The Yielding

The Yielding

Back in the day I did quite a lot of feng shui work in one particular Government Office. Not on behalf of HMG of course who knew nothing about it. My client, Bernard would let me in around 5 in the morning and I’d tinker till the cleaners arrived. You can’t install Water features or windchimes too much but it’s amazing what can be achieved by re-angling a vdu here and moving a plant there.

Bernard’s main concern however was office politics. I don’t think you get to be a senior civil servant without that.

“That guy over in the corner, what’s going on with him?”

“Facing a wall South West, no back support, in a building on this orientation this year? Trouble at home.”

“What about this woman?”

“Screen at 180˚ to her neighbours? Doesn’t play well with others.”

And so on.

Equally every month of the year, of course is ruled both by a Zodiac Animal and a Hexagram of the Book of Changes. As is every year. And when there is so little else to work from, those six lines can tell us so much.

There were no especially messy scandals or resignations in that Ministry during that time and I guess I was on the button often enough that we worked together for 10 years or so. A brilliant, wise and good man, I trust he’s flourishing. He may even read these ramblings. I hope so.

Bernard’s Mother had came over in 1948 to work in the brand new NHS. His aristocratic surname – more Norman Conquest than Windrush – had probably been imposed on his forebears by a plantation owner in the 18th Century. Truth be told he probably shared dna with much of the House of Lords.

More than once we travelled together into London from his Surrey home. I noticed how the ticket collector would just glance at my ticket but scrutinise his. His treat of course but when we lunched at his exclusive club behind Selfridges, the waiter would usually offer me his bill.

I once attempted to gain credibility by boasting that I had, back when I was a teen tycoon, seen Bob Marley and Wailers at the Speakeasy in 1972. Which is true by the way.

“As close as I am to you now.”

He smiled and looked me in the eye.”

“You know I was Fela’s road manager?”

Which if you understand these things, made him about a thousand times cooler than me. I should have known better.

He told me once of a time when he’d been staying in a posh hotel prior to a conference. Queuing for the cloakroom with his kashmir over his arm, several delegates added their own to his load as they passed by. His response was simply to hand them over to the person manning the desk. And go on to address the conference.

Bernard’s mother emigrated ahead of his Dad who as it turned out, never followed. She provided for him and made sure he received the education a man of his gifts deserved. I don’t know the details but I know the outcome.

The Hexagram that marks the Sheep month of July is Number 33, Dun, sometimes rendered from the archaic Chinese as “Strategic Retreat” or “Hiding”, though I prefer “Yielding”. The names, devised by the semi-mythical King Wen of the Zhou Dynasty when he was socially distanced by the infamous Tyrant of Shang, are almost precisely three thousand years old.

King Wen appears to have seen in Dun – four unbroken lines above two broken – the scene of a melee. The lower broken lines are weak, as if an army or a body is shattered at the rear. It’s a panicky and chaotic withdrawal. We are retreating and there is no safe place. Indeed as we climb up the lines there is no handhold before the 3rd line. And once there we are pressed in, chaos behind us, jammed into place. And we stay bound all the way up to the top line. We are bound and we simply have to trust.

The actual Chinese character Dun shows a piglet about to become a hog roast; unpleasant if you are fond of pigs rather than pork, not so worrying to those who are less fastidious; radical helplessness either way. Or radical safety. Resistance is pointless and only grace will bring change.

At another conference Bernard told me, he arrived at breakfast and enquired across the coffee shop as to whether a colleague would like him to bring them a cup of tea along with his own, only for a guest to call out: “And while you’re at it, where’s my effing kipper?” He would smile as he told me these things but I saw the strength it took. I guess his mother did a good job.

Dun relates to situations where we recognise that we have little or no control. Newsflash: that’s pretty much the way things are. In a world where any one of us could be flattened at any time by a chunk of blue Water out of the sky, win the Lottery or be struck down by the virus du jour, what control is there? The illusion of control is a function of a limited reality.

Full Disclosure: you need to buy a ticket to win the lottery and Donny Darko was not kitchen-sink realism. Also for now continue to wear a face mask in unfamiliar company.

The fact remains however that we are each of us spinning alone in darkness on an imaginary ball of mud. To which the only sane response, as the Hexagram counsels, is to yield. By this I mean: let happen what must happen and trust that it works out. Not always easy, especially when like Bernard you’re living out the dead hand of centuries of abuse. The above doesn’t mean we necessarily do nothing; the tao is not always the open door nor is it always not a blocked one.

Dun falls in the same month every year; the light retreats but we are pretty sure it will return. And every year these broken and unbroken lines mean different things. And every year the same. Just as darkness follows light, light follows the dark.

Right now we are being offered an opportunity to re-think the way we treat the planet and each other. And we’ll probably get it wrong. At this point in our evolution human beings appear able only to cooperate in opposition to something: this time against Covid-19 which has been called “apocalypse lite,” a dress rehearsal for the real thing, the coming climate crisis. Are we able to cooperate that much? Can we even treat each other properly?

As for Bernard, he rose improbably high in the civil service and all three major political parties approached him to be a candidate at one time or another. But he preferred to move to Jamaica and develop property. His mother died before she could glory in his success.

The dawn yields to the night and the light to the twilight of evening but in a billion years this may not be so. If we’re awake we allow ourselves to rise or fall knowing it can be no other way. We trust and we behave the best we can because supernovas come and go but light always follows the dark.

Richard Ashworth ©2020

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