Putting Our Purpose On Hold

The September Equinox has brought me into a space of understanding that it’s OK to not achieve our wildest dreams and our life’s purpose. According to the I Ching, there may sometimes be larger stakes at play when we subordinate ourselves to something else instead.

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

I’m nearing the end of my 64 week journey translating and contemplating the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes. And I’m starting to now get a clearer picture of what this exercise is doing to my sense of Self.

There are four hexagrams in the Lower Canon (the second half of the book) that concern themselves with marriage. Each one uses marriage and courting as a metaphor to explain certain things in human society that are a reflection of something that happens in the larger, cosmic scale.

Purpose I Ching

XIÁN: Mutual Influence 

This hexagram describes how a man and a woman become attracted to each other and interact with each other in such a way that mutually influences and benefits them.

Purpose I Ching

HÉNG: Constancy

This hexagram describes how the courting relationship described in XIÁN transforms into something lasting, and how a mutually beneficial relationship needs to be flexible and constantly change in order to be enduring.

Purpose I Ching

JIÀN: Developing Gradually

This hexagram describes how the act of getting married involves a slow, step-by-step process that needs to happen in the correct sequence, and with the correct timing.

Purpose I Ching

GUĪ MÈI: The Concubine

This hexagram describes what happens when marriage happens for reasons other than genuine love and affection, and done for expedient, political reasons.

In each of these hexagrams, marriage is simply a metaphor for how the universal polarities — Heaven (yáng) and Earth (yīn) interact with each other to produce fluctuating, phenomenological realities.

Structurally, each pair of hexagrams are the inverse of the other, and incorporate the four ‘temporal gua’ ☳ Zhèn, Duì, Xùn, and ☶ Gèn. Together, these four hexagrams explain how two things can inter-relate with each other, and the processes of their coming together, maintaining the bond, and changing.

Facing truths

It is the fourth of this set that I was contemplating throughout this past week. I found it difficult to understand much of the text, only because the metaphor of ‘maidens’ marrying into existing marriages as ‘junior wives’ (concubines) is so foreign to my modern, Western sensibilities.

The essence of the teaching however is still relevant: don’t get involved in something because you feel you need it or feel pressured to, in order to achieve what you want to achieve in life.

One of the things I took from sitting with this hexagram was that sometimes things just don’t go the way we want or planned. In these instances we may need to be humble enough to go with what the situation presents itself as, and trust that eventually we will find ourselves reaching the destination we were originally headed in. Even if we don’t, we realise that where we are heading is somehow going to bring us what we need, whether we wanted it or not.

You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You'll find you get what you need.
— The Rolling Stones


In light of my meditations on what this coming Equinox is opening up for me, I feel GUĪ MÈI: The Concubine is challenging me to accept my current situation as it is, be humble and patient, and make commitments that I am able to maintain with grace and dignity.

In the past I have found it easier to make connections, alliances, and friendships out of some expedient need to belong and feel wanted. I was like the young maiden who chose didn’t believe she was worthy of finding the husband who would cherish her and create a life and family with her, choosing instead to subordinate herself to another and be used to satisfy another’s desires. I have always simply ‘made do’, because at the time it was (seemingly) the only realistic options for me.

When I reflect back on all of this, I do feel the timing was never quite right, so my choices at the time were appropriate — I could have handled them a lot better however! I allowed my “subordinate position” to define who I was to myself and to others. By continuing being in this position, I created a pattern of behaviour that meant that I only found myself in situations where I had to make these choices.

What I didn’t realise was that by ‘making do’, I wasn’t actually demeaning myself, and that my innate nobility was within me, even if it never showed outwardly. Humility is a noble act, and not many people seem capable or willing to behave like this nowadays. 

Becoming subordinate

Someone asked me recently how it is that I could give up the “freelance, entrepreneurial, self-made life” in exchange for becoming an ‘employee’. I explained that paradoxically, I now had more time, more money, more security, and more opportunities to pursue my creative passions. I couldn’t explain why, but that is the reality of the circumstances I now find myself in.

There is a humility with being subordinate to others that has freed up a lot of energy and attention for me. There is an inherent patience to it that comes with the predictability of my situation — I can literally afford to wait!

If anything, the hexagram GUĪ MÈI: The Concubine has taught me that it is OK for my independent Self to subordinate himself to the will of ‘the Other’ — which is another theme of the Sun/Chiron Opposition that happens at the time of the Equinox this September. My ego baulks at this idea, and yet this is the deep wound that I need to heal, and which ironically keeps me separated from connections that are deep, meaningful, and sustainable.

I am looking forward to seeing how this process plays out over time. For now, it is using this clarity to explore, discover, and understand my present moment, and choose what and how I will commit to this new stage in my life.

What do you think? How do you feel about being happy with where you are, even if it’s not where you want to be?

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