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I Ching Hexagram Interpretations

33: Retreat


All worthy goals meet resistance. When negative forces predominate, a well-timed retreat can be a good move — in order to keep your energy up and allow you to persevere.

Strategic retreat is not to be confused with escape or surrender. A well-timed retreat can require quick and nimble movement, in order to take up a new position before you are severely damaged by a current threat. You are not admitting defeat by such action, but increasing your options and preserving your energy and other resources. Sometimes it is necessary to slow down, let go or move back in order to better position yourself for future moves, or to draw an opponent closer. Timing is critical, as is positioning and considerations of personal security. Skillful retreat is a sign of intelligence and strength.

Periods of withdrawal or retreat call for cool-headedness. Keep your wits about you. Attend to details while allowing for enough time to contemplate the whole picture. Be creative; not all progress follows a straight line. Maintaining you sense of self-confidence is essential; small setbacks can easily become defeats if we become mired in self-doubt or self-pity. A confident retreat can produce success.

Waves of progress are short lived. Strive to attune yourself to the up-and-down cycles of life. Sometimes, if you want something, just allow it to come to you. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can “fix” any situation whenever you feel like it. Some things are bigger than you. Hold your pride in check, and you will be better prepared to discover creative openings.

Changing Line Interpretations

Line 1 (bottom line)

In retreat, positioning is everything. Avoid being too visible, too near the source of your opposition. If you find yourself positioned in an opponent’s sights, the best tactic is probably to keep still, lay low, and hope that the moment passes. Be extremely careful now, because any movement now could be to your opposition’s advantage.

Line 2

This change refers to the situation when someone of integrity is under attack, and is being vigorously pursued by an opposing force. In such a treacherous situation, movement in the face of critical danger is essential. Retreating when under attack, rather than engaging in direct confrontation, can also have the advantage of gaining sympathy for your cause from others.

Line 3

To be blocked during retreat brings misfortune. If it has become necessary to retreat from a bad or complicated situation, you must move. Sometimes hangers-on or incompetents impede the process of your retreat. Though these are not people you would normally want on your team, in a time of retreat, it may be necessary to deal with them. This strategy will be successful if you keep in mind that these people are not truly qualified, and must not be allowed to play a prominent role after your retreat has run its course.

Line 4

By gracefully withdrawing from conflict, you may be able to protect yourself from humiliation and the enmity of others. Furthermore, you deprive the opposition of an enemy to confront, which in itself can be a strategic move. To gracefully retreat in a heated atmosphere is not easy. However, it does offer the advantage of preventing the compromise of your integrity or a loss of grace, which can be achieved only by a superior character. It is only the inferior characters who will suffer, if they lose the guidance of the superior. So, rise to the occasion. Proper handling of a setback is an opportunity for better progress in the long run.

Line 5

If the right moment is selected for retreat, the withdrawal can be affected quickly and smoothly, and with all the proper amenities observed. The key is resolute action -- and taking advantage of the element of surprise. Once your mind is made up, move!

Line 6 (top line)

When all signs point to retreat or resignation, the proper course of action must be followed without regret. Sometimes great issues resolve themselves; in such cases, it doesn’t help you to remain attached to old or futile goals and ambitions. The most successful approach is a cheerful acceptance of your karma, and a willingness to proceed along the open road -- even if it leads you into unfamiliar realms. If you can leave them smiling, this is a wonderful success.