Firm Gently, Gently Firm and the I Ching

What’s with the name?

Yang (unbroken line) and Yin (broken line)

Ok, originally I found the phrase “please firm gently” on the back of a packet of seeds. I loved the juxtaposition of concepts (firm it!.. but gently!). And I liked the yin-yang nature of it too.

I Ching / The Classic of Changes

I use the I Ching, an ancient Chinese book full of deep insight, wisdom and observations on nature, especially human nature. The name translates to Classic of Changes and at 3,000 years old it’s the oldest of the Chinese classics and one of the oldest books in the world. This book knows a lot.

Taoism and the concept of Yin/Yang come from the I Ching.

The version I use has been translated as follows:
Chinese > German > English > shortened/simplified English.

So a lot will have been lost from the original. It keeps it short and sweet though and as you have to interpret the meaning of the text in your own way I like the distilled version, uncluttered by other people’s interpretations.

Inner Truth hexagram, the first tattoo I ever had. It reminds me to do the right thing, to not be selfish. Of course it doesn’t always work, I’m human. But whenever I see it I am reminded.

The Joyous: A trigram representing joyousness and the image of a lake.

The I Ching is a book of 64 pages, each based on one of 64 hexagrams (‘6-lines’).

Each hexagram is made from two trigrams(‘3-lines’).

There are eight trigrams, each represents a base concept (shown below) and when combined in pairs they represent another less primitive concept.

  • The Creative   Heaven
  • The Receptive   Earth
  • The Arousing   Thunder
  • The Abysmal   Water
  • Keeping Still   Mountain
  • The Gentle   Wind, wood
  • The Clinging   Fire
  • The Joyous   Lake

So, the logos?

So the Firm Gently logo is made up of the trigrams for KEEPING STILL (firm, a fist) and THE GENTLE (the open hand), reading from right to left to keep it Chinese. The Gently Firm logo has the trigrams in opposite positions.

KEEPING STILL (firm, a fist)

THE GENTLE (the open hand)

8 x 8 = 64 pages of wise words.

The I Ching does not try to predict the future. To use it, you find a random way of being ‘directed’ to a page, often with a particular question or situation in mind. So the idea is that you’ll be guided to a page which helps you to understand your question or situation.

I use the 3-coin method. You take 3 coins, toss them and the results (how many heads/tails) get converted into a line in your hexagram. It might be an unbroken line (yang), a broken line (yin) or a special ‘moving line’ which changes from yin to yang or vice-versa (moving lines happen when you get 3 heads or 3 tails).

Do this another 5 times to get your 6 lines for your hexagram. Look up the hexagram on the contents page and it tells you which page in the book to read.

“I threw the I Ching yesterday…it said there’d be some thunder at the well…”

Interpretation for today’s world

Even this ‘modern’ version requires a lot of work on the reader’s part to make use of it today. Being aimed at ancient Chinese Emperors the language is all very male and talks a lot about being a leader, warfare and ‘controlling your population’ and so on. But the concepts covered are much broader than that, you just have to work out how to convert them into modern ideas and goals.

The original book was compiled and refined over centuries by some of the wisest people around. A lot of cultural changes have taken place since it was written. I don’t think human nature has changed at all in that time.

To be inwardly firm and outwardly gentle is the way of true joy.


Words of Influence

“I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than another, nor why this short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which will come after me. I see nothing but infinities on all sides, which surround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.”
Blaise Pascal

“English Teeth, English Teeth! Shining in the sun A part of British heritage Aye, each and every one. English Teeth, Happy Teeth! Always having fun Clamping down on bits of fish And sausages half done. English Teeth! HEROES’ Teeth! Hear them click! and clack! Let’s sing a song of praise to them – Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.”
Spike Milligan

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Hamlet to Horatio

When girls collide…Bits of flesh and eyeballs burning in the night…And when the storm dies down…pick the pieces up and put them on the ground.

And in the bloody tongue…We sing a dirty song…To wish, cuss so bad

But they said, yes they said…It’s in your head, it’s in your head…And they said, it’s in your head…It’s in your he-ead, in your he-ead…In your he-ead, in your he-ead.


“I’m beginning to notice some improvement.”
Casals aged 93 when asked why he continued to practice the cello three hours a day

“When you buy your first tube of paint you’re issued an artist’s licence. And an artist’s license says ‘you can do anything you want to do'”
Bob Ross

“…But the more I look into it, the more I’m sympathetic to a controversial view held by the psychologist Euan Macphail, among others, that all nonhuman vertebrates are equally intelligent. Now, that sounds like a ridiculous statement at first, but when you start trying to strip away all the species-specific characteristics and get to the core cognitive abilities — certain problem-solving, list-making, pattern-recognizing skills — you are very hard-pressed to find many differences between species. People say that sheep are really dumb, but sheep are clearly capable of recognizing individuals by their facial characteristics, and they can learn feeding schedules very quickly and very efficiently. So can goldfish. You can train a goldfish to choose this spot versus that spot in its tank to get fed. A lot of times when you do find apparent differences in learning ability, it’s really that the experiments were not designed very well. The classic case is that rats did not do well on a visual-discrimination test in which they had to pick certain visual patterns to get a food reward. People took this to mean that rats aren’t as good at learning as monkeys are. Well, it turns out that rats don’t have very good eyesight, but if you give them the same test using different odors instead of different visual stimuli, they learn just as quickly as any other animal does. Why should this be? There are certain things that develop pretty early on in the course of evolution, that are so fundamental and so universally useful that they’re very widespread. It may well be that the basic mechanism of learning is one of those things.”
Stephen Budiansky

Got any good quotes? Post them in the comments.