“The Well” ~ A Symbol of Healthy Community

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese book of 64 oracular readings that reflect enduring wisdom that predates and includes Confucianism and Taoism. The readings consist of archetypal circumstances with guidance on how the individual may act in harmony with the demands and opportunities of the moment. One such reading is The Well (48).

The Well is a symbol for Community. In ancient times the Well was both symbolically, and often literally, located at the center of the Community. From the Well, the community drew water, the basic sustenance for life. Metaphorically, the Well represented all the social resources of the community that were necessary to endure and thrive. If the Well fell into disrepair, if the life giving water was polluted or diminished in quantity, the Community suffered.

Every I Ching reading consists of six lines organized vertically, either a broken dashed line (“—  —“) or a solid line (“——“). (Pretend these dashes are solid.) Based on the toss of the coins, a line is changed to its opposite, creating a second hexagram reading. The second reading indicates movement from the circumstances of the first reading toward the second reading. The I Ching provides further guidance for each of the changing lines in a reading.

For The Well, the topmost line in the 6th position is the dominant circumstance. The 6th position in the Well describes a Well that is pure, abundant, and fully used by the community. It is a symbol of the ideal healthy community. The comment on this circumstance states that in such a community there is an abundance of resources that are being fully utilized. Conditions of Harmony prevail, and there is Unity of Purpose.

In the ideal healthy community there is an abundance of resources that are being fully utilized.

Just before writing this essay, I received the reading of The Well (48) with the changing line in the 6th position, which creates a second reading of Proceeding Humbly (57). The symbolism of Proceeding Humbly is the gentle wind which over time penetrates everything, and the image of a deeply rooted tree that grows slowly. The comment states that the leader(s) are in harmony with the people, sovereign authority and control are subordinated, and the Community proceeds slowly and steadily (as the ceaseless gentle wind) together.

These images are a powerful expression of what a healthy and sustainable community could look like. In contrast, today, on so many levels, personal, cultural, economically, and in our relation to nature, we are a house divided. As Abraham Lincoln said, a house divided cannot endure. We have neglected the Well that is located foundationally in individual local communities. Our sustaining water of life in community is people, their interests, dedication, goals, aspirations, commitment to act, Citizenship in its fullest sense, relationships, and unity of purpose. There is work to be done at all geographical and political scales, municipal, regional, national, and global. However, nothing enduring can be sustained without healthy local communities that are fully utilizing their own resources as stewards of their future with harmony and unity of purpose; and further, the greatest opportunity for breaking the gridlock that plagues our political system is at the level of people and communities.

Our sustaining water of life in community is people, their interests, dedication, goals, aspirations, commitment to act, Citizenship in its fullest sense, relationships, and unity of purpose.

The I Ching tells us that we must be stewards of our communal Well and bring great intentionality to that effort. In today’s parlance, this is partially captured in the concept of building “social capital.” In practical terms, we must create and support the means for open communication, expression, and learning at the community level, bringing together, at least in terms of information and opportunity, the diverse interests that exist. This provides a mechanism for the self-organization of diverse interests into working associations and collaboration and is a framework for creating greater unity of purpose slowly, over time. This is the mission of PlacerSustain, a community sustainability network.

Unity of purpose in a diverse post-industrial society may consist of the activation and support of a plurality of interests where, at least initially, the shared purpose is that we must come to know and talk to each other across ideological, political, economic, and cultural divisions, that we all have a stake in the paramount purpose of supporting people in community who wish to take responsibility for their own future with the resources in hand. We also may share an interest in fully realizing the power that is resident in communities.

As stated in Proceeding Humbly, while there is a role for authority and money, these instrumentalities cannot and should not be the motivating force in creating healthy community. The primary resources are people, information, communication, relationships, interests, and Citizenship. Without activating the resources inherent in healthy community, how will we ever truly address environmental and economic interests, the other concurrent and co-equal elements of the Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability? The emergence of unity of purpose at the community level is an essential agency in bringing our divided house together. We cannot wait passively for this to be done for us by the dominant political system.





Images: water well kash_if; The Well (48) ichingfortune.com; coins (home page) Ross Griff

About the Lead Author

Jeffrey Bordelon
Jeffrey Bordelon
Jeffrey Bordelon is a founder and director of PlacerSustain, a nonprofit organization in Placer County, CA dedicated to "connecting people and inspiring collaboration to build healthy communities and thriving local economies." He has been a practicing attorney and land use planner for almost 40 years. His specialities include real estate, business, construction, land development, and resource conservation.

The Latest

The Story of the Clouds and the Forests

There’s a story one often hears in conversations about systemic transformation that goes like this… We are headed in the...


More Articles Like This