Monday, 19 March 2012

Too Much Stuff

Photograph by Rosa Yoskovsky

Hexagram 28, DA GUO, is composed of Lake over Wind. Wind can also represent Wood, and in this case it does: the image is of a Lake rising over the trees.

Da, of course, means “big” or “great”. Guo means extreme, excessive, something that surpasses what is normal.  It indicates a transgression; something that goes beyond the limits of what is acceptable or sustainable.

So Da Guo is a serious transgression; it can also indicate a natural disaster.

The Gua Ci is pretty clear:
The ridgepole (i.e. the pole holding up the roof) bends
Worthwhile to have somewhere to go

In other words, the roof is about to fall on you. As Bradford says in the Rogue Commentary, there's just time to collect a few wits and get nimbly moving... and it's good to have somewhere to go.

But the prognostication is not negative. Fulfillment can come of this, if we meet the situation with an appropriate response.

The form of the hexagram itself describes the situation: one yin line at the top, another at the bottom, enclosing a solid mass of yang, and unable to contain it. It's a situation of great power, but it's unstable. You are not impotent, but things have reached breaking point. The implication is that if it goes on like this, nothing can save it, and you may just need to get out from under it.

Discussing this hexagram in the East Grinstead study group last week, the parallels with the planetary situation are striking. As Paul Gilding put it in a recent TED talk,

The Earth is full. It's full of us, it's full of our stuff, full of our waste, full of our demands. Yes, we are a brilliant and creative species, but we've created a little too much stuff. So much that our economy is now bigger than its host, our planet.... We're living beyond our means... We need about 1.5 Earths to sustain this economy. In other words, to keep operating at our current level, we need 50% more Earth than we've got. In financial terms, this would be like always spending 50% more than you earn, going further into debt every year....What this means is our economy is unsustainable. I'm not saying it's not nice or pleasant, or that it's bad for polar bears or forests, though it certainly is; what I'm saying is our approach is simply unsustainable. In other words, thanks to those pesky laws of physics, when things aren't sustainable, they stop.

In other words... the ridgepole is bending, and creaking dangerously. The trouble is, we have nowhere else to go, no other planet but this beautiful blue jewel. We simply can't jump ship. We can only go forward into our future right here, and we're all in it together.

How did it come to this? When we discussed it last week, one of the topics we returned to again and again was our addictions to that “stuff”, to the nice and pleasant lives we lead, or hope to lead. How much were we – each of us right there in that room – willing to leave behind as we make that jump into the future? What of our possessions, our comforts, our habits of passivity, distraction and denial, our souvenirs of an imaginary golden age, can we surrender before they are taken from us by force of history?

The words of the Da Xiang may take on new meaning here:
The noble young one, accordingly, 
                     stands alone and undaunted
And steps back from the world without sorrow

While Da Guo usually has the connotation of a transgression, it can also indicate someone who excels: a kind of superhero. And Hexagram 28 can actually be very positive, indicating great power – times of disaster often bring out the best in people, who find that they are able to go beyond their ordinary conception of themselves and find reserves of strength they didn’t know they had. Maybe one aspect of what is called for here is a stepping back from the demands we have put on the natural world: demands arising from an image of the good life created by those who have something to sell. We might, for example, create and participate in real and sustainable communities that can build "somewhere to go".

In his TED talk, Gilding goes on:
Of course we can't know what's going to happen. We have to live with uncertainty. But when we think about the kinds of possibilities I paint, we should feel a bit of fear. We are in danger, all of us. And we've evolved to respond to danger with fear, to motivate a powerful response, to help us bravely face a threat. But this time it's not a tiger at the cave mouth, you can't see the danger at your door, but if you look, you can see it at the door of your civilisation. That's why we need to feel our response now, while the lights are still on, because if we wait until the crisis takes hold, we may panic and hide. If we feel it now and think it through, we will realise we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Yes, things will get ugly, and it will happen soon, certainly within our lifetime, but we are more than capable of getting through everything that's coming. You see, those people that have faith that humans can solve any problem, that technology is limitless, that markets can be a force for good, are in fact right. The only thing they're missing is that it takes a good crisis to get us going. When we feel fear, and we fear loss, we are capable of quite extraordinary things. … We are smart, in fact we really are quite amazing, but we do love a good crisis. And the good news: this one's a monster.

Paul Gilding's TED talk “The Earth is Full” can be viewed at


Mary Oak said...

"collect a few wits and get nimbly moving..." amen!

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