I CHING’s HOUSE OF THE ABYSSMAL: WATER
© 2015-8 Lili White
Speech and writing are imperfect transmitters of thought, but by means of images— we would say “ideas’— and the stimuli continued in them, force is set in motion whose action transcends the limits of time…”
— Richard Wilhelm translated by Cary Baynes, from The I Ching: the Great Treatise
The I Ching, aka, the Chinese BOOK OF CHANGES, is a “reflection of the universe in miniature.” Attention is placed not on things in their state of being, but upon their movements in change. I interpret the hexagrams from this classic text oracle using gestural performances set in Nature, and New York. This cinema is an image-based “language”, begun in my performances, transformed with digital techniques. The film form suggests a bodily connection to a dream logic.
Its 64 hexagrams describe typical but different states of energy found in life; allowing one to connect with such energy thru philosophy and inquiry. Each hexagram has 2 trigrams, named after 8 elements of nature to describe particular qualities (wind is “gentle”). The I CHING has 8 HOUSES, each based on one of these forces.
Each HOUSE begins to change from the bottom up, forming 8 different hexagrams. First the bottom-line changes, to form a different hexagram, that is the second change in the HOUSE (here #60 Limitiation). In the 3rd change, the 2nd line has changed (#3 Sprout), and this is how it proceeds into transformation.
THE HOUSE OF WATER, the house of the “abysmal” begins with the double of a trigram for water”, #29 or “water over water”. Its first pictogram is of an abyss, a pit, or a ravine. The element of water never loses its essential nature, it flows on and on and remains true to itself. It centers on the heart that can penetrate the meaning of all situations.
#29 is “the principle of light is enclosed in the dark” — “reason” combating obsession or emotion. You are vulnerable, but the danger needs to be faced — it teaches one to be adaptable and not aggressive.
The second change, #60 LIMITATION, presents a concept of measurement. The new bottom trigram is Lake, a place where water is contained.
The third change in THE HOUSE of WATER, is #3 SPROUT. I refer to Global Climate issues, the abuse of the EARTH, fellowship and communication between humankind. #3’s water is clouds, over thunder. Thunder arises and comes out of the ground in a great force. #3 is named “sprout” or “difficulty at the beginning”, like a plant pushing through the dirt, once roots are established, growth continues. Its deeper interior energy also refers to a mountain sitting on the earth- keeping still while stripping away the old un-useable, yielding to the essential for a new time. This is a time of growth and all beginnings are always very difficult. “The superior being brings order out of chaos.” The advice is that nothing should be undertaken, other than participating with inspiration and guidance during this crisis. Helpers are needed, working together creates a communal network of support, for growth to continue.
Next, COMPLETION or #63 has water occurring over fire. Caution is the essence here, although everything seems to have reached completion. But, like water boiling over and putting out the flames beneath it, the competing balance between water and fire cannot be maintained: they act as equals and are forever unstable.
Most interestingly, this is the only hexagram whose nuclear trigrams (that’s another story) form a reverse order, a criss-crossing energy where fire is placed over water. Water’s energy flows down, and fire’s follows up. The triangles from the costume echo this direction, and black and white are the colors of these 2 forms. The character manipulates this dynamic, as they take turns flipping and flopping back and forth thru eternity.
In #49 I use color to describe the 2 trigrams that make up its hexagram, of lake (green) over fire (white) The opposition between these 2 forces a change like in a “revolution”. Its interior energy is heaven (the kind of spirit that fills one = blue); occurring over the penetrating energy found in wind or wood (= brown) which spreads the idea through the air; where they are growthed, given birth to the new, something akin to plant life. The walker moves in this liminal space where of Heaven & Earth meet, where different kinds of beings join together in beautiful display.
#55 means CITADEL or CANOPY (under heaven) also ABUNDANCE and reaching the ZENITH which cannot be maintained.
#55 is about expanded intelligence, portraying an energetic movement. This hexagram was pulled by King Wu, who avenged his father King Wen, who is said to have written the philosophy of the I CHING after being imprisoned by the Shang Dynasty leaders. He died in their prison.
King Wu inquired of the I CHING what action he should take while entering the mourning period for his father. It advised against staying still. At the time of King Wu’s inquiry, there was an eclipse and the pole stars were seen a noon. He entered the battlefield of war with his father’s coffin accompanying him and his troops. They defeated the SHANG.
In #55, an offering of rice grain supports the crossing over into victory.”Crossing the bridge” is engaging the enemy.And, as no ZENITH can ever last, at the peak the movement we “tip over into the next hexagram” in THE HOUSE OF WATER: #36 DARKNESS.
The most archaic Chinese glyph for the I Ching’s #36 hexagram, reads as “pelican calling”. The pelican was one of the sacred birds in China and anthropologists think perhaps this means the Chinese saw a bird in the moon, and there was also mention made of an eclipse that occurred thousand of years ago in China. Perhaps this “darkening of the light”, is like an eclipse where you couldn’t see the moon’s bird.
# 36 has undertones of separation, threat, danger and distress.
Here earth is over fire, covering the “light”. The keyword is “censorship”. It advises caution and being reserved: you are in danger, and you must hide your inner light. The advice here is “to remain outwardly tractable in attitude. Do not drag the practices of others censoriously into the light: in social intercourse try not to be all-knowing, but let many things pass without being duped.” My personage guides the viewer through this situation, where one must hide their light, because the situation centers one in the mist of physical danger, using the history of Frederick Douglass, as he escaped slavery, and became a voice as an abolitionist afterwards. The fire is the heart. The personage travels thru to the North; hiding along the way, hidden in the environment of water. Currently, many people are traveling to emigrate to other lands.
#7 COLLECTIVE FORCE takes the final place in the I CHING’s HOUSE of WATER. Water is the essential element all need to sustain life. Water reflects the world around it in its surface. The sea tides of water, influenced by the Moon, push and pull on the oceans, as well as inside humankind, delineated as emotions.
This film depicts an old alchemical saying, “As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul”. Just as the atom proved strikingly similar to a solar system, the I CHING shows the “universe in miniature”. Humans are a part of the planet, standing between earth and sky— all are interlocked together, influencing each other.
In this final hexagram in the HOUSE of WATER, #7 conveys a force like earth over water, which grounds that feeling known as the abysmal, whose character is dangerous. #7 places the “emotion” of water stored beneath a field that contains it, much like soil storing water to sustain plant growth.
In #7 COLLECTIVE FORCE, bending the aspect ratio, re-frames the shots: a symbolic mimicking of “how one should see something.” In the film’s action, a person alone in a small boat travels sailing on water or sky-clouds, rather than being swept away in an abyss of hexagram #29— where the House of Water began. .Before attempting to join in group fellowships, #7 advises to use the discipline and the strategy of a soldier to corral deep feeling or beliefs.
Glitched footage of a garden’s surface meets public marches bent on a revolution for justice, and fair play; or expressing the cycle of life in the ritual actions of dancing around a May Pole on the first day of the month of May (aka BELTAIN, which falls halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice)
#49 Hide: Revolution