‘Heaven and Earth communicate. Flowing.
The prince enriches and accomplishes the dao of heaven and earth,
Supports and structures heaven and earth’s mutual help and harmony,
Helps and protects the people.’

The dao of heaven and earth is to join together and beget new life. The prince simply gives his all in its support: his wealth, his skills in bringing people together (especially the ‘ideas’ people with the ones who can make things happen), his protection, and his presence.


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