I think that ‘Following’ is a matter of moving smoothly and willingly with the current of events. In the old Chinese, the word probably originally showed a grave mound, a foot at a crossroads, and meat given as an offering. For me, this brings to mind the origins of feng shui as the art and science of burial sites: when strong currents flow through life’s landscapes, you need to orient yourself carefully in relation to them. A sacrifice made at the crossroads, or for the journey, would be an offering for smooth flow, and a sign of willingness to follow.
Creating success from the source, harvest in constancy.
This hexagram begins in the same way as the whole Yijing begins: with ‘the source, success, harvest, constancy’, yuan heng li zhen. Together, these four words show the presence of Creative Force, driving through to completion. There’s a sense of inevitability; ‘it follows’; everything will fall into place.
In divination, these ‘currents’ that events float on are usually beyond our conscious grasp. They may have entered your life through your personal inspiration and drive (hexagram 16), but now be revealed as something altogether larger and more profound. A stream of synchronicities, for example; the subliminal, automatic patterns of response of a tennis champion ‘in the zone’; the cycle of the housing market; the changes in your mood. Hexagram 17 marks the time for honouring these and Following where they lead.
Of course, there is also a time not to follow. Corruption, Hexagram 18, is the contrasting pair of Following and also its opposite. It marks the time when the unknown forces beneath the surface are working to corrupt and infect life from within. Then, they have to be interrogated, brought to awareness and integrated into waking life. This provides the stability for ‘crossing the great river’ – a new direction.
But in a time of Following, there is no call to battle the currents or search for their causes. Sometimes this hexagram can come as reassurance, in response to a question like, ‘Why isn’t this working?’ or ‘How can I overcome this blockage?’ Not only is it beyond your power to fight, but you may not need to fight it at all: despite appearances, there is ‘no mistake’ in the direction of events. (Though it may take a couple of months or years before you can understand why not.)
The trigrams of Following show thunder, the power of change and renewal that surges up through hexagram 16, hidden beneath the surface of the lake. It represents motive forces below the threshold of consciousness, like the dragon who sleeps over winter on the lake bed.
‘At the centre of the lake is thunder. Following.
In the same way, the noble one at nightfall
Goes inside for renewal and rest.’
In the first place this is (uncommon) common sense: if what you need, your mood or your market, is at a low ebb, then rest and wait, don’t burn the midnight oil. But it also suggests going inward as a means of reconnecting with the motive forces: incubating a dream, for instance, might be a modern equivalent to the offering at the crossroads.
A response from Stephen Karcher:
I read your description of 17. I really think you should take the Pair into account here and see the dynamic between 17 and 18 as very important in a description of either. To me, there is a direct flow and a challenge in 17 to confront the “corruption” seen in 18. I would say that 17 “pushes us ” toward 18, that 18 is “pulling” the energy flow across the Pair Matrix toward realization through a confrontation with the inner corruption which will emerge sooner or later. The “let go” part refers to your current fixations. You “let go” in order to liberate the energy, make it available.
This Pair is intensely connected, through both rotation and conversion. I read this sort of Pair (11:12, 17:18, 53:54 and 63:64) as “sites of intense shamanic and ritual activity” that connect human and spirit levels, bringing the energy into our world.
In the case of 17 and 18, the connections are so strong that I feel you must see the flow of energy between them and the challenge it represents in order to talk about the Pair or either of the hexagrams in it. So I would find it problematic to see them as simply moving in opposite directions, doing completely opposite things. The “flow of spirit” in 17, into which we “insert ourselves”, following with ease, leads us directly to the challenge of confronting corruption and “managing” it, using the new spirit to confront the parental imagos that are our introjection of the corrupted culture around us.
Note too that in Chris Lofting’s “stimulus/response” system based on trigram swapping, the stimulus or push for 17 is 54. That means the context of the Following (as response) is: “being led by forces beyond your control into a radically new situation that can renew the time.” Context or push for 18 is 53, the gradual steps that carry out the change. This is an inversion where you first reach out to something then integrate it to pass to realization. So you have a picture of a radical push behind 17 that carries you into a set of steps or rituals or whatever that can “manage” the corruption within. Thus you connect personal issues to cultural renewal.
(You can read more of Stephen’s work on his I Ching, Living Change website.)