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3, Sprouting

The name of this hexagram clearly resembles a seedling: a root and the beginnings of leaves, reflecting the priorities of every germinating seed. I have to insert a proviso here: Harmen Mesker has been looking into early meanings of this character and thinks it’s more likely to have meant a military encampment than a seedling at the time the oracle was first written. (His article is here.) But to me the hexagram is still Sprouting: new life, seeking to establish itself, with roots before leaves.

For the garrison or the seedling, the priorities are much the same: create a secure centre, and extend your scope cautiously from there into the wider world. This hexagram is the very beginning, where you start to know who and where you are, in amongst a sea of things you don’t know. It’s the ‘paired’ hexagram with 4, Not Knowing, where you have to experience that ignorance to the full in order to learn anything.

‘Sprouting: seeing, and not letting go your dwelling place.
Not knowing: disordered and also clear.’

So Sprouting means looking right round, extending your awareness as far as possible: the aim is to increase the compass of things you can know or call yours, your ‘territory’. You want to explore new experience, but also to stay rooted.

Of course, even as you orientate yourself, you also discover that some things out there are opposed to you! The more you explore, the more your parents say ‘no’; the ground is hard and the stones don’t move aside for you; the local people may or may not welcome the garrison. All the more reason to hold onto your dwelling place: you’re holding onto your secure sense of self.

‘Sprouting.
Creating success from the source, harvest in constancy.
No use to have a direction to go,
Harvest in establishing feudal lords.’

Sprouting is crammed with pent-up creative potential, but giving it a ‘direction to go’ – setting goals, making definite plans – is of no use at all. You’re like a king working to establish himself in a new kingdom: first of all, he needs ‘feudal lords’, who will be his ears, eyes and hands in the remoter parts of the country. There will be time enough for policy initiatives when he has a clearer vision of what’s out there, and is more sure of his grasp on it.

By taking time to lay out the basics for growth – the knowledge, helpers, and lines of communication – you actually increase the possibilities and enlarge the territories available to you in future. Narrowing your focus and directing your efforts in one direction (like the Army does in Hexagram 7) at this stage would only limit you.

It is not often easy to live with ‘no direction’. The nuclear hexagram here hints at just how difficult it can be: it’s 23, Stripping Away, a hexagram of loss and often-excruciating ‘clearing out’. It, too, says that there is ‘no harvest in having a direction to go.’ The core need here is to clear the ground of preconceived ideas about where you’re headed, or even who you are, so that the new growth can emerge naturally and find its own shape. Consequently, this hexagram often comes as a reminder that you stand at the very beginning and are trying to predetermine too much, too soon.

The trigrams of Sprouting are ‘clouds and thunder’: the fertile chaos of beginning, with strong sexual associations in Chinese tradition.

‘Clouds, thunder. Sprouting.
Noble one weaves with the warp.’

The challenge here is to disentangle the proliferation of possibilities and weave a fabric of meaning, one with clear patterns and pictures. In other words, it’s to make sense of things! The noble one starts with the warp threads – and here there is a huge double meaning, as the Chinese for warp is jing, as in Yijing or Daodejing. (Or ching as in I Ching: these are just different ways of writing the same word.) The word means ‘principles’ and hence also the ‘classic books’ that form the basic structure of knowledge. It is too early for specific goals, but not for basic principles: the warp threads cannot be added to the cloth as an afterthought.

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