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K'un The Earth

cardinal on tree limb in snowy landscape
"The plants all know
that spring
will soon return,
All kinds of red and purple
contend in beauty.
The poplar blossom and elm seeds
are not beautiful,
They can only fill the sky
with flight like snow."
-Han Yu

Blog Feature: Nature's Archetypes

During the winter of K’un, the Masters observed the laws of conservation. The rivers that would sustain the population in the coming year were conserved as ice sculptures on the hillsides above. Branches that were stripped of foliage, were now encased in ice for added protection.

All things of the earth appear to be sleeping,
although an incredible amount of energy is gathering below.

As Ken transforms into K’un, the Earth, the cycle of transformation completes itself. K'un is viewed as the feminine aspect of creation. During winter, the way is made to submit and become responsive to the approaching Springtime of Thunder or Chen. The last of the creative lines eventually gives way to the triple form of receptive Yin lines of winter. Below the sleeping earth, the energy of a future landscape is taking form.

K’un offers a lesson about the potential power of the unseen. Complete openness without the prejudice of distinctions allows us to feel our connection to everything around us. Our perception makes distinctions in the natural world that are not necessarily there. Each person is a complex network of cells, but we recognize them in only one form.

What keeps our hand from moving through a piece of wood is the electro-magnetic energy generated by movement at the molecular level. We might argue that we cannot move our hand through a piece of wood, although we know it has been accomplished by students of the Way. Trained by great Masters to overcome the illusion of separateness, they attempt to control the innate and invisible boundlessness of Yin to activate the power of Yang.

If we could see life from nature’s perspective, we would see all lines fading into one giant organism of sustenance and interdependency.

The Master said: “Should one act from knowledge of the constant, one’s actions will lead to impartiality.” We move away from observing distinctions that only come to limit our natural awareness. “ The hundred bones, the nine cavities and the six organs: which one shall I love best?” Just as we care for our entire body without making distinctions, we do not draw lines that separate us from the web of life.

K'un represents ultimate Yin or openness. Yin is the keeper of our dreams and the apex of turning inward, which will ultimately lead us back to a time of moving outward. Representing the Earth, K’un was observed to be a type of feminine energy that nurtures and nourishes life. Like Isis, the matriarchal rulers and agricultural feminine deities of antiquity, the power inherent in the feminine principle of the Yielding is equal to the masculine energy of the Creative.

While Yang is positive and productive energy, Yin is passive and boundless. It is described as negative, but like electro-magnetism, it merely entices the Creative forward. Electromagnetism shows how the interaction of positive and negative forces push energy forward to sustain movement. One always remains powerless without the successive movement of the other. This interaction creates the building blocks of all the manifestations that we observe. To the Taoist, positive and negative have no more relevance than what is found at the molecular level.

As the potential power of the unseen that looms on the horizon, we know that the shortest day of the year means that each day will begin to grow longer. When the sun has traveled its greatest distance from us, we can be certain that a new sunrise awaits us.

Instinct is the bubbling of te, excited by the prospect of your coming-to-be-real.

Intuition is observed as the feminine side of the psyche. It connects us to the natural realm of instinct and is active in males and females alike. If we subordinate ourselves to life, we discover that it carves away what keeps us from finding our destiny.

Upon the canvas of our inner world, we strike a balance where our creative, masculine or self-sufficient power can be effectively actualized. Becoming receptive to our inner processes, we find that we have no need to conquer others. “When we conquer ourselves, we become strong.” Just as Yang requires Yin and Yin requires Yang for actualization, only by blending introspection with action, can we become effectively empowered.

During the depths of winter, we discover just how resilient we are. The body protects itself by adding layers of fat to keep us warm. Even without our knowledge, the body heals itself. "We do nothing and it happens naturally." The body holds an inherent wisdom and ability to regenerate that requires no action or thought on our part.

In virtually all cultures, solar rituals were performed during the winter solstice when the sun was believed to be reborn. As the days commenced to grow longer in the West, the ancients burned Yule logs and decorated world trees. Using celestial orbs, they celebrated the birth of the sun’s return. In the East, “the kings of antiquity closed the passes during the winter solstice.” The birth of the new sun embodied Yang’s return to the earth and because it was new, it was weak and required nurturing.

By closing the passes, people stayed indoors and businesses came to a halt, while the empire focused on nurturing the power of the newborn Yang. That the winter solstice should coincide with rituals celebrating the birth of a ‘returning son’ has left many people waiting for something that perhaps, happens every year. Those who are waiting are left with the assumption that life is fundamentally bad when it is actually very good.

K’un reminds us of how energy in the universe is never destroyed, but only transformed.

“Success comes when you can pull your nature forward rather than pushing yourself into the world.” During winter, we are given the opportunity to cultivate the roots that will lead us into our springtime. We merely strive to be real and success will come naturally. Like a tree, we remain steadfast in our unbroken contact with the germinating power of life.

These elementary forces can also be contemplated as opposites to understand the strange forces at work in change. Just as the physical world is created by movement of opposite forces and spinning molecules, we recognize that stagnation arises if left without the constant prodding of oppositional energy.

Ch’ien, the apex of summer has its opposite as K’un the Receptive winter. When either reaches its extreme, it transforms into the other. Sun is the Gentle Wind in its penetrating efforts to return the seeds to the earth, while Chen or Thunder, awakens these sleeping seeds. At one pole, we find the small efforts that tug the seeds to the ground in autumn. At the other end, we see the shocking energy that awakens them.

Tui, the Joyous Lake of mid summer is a picture of life in its spectacular outward display. Its opposite Ken, the Mountain of Keeping Still reflects winter, when the energy is regenerating below. This energy is gathering beneath the snow as if contemplating the new shape of the year to come. Finally, the drive upward of seeds following the synchronistic intelligence of Li or Fire leads the seedlings toward actualization. It’s opposite, K’an the mysterious or Abysmal Water, demonstrates the profound sacrifice required for cyclical renewal. In the mysteries of the Abysmal, we sacrifice expression for the promise of rebirth.

Just as we experience a sense of renewal during spring, we sense the gentle tugging of what will come to pass with the Wind. Its gentle effort removes what is no longer necessary and buries what remains for rebirth next year. There are times when we feel this connection and celebrate, and a time to turn inward to contemplate. In Keeping Still, we meditate and are inspired to create anew. There are times that we push forward with small, yet penetrating efforts. We express gratitude in our magnificent display of creativity and then retreat until we are ignited with inspiration anew.

While Tao can be recognized as the form of the changes, it remains undefinable. Change in nature is tied to life’s drive toward innovation and growth, requiring the random exploration of the unknown. Nature appears predisposed to keeping life one-step ahead of interpretation.

In our ancient stories, common symbolism emerges that captures the essence of each of these eight fundamental archetypes. The common symbols found in world mythology and dreams is explored in depth in:

The Mythology of Sleep: The Waking Power of Dreams.

(Tao and The Masters)