...life can be translucent

16, Enthusiasm

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In hexagram 16, the thunder that powers new growth is above the earth; the energy of innovation is free and storming through the world. For the ancient kings, this was the inspiration for music that channelled and focused their people’s liberated energies.

The old character for Yu, ‘Motivation’ or ‘Enthusiasm’, shows an elephant: the embodiment of strength and vigour and a source of joy. It’s also something you have to treat with great respect. Your ox is strong, but also predictable. The elephant is almost inconceivably powerful, and never altogether tame. Unlike other animals, it clearly has its own, rather inscrutable intentions. What will you do with this great concentration of wilful power?

Questions like this, about reaching raw energy and channelling it successfully into productive results, are ever-present throughout the I Ching. I think that this hexagram is specifically about the ways of responding to energies that seem to ‘seize’ you, as if you were ‘in the grip’ of an inspiration or emotion. The second part of the character Yu shows hands, or perhaps the shuttle of a loom: this is not only about strong motivations, but also about how we handle and share them, or weave them into the fabric of life.

That ‘elephant’ character by itself also means ‘image’ – as in the Wing with the ancient kings and their music, the Great Image. It works like a musical composition, channelling raw power and giving it form we can relate to. Through image shapes, energy turns into action in our world, and we have new ways of communicating with one another and ourselves.

In practice, this hexagram could be a signal that you need to become more consciously aware of what is inspiring you, before it begins to carry you to new places. When you’re mobilising your personal army, you need support and guidance in place before you move. Such high-intensity motivation, given a true creative outlet, has enormous potential. But it’s as easy to lose yourself in shared images as it is to find yourself: you may not know, or even want to know, where your enthusiasm is taking you. Elephants have a tendency to dominate the horizon.


A father – who has very kindly given his permission for me to share this story – once consulted me about how best to help his daughter, who has cerebral palsy. With hexagram 16 in the answer, I talked about the task of getting energetic impulses under conscious control, self-expression (it turns out the little girl is an enthusiastic singer), and explained some meanings of the elephant. He replied that he and his daughter discussed elephants nearly every day. To relax her muscles, she had to re-establish conscious control over them – and so he would encourage her to ‘tell the elephants to let go of your leg’. The 3,000 year old image re-appeared in the private language a 7 year old shared with her father.

And many, many thanks to LiSe Heyboer, without whose inspired research into the old characters) I would be lost.

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