Tuesday, 26 January 2010


Photograph by Rosa Yoskovsky

In the Study Group last week, we looked at Hexagram 8, Bi, Union or Belonging. It is composed of Water over Earth – five yin lines and just one yang line, but where it counts the most: in the position of the Emperor, or the Heart. The Heart, in the Chinese model of the human person, is the residence of the shen.

The shen are the “messengers of Heaven, the principle of life, that which transforms an assemblage of matter into a living being” (Larre and Rochat 1992). They are spirits, but not 'individual' spirits; they are indestructible and immutable; they transcend yin and yang. The shen are what make you a conscious being. They order and organize our lives and our destinies, but not through any mechanical or deliberate action. Rather, they 'radiate virtue', which 'diffuses of its own accord', exerting their influence like a magnetic field or a temple bell, through resonance.

Whereas Hexagram 7, The Militia, is about getting people together for a purpose, Hexagram 8 describes an association not based on a task, but on mutual affinity: a resonance, or least a common interest. When the militia is retired, and things get back to normal, there is still something that holds people together. What is that? Who and what do we resonate with? Who and what do we choose to resonate with?

Last night I watched one of my favourite films, Neve Campbell's “The Company”, directed by Robert Altman. The film is about the Joffrey Ballet Company; it bears witness to the sacrifices made by dancers: their talents, their creativity, literally their blood, sweat and tears are channeled into the company. And why? They do it so they can dance: so they can realize and manifest their own personal nature, their own extraordinary gifts. They sacrifice some degree of individuality in order to become part of something which allows them to be who they truly are.

This paradox, this seeming contradiction, is only possible when there is such resonance. At its root, the word sacrifice means 'to make sacred'. It is an extraordinary gift to find relationships, communities, places and circumstances, that are so aligned with our own character, that by sacrificing our smallness we find our greater, our deeper and truer, selves.

In the film, the director of the company speaks to the dancers in rehearsal: “Why do you do always do this, babies? You always get phony on me. I don't know why you do that.... It's not the steps, babies. It's what's inside that really counts. That's when you really begin to soar. You see, thinking the movement is not becoming the movement.”

Thinking like others is not becoming like them. Commonality of belief does not a community make – ask anyone who has ever tried to create an 'intentional community' based on a belief system or credo.

The Rogue River Commentary on the Text reads in part:

Belonging is drawn by attraction; it’s not a thing to be pushed. Holding the people together is not a thing that you think, plan, then jump up and do. It is something you make yourself ready for, or worthy of, or appropriate to. The spontaneous ones arrive first, feeling their way in, finding their place, the preliminaries done in accord with their natures, not in accordance with judgement and logic...

Sometimes we feel such a need to be part of something that we make compromises. If 'sacrifice' means 'to make sacred', 'compromise' means 'a settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions'; it also means 'to impair by disease or injury'.

This is word-play, but there is a real difference between sacrificing something relatively insignificant (like fame or fortune or a belief system), and compromising your life and destiny.

In my own life, the moves I had to negotiate with myself usually led to something small. The big moves toward fulfilment came as a spontaneous knowing. My decision to study Chinese medicine came out of the blue, or out of my Heart; the same was true of teaching, and emigrating to the UK, and getting married. Sometimes we outgrow a particular form of expression, but growth is always in the direction of a truer expression of an unchanging essence. Like a figure taking shape under the hands of a sculptor, or a photographic image appearing in a developing bath, we emerge, even to ourselves, coming to recognize our own character: in the words of James Hillman,

that specific composition of traits, foibles, delights, and commitments, that identifiable figure bearing our name, our history, and a face that mirrors a “me”.

It's a piece of wisdom to be able to distinguish between the influences that shape us in our own image, and those that compromise us.


Feng Shui Corner said...

Hexagram 8 bǐ also has the meaning of to compare / to contrast.

Hilary said...

I do like your description of 8 as the hexagram for shen.

About hexagrams 7 and 8 as a contrasting pair... I think your story of the dancers is about both sides of this particular coin. They must do the work to reach the goal; there must be blood, sweat and tears and the hexagram-7-ish obsessive focus. Then they can dance together in natural affinity.

Maybe the photo you chose shows both, too. The cat naturally makes a good choice of a place to sleep - but aren't those the feet of a warrior-guardian, making it safe?