...life can be translucent

47, Confined

The Chinese name of Hexagram 47, translated as ‘Confined’, ‘Exhaustion’, ‘Oppressed’, shows a tree enclosed on all sides by walls. The picture evokes the hexagram’s atmosphere: hemmed in, entrapped, cut off. The Judgement makes explicit the sense of isolation:


‘Confined, creating success.
Constancy of a great person, good fortune.
Not a mistake.
There are words, not trusted.’

‘Words, not trusted’ – this is a common aspect of the experience of 47, which often represents some kind of communications failure. The Chinese characters suggest what’s happening here: xin, ‘trust’, is made up of the elements ‘person’ and ‘words’. ‘There are words, no person-words.’ Words spoken, but nothing that is someone’s word. It seems there are ideas or messages in circulation, but no personal connection that would give them validity.

(Having said that… as with any hexagram, its practical application in readings can be on any scale, from the dramatic to the quite trivial. My favourite example with 47 is from the I Ching Community a few years back, when ‘Coming slowly, slowly, confined in a bronze chariot…’ turned out to mean, ‘He’ll miss your call as he’s out in the car.’)

The words not trusted can also be your own thought processes. There’s no reasoning your way out from inside these walls. Our usual ways of getting to grips with the world – naming things, reasoning, identifying and organising with words – are no longer reliable.

In fact, all our best efforts seem to be failing us. The preceding hexagram, 46, was a very different experience: ‘Pushing Upward’, full of confidence, advancing step by step towards the summit, growing and thriving in a world receptive to your efforts. In hexagram 46, you know that if you put the work in, you’ll get there. When frustration and disillusionment accumulate and confidence falters, you’re entering the space of hexagram 47. ‘Pushing upward and not reaching a high point is necessarily confining,’ says the Sequence.

Sometimes this hexagram indicates real oppression from outside forces; sometimes – particularly if you receive one of the more ironic yin moving lines – it can be more self-imposed, a matter of perception. But the ‘oppressive’ experience is the same.

Looking out and upward, there’s no help to be seen: no way out, no connection, no sight of your goal. Confined, you have to look inward. The constancy of a great person, one who can depend on their own inner resources, creates success; this – however depressing or claustrophobic the experience – is ‘no mistake’.

What’s the nature of those inner resources – what sustains a great person’s constancy? The Image, the Dazhuan, and not least the hexagram pair, shed light.

The Image:

‘Lake without stream, confined.
Noble one carries out the mandate, fulfils her aspiration.’

In the Shijing, the Book of Songs, Kings Wen and Wu are said to ‘carry out heaven’s purpose’. When the noble one ‘carries out the mandate’, she is implementing what she’s called on to do, conveying a message that has come to her through higher orders. (Many translators give a morbid tinge to this, but this seems inappropriate: the mandate, ming, calls for the dedication of the living.) And at the same time, she follows through freely on her own aspiration. Aspiration and mandate flow together in the same direction.

This is the flow that appears in the trigrams. With the lake above, stream below, water is draining inward. Energy is drawn away from communication and interaction, the qualities of the lake: ‘honouring the mouth means exhaustion’, as the commentary on the Judgement says. But this draining of the outer realms flows into the inner momentum of the stream: the destiny you’re given joins together with your inner desires.

This, it seems to me, answers the problem presented by the Sequence. If you only set your sights on a goal and strive towards it, you might never get there. If your personal aspiration is in alignment with what you’re called on to do, both are strengthened: you move through Confinement like a stream flows through a narrow gorge.

It’s interesting that the nuclear hexagram of 47 is 37, People in the Home. (Actually, the whole family of hexagrams that share 37 at their core is interesting: Communicating Joy, Treading the tail of the tiger, Conflict and argument, and Confinement.) The inner strength and conviction to be found in Confinement seems to contribute to the strength of the Home, which after all is made of people who can find their place, and themselves, within walls.

The Dazhuan sums up this focussing, concentrating effect of Confining when it identifies it as one of those hexagrams especially relevant to the development of de, personal character and strength.

‘Confinement defines de
Exhausted yet also wholly connected,
Lessens resentment.’

Wilhelm translates ‘defines de‘ as ‘test of character’, which sums it up. And I imagine that as focus moves inward, resentment and grudges against those outside might be lessened. The more difficult idea is that Confining can mean being ‘wholly connected’ – a word that implies completely open communication, or knowing something or someone completely, as if they were an ‘open book’ to you. What is happening inside those walls?

It seems to me that this is where hexagram 47 begins to join with its pair, the Well. The Zagua, a very concise Wing that sums up each hexagram in a word or two and contrasts it with its pair, actually describes the Well as ‘wholly connected’ and Confinement as ‘mutually helpful meeting’.

Even where words are not trusted, there can still be ‘meeting’. The meeting of your mandate with your aspirations, perhaps, forging a personal sense of purpose. Or perhaps an awareness of common humanity, or perhaps even something more like the Psalm: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou are with me…’

From here it could be a small step to being ‘wholly connected’. The Well, too, is a dark, narrow space surrounded by walls. When you go inward here, you find something limitless and quite independent of human plans and changes, that doesn’t ask you to ‘make sense of it’. The walls people build can contain something of value; the inside can be bigger than the outside.

More on Hexagram 47:

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