Kan, the Water

What does Kan stand for?

Kan, the Water
Kan, the Water

Kan represents our basic trust and our unconscious resources, a distillate of our own – and sometimes third party – experiences and information that lie beyond our daily consciousness. Impulses and inspirations emerge from Kan and may trigger decisions or initiate actions. If we follow this gut feeling our actions will have a special quality: they feel a particular way “right”.

Many interpretations of the I Ching classify Kan as negative and dangerous. Kan has its own dynamics, which lie beyond the control of our intellect. The negative judgment is mainly rooted in the desire to control the unconscious aspects of our own personality. If we let go of this desire, Kan becomes a valuable resource.

In the classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine we find the following descriptions for the functional circuit kidney (see King Wen’s Later Heaven: the kidney is associated with Kan):

The kidney allows this awareness [of the boundaries of our own field] to penetrate deeply inside. It gives us an inner reference, a personal concern through feeling. It creates depth which may lead to an understanding of a comprehensive cosmic truth…
and gives us strength for the continuation of life.

The ears open towards the outside – but they allow impulses to touch our very souls… The ability to hear and our sense of balance… give us orientation in space.

The kidney – and with it the phase element water – conserve the basic, the essential, that what transcends generations, beyond our individual existence. Wisdom, the summary of life and decades of experience and will power, rest within it. It initiates action emanating from personal strength.
Phase Element Water

What does Kan emerge from?

kan_entwicklungWithin a hexagram Kan develops either from Gen or Li (exception: the hexagram begins KanKan is the lower trigram). The dark arrows indicate that a (broken) yin line is added to each previous trigram. Yin symbolizes receptiveness. We must be receptive in order to connect to our gut knowledge.

Kan emerges from Gen, the Mountain

Gen stands for disengagement which in turn opens a path for us to reconnect with our spiritual self: our own intuitive wisdom, our essence, collected on our way to here and now, and ready to nurture us.

Examples for hexagrams where Kan emerges from Gen → here.

Kan emerges from Li, the Fire

Our ability to intellectually differentiate impressions, facts, feelings etc. (Li) gives us clarity and creates a sense of calm. A peaceful mind yet makes it easier for us to trustingly open ourselves to the messages from our spiritual grounds: gut feelings, presentiments, intuitions.

Examples for hexagrams where Kan emerges from Li → here.

What does Kan develop into?

kan_entwicklungWithin hexagram a Kan develops either into Zhen or Li (exception: the hexagram ends with KanKan is the upper trigram).

Kan develops into Zhen, the Thunder

Zhen develops when a (broken) yin line is added (dark arrow; yin symbolizes receptivity). Trusting our gut feelings, being open to impulses from our unconscious resources creates the primordial seed of a new action, the first step into a new direction.

Examples for hexagrams where Kan develops into Zhen → here.

Kan develops into Li, the Fire

Li develops when a (solid) yang line is added (red arrow; yang symbolizes energy, activity). Head (Li) and gut (Kan) often seem to strive into different directions. If we examine the issue carefully we may find the clue to the inner logic of own being: That what seemed to be contradicting unties to personal strength.

Examples for hexagrams where Kan develops into Li → here.


Phase Element: Water
Functional Circuit: Kidney (KI)

Modern Interpretation

Basic trust; intuition; ancestral energy

Traditional Interpretation

Abysmal, dangerous, exposed to uncontrollable forces
Direction: downwards
Interpretation: danger from the outside which must be addressed carefully; abysmal depths; beyond: new energies

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