30. The Lesson of the Torch

Hexagram 30. "The Clinging, Fire"
Hexagram 30. “The Clinging, Fire”

Notice that, as with the previous hexagram, we again have a doubled trigram. Whereas in hexagram 29, we are seeing the repetition of water, here we see the complementary repetition of fire. Water falls from the sky and then flows all over the earth to bring life, but fire does the opposite, rising up from the earth toward heaven. While water refers to the heart and soul within the body, fire represents the best of the external – nature and the cosmos, all their glory, all their sacred order. Indeed, this hexagram is chock-full of universal wisdom.

As we pondered the nature of water before, here we ponder the nature of fire. Like water, fire itself has no definite form, but unlike water which flows through the path of least resistance ever onward, the character of any given fire is directly related to whatever object is being burned. If the fuel that is feeding the fire is enduring, the heat and light from the fire will last. If not, the fire will quickly use it up and cease burning. This is the key repeating theme throughout this symbol.

In examining fire and its relationship to what is actually burning, we’re shown a lesson in natural law. Figuratively speaking, the sun, moon, and stars are the fire depending upon the fuel of space (the universe). Grass and trees are the fire depending upon the fuel of the planet. Within our own lives, if we can recognize that human experience, left alone, is a chaotic and untamed experience, we understand that we are the fire that depends upon doing what is in accordance with the same laws followed by the sun and the trees. We must use the light of the fire to produce clarity to see what is true and right, and, using that as our fuel, our fire shall burn long.

Like this.
Like this.

In other words, we are to be – voluntarily – dependent on and obedient toward the cosmos. If we go along with these same laws and quirks that govern all else in existence, we’ll understand our role in the world. There is no small amount of peace and power – brilliance, in other words – that can be derived from that.

There are lessons found in the varying courses of the day. In early morning, our consciousness is like a space ship commencing reentry into the atmosphere. While we were asleep, we were someplace else, and now we’re back in this “reality.” This can be very confusing, and during the hours immediately after waking, it’s easy to become further disoriented by the flood of information and demands that is assaulting us from all sides. This is the danger, that the day is lost even as it begins because of chaos, stress, and being busy. Instead, we are to work even harder in the early morning to bear in mind our composure and keep our cool, which will, without fail, set the stage for a good day overall.

At noon, the bright yellow light of high sun reveals that because balance and moderation are the ways of the cosmos, it is through balance and moderation that the highest culture – the most compelling art, the most moving song, the finest of all human expression – are produced. The full light and glory of the day is here. In direct opposition to this is what happens as the day comes to a close. We are, whether we are aware of it or not, reminded at the end of each day of our mortality. This life shall come to an end, and so say the same forces and laws to which we must cling in order to shine our life-lights. Most people either go wild and party it up for the night in order to stave off the knowledge of death or else they succumb to depression and despondency at the hopelessness of it. But neither of these is actually the correct response. Death is not worse than life but is merely the alternate side of the same exact coin. If we love life, we love death as well, for they are not separable by anyone. There is no reason to worry about whether death will come now or a long while from now, it’s really all the same. The charge to us as humans is to focus on our spirits and our harmony and our brilliance now – for now is all we have.


We are also shown an image in which mental clarity is described as the fire, with life itself as the fuel. We think of clarity as an unadulterated virtue, but even clarity must be utilized in accordance with the cosmic law we are seeking to emulate. Clarity in life are naturally inclined to have a wonderful and mutually beneficial relationship, but if the clarity is employed too heavily or too quickly, it will burn out the life. Like a meteor, this shows a person – and there are many tales of many such people – who comes into – and out of – existence in a quick blaze of light, followed by darkness. Unless we’re truly in that much of a hurry, ease up on the clarity-gas.

If and when we experience something akin to the pinnacle of our existence, it may be best if we weren’t aware of it, for we’ll be tempted to simply combust in glory and brilliance, having reached the heights of our destiny. Nevertheless, if we seek to keep our cool and clear heads, we’ll be granted the understanding that all desires, all ups and downs, are mere repetition and vanity. Understanding the totality of the cycle and the importance of all its parts (not just the fun ones), we can move forward past our peak and still encounter further good fortune.

There is a reminder as well, when it comes to burning things – correction and judicial sentencing are not intended to be unrestrained and vindictive punishment so much as they are designed to enhance discipline and lead to better times. When we defeat those enemies who have risen up unsuccessfully against us, we do well to punish their leaders but pardon those who merely went along with it. They’ll learn their lesson and come over to see our light, because of our forbearance and judgment. Even when it comes to aspects of our internal character, while it is always crucial to identify the truly bad habits and eliminate them, harmless vices should be tolerated in order to avoid going too far even in our discipline, and thus shortening and diminishing our capacity to shine.

olympic torchIndeed, human life exists within time. Our role during that finite and bracketed space perception is to do the work of nature and the cosmos – “As above, so below,” as it is sometimes said – that by our agency the light may be spread ever further across the earth. It is in this agency that our purpose and proper role as living humans can be grasped.

Burn bright, my friends.

This post is the thirtieth 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.

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