By Sheila Heti, from “How to Be Good When You’re Lost,” in the anthology Where We Are, to be published this fall by Visual Editions. Heti’s contribution, illustrated by Ted Mineo, interprets six of the sixty-four hexagrams comprising the I Ching; a traditional method of consulting the text is to pose a question and then toss coins to determine which hexagram to read.
Weeds shoot up and multiply, but they are easily pulled from the earth. A tree that stands strong on a mountain will last and last. A tree pushes up through the soil and down through the earth with equal force. Because of its steady and certain progress, it is not uprooted easily. It firmly clasps the ground.
All progress from here will be steady and gradual, like the growth of a tree. This is not a time for agitation or revolution. Impulsive gestures will be ignored or will irritate like weeds. Though impatience at this time is understandable, nothing of lasting value can come from it. Do not try and push things ahead of their time. You may have to wait longer than you’d like for the changes you hope will occur. Work, therefore, gradually, not expecting any quick success. The time for harvesting will come, but it has not come yet.
You have been given a certain place in this world. Your culture and its traditions are not a separate thing from you. The people around you who live by its structures and values are not so different from you. You all feel the same things. You have collectively chosen to act in certain ways, which is what creates a society. You are a real part of this society. Progress involves respect for it, as its laws are part of who you are, and you are more a part of it than you realize. Understand your place within it; progress will spring from its values, and from living within them now. Then, from within your current conditions, you will advance.
If you are rooted in what is virtuous and right, so will your ends be virtuous and right. Do not try to dominate situations. Instead, turn your focus to steadily refining your inner self. There are no shortcuts ahead.
After you have navigated home from travels far away, there can be nothing but improvement in every aspect of your life.
You are reunited with your life force, which has been dwelling elsewhere, uncorrupted. It is like the sabbath day. For six days your work was energetic, anxious, complex, and precise. All your energies were needed. Failure felt close at hand. At last the seventh day comes, ensuring recovery from the previous six.
Improvements now come naturally, without your having to work doubly hard for them, as you have done in the past. Your fortunes are changing for the better, without anyone’s having willed it. These changes occur on their own. They create no conflict; no strained relationships or discomforts result. On the contrary, the changes are happily welcomed by everyone in your environment, including you.
If a project or path opens to you and seems advantageous and without complication, it probably is advantageous and without complication. It would not be a mistake to join with other people. If there has been an area of frustration or difficulty in your life, now is a good time to solve it with an absolutely simple solution, which will come easily if you only turn your mind in the direction of the problem. Inside of you is a feeling of beginning. Potential energy is stirring. This will bring freshness to all that you do.
When you return as you are doing now, people may be astonished that you still exist. Even you may be astonished.
When two women with disagreements run a household together, it can look like a pillar of fire rising out of the lake. The fire could dry up the lake. The lake could extinguish the fire. If neither of these things happen, it’s an incredible sight. True revolution is not one force triumphing over the other and destroying it. True revolution happens when powerful forces are balanced, when everything significant is maintained.
In a time of revolution, things are constantly transforming from within. Revolution harmonizes and reunites aspects of ourselves that have been forced, or held oppressively, apart. When there is true balance, an effect happens like the burning of fat from a bone using fire and water. By burning, you eliminate what is false in your life.
Such pinnacle moments arrive when things have not quite reached completion. That is the time to move decisively — with self-control, not frenzy — to bring the new time to a peak.
Yet revolutions are grave and important matters. After a period of rapid and brilliant change, some time is required to take stock of the newness in a calm and considered way. Revolutions must be undertaken only when they are absolutely necessary, and with the full support of the people.
If those conditions exist right now, then you should step into these changes, accept them, be them. Through acceptance, you alter the cycle of time from high speed to low speed, from chaos to a genuine reordering of life.
Do not see the present upheavals as an irrelevant game. You are like a cork being swept into the waves. Allow the basic image of your life to go into flux.
Retreat means dignified disengagement. Its purpose is to prevent the situation from developing and to quell the harmful elements. Retreat does not mean fleeing, losing all your self-possession. It does not mean contempt or bad feelings toward whatever you are separating from. Retreat means compassionate, controlled, and gentle withdrawal.
You may feel that you can control the situation by remaining on the battlefield. But if you engage now, you will only muddy your feet. Your shoes and feet will become caked in mud, and your head and home will become muddy, too.
Do not see retreat as surrendering the battle to the enemy. It is a good strategy to allow the multitude of negative forces that have been stirred to finally die down again. It is wise to retreat simply and without compulsive apology. You have no reason to feel guilty for retreating. It is not your responsibility to stay. Although with this strategy you may forfeit some things, to engage would be far worse.
There are times when retreat is the only course of action. That time is now. You cannot change the situation by remaining in it. You cannot fix it. You cannot advance it. You cannot even understand it. Consider the eternal virtues of heaven, its everlastingness, its solitude and fortitude, and consider the eternal virtues that are yours alone. Slip into the eternal principles of heaven, and away from the daily flux.
In the future, when the time has come to advance, you will be ready, your energies having been preserved.
Depend on only yourself now. Keep petty people and petty concerns at a real distance. Let the world’s dramas sail by. The image here is of heaven over mountain. Pull over your most constant self a cloak of invisibility and remoteness that even the heavens in their glory would envy.
People need not know what you are doing. Make no one understand.
Tell no one what you think of them.