Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Hexagram 63 continued

January 16th, 2015

‘…and now the conclusion.’

So as I was saying… trigrams, in Hexagram 63. On the inside, li, fire and light: vision, awareness, lucidity. As an inner trigram, li tends to mean insight into the nature of the time. On the outside, kan, dark depths and unceasingly moving waters that can flow anywhere and take any shape. Everything unpredictable, ungraspable, unknowable – its only constant quality is that it changes.

The trigrams show awareness inside the stream: on the inside, the centre is open, listening and looking; on the outside, the whole stream of stuff keeps on happening, and we keep on acting and adapting.

The two trigrams are complementary – that is, they match up; you can imagine fitting them together like mould and cast, with the firm central line of kan fitting into the open space at the centre of li. In the same way, the noble one’s awareness is ‘fitted’ to the flow of experience. Awareness within the flow means the noble one has some powers of anticipation, and asks not only ‘Now what?’ but also ‘What could go wrong?’

‘Stream dwells above fire. Already across.
A noble one reflects on distress and prepares to defend against it.’

The characters for ‘reflects on distress’ are  (the links are to the Chinese Etymology site). As you can see, both characters contain ‘heart’, and ‘reflection’ is made of heart and head – full awareness. (It’s also intriguing that Richard Sears gives the meanings ‘remember, recall, mourn’ for the character – suggesting it has to do with looking back – in this case, perhaps as a way of looking forward.)

Projecting this constant, open-hearted anticipation into a flow of action is the noble one’s way of always beginning, not falling into the chaos of endings. I think this is not obsessive cogitation about what could go wrong, but more of a compassionate awareness of flows and tendencies – not unlike the noble one’s powers of anticipation in Hexagram 54, as the Marrying Maiden.

And this is followed by practical steps to prepare and defend. The defences, incidentally, are the same word as in 62.3: earth embankments. Perhaps we should be thinking in terms of flood defences.

(This might mean that in my excitable planning phases – those I mentioned in my last post, that are generally followed by a slither down a muddy bank – I need to think not only about all that’s possible with all this energy and enthusiasm, but also what I’ll do when I run out of that.)

The similarity to Hexagram 54 isn’t altogether coincidental. There are quite a few links between 53 and 54, the marriage hexagrams, and 63-64.

There’s the thematic link: you cross the river on the way to your marriage.

There’s a structural link: Already Across and Not Yet Across are a special kind of hexagram pair, what Schorre and Dunne call a ‘river crossing’ pair, formed both by inversion and complementarity. (That is, turning 63 upside down gives you 64, but so does changing every line of 63 to its opposite.) There are only four such pairs: 11-12 (whose nuclear hexagrams are 54-53), 17-18 (whose nuclear hexagrams are 53-54), 53-54 (whose nuclear hexagrams are 64-63) and 63-64 (whose nuclears are 64-63).

And there’s also a link in the zagua, the tenth and final Wing of the Yijing, which begins with hexagrams neatly arranged in their contrasting pairs, and ends… well… chaotically, with apparently unrelated hexagrams jumbled together in a tangle of rhymes. 63-64 are among these: instead of appearing as a contrasting pair, they show up like this:

‘Nourishment is correct; Already Across is settled.
Marrying maiden, a woman’s completion; Not Yet Across, a man’s exhaustion.’

That ‘completion’ is the same word as ‘endings’ as in ‘endings, chaos’. Also the ‘maiden’ herself is etymologically-speaking a ‘not-yet woman’ – as in ‘not yet across’.

The concepts of these hexagrams are utterly intertwined – rather than trying to disentangle and arrange them tidily, I think it’s better to point (with a certain amount of enthusiastic hand-waving) to connecting themes: completion and incompletion, ways and ways of being settled*, different kinds of strength, male and female (archetypally so rather than biologically, I think), and how they’re adapted to handle (in)completion.

* The 63 way of being ‘settled’, by the way, shows a footstep arrived under a roof – the kind of ‘settled’ you have when you’ve arrived home, perhaps once you’re married and ready for ‘happily ever after’. 27’s ‘correctness’ shows that footstep simply arrived. A fully realised 27-situation would be a self-sustaining, self-balancing ecosystem of mutual support. 63-ness… not quite the same.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could create smooth, logical transitions and evolutions between one part of this post and the next? I suppose that was never really going to happen. Ah well. Other things I find intriguing about hexagram 63…

Its nuclear hexagram

I do love the way 63 and 64 – as well as being one another’s complement and inversion – are also one another’s nuclear hexagram. Each contains the other, in a kind of infinite matryoshka doll regress. At one extreme of the Sequence of Hexagrams are pure absolutes that are their own nuclear hexagrams: the Creative is the Creative and Earth is always Earth, no matter how you slice them. Here at the other end, we have something absolutely human, with the struggle to hang on to gains and stay afloat, slippery muddy banks and of course the fine balance between too much alcohol and just enough. What’s complete is incomplete is complete is incomplete; what’s done is undone is done is undone… . These are hexagrams for housework, or the email inbox, or (heaven help us) ‘life lessons’.

Its smallness

Already Across follows – maybe surprisingly – from Hexagram 62:

‘Going past others naturally means crossing the river, and so Already Across follows.’

That’s ‘going past’ as in ‘exceeding’ in the name of Hexagram 62, which means transgressing, crossing the line, going beyond. If you keep on going a bit beyond what’s normal and doing a bit more than the ‘done thing’ – always just a bit, always small and down-to-earth – you find this amounts to crossing the river: a real commitment and real progress.

The smallness persists, though: being already across creates small success, or shows a small offering accepted. And in the fifth line, the Zhou people (the Eastern neighbour) are making a true spiritual connection through a small scale offering.

This attention to the small stuff is all part of keeping on beginning. The lines are also mostly small-scale: a wet tail, a lost carriage screen, leaks to be plugged. Expect difficulty, don’t get sidetracked, safeguard your gains, stay afloat, stay connected, don’t get carried away. (One of King Wen’s reproaches to Shang in the Song I quoted: it wasn’t heaven that got you drunk.)

The third line, of course, is not small scale –

‘The high ancestor attacks the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and he overcomes it.
Don’t use small people.’

That’s a large scale and long term military undertaking, and not for small people. Yet it’s this line’s change that shows the connection to Hexagram 3, Sprouting – or ‘Difficulty Beginning’. (This 60-hexagram gulf, by the way, is the largest distance bridged by a single line-change anywhere in the Yi.)

It’s a very apt zhi gua (anyone would think someone designed this…): the moment where Already Across encounters Difficulty Beginning. That’s the anxious line 3 moment: peering out across the threshold, asking ‘What could this actually mean in practice?’ 63 might say ‘We’ve arrived!’ but 3 knows it’s only beginning. 63 might have conquered a great realm and founded a grand new regime, but 3 experiences this as just a tiny garrison camp in the middle of strange territory.

Hexagram 63, Already Across (a beginning)

January 6th, 2015

63 seems a good choice of hexagram to write about at the turn of the year, with its theme of endings-and-beginnings.

Hexagrams 63 and 64, of course, stand at the very end of the Yijing, and they deal with themes of completion and arrival – or not. Their very order in the Sequence – Already Across first, then ‘finally’ Not Yet Across – is a giant, Yi-scale joke. Despite all that’s been written about hexagram 63 showing everything complete, everything in its right place, it turns out to be all about how we are not finished and had better keep moving and looking forward.

The name of the hexagram is ji ji, already across. As you can learn at LiSe’s site, the character for ‘already’ shows a man turning away from a food pot, already fed. And ‘across’ has two parts: the river, and a sign for what is neat, together, complete, like a field of grain ready for harvest. Together, the word means ‘cross a river’ and also to help or rescue. (Though I’ve yet to see the ‘rescue’ meaning in a reading – anyone?)

River crossing is a big, important image in the Yijing, of course, with the expression ‘cross the great river’ describing a significant and risky commitment. Crossing rivers in old China was perilous in general, not something you’d undertake if still unsure of your direction. And the image also has two more specific roots: one military, one  marital. The Zhou people had a great river to cross to enter the territory of the Shang regime they were called to overthrow. And as part of marriage rituals, men and women would cross rivers to be with one another. Both of these provide useful ways of thinking about what kind of commitment ‘river crossing’ can represent in readings now – in the ‘cross the great river’ idiom, and in hexagrams 63 and 64.

So when you’ve crossed the river, you’ve made a commitment and come to a new place – and this means you have begun, not that you’ve finished. In readings, it points to something already decided or already present. Unchanging it can say, ‘This is not a real question, because you’ve already taken the decision.’ As primary hexagram, it draws your attention to the commitment you’ve already made: ‘here’s what you have to work with now’. And as relating hexagram, it often seems to be saying, ‘There is no external place where you could stand to look at this: you’re inside the process.’ It’s already running – something like a background process on a computer, or maybe like the operating system.

Because of this strong feeling that 63 is about something ongoing, Stephen Karcher in Total I Ching actually translates the hexagram name as ‘Already Crossing’, and his first keywords for the hexagram are ‘begun, underway, in progress.’ There are two aspects to 63: something irrevocably decided, hence ‘complete’, and something ongoing, definitely not finished.

The oracle of Already Across –

‘Already across, creating small success.
Constancy bears fruit.
Beginnings, good fortune.
Endings, chaos.’

– finds an echo in Song 255:

‘Mighty is God on high,
Ruler of his people below;
Swift and terrible is God on high,
His charge has many statutes.
Heaven gives birth to the multitudes of the people,
But its charge cannot be counted upon.
To begin well is common,
To end well is rare indeed.’

(The words used for ‘beginning’ and ‘ending’ are the same, and ‘charge’ translates ming, mandate.)

After this thundering exposition, the remaining verses of the song recount the warnings of King Wen of the Zhou to the corrupt Shang, telling them to mend their ways. He concludes ominously, ‘A mirror for Yin [ie Shang] is not far off; It is the times of the Lord of Xia.’ The Xia had begun well, and ended badly, ousted by the Shang when they fell into corruption. Now the Shang had gone the same way and would suffer the same fate at the hands of the Zhou.

So the Shang found their mirror in the Xia. Now in Hexagram 63, the Zhou have crossed their river and begun well… could they too have a mirror? A hint might be found in the paired lines 63.3 and 64.4 (one of the most clearly ‘mirrored’ line pairs in the book):

‘The high ancestor attacks the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and he overcomes it.
Don’t use small people.’

‘Constancy, good fortune, regrets vanish.
The Thunderer uses this to attack the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and there are rewards in the great city.’

The high ancestor was a Shang ruler who subdued the Demon Country (Guifang); the Thunderer most probably a Zhou general working for a subsequent Shang leader, who had to subdue them again.

The Zhou have fought bravely, crossed the river, assumed the Mandate of Heaven… now what?

‘Beginnings, good fortune.
Endings, chaos.’

But in practice, this isn’t a doom-laden, ‘It’ll all go pear-shaped in the end’ – it’s better read as an alternative: if you are beginning, good fortune; if you are ending, chaos. The Tuanzhuan (Commentary on the oracle) elaborates:

‘Auspicious at the beginning, softness gains the centre [there’s a broken line in the second place]. Stopping at the end means confusion; this dao is exhausted.’

It’s the stopping that creates the disorder. If you decide to stand still when you’ve scrambled half-way up a muddy river bank (see line 1!), there’s only one outcome. And conversely, there is a sense that moving forward is what creates the path, so that as soon as you stop moving, the path runs out.

So in readings this can say – never lose your momentum. Always be beginning.

However, it can also say – expect mess, because only beginnings can be tidy. (It doesn’t say ‘endings, pitfall’, after all.) The character for ‘beginning’ shows a knife cutting cloth: for me, it’s that lovely moment, usually at the beginning of the year, when I plan things out and can see with perfect clarity the shape I intend to create. I achieve inbox zero, I work efficiently, I have beautiful insights.

And then item 59 on the 132-item checklist turns out to be something I haven’t the foggiest how to do, and items 60 through 70 make like enthusiastic bunnies so it’s really a 337-item checklist, or maybe more, who on earth knows? and I lose heart and grind to a halt and end up covered in river-mud by February. (Looking through my journal, I do mostly get 63 as primary hexagram about work. I’m still learning to be always beginning…  appropriate, I suppose…)

The decision, however epic it feels at the time, is the easy part.

The trigrams provide another way to relate to th

capybara on muddy bank

(Capybara © Nuzza | Depositphotos) 

‘Enliven’ email course

December 15th, 2014

wrapped giftThe blog has gone quiet lately, and is likely to remain quiet until I finish up the ‘Enliven’ email course.

This is an eclectic mix of ideas for bringing your relationship with guidance to life (hence the title!) through keeping a journal. That includes dreams and synchronicities as well as Yi. The idea is to open more completely, engage more fully, understand more deeply, and live a richer, more multi-dimensional life as a result.

OK… this might all be somewhat beyond the scope of an email course, but I can at least offer a range of ideas and practical suggestions to try. So far I’ve written emails about…

  • simplicity
  • how to remember dreams
  • how to incubate dreams and synchronicities (the two go together – synchronicities are really just waking life events acting like dream symbols)
  • suggested templates for recording dreams and Yijing readings
  • tips for getting ‘unstuck’ with Yijing readings

Between now and Christmas I hope to add messages on interpreting dreams, exploring connections between all kinds of entry, turning your journal into the best Yijing book (and ‘dream dictionary’) you could ever own, and the transformative potential of keeping a journal. (Also to write Christmas cards, plan food, find somewhere I can take my brother for an outing, and so on…)

‘Enliven’ was originally intended for people who have just downloaded the Resonance Journal free trial, and so I do talk about its features. However, everything in the course is entirely usable if you prefer to keep your journal some other way (or if you are still waiting hopefully for a Mac version). It is also free, and available here, and I hope you’ll sign up for it. Think of it as a small gift for the season :)

Download the Resonance Journal!

December 1st, 2014

Here it is –


Please download and enjoy – the 30 day trial should give you plenty of time to explore. It includes…

  • my Language of Change Yijing glossary (not yet available anywhere else)
  • quick ways to enter a reading you’ve cast yourself, as well as a ‘three coin’ cast within the software
  • comprehensive search features
  • a simple tagging system that allows you to trace connections between dreams, synchronicities and readings
  • full Yijing translations with commentary from LiSe Heyboer and myself

Have fun with it!

The eventual price for the Resonance Journal will be £30, but we’re starting at an early supporters’ special price of £20 which will be available until the next significant upgrade, probably in March 2015.

After all, this is just the first version – there are plenty of upgrades and improvements planned for next year and beyond. To show gratitude to the people who support this project from its beginning, we’d like to charge you less and offer you lifetime upgrades to the core software for free :) . (Economics dictate that we’ll have to stop offering lifetime free upgrades for future purchasers at some time next year.)


  • you already own Justin’s I Ching Journal software
  • you are a Change Circle member
  • you’re signed up for journal software updates

…then watch your inbox for a discount coupon.


resonating strings

The first 7 reasons to keep a journal

November 30th, 2014

(Note… of course this post is here now because the Resonance Journal is coming tomorrow. Other means of keeping a journal are also available!)

At the beginning of my last Resonance Journal video, I mentioned a couple of (embarrassingly obvious) reasons why it’s good to be able to remember readings. I thought I could enlarge on that a bit for a blog post, with reasons to keep a journal of all the guidance that comes your way, not just the Yijing readings.

Reason 1. you get to learn more about Yi

A record of your experience with hexagrams and lines is simply the best way to learn what they mean to you, personally. As you build up personal associations with a hexagram, you get an inner sense of the shape of the thing that can’t be found in any book.

Having said that… there is a danger here in relying too much on those readings that really stand out in your memory. The readings that stay with you will tend to be the powerfully emotionally resonant ones: that’s just the way the memory works. If you rely just on these for your idea of the hexagram, you’ll probably end up with a biased impression, usually one that’s too extreme.

The first thing I remember about hexagram 23 is how it described (and helped me to process) a bereavement; it takes a journal search to remind me of the times it described a tooth extraction and a change in how I organised my to-do list. This is important, because 23 isn’t about bereavement; it’s about the ‘stripping away’ of whatever is no longer viable. If I can draw on the specifics of a whole variety of readings, I get a better overview and I’m less likely to leap to conclusions.

Reason 2: you can draw on your experience to help other people

This is a frequent questions at the forums: ‘Does anyone else have experience with this line?’ It’s also the whole point of the WikiWing: technology makes it possible now to build a commentary of the community’s shared experience. It’s hugely valuable. Sometimes all the new querent needs is to hear your story of your encounter with the line – the fresh perspective, ‘from the outside looking in’, opens the whole thing up for them.

Reason 3: you learn from experience

Another embarrassingly obvious one. Divination and dreams and awareness of guidance in all its forms makes a difference. Life informed by this kind of awareness is meant to be different from life without it. If I get the message, I can act on it and make changes. Or I can misunderstand ( /wilfully ignore) the message and make mistakes, or understand the message but learn only later that the purpose of these changes is not what I imagined it was… but at all events, I’ll be awake and changing – more like a living thing, less like a cog. But none of this is going to be possible unless I have the reading/ dream/ synchronicity in mind when I need it.

Reason 4: you learn from dreams

A while ago I started reading (/devouring) Robert Moss’s wonderful books on dreams. I couldn’t help noticing that he mentions a lot of very clear, detailed prophetic dreams of his. I found this odd – not to mention aggravating – as I’d never had a single one. But then again, I wasn’t remembering many dreams – so I began to write them down and pay attention. Not long afterwards, we were visiting my mother-in-law when she mentioned she’d lost a ring. We started lifting all the furniture and searching underneath, to no avail. Then I remembered a dream about finding good things in a hidden pocket, reached into the ‘pocket’ down the side of her chair cushion, and found the ring. The dream had taken me straight to it. Aha!

Of course there are whole books, and plenty of them, about what you can learn from dreams. All I know is that I don’t learn much from them if I don’t remember them, and I only remember them if I pay them at least enough attention to write them down.

Reason 5: it’s an opportunity to grow your relationship with Yi

Those powerful personal associations with particular hexagrams and lines that I mentioned under reason #1 – it’s important not to mistake them for ‘what the hexagram is about’, but at the same time… they can become part of what the hexagram is about, for you. Hexagram 2, for me, is not only what it says on the page, it’s also – because of a specific reading – my mother’s ‘superpower’ for lending her strength to a task and getting it done. In some of my readings with Hexagram 2, this is going to be part of the conversation. It’s not a meaning the hexagram will ever hold for anyone else; it only belongs in a private journal.

That journal space is also where I can build up a sense of how Yi develops themes and unfolds messages over time for me: what it means when a primary hexagram becomes relating, or vice versa; how readings shift to point out particular kinds of inner or outer change. These things can feed into readings for others in the end – though only after a whole lot of personal exploration.

Reason 6: it allows everything to speak

Your readings can be about your dreams; the bird you encounter today could be talking to you about a reading. Pay attention to all these things together, and the whole is decidedly more than the sum of its parts. Especially, I find it brings readings to life. There’s no more ‘Oh, I know what that one means’ nonsense. Interactions between dreams and readings and synchronicities keep the conversation alive and the meaning open-ended.

Reason 7: Writing your story does you good

This is true of any kind of journalling, with or without any kind of divination. Journalling is good for mental health and emotional resilience. It’s a place to work things through, to vent without worrying what people will think of you – a safe, judgement-free zone. It’s also a way to develop self-understanding, especially through pattern recognition – which brings us back to Yi, surely the world’s original and best instrument for pattern recognition.

Reason 8: …?

Recurring hexagrams

November 12th, 2014

reload symbolI’d been planning on writing a devastatingly insightful post about some rarefied, recondite connection you can find between readings with the Resonance Journal. Maybe the karmic significance of a repeated nuclear hexagram emerging as primary when you ask a Big Question – something deep and meaningful like that. Only when I actually started looking through my own journal, there was something much simpler calling for my attention: nine readings, on largely unrelated topics, all with the primary hexagram 38. What’s that about?

I think anyone who’s spent a few years with Yi has had this experience: there’s a hexagram, or sometimes a line, that sticks. No matter what you ask about, it keeps coming up. It reaches the point where you cast the first couple of lines of the hexagram and are already saying, ‘Not that one again…’

So what does this mean?

Sometimes, when you take a long look, it becomes clear that the readings with the same answer do all share a theme, even though they’re about parts of life that belong in quite different ‘boxes’.

An example from a few years ago: readings about both work and volunteering came up repeatedly with Hexagram 12. It was obvious the two situations had nothing in common: six days a week spent at home toiling over a computer keyboard; one day spent at a day centre for the elderly, mostly stacking/unstacking the dishwasher and making the tea. The 12-ness of the voluntary role was evident: I wasn’t happy with the situation (rules took precedence over people at every turn), but there was nothing I could do about it. But it wasn’t until I developed some insight into that situation in the light of the reading that I started to see the similarities with how I was running my own work. (As I said, that was some years ago – I made changes!)

So the ‘not this again’ reading can be a gift. ‘Look!’ it says, ‘See how this situation in your life is an image for that one?’ And if – as with my little volunteering role – one situation is relatively simple and clear, then it almost becomes like a ‘reading’ itself, a parable offering you a way to understand a larger story.

But there are also times when the readings don’t share a theme. My nine 38-readings? Two about the Flow of Change project, clearly related; three about purchase decisions, one about a productivity system, and one sort-of connected to that, I suppose, about asking someone to become an accountability partner. And two readings cast as examples with no question in mind when trying to reproduce a bug in the journal software so I could describe it accurately for Justin to fix.

Not only are most of these not remotely important questions, some of them were barely questions at all – the software-testing readings, and one or two ‘What if…?’ questions about things I didn’t really intend to do (like buying a more expensive phone). This recurring hexagram seems to be about something other than the things I was asking about.

It’s not unlike the experience of seeing the same number everywhere – every time you look at the clock it’s 11 minutes past, your car mileage ends in 1111, your reservation is for seat 11… that kind of thing. I always think those just mean ‘Hello.’ They’re reminders that synchronicity happens, the cosmos resonates, your world is ready to talk with you – here it is, where are you? Could recurring readings mean much the same – a simple ‘Hello’?

Perhaps. But then again, this is Yi; it has a wider vocabulary.

Here’s what I’ve found. When I start looking at these not-very-important, not-very-related readings, searching for a connection, it takes me out beyond my original questions. Those questions were answered: I had good advice when I needed it about keeping this somewhat dodgy old computer (not a robber, a marital ally!), about changing how I looked at my work, and so on. Answering questions is something Yi does. Only it also goes beyond the questions and invites me (if I’m even half-awake) to follow along.

It’s not that I’m about to see some life-changing connection between software debugging and to-do lists. But I have spent some time mulling over ‘outsider’ status, the perspectives it opens up, the emotional triggers it activates and so on. Just the act of reviewing the readings together gets me to pay attention to something outside the ‘boxes’ of the original questions.

Yi described this process with Hexagram 13 – experiencing harmony out in the wilds, beyond the walls that circumscribe my routine daily concerns. Life-as-to-do-list turns into a series of minor battles: fix the bug on that web page, solve this customer’s Paypal problems, catch up with those emails, move onto the next thing. And Yi – even if I rarely ask about more than the next thingtodo – says, OK, put the weapons away for a moment, come up this hill and take a look around…

The distance of line 6

October 18th, 2014


Image © Freeteo
Image © Freeteo

I’ve taken to thinking just about the position of a changing line, as a starting point for looking at its imagery and connections – and it’s surprising how often this provides the key to a reading.

Line 6, for instance. We’ve passed line 5 – the culmination, the place of the ruler, the adult in her or his prime, autonomous and choosing. What can come next?

Well… retirement comes next. Line 6 is often said to be ‘outside’ the situation – like grandpa sitting in the corner, or the sage on the mountaintop, while life moves past them. You can compare line 1, the small child’s line, and how children are outside and unaware of most adult concerns. Grandpa sits in one corner and the children play in another: he understands what’s going on in a way the children don’t, but they’re equally uninvolved.

Except that, of course, the real world is not remotely like that. I think line 6 is better described as having an overview or being at a distance. Incidentally, the retired people I know tend to be utterly involved, with a degree of unreserved commitment inaccessible to those who are busy making a living.

‘No business with kings and lords,
Honouring what is highest is your business.’

Line 6 as the line of distance? This is not the single principle that’s going to make all line 6s clear – we wouldn’t need 64 of them if it were – but I’m finding it does help.

The thing is, ‘distance’ can work out in many different ways. It can mean someone with an overview, who’s therefore more in touch with the whole reality of the hexagram-situation. Or it can mean being detached and ungrounded.

Hexagram 60, for example. This one needs human involvement, because human experience (whether the measures taste bitter or sweet) is the only way of getting to something that works. Line 6 tries to persist in ‘bitter measures’, which I’ve known to be a kind of abstract moral principle, unconnected to any human reality. 21.6 is a bit like that, too – putting on the cangue, blocking your ears, shutting out the real world. (Sometimes because – zhi 51 – it’s just too much.)

Or take 8.6 –

‘Seeking union without a head.

How can you seek union if you’re not personally involved, with your own feelings and natural affinities to guide you?

Or 55.6 –

‘At Feng, in his hut,
Screening off his home,
Peeping through his door.
In solitude, without people,
For three years sees no-one.

I think of this one as the imaginary scenario: what if Wu, instead of taking up the mandate, had stayed in his hut to do the strictly-correct thing and observe the full ritual period of mourning? 55 calls for the king to be at the centre taking the decisions, but what if he distanced himself and shut the door?

That’s an interesting one, because Wu would have been distancing himself from the needs of the time, while at the same time indulging his own emotions. That’s another way line 6’s distance can go wrong. In human terms it looks like almost the opposite problem – overweening principle out of touch with humanity, or all-too-human emotional intensity out of touch with reality. But the basic dynamic is the same – it’s still an issue of distance from reality.

This problem starts at 1.6:

‘Overweening dragon has regrets.’

Harmen Mesker had an interesting article about this a few years ago, describing it as the ‘Chinese Icarus’ - not arrogant, simply flying too high:

“If you do not know your limits, or do not accept them, you will have unavoidable misfortune. Not from arrogance, but from recklessness. It’s often the kind people, and not the arrogant people, who have to learn their lessons like this.”

There are several other line 6s whose emotional commitment seems to go too far – away from any place you could be effective. Like immersing yourself too completely in 57, 63 or 64 – utterly absorbed in researching or imagining. Or the pure animal drive of 34.6, the charging ram – certainly not interested in understanding the whole picture, only in getting to the other side of the hedge. (Though sometimes that pure unthinking drive to get through or take control is what the situation calls for, at least for now – think of 35.6 or 44.6.)

The most powerful example of a line 6 where desires go beyond effectiveness would be in hexagram 24:

‘Confused return, pitfall. There is calamity and blunder.
Using this to mobilise the armies: in the end there is great defeat.
For your state’s leader, disaster.
For ten years, incapable of marching out.’

The time for recapturing and returning has passed; this is an immovable truth. Not to accept this means unmitigated disaster.

Other examples – 56.6 (desires out of control becoming self-destructive), and even 42.6:

‘Absolutely no increase in this,
Maybe someone strikes this one.
The heart’s foundation is not lasting,

That’s frequently interpreted as simple selfishness, but I don’t think that’s necessarily right, just as 1.6 isn’t necessarily arrogant in the sense of being self-absorbed. At the extreme of 42, this one doesn’t want ‘more for me!’ – just ‘more!’ – growth, increase and flourishing. But without a grounding in human relationships, there can be neither receiving nor giving.

That’s quite a catalogue of disastrous ways to be distanced from reality, or completely divorced from it. But sometimes line 6’s distance translates instead into overview – a complete understanding that makes action particularly effective. Think of 15 –

‘The call of integrity.
Fruitful to use this to mobilise the army,
And bring order to city and state.’

– we can be sure that someone with Integrity will be fully in touch with the whole reality. With Clarity, too –

‘The king uses this to march out,
There are honours.
He executes the chief – the captives are not so ugly.
Not a mistake.’

The king ‘uses this': he can engage the full power of this particular moment, grasp the whole picture, prioritise. The prince of 40.6 (another one ‘using’ the moment) is similar.

On another level altogether, though, it’s worth noticing that 24.6 is not just about the extreme, disastrous divorce of human ambition from the real nature of the time. The one who speaks the line is looking far into the future – great defeat ‘in the end’, ‘for ten years, incapable of marching out’ – and so this line is also about long term perspective.

Line 6 often is. Think of 12.6 or 36.6 – or 6.6, or 38.6, or 56.6… – how they tell you about before and after. First it’s like this, then it’s like that. There’s the immediate human emotion (‘I got the leather belt!’ ‘That looks suspicious, bows at the ready!’), and then there’s also knowledge of how this pans out. Or there are line 6s for pausing and taking stock, as in 9, 49 or 51. And look how nuanced the comment is for the horn-charge of 35.6:

‘Advancing with your horns.
Holding fast, use this to subjugate the city.
Danger, good fortune, not a mistake.
Constancy: shame.’

This will be dangerous, but it’s a lucky course of action applied for this specific purpose, it’s not wrong, unless you make it a guiding principle, and then it’s shameful. The line takes a step or two back from the immediate objective, the excitement of charging and winning, and observes that the moral of the story is not what you might think in the heat of the moment.

That shift of perspective is one of the most striking and baffling things about line 6s. These two, for instance:

‘Exceeding in wading the river, head underwater.
No mistake.’

‘Bitter measures: constancy, pitfall.
Regrets vanish.’

I’ve written about 28.6 (and the Lorelei) before. Someone goes under the waves; someone attempts the impossible, constancy to the bitter measures that do not allow constancy. Of course this means absolute misfortune for them. ‘No mistake’, ‘regrets vanish’ – these come from some other perspective, out at a distance from the experience. Maybe if line 5 is the ruler, line 6 could be the story-teller.