Article Mortality

The Penetrating Wind

In the middle of a multi-month class offered by the Resonance Path Institute in 2019, which introduced a brilliant and refreshing interpretation of the Chinese Oracle of Change (I Ching), I discovered by routine annual medical tests that I had contracted a rare and ominous blood disorder. My immune system was attacking my bone marrow. According to the method offered in the class, I solicited the wisdom of the Tao. The result profoundly influenced my response to this shocking news.

At 72, I could claim some of the usual conditions associated with aging, but I was largely asymptomatic. I had been healthy and vigorous all my life—until suddenly I wasn’t. Life was now bringing me into a more direct and immediate encounter with mortality than I’d ever known. To my knowledge I had done nothing to bring about this condition, but neither was I powerless to address it. While it was a huge shock to discover, I decided it would not define me. The entire experience appeared so suddenly and progressed so rapidly that I was compelled to search for wisdom I could apply immediately. My consultation of the I Ching produced the representation of change in the form of two hexagrams: Hexagram #57, The Penetrating Wind (also named Peace) and Hexagram #18, Decay. I found it a shock that the hexagram #51 is related to #57, even considered by some to be the cause of #57.

The shock was the shock of failure. Not that I had failed at something specific. More likely, the most frequent and universal failure is to forget that our lives are influenced by a much larger dimension beyond routine comprehension or control—a perspective precisely revealed by the I Ching. The impact of that realization can occur suddenly and unexpectedly in small or large ways, some of which may be life-shaking. Not that determinism is the rule, just that the universe of choice we occupy is much smaller than we imagine.

Generalizing from my own experience may be precarious, but I felt as though blinders, the accumulation of micro-delusions, complacency and ignorance had suddenly been shattered. That shattering of my narrow view was like cleaning decades of grime from my windshield. The aftermath was as one would expect, a moment of clear vision. I saw the world with fresh eyes. Lifting the veil of this forgetting is a complex proposition. It’s a challenge to overcome our persistent conditioning—being colonized by the techno-materialistic paradigm—and to remain in contact with all that we are. It is also a step toward accepting the inevitable disconnect between our presumed individual agency and the reality of being subsumed within the wholly integrated, uniformly vibrant, and constant action of all Life beyond our control.

I discovered that health, my health and that of the collective, is a function of being mindful of this view of agency and applying myself accordingly.

To be released into the visceral certainty of being connected to everything is to become receptive to the influences of everything upon me. That my actions reach far beyond a parochial view is confirmed. I am reminded that the boundaries of those actions are virtually non-existent, that everything is always in intra-active motion. I cannot assume as much choice about how my life unfolds as I might imagine or prefer, nor can I ignore the probability of influence from far beyond my limited view.

          Number 57 | Penetrating Wind

The first thing to notice about Hexagram #57 is that it shows identical upper and lower trigrams. Another name for this hexagram is Peace, with both trigrams representing wind. Wind over Wind. I could easily assume the word ‘Peace’ assigned to Hexagram #57 refers to a static condition, stillness. We are inclined to define peace in our personal lives as stillness, no? The pace of change slows. But of course, peace is not stillness. The flowing dynamic of change never ends, and much of the time we are swept along with no sense of control.

To rely on that image of stasis sets up flawed interactions and a flawed sense of being. It’s more useful to regard the Penetrating Wind as a deliberate intention and submission to a persistent consciousness combined with intelligence and patience. Hence, I came to regard peace as the arrival of a Gentle Wind perpetually working at all levels of my existence, from the intra-cellular to the macro-social to the planetary. The Gentle Wind never stops. The image of wind over wind might be paraphrased as the changing nature of change. It operates in the subtle body and in the collective unconscious. It’s the Wind that carves mountains; the force changing the course of rivers. I am invited to become the penetrating wind to myself, to calm down, to take small steps—even in the face of the apparent urgency of a dangerous medical condition. I was being reminded that peace is the capacity to adapt to the constant arising and disappearing of all phenomena, continuously restoring equanimity rather than bouncing like a cork buffeted by every shifting current.

The power of the Gentle Wind was a message about recovering balance and integrity even in the face of difficulty. I slowed down. I was being given time to see things in a new way. The nature of this capacity was, and remains, reverence and humility.  I was being acted upon by the Gentle Wind as much as acting as the Gentle Wind upon myself. I was being taken out of rational mind and the habitual ways of interpreting reality to a greater wisdom, the power of wu wei, non-doing.

                     Number 18 | Decay

I am being carved in this moment. I am restored to balance in every moment. Reality is undergoing innovation in every moment. Decay is happening at every level. The impact of decay in my life depends on my orientation to it. Do I react? Do I try to push it away or deny it altogether? If I am stuck in a static image of reality, reaching to restore that image, I am misinterpreting my role, my capacity, and the nature of change. This is the essence of grasping.

Hexagram #18 has a character of growing and unchecked decay as well as a shamanic power capable of calling forth an innovative remedy. It’s about summoning, not about conquering. It is not about killing, but about holding space for something to die. Something is always dying—even if it’s the source of my red blood cells. I am called to be patient, to embrace the monster, to experience whatever grief and loss may arise while  creating and allowing room for a correction. This is the shamanic promise of Decay.

Coming to Peace (#57) is a return to stillness, integrating the reality of Decay into awareness, which is never still. As part of my experience of the Wind of Change, I see it working in my body, in my life and in the world. In that stillness is the exquisite paradox of actively forming and being formed, of continuously accepting the death of what is dying, embodying the agency of the shaman to fuel the adaptation, the growth, the innovation required in the present, continuously coming into a new balance between what I believe my agency to be and turning passive acceptance of what I do not comprehend into a transformative force, no more and no less powerful than the Penetrating Wind itself. Continuous composting.

As I entered a treatment regime, which was not guaranteed to work, I invoked the energy of the shaman, casting off an old way, bringing a new vitality to the hidden somatic-plane, inviting him to become his own remedy, to become a seed in the midst of his defeat, his subjugation to vast natural forces operating in incomprehensible ways, accepting the Decay while harnessing the Gentle Wind with reverence and humility beyond the exercise of will. All things come spontaneously into balance, constantly redefining homeostasis.

In terms of fundamental forces expressed in this pair of hexagrams, I interpreted the change reflected in the paired lines to illustrate the rational mind becoming a bridge between the physical and the metaphysical. Spirit lifts us to a greater view beyond the decay and makes room for the innovation and restorative force of remedy. 

Witnessing this dynamic between these two hexagrams, Peace and Decay, suggests that every pair of hexagrams we may encounter in the I Ching, seemingly appearing in direct reference to us as individuals, express a bottomless well of the wisdom of the Tao that has nothing whatsoever to do with us as individuals.

The non-dual map of reality offered by the Tao is limitless. How we understood a seemingly discrete dynamic expressed as a pair of hexagrams depends on the questions we ask. In retrospect, I don’t recall ever asking “How is this pair an expression of the Tao?” I, like most everyone else, fell into the habit of seeing a pair of hexagrams as a reference to me, a progression from one state to another, because we are normally oriented to the identity we know as me. But our interaction with the Tao is greater than that. It is non-linear and points to a perspective beyond any individual circumstances.

photo | Robert Stevens

There is both fantasy and reality to my dream of personal efficacy. To accept limits and to realize the true sources of that efficacy is to acknowledge the influence of everything and everyone upon me. The arrival of this condition and my continued precarity has awakened me to something I had hidden from myself and from the world: a subterranean river of power and clarity whose essence and purpose runs deeply through everything I am and all I do. Yet even this is also not about me. I am a being lifted out of his own story into the realm of Being.

I continue to balance on shifting ground. I may turn toward denouement at any time or merely persist as the appearance of normal aging. The only response to the shock of realizing the natural harmony of Peace and Decay is love – magnificent, universal, unconditional, pure, and unstained. That river has now burst forth, erupting in this transformative moment. There is no time left for distraction or procrastination, no time for zigzagging, excuses, or dancing around the truth. There is no benefit to grasping for selfish personal ends, no promise lying in half-measures. The present moment is the right time, the only time to embody the shamanic power of restoration, acting as a Penetrating Wind in the world while recognizing that force is inexorably working in our own lives.

About Gary Horvitz
Gary is a former medical professional and nomad, now a retired writer and activist in Durham, NC. In addition to dancing and grieving at the ever-whirling edge of creation and destruction Gary is the author of the forthcoming Just Passing Through: Reflections on Nonduality, Impermanence and Mortality, currently serialized on Substack and is also a co-facilitator of One Year to Live.
Rilke helps:
What batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.


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