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I ching

Tun (Retreat)

I Ching Hexagram 33
Tun (Retreat)

Action: Disengage

Hu Gua (hidden influence) 44 Coming to Meet: Encounter

Zong Gua (underlying cause) 19 Approach: Advance

Content in your power,
you have no need to engage the obstacle.

A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party:
there is no battle unless there be two. – Seneca

Reading at a Glance: The idea of ‘not embroiling’ is a cornerstone of Taoist philosophy. In dreams we see how all symbols and even the characters mirror aspects of ourselves that we are examining and either adopting or discarding. Because the hidden influence is Coming to Meet, we can see that a situation calling for Retreat is a heavily charged one. We give ‘charge’ to a situation that pushes our buttons but Coming to Meet always brings us face to face with the transformative opportunity of the Shadow. The fact that there is so much charge makes the object of your enquiry an important one. However, you cannot force your will on the situation because it is teaching you something. It is better to step back and reflect on what it is that you are learning. ‘Not embroiling’ means not to throw more fuel on the fire. Emotional reactions between people stoke a fire that can burn out of control. The underlying cause of Advance shows the opposite of what you need to do in this situation. Now, it is time to Retreat or disengage. When you engage an obstacle you only give it more power. The same holds true for negative thinking because you give these ideas credibility due to the charge you carry with you. You can actually stalk adversity by looking for it. Backing down does not mean you fail because it can create greater success. If you can step back, perhaps you can discover a win/win solution. Retreat is not a sign of failure but of a well thought out pathway to success.

butterfly coming out of cocoon

The joy of stillness:

Nothing held.

Nothing lost.

The ease

of transparency.

“Things do not remain forever in their place. Therefore follows retreat.” Retreat means withdrawing and when difficulty arises, you can observe how retreating from a situation cultivates power.

This is movement in stillness and allows you to conserve energy and fortify strength. "Content in your power, you have no need to engage the obstacle."

The master said: "Mountain under the Creative: the image of retreat. The wise keeps the inferior at a distance, not angrily, but with reserve.” Even while you are firm in te, compassion allows you to continue in your growth. Life has a reason for bringing two strong types of energy together. Since two things that are firm do not deviate much, the chances increase that they will eventually meet in the river of life. If you are content in your power, you will have no need to engage firmness or contention in another.

“Retreat means success. In what is small, perseverance furthers.” This is not a time for grand demonstrations of power, but requires care and an appreciation of your integrity. Tun is an image of a pig, representing contentment and well-being, combined with the idea of walking away. Do not be rude and indifferent; if you do not become defensive, the other party cannot pull you into a confrontation. They meet with no resistance and therefore, do not contend. This captures how "when you open, all obstacles disappear." If you are correct, there is nothing to be defended.

In martial arts, one is taught 'economy of movement.' By holding to a specific position, the opponent is kept at a disadvantage, enabling one to maximize strength. In this case, you hold to your character or integrity. As a principle of movement in stillness, Tun is the image of purposeful withdrawal. Retreat does not mean giving up, but allows you to further strengthen your ability to remain open, while firm in your character.

Coming up against any barrier, engaging the obstacle always gives it more power. “The wise meet all opposition with a quiet mind and open heart. Then all opposition naturally disappears. Without doing anything, nothing is undone.” When you do something, you may create action that can trigger endless reaction that may need to be undone. This is the great power of not doing. Purposeful withdrawal can disconnect you from a charged situation that might deplete you of your integrity. “Perseverance in small matters brings success.” In the small matters that take place within, integrity fortifies character so that your nature remains incorruptible.

Observing nature, you may sometimes feel that things are not what they should be. Yet, eventually you recognize how nature too, turns back to regenerate, rather than always displaying obvious forward growth. Even while you are open to growth, turning back is also a pathway forward. “The sheerest whiteness seems sullied. The great vessel takes long to complete.” The great vessel holds your Te as you travel through the river of life.


Pushing too hard = life responds by pushing back. The idea of inflexible thinking or hard headedness can be associated with Tun unchanging. There is not much you can do in this situation but step back and give the situation or person breathing room. If your enquiry involves a relationship, you may have pushed someone into a corner. If you are examining whether or not to move forward the message can be ‘no.’ Either the situation isn’t right for you or your thinking is too rigid and requires flexibility. Because it is unchanging, a lack of positive response can go on for a long time, possibly permanently. On a softer note, the message can be to just step back and think about what you are asking because your reasoning isn’t sound. In most cases, the message is that you need to withdraw from an inferior situation, way of thinking or questioning.

Line 1:

Hiding the tail from danger = do not undertake anything. Changes to (13) Fellowship. An animal hides its tail in an act of submission but that type of compromise can only leave you vulnerable to attack. You may need to step back and view your life from a distance because you may be too embroiled in what is unfolding. You may be living the tone and texture of your thoughts rather than seeing what is there for you. Because you are not too deep into the situation, you can calmly withdraw avoiding danger. Don’t trade integrity for a quick solution but don't assume that your perception of difficulty is real. People are there for you although you may not realize this right now.

Line 2:

Held fast with yellow ox hide = no one can tear it loose. Changes to (44) Coming to Meet. This line shows a powerful will, which can be helpful if it represents you. However, another may be willfully blocking any sort of connection. Coming to Meet can show projection which colors the present with an overlay of the past. The situation is emotionally charged, but you are holding tightly to your integrity and can succeed. Knowing that there is something valuable to be achieved, you are correct in holding fast to your desire. By examining how you approach a sense of danger and why, you will learn much about ego, compassion and transformation. Nothing anyone says or does should ever make or break your day. If you feel compelled to take action, do it from a sense of integrity, honesty and compassion.

Line 3:

A retreat is blocked with strings attached = sentimental attachments that can nourish. Changes to (12) Standstill. You are embroiled in a situation that does not allow for retreat. Examine what has brought it to an impasse and see if honest communication and mutual respect can solve it. The strings attached show that retreating is not something you wish to do so open to the opportunity for growth it presents. You may feel obligated in some way and can certainly learn a lot from the situation, but without the freedom to ensure your needs are met the situation can lead to Standstill.

Line 4:

Voluntary retreat good for spirit not the ego = retire. Changes to (53) Development. The strong appreciate the opportunity for retreat as a way of reinvigorating one’s center, but those emotionally inferior are frustrated and want to hold on to some sort of attachment. One should not be tempted to stay in an unhealthy condition because the other wants them to stay. However, if negativity or emotional immaturity retreats, the spirit is served through higher interaction. A gradual and well thought out retreat lifts spiritual goals but frustrates ego’s desire to hold to a specific outcome. Let go and allow the gradual Development to occur.

Line 5:

Friendly retreat = perseverance brings good fortune. Changes to (56) Wanderer. Withdrawal is achieved in a friendly matter because everyone is in agreement. Any loss is recognized to be necessary for future growth. This is an example of cutting ties because it is known to be ‘for the best.’ Letting go of the past happens with no ill will. However, if people are free to come and go or to fulfill their individual needs, persevering in this attitude will lead to good fortune.

Line 6:

Retreat without guilt or doubt = everything serves to further. Changes to (31) Influence/Wooing. Withdrawing with the sense that it is right to do so. By letting go or retreating one is able to live abundantly. This line can be associated with retirement or taking a retreat from the daily grind in order to recharge or refresh your perspective. Sometimes we need to step back so that others have more of an appreciation for our contribution. Retreat leads to a magnetic attraction even while that is not our intention.

*This page provides insight on the following combinations: Hexagram 33 unchanging Hexagram 33.1 Hexagram 33.1.2 Hexagram Hexagram Hexagram Hexagram Hexagram 33.2 Hexagram 33.2.3 Hexagram Hexagram Hexagram Hexagram 33.3 Hexagram 33.3.4 Hexagram Hexagram Hexagram 33.4 Hexagram 33.4.5 Hexagram Hexagram 33.5 Hexagram 33.5.6 Hexagram 33.6