* The 53rd hexagram of the I Ching is sometimes called “Gradual Development,” and it depicts a tree growing slowly on the side of a mountain.
* For a tree to grow into its full flower on the side of a mountain, it has to learn how to grow with an awareness of its roots and its precarious “hold,” in every moment.
* The 53rd hexagram also depicts the proper path of courtship. For love to grow it has to move steadily, through appropriate stages, keeping love and affection, custom and respect alive and well at each stage.
* Right now Saturn and Uranus are trine to one another and Mars and Saturn are opposed, which provides us with a picture of a revolutionary moment, a time of great enthusiasm and transformation, but also tremendous work, focus, sobriety, weightiness, and sticktoitiveness.
* We are like the tree right now, progressing amidst the hard and challenging conditions of the mountain. However hard it might be, the mountain is also an image frequently referred to throughout the I Ching in relationship to non-action, meditation, and stillness. So here we may also choose see the image of something flourishing in the midst of this slowness and non-action.
* The 3rd line of the 53rd hexagram depicts a Swan reaching a high plateau (a place of danger for swans who do better in the air or near water). At this place the Swan finds an inappropriate mate (someone it doesn’t match well with). Then he goes off to forage, and doesn’t return. Meanwhile, his wife is pregnant but loses the baby. Then there is a final instruction, “it is wise to fend off invaders.”
* The 3rd line is ominous, but it speaks to a very simple truth. Along the path of developing gradually, we often settle at having arrived at something well before we’ve actually arrived. We cut off our own growth and follow the temptation of a relationship, a job, or some other station in life that looks the part but will actually bankrupt and leave us short of real goals, goals that have been growing steadily from the roots up, through difficult conditions for a good period of time prior to our “plateauing.”
* The teaching of this line, saying, “It’s wise to fend off invaders,” has to do with recognizing the temptation of the plateau, spiritually, and doubling down in these moments in order to fight off the temptation of a spiritual plateau situation. Interestingly, the I Ching doesn’t condemn temporary plateaus, and many commentators on this line have suggested that the situations and relationships we find at certain plateau moments can become allies for us if we recognize the plateau for what it is and use the plateau as a moment for doubling down.
* For example, let’s say that you’re trying to lose weight. You are gradually making progress, day by day, week by week, but then your progress slows down and you recognize that you’ve settled into a pattern that while healthy, while reflecting a lot of what you’ve already accomplished, if maintained would eventually cause you to backslide and experience the same old result. So the 3rd line tells us to pay attention and notice when we are in a plateau season of our life. It tells us to recognize the way in which the plateau has been a helpful place of rest and defense, but it also admonishes us to fight off the invaders and keep going…at some point the recuperation, rest, and familiarity of the plateau becomes an enemy we have to fight off in order to keep slowly but surely progressing. So back to the weight loss example, let’s say a particular daily pattern of eating has gotten you to lose the first 5lbs, but then you plateau. In this situation we would recognize that the pattern that’s gotten us the first 5lbs has been helpful, it’s been an ally, but now it’s time to let it go before it becomes an enemy. Now we are effectively moving more deeply into the core of our intention and driving out the temptation to get stuck (which will eventually lead to the loss of what we’ve gained…here come those 5lbs right back onto my hips!).
* This morning when I cast the I Ching for the Mars/Saturn dynamic, with Uranus/Saturn in mind, the 53rd hexagram changed into hexagram 29, called “Dangerously Deep.”
* The deeper we get into the plateau situation above, the more the nature of the pattern we are struggling to overcome will be revealed to us. This can be a good thing, because we will inevitably learn just how deep the temptations of our most destructive patterns are. However, dangerously deep is also a teaching about flowing like deep water through a deep canyon. When faced with these trials and challenges on the path of very slowly and gradually building something, we have to learn how to flow through danger and difficulty with ease. We have to learn how to flow through temptations and distracting desires with trust. These passages are just as natural as deep and dark waters flowing through deep and dark crags and cracks. They are part of the picture of what lies deep within and below the mountain, where the tree grows gradually.
* Hexagram 29 is the shamanic training hexagram. The tree is not just growing to flower or blossom, it is also cultivating within its roots, bark, sap, leaves or flowers a powerful medicine, and that medicine is made in the times where we have to learn how to flow through deep and dark spaces, times where we are tempted to stagnate, stop and rest for too long in a familiar place, or call it “good,” before we’ve allowed all that we are to come forth.
This Mars/Saturn dynamic promises a time of fruitful productivity, but beware the temptation to get mired down or stuck. This is a revolution that can’t occur without sacrifice.
Prayer: Teach us the joy of quietly redoubling our efforts. Teach us the peaceful passage of dark water through deep, dark places.