...life can be translucent

22, Beauty

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It’s easy to pass over this hexagram as being just about the externals. It’s translated often as ‘Grace’ or ‘Adorning’: something pleasant that decorates the real thing, somewhat superficial and superfluous. Wilhelm feeds this point of view when he writes,

“It is not the essential or fundamental thing; it is only the ornament and must therefore be used sparingly and only in little things.”

Sometimes Hexagram 22 can be about what’s happening on the surface; sometimes, certainly, this can take up too much energy. But then you’re likely to receive Hexagram 23 as a warning to stop investing yourself in propping up a hollow shell. When you’re given Hexagram 22 itself to work with, the image and the surface are important.

The name of this hexagram means ‘ornamentation’, and also ‘brilliance’. The old Chinese character, LiSe tells us, shows a flowering plant – which is actually the perfect example of a being whose essential nature or function and outer appearance cannot be separated. (Which part of a wild flower is ‘only ornament’?) This would have been at least as apparent to the ancient Chinese, who knew that a plant’s appearance reflected its energetic and healing qualities.

So I’m happier calling this hexagram Beauty, and Making Beautiful. It’s paired with Hexagram 21, Biting Through, which is about getting your teeth into an issue, absorbing and digesting it, and bringing out the essence. This is described as ‘uniting’: the teeth bite through obstacles and come together; people get through obstructions to come together with the truth, and with each other.

Then the Sequence says of Hexagram 22:

“Things cannot come together and reach completion casually, and so making beautiful follows.”

This is a little unusual; more often, the Sequence explains why a hexagram needs the one before it. But this tells us that the process of Biting Through needs the care and attention of Making Beautiful to complete it.

This is best understood through an example, like the story of courtship and marriage told in the line texts. The suitor makes his feet beautiful, oils his hair, drives his carriage with reins glistening and beautiful horses to greet the bride, brings gifts of silk. And none of this is merely ornamental: it’s performative. It’s the ceremony of marriage that makes people married in fact.

(I remember how before my wedding it almost seemed superfluous – I already knew who I loved and had promised myself to, so what was there to add? And then I was startled and delighted by what joy I found in being married, hoping everyone on the bus and in the streets could see my ring…)

Sometimes it’s the expression of that ‘fundamental thing’ that makes it real for people. Hexagram 22 is an invitation to think on what kind of reality you’re creating through appearances. It can talk about self-image, about marketing, about communication in general. (For instance, when I was just starting out as a diviner I would often complete a reading and ask Yi how to improve it before I sent it off. Hexagram 22 came up more than once: express the essence so that people can relate to it. Just ‘biting through’ and grasping it yourself doesn’t complete the divination.)

The oracle says,

‘Beauty. Creating success.
Small harvest in having a direction to go.’

Beauty does best, yields a harvest, when it has a direction to go. The young man becomes a suitor for her and for their wedding; people become teachers for the sake of their pupils, or actors because there’s an audience. This can become a question of self-image: being something for someone. Objects, too – like the plant in the hexagram name – can evolve a beauty of form to express their purpose.

So why is this harvest only small? Partly because this mantle of direction you put on (‘I’m a diviner’ or ‘I’m a plumber’ or ‘I’m a parent’ or whatever) simply exists to create a relationship; it doesn’t yield a harvest by itself. And also, not least, because any ‘direction to go’ you might choose to explore through image and beauty is only ever going to be a part of the whole: no one direction will yield all the possible harvests.

When you ‘make yourself beautiful’ in this sense, you’re trying out just one expression of your essence. It’s a natural way for that essence to flower: connecting with others, having a direction to grow. It needs an element of exploration and play, I think: there could be a small harvest in this direction, and another elsewhere that tastes quite different.

Perhaps the component trigrams show this at work. There’s fire below the mountain, and China is a volcanic place. Mountains are the very emblem of solidity and permanence – except when you realise that they’re constantly being reshaped and renewed by an inner fire. (Stripping Away the surface becomes necessary, and Hexagram 23 follows, when that enlivening inner light goes out.)

‘Below the mountain is fire. Beauty.
The noble one brings light to the many standards, but does not venture to judge legal cases.’

The fire illuminates the beauty of the mountain; beauty is form lit up. In the noble one this becomes the inner light of awareness, perceiving the inner nature and beauty of all the many ways of governing and judging. He has an inside view of how they take shape over time, as awareness hardens into rules. What he doesn’t have is some external perspective from which to evaluate the results – so how could he interrupt the process and pass judgement?

So ‘making beautiful’ could be an ongoing exploration and game, reshaping images or trying on new selves. Perhaps that explains how it comes to have Hexagram 40, Release, at its core: a seed of freedom, walking your chosen path released from the bonds of obligation, that finds fertile soil here.

To paraphrase Kahlil Gibran just a little:

‘Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in mirrors. But you are eternity and you are the mirrors.’

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