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.
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.
‘Bitter measures: constancy, pitfall.
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.