Tuesday, 17 July 2007


Kenh Ga, Viet Nam
(Photograph by Rosa Yoskovsky)

A friend of mine recently had a dream about having to hurriedly get out of the house in which he and some friends were living, because there was going to be a missile strike on it. He was frantically looking around, trying to decide in two minutes what he should take with him as he rushed out. The punch line, though, is that they had organized the missile strike themselves.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to leave stuff behind; sometimes you just get bored with it and relax your grip. I’ve let go of some emotional patterns that way: it got so tedious, I couldn’t bear to go over the same territory one more time.

You can get to a point where not having stuff feels better than having it. On a material level, I downsized twice in the last three years and can recommend it.

Travelling helps you let go. First of all, you’re in a different environment, your habit patterns aren’t being reinforced by your surroundings, and you’re getting fresh input and having to be creative about how you meet new experiences. Secondly, you discover that travelling light is easier than hauling a lot of baggage around.

This is all described in Hexagram 41, which is, appropriately enough, called Decrease.

The character SUN shows a hand pouring something out of a ritual vessel; the meaning is to pour out, to decrease or diminish. It can refer to any lessening, subtraction, decline, loss, or ruin – but also suggests a libation to the earth: sacrifice in its original sense, as an offering to invoke the sacred.

The Decision is unequivocally positive. It reads:

Have confidence. Most auspicious. No inauspicious omens.
Do the divination. Favourable to have a place to go to.
How to proceed with an offering?
Two baskets of rice can be offered and presented for the sacrifice.

Two baskets of rice is not a big sacrifice, but it’s OK to give what you have; it’s not the quantity that counts, but the truthfulness and sincerity with which they are offered.

Loss generally carries a connotation of injury, but it’s not necessarily negative to decrease. The key is what you are losing. This hexagram can indicate catastrophe, but it’s potentially a new beginning. Even if something is damaged, you yourself can grow and develop, like a tree that has been pruned so it can bear more fruit. The implication here is that you are not losing what you need, but shedding what is superfluous, and creating a space to move forward. It may be a painful process, but it’s about reducing the load you are carrying, and travelling light.

Both Taoist and Confucian commentaries speak of diminishing anger and desire – what we refer to colloquially as ‘baggage’. (Which reminds me of a dear friend, who says she’s looking for a man with ‘carry-on baggage’.)

As Lao Tse says:

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
(Tao Te Ching, transl. Feng and English)

Hexagram41 is actually very zen – not only in the sense of creating empty space – but more so because it is formed of Stillness (the attribute of Mountain) and Joy (the attribute of the Marsh).

I wonder what kind of missile my Higher Self might be organizing to motivate my next downsize?

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