‘Things cannot be altogether exhausted.
On the outside, stripping away brings things to an end;
On the inside comes turnaround,
And so Return follows.’
Hexagram 23. Stripping Away, eliminated everything that was not alive and growing. It tore away the old images, ideas, purposes, attachments… whatever was draining and wasting vital energies. And given the nature of human attachment, this probably hurt. But it also cleared the ground for new growth, leaving nothing in its way; Return is the time for coming back to life.
The nuclear hexagram of both Stripping Away and Return is Hexagram 2, Earth, the Receptive. So both hexagrams are part of the work of making things possible: clearing and renewing the space that sustains limitless growth. In Hexagram 24, a single yang line is welcomed by five open yin lines above it.
|23, Stripping Away||2, Earth, the Receptive||24, Returning|
‘Returning, creating success.
Going out, coming in, without haste.
A partner comes, not a mistake.
Turning around and returning on your path.
The seventh day comes, you return.
Harvest in having a direction to go.’
Return, in the old Chinese character, shows a foot going out from a town, and a road to walk on. (Thanks as always to LiSe for this!) So the first movement of ‘returning’ seems to be to go away from the crowd, and getting ‘back on track’. This is not so much about a return to any particular place, as a return to your own path. It means getting back to fundamentals, to what you know to be right.
In readings, Return can be a reminder to simplify the question and touch base. It comes up very often in relationship questions, and frequently it’s tempting to interpret it as meaning that the other person will return. In my experience, this isn’t usually what it’s about. The first step in ‘returning’ goes away from other people, back to your own path.
On a larger scale, this is about the whole cycle of ‘going out and coming in’: in human relationships, out of the group and back into it. Returning means having the space to change direction and orientate yourself ‘without haste’ or anxiety. The nuclear hexagram, Earth, speaks of finding partners in the southwest, losing them in the northeast – a balance between integration and individuation. With Return, this becomes a cycle. There is ‘the root of de (of personal power and character), small and also distinct among things’ (from the Dazhuan) – and then this new spark of self is ready for involvement, and ‘partners come’. You meet this partner, or partners, because you’re on the same road: in practice, this can be the forging of new connections or the renewal of old ones. (But it definitely does not encourage making a diversion to run after anyone!)
Returning when the seventh day comes means starting again at the end of a cycle. Whether or not this was the original intention, it does correlate with the movement of yang energy through a hexagram, as Balkin describes it: ‘If one begins with Qian (pure yang) and, starting from bottom to top, replaces each line with its opposite, in six transformations the yin lines will have fully displaced the yang lines, and Qian (pure yang) will become Kun (pure yin). The seventh transformation then begins a new sequence, with a yang line moving up from the bottom.’ This is a reminder that there is a natural cadence to events, a time for each stage, and the return is not to be hurried – the same message as in the Daxiang (the Image).
But it is still purposeful: allying that nascent spark of energy with a ‘direction to go’ brings harvest. This is the integration and involvement part of the cycle. First came relaxation and release from guilt or compulusion (‘without haste… not a mistake’); then comes re-engagement with purpose. The moving lines seem to tell a similar story of ‘going out and coming in’.
The Daxiang emphasises that all this happens in its own time:
‘Thunder dwelling in the centre of the earth. Returning.
The ancient kings closed the borders at winter solstice.
Itinerant merchants did not travel,
The prince did not tour the regions.’
Of the twelve hexagrams that traditionally marked the months of the year, Hexagram 24 is the darkest. The moment of the year when light begins its Return is also the moment when the days are shortest and the light most remote. The trigrams represent this as thunder in the centre of the earth: in Spring, it will come roaring to the surface, awakening everything to vigorous growth. But for now, the fields and the borders are closed; it is time for introspection, not for business as usual. This hexagram doesn’t herald a triumphal return, but a gradual recuperation and recharging. The spark of life needs nurturing in stillness.