There’s admittedly something a tiny bit tricky about interpreting this hexagram. We’ve seen dual images before – sometimes one single hexagram describes, for example, both a specific situation and a specific kind of person. The implication here is pretty straightforward, actually: take the images in tandem, two representations of the same singular phenomenon. This is also true of the nineteenth hexagram, but to my eyes, in this instance, the hexagram is more clearly and evenly divided into two. I’ll leave it to you to explore and analyze the parallels between the two as I’m just going to be honest and say I’m not certain enough to define it myself. Nonetheless, the two manifestations of “Approach” are not in themselves difficult at all to grasp.
First, we have the advance of light into the darkness. (This can actually be inferred without glancing at the text by the shape of the hexagram itself – two solid (light) lines emerging upwards from the bottom into four broken (dark) lines.) The time depicted here is that following the winter solstice, when light is very much on the march. Spring has not yet come, but its promise grows with each passing day, and it is time to get to work.
If this first Approach can be said to operate on the natural or cosmic level, the second Approach is most decidedly human and material. We see a sort of prince, or any leader in a high and connected position, and the prince’s benevolent approach to the people.
Both images are ones of joy and hope, for this is a joyous and hopeful hexagram. Things in general are starting to come together here. Spring is just as inevitable as it’s always been, but now the inevitability has grown significantly more apparent. We can’t ignore it now. Success is ours. There’s actually no catch there, either. One need not knock on wood. In this type of circumstance, governed by cosmic and natural law, being sure of success doesn’t lead to a tragic kind of jinx. Success, here, really is on the way. The danger is that we will get lazy and complacent, when the reality is that there is so much work to be done. The key thing to remember here is that, while spring is coming, spring will also depart. Spring doesn’t last forever, and we need to take advantage of it while it’s here. Instead of causing us to kick back and relax, our foreknowledge of success in such times should spur us onward into action.
The political message we are provided regarding leadership is that the prince who corresponds to this ascendant change in seasons is not an egotistical or nefarious despot but a wise and generous sage.
It’s no small position or slight responsibility, here. We’re called to consider the way in which the earth herself provides nourishment universally throughout the land and the seas without any form of assessment or judgment. All things get their life from the earth. Such must be the relationship between the prince and his people – he must give fully of himself to all of the people, regardless of class or grouping or “status.” He must especially be ready and willing to teach all, even to his dying breath, as his people desperately seek this kind of guidance, and it is this guidance that will lead the whole of society to its success.
So on the natural level, we know we have to get to work. The goal? Identify evil before it becomes a reality and strangle it in its crib. In this time of year, on this position within the eternal cycle, it is possible for us to do so, and thereby ensure prosperity and success well beyond the spring, perhaps extending out into the whole of the year. So imagine yourself in a boat and you can feel the change in the current. The water is finally moving in a favorable direction after a long interval of the opposite. What are you waiting for? Steer your ship right along with the current. Take advantage! Full steam ahead, so long as you can avoid going overboard or losing track of where you are going. If you can handle these very basic things, however, have at it.
Now, get out of your boat for a second lesson.
You’ve made it to where you’re going. The voyage has been an unqualified success. But now you start to relax and get comfortable and you start slipping a little bit, even in the midst of your triumph. You will, it is assured, be afforded a moment at which it is possible for you to recognize this about yourself. Allow the trend within yourself to continue unabated, a couple of months will pass in a flash before you realize that the time is no longer as fortuitous as it when all of spring lay before you, and now you’ve squandered the advantages and resources you had so fleetingly built for yourself. If, on the other hand, you wish to shape up and sharpen up, for the sake of the success of the year, it’s not too late. You’ve got a window right in front of you, you just have to climb through it.
As a third lesson, overarching the others, the most ideal resource of which you can possibly seize hold is an ultimate kind of inner strength that isn’t exactly dependent upon external labor or effort. If you can fully absorb, deep within yourself, the truth we already know – that every fall leads to a rise and every rise leads to a fall, you can rise above it, and with great speed, without obstruction, your feet can carry you far and wide anywhere across the expanse of the earth.
Back on the political side of things (no more British princes, I promise), certain advice is prescribed for those moments when we do or might find ourselves in that high princely position. In such times, if you identify someone in a position significantly more lowly than your own, but draw her into your inner circle – regardless of her outward appearance, “status,” or even your normal preferences – this always leads to good results. But even in the best of times and at the height of one’s strength, even the coolest prince in the world needs to be able to delegate certain areas to experts (think of ministers in a governmental cabinet), and to trust those experts and give them the leeway they need to properly govern the society.
Interestingly, for the third hexagram in a row, we close out with the appearance of a now-familiar character – the mountaintop sage or monk who has withdrawn in some way from the world. In this hexagram, he’s retired, but the coming of spring this year, or some present condition important to him, spurs him to return to society and teach some more. This is good for all involved.
A rich hexagram – there’s a lot here. Make of it what you will; take from it what you will. Understand, however, if nothing else, that the approach of spring marks a time of impending success and light which must be harnessed in order to last the entire year and into the next – when we can start the cycle all over again.
This post is the nineteenth of sixty-four in our Days of Change series exploring each hexagram of the ancient Chinese I Ching one by one. To sample others in this series – or go wild and read from the beginning – go here.