One strange way to approach the 22nd Hexagram (properly titled “Grace”, by the way) is to say simply that a beard is a very fine thing, but should never be confused with the chin. Really, it actually says this. A beard is a cool decoration, but a chin is an important part of your face.
This is a hexagram, though, about such decorations. If we are wise to avoid getting lost in the distracting glitter at the expense of that which is authentic, it remains true that decoration and adornment play an important role in our lives. After all, while decoration is certainly not essential to beauty, it is certainly an agency which promotes it – and beauty is a thing in the course of life whose value requires very little defense. In the larger picture, any traditions we share with our comrades or our ancestors represent a larger form of adornment applied to the larger picture of our individual and indeed collective lives as societies and cultures.
Indeed, while the sun is the heavenly fixture that directly provides our source of life and heat and energy, we are ultimately no less dependent on the moon and the stars for our existence and in order to thrive. In fact, while it may be tempting to believe that it is only the sun that matters, the truth is that, if we can truly understand the symbolic meaning and importance of the moon and the stars, we can crack the code of time and truly change the world. Contemplation in this direction, while not an end to itself, is a necessary stop along our journeys.
In the lines, we find some more specific pictures and advice to accord with them. When one is at the beginning of things, it is time to work one’s way up the hill or mountain. Don’t take shortcuts or rely on trickery lest you miss both the decoration and the thing itself. Do the task. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have any fun along the way, but all indulgence in decoration must be paired with awareness that such things have a tendency to go both ways. We do not condemn wine buzzes here, for they are extremely useful for personal enjoyment and promotion of general mirth. But since they can also cause a slide into lazy uselessness, they cannot be relied upon.
High levels of decorative potential can lead one to a very interesting crossroads: do we seek external fame and fortune or return inward to simplicity? The answer to anyone already here seeking wisdom or knowledge should be obvious. It may seem difficult, at times, to give up things to which we’ve become accustomed, but in the face of, say, a good and true friend who joins your cause, you’ll hardly notice anything missing at all. Should you succeed in leaving behind the Valley of Materialism for a quest up the Mountain, you may come upon the sage for whom you have been looking and find yourself embarrassed to have little to offer. If one comes across such a wise person, however, it will only be your sincere enthusiasm that matters to your success. The overarching secret, when it comes to such a quest, is that no matter how usefully or beneficially ornamentation and decoration are used to rise or to move forward, when the highest stage of this journey arrives, all decoration is discarded, for it is no longer necessary. Like the beard, it’s a means to an end – but not the end in itself.
This is a fire emerging from the depths of the earth and blazing up towards heaven. Do not let such a fire go to waste, but don’t try to use it to light the city streets, either. It is useful for small things, useful even in the service of the great, or at least along the way to greatness, but know it’s not going to shine too far beyond the little things of today and tomorrow.
Salaam. It’s good to be back.
This post is the twenty-first 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.