Fire On The Mountain

Reflections on my previous week and what I have learned from the I Ching’s 56th hexagram have helped me realise I’m just a Wanderer, a Dharma Bum, an existential vagrant through a world full unsettled settlers.

Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

My personal exploration of the 56th hexagram LǙ has been profound. Throughout the process of working with the I Ching, I have always sought to understand the meaning of the hexagrams and the individual lines through the filter of whatever I am experiencing on the day. In some instances there hasn’t necessarily been anything emerge in my field that made sense; at other times it was like this ancient, living book was speaking to me directly. This week has been as the latter.

Hexagram 56, LǙ, the Wanderer (original image)

I have gone through my life as a Wanderer, and continue to do so. Coming to this realisation has been deeply healing. I’ve felt useless and like there is something wrong with me because I’ve never really settled down, as was expected of me through my family, and wider social culture. I’ve never felt that where I am is where I truly belong, and yet I feel I truly belong everywhere (potentially).

Even though I am happy to be a homebody, I always feel like I am travelling through experiences, friendships, careers, ideas, etc. I think this is why the 道 Dào has always been appealing as a concept, or as an over-arching epistemology. 

The conflicts that I’ve had with myself is the incongruency between being a ‘free-spirit’, and yet at the same time believing that I need to ‘settle down’. All my life I’ve been hearing the criticism (from family, etc) that I never finish anything — and yet ironically, I complete anything which holds value for me: I have two degrees and myriad of post-graduate qualifications. Their point (I think) is that I don’t stick with ‘that thing’ for the rest of my life.

What is interesting is that from my perspective, there is a very clear and logical progression with everything I have done as an adult. From my perspective, I have been consistent and maintaining the same trajectory since I left from school. All my choices have been inspired and centred around that which I can now call “the 道 Dào”.

There are moments when I crave the stability and certainty that comes with a ‘sedentary’ mindset; and yet my actions are nomadic. I want what I see as the benefits of that lifestyle/mindset, but not the unpleasantness that comes with it. To be fair, I’ve tried living a “muggle life”, but it’s like giving a carnivore a garden salad and telling them to pretend it’s a juicy lamb roast — it’s just not going to sate their hunger! 

Clearly there are times when it is appropriate to be solid and still — that is certainly an understanding my work with the I Ching has taught me. There is also no denying that I am in my ease and bliss when I am ‘rambling’ through life. There is a freedom that comes from that, so finding the balance between the yīn and the yáng is the key to this.

Photo by Iqx Azmi on Unsplash

The money trap

What I’ve found curious throughout my contemplations is what happens when I drag myself out of my ease with ‘wandering’. I’ve come to realise I fall into a ‘money trap’: I’m concerned (actually afraid) that I won’t “have enough” and need to settle down. If I was to be scientific about this and look at the evidence, the contrary is true. I always have what I need, because everything I need are the internal resources I possess; this is what the text of the 2nd yīn line means when it reads:

懷其資 huái qí zī.
He cherishes his resources.

Hexagram 56, LǙ, the Wanderer (my translation)

With the problems that were happening in my work environment, I realised the tension I was experiencing was how I was choosing ‘money’ (the security of income) over my own health and well-being, and my ‘wandering spirit’. Once I realised that this particular job was just a stopover — 旅即次 lǚ jí cì, “the Wanderer approaches the stopover on the journey” (also from the 2nd yīn line) — on my journey, the choice was easy to make. The reality is I have plenty of opportunities for work and earning an income — there is literally no shortage of work for me. 

This happens to many people. Ask them what they really want in their lives, and they’ll tell you the most amazing visions and dreams. When you ask them why they aren’t pursuing them, they’ll give you lots of excuses, usually gravitating around money and/or self-worth; the two go hand in hand, after all.

When I released my attachment to the trappings of the sedentary mindset, it leaves me with the flexibility to walk through life with more ease. It’s far better that I live my life and conduct myself in it according to my values and virtues, not a perceived (conditioned) belief that I need to behave in a certain way — settle down, have a stable career, etc.

So just like the image of the hexagram LǙ, I will seek to be still and centred internally like the mountain, with the awareness and expansion into the outer world like the fire; because this is what the hexagram is teaching those who encounter it.

The fire on the mountain will burn and spread so long as there is fuel; in order to keep burning, it needs to keep moving. After 40-something years, I think I have finally come to peace with this idea, and will afford myself the grace of moving to where-ever the fuel is and lighting the way.

Almost ablaze still you don't feel the heat
It takes all you got just to stay on the beat
You say it's a living, we all gotta eat
But you're here alone, there's no one to compete
If mercy's a business, I wish it for you
More than just ashes when your dreams come true
— Grateful Dead

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