Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Oracle bones and remembering

February 24th, 2014

I have a lovely, fat book on my shelves called Sources of Chinese Tradition (volume 1), full of excerpted translations from the Chinese. Chapter 1, fittingly enough, is about oracle bone inscriptions: the earliest Chinese writing, divination records from the Shang dynasty, long before Yi came into being.

The bone – a turtle shell or the scapula of an ox or water buffalo – would be prepared for use, and then the charge is put to the oracle and the bone is cracked by the application of heat. The king himself interprets the cracks to read the spirits’ response, and then the bones are inscribed with a record of the divination.

Some bones have not only a record of the charge to the oracle (something like ‘It will rain’ or ‘In the next ten days there will be no disasters’ – an affirmation functioning as something between a question and a prayer), and what the king read from the cracks, but also a verification: what really happened.

Crack-making on jimao [a day in the cycle of 60, identified by its stem and branch], Que divined: “It will rain”
The king read the cracks: “If it rains, it will be on a ren day.”
“On renwu, it really did rain.”


Crack-making on guisi, Que divined: “In the next ten days there will be no disasters.”
The king read the cracks and said: “There will be calamities; there will be someone bringing alarming news.”
When it came to the fifth day, dingyou, there really was someone bringing alarming news from the west. Zhi Guo reported and said, “The Tufang have attacked in our eastern borders and have seized two settlements. The Gongfang likewise invaded the fields of our western borders.”

So here is the record engraved on the bone, so the descendants can read and learn. (Though as far as I know, we still can’t see what the king saw in those cracks.) On almost all the bones with a verification recorded, the king was proved right – and these bones are engraved and decorated as if for display. We might reasonably assume that the official record-keepers would be more eager to keep detailed records of the king getting it right.

Yet we have a few records (and if we have some, there must surely have been others) of the king getting it wrong:

Crack-making on guisi (day 30), Zheng divined: “In the present first moon, it will rain.”
The king read the cracks and said: “…on the bing day it will rain.”
In the next ten-day week, on renyin (day 39) it rained; on jiachen (day 41) it also rained.

And now we are running out of space on the front of the bone, and it has not yet rained on a bing day (that’s the 3rd day of the 10-day week – day 33, 43 etc). So we continue on the back…

On jiyou (day 46) it rained; on xinhai (day 48), it also rained.

David Keightley, the author of this chapter, explains that it’s unusual for the diviners to keep records for this long after the divination. It seems very much as if they’re continuing in the hope that eventually it will rain on the right day of the week – but after two full weeks, they give up. As Keightley says,
‘“Well, it did rain a lot” might have sufficed to save some royal face.’

Does anyone else get a certain rueful feeling of familiarity? I’ve always looked at the fragments of oracle bones in museums and sensed a kindred spirit: someone who makes readings, keeps records, tries to learn something. I imagine they’d have been first in line to buy divination journal software.

As for the tendency to stretch the meaning of your interpretation post-hoc in an attempt to have it fit with circumstances… no, not recognising that at all

But then… why did they record this? They had large enough stores of oracle bones, goodness knows, so why not just quietly lose this one? The divination records are solid evidence of the king’s spiritual authority, and this record doesn’t do anything for his reputation.

It looks as though something is more important than the king’s reputation – more important even than the oracle’s own reputation. That would be the practice of divination, as something you trust, remember and attend to.

Just quietly losing the reading that hasn’t quite worked out or that you can’t quite understand or don’t much like – that would be the first, slippery step towards losing the connection to guidance altogether. Or to put it another way, the least helpful reading is not the one with the less-than-ideal question, nor the one you can’t fully understand, but the one you don’t remember. (Keeping a journal is an excellent start; there’s more on integrating a reading or other sign into your awareness in Pamela Moss’s talk in Into the Flow of Change.)

And this reminds me – maybe it’s time I reviewed some readings…

Two-line changes

February 15th, 2014

If you’ve been working with Yi for a while, you’re probably familiar with the idea of looking at the hexagram each individual moving line would change to on its own, to give you a better context to understand its meaning. You might have heard them referred to as zhi gua, or (by Stephen Karcher) as ‘steps of change’.

Sometimes you can see the mind of the oracle’s creators at work quite clearly when you look at line and zhi gua, as at 38.5 zhi 10, Treading behind the tiger:

‘Regrets vanish.
Your ancestor bites through the skin.
Why would going on be wrong?’

Which ancestor? One with remarkably good teeth, apparently…

(And incidentally, there’s a Chinese word for ‘ancestor’, xian, that consists of the components ‘person’ and ‘footstep’.)

Sometimes the connection is a bit more of a challenge, and the moment of seeing the connection-that-isn’t-there becomes an intimate part of the reading experience. 6.5, for instance:

‘Arguing: good fortune from the source.’

Really? Considering that just about every other line tells you that arguing is dangerous or futile or both, how could it be a good idea?

Well, maybe in that moment when you’re arguing but not yet across, not yet committed to a position or a next step, and acutely aware of the dangers of committing yourself on thin ice…?

It does seem as though someone had these connections in mind as they – somehow! – put this oracle together. The line that connects two hexagrams often has something quite specific to say about… well… the connection between the two hexagrams.

So… what about when two lines connect two hexagrams? Might the two lines together say something about the relationship? Well… of course. In the context of a reading, I’d always explore how the changing lines, however many of them there were, defined the relating hexagram ‘moment’ of the primary hexagram. But is this something we can see in the abstract, without a reading in mind?

I think it is. At least, every now and then, I stumble across a two-line connection that’s quite as clearly ‘meant’ as some of the one-line connections.

One I’ve mentioned before: 60.1.2 changing to 8 – Measuring’s moment of Seeking Union, looking for and choosing a place to belong:

‘Not going out of the door to the family rooms.
Not a mistake.’
‘Not going out of the gate from the courtyard.

With these two lines together, with their parallel construction and contrasting omens, perhaps you’re finding a measured balance between self-sufficiency and parochialism.

Another: 27.2.4 to 38 – an alienated, oppositional aspect to the structures of Nourishment:

‘Unbalanced nourishment.
Rejecting the standard, looking to the hill-top for nourishment.
Setting out to bring order – pitfall.’
‘Unbalanced nourishment,
Good fortune.
Tiger watches, glares and glares.
His appetites, pursues and pursues.
No mistake.’

These are the only two lines of 27 that speak of ‘unbalanced nourishment’ – nourishment fallen, toppled, turned upside down, subverted. Perhaps that’s what happens when you bring 38′s different way of seeing to bear on what sustains you.

And one more: 55.3.4 to 24. I just noticed this recently, and I think it’s one of my favourites. Hexagram 24 is Returning, the hexagram of winter solstice, the darkest point when the light begins to return. Hexagram 55 describes a total solar eclipse – and the two lines that join it to Returning evoke its darkest moment:

‘Feng is flooded with darkness
At midday, seeing a froth of light.
Your right arm broken,
Not a mistake.’
‘Feng is screened off
At midday, seeing the Dipper.
Meeting your hidden lord,
Good fortune.’

(Change all three lines that refer to the stars visible during the eclipse, 2, 3 and 4, and you have hexagram 19, the Nearing of a benevolent spirit, a clear promise in the darkness.)

I find each one of these a complete delight… the only thing is, they leave me wondering about every other two-line change, and quite how much I must be missing.

Casting the vessel… of state?

January 27th, 2014

I’ve written very excited posts before about the pattern of complementary hexagrams in the Sequence of the Yijing. Quick recap: to find a hexagram’s complement, you change all 6 of its lines. Thus the complement of hexagram 1 is hexagram 2 -

||||||        ::::::

and the complement of Hexagram 3, Sprouting is Hexagram 50, the Vessel:

|:::|:        :|||:|

- and this is where it gets exciting, as…

  1. every hexagram between 3 and 50 finds its complement within that space, too. So it’s almost as if the Vessel and its complement were… a Vessel, in the Sequence, for containing hexagrams.
  2. if you imagine 3 and 50 as the mould to cast the vessel, and start looking at the ‘layers’ of the casting inside the mould – 5 and 6 on one side, 47 and 48 on the other, and so on all the way ‘in’, you find some lovely patterns: correlations in both shape and meaning of the hexagrams sited opposite one another.
  3. at the mid-point of this (when you’ve matched up 5/6 with 48/47, 7/8 with 46/45, and so on), you find the two sequences meet between 25-26 and 28-27. 28-27 look like (among other things) a mould and the contents poured into it.

So anyway… this is great fun to play with, and I’m barely beginning. (For instance, there must be something distinctive and unifying about the hexagrams that aren’t in the Vessel, don’t you think?) Today I’m just adding another idea to the mix: state building.

The Zhou people, when they established their rule, created a substantial sphere of influence by setting up feudal lords. Some were relatives, some were local leaders who became allies; all governed their region as representatives of Zhou authority, creating a network of trust through which information and resources could flow.

The hexagram associated with the moment of establishing Zhou rule is 50: the Vessel, embodiment of a state validated by its connection to the spirits through offering.

And hexagram 3…

From the source, creating success, constancy bears fruit.
Don’t use this to have a direction to go,
Fruitful to establish feudal lords.’

…shows a new ruler, not travelling, but expanding his network in all directions like the roots of a seedling.

There’s a great expanse of hexagrams, and a great gulf in experience, between the clear, strong centre and the small one struggling to get a grip in the new soil – and yet they’re also the same pattern, like opposite sides of the same mould.

No other complementary hexagrams are anything like so far apart (the next largest gap is between 5 and 35, then 21 and 48). Maybe this represents the great physical distance between the centre and the states: it was a great achievement to bridge such a distance, creating true echoes of the centre far away at the periphery. (Also, of course, it wasn’t sustainable: the states grew in independence, their bonds to the centre weakened, and in the end the states held the real power.)

So now I’m seeing a second ‘layer’ of meaning in this structure of complements. It shows vessel-casting, the mould and its reverse side – but it also shows state-building.

Here in the West, especially on this small damp island, the natural image for the state is a ship. But in ancient China… perhaps the vessel of state? The state as humanity’s hugest endeavour, its biggest mirror to heaven; the Vessel, the most sophisticated product of the civilisation (just think what it takes – expert knowledge, technology, resources, support – to cast one), and also, in the shared ritual meal, at the heart of its very direct and simple relationship to the spirits. Everything we do (or almost everything – not forgetting 51-64) could be understood within the arc of that great enterprise.

This casts new light on those correlations between hexagrams further into the mould. Hexagrams 5 and 6 stand across from 48-47, and you could surely say that Hexagram 5, waiting and praying for favourable weather, is fulfilling the same basic function as the Well, bringing what the farmer needs. Only the Well is the product of complex collaboration, part of a stable civilisation. It’s just that there are faint echoes between the prayers and dances of 5 and the well-lining work of 48.

Then there’s 8, how we come together, like Yu bringing the beginnings of the first state together after the floods were conquered – sited opposite the grand ceremony of 45, renewing the same covenant, still bringing order out of chaos. (That was what Yu did – and the line texts of 45 are a reminder that bigger gatherings create more opportunities for chaos!) More echoes, I think. Or am I hearing things?

What to do with dreams?

January 6th, 2014

Something I’d like to do this year: learn more about how to work with dreams and Yi, together, as a single fabric of meaning. (Something that’ll be made much more practical by the upcoming journal software.) So I’m casting readings like this one and this one in an attempt to create a context within which it’ll all come together.

The thing is… dreams are strange. Or at least, from the perspective of our culture’s normal view of the world and how to live in it, they’re strange – they don’t fit anywhere. Nor does divination, of course, and since you’re reading this I don’t suppose you share in that ‘normal view of the world’ either – but still, why would anyone need to dream? And what are you supposed to do with the dreams you have?

Actually, even if it’s clear that dreams are important, it’s not obvious what we’re to do with them. At least if you cast a reading, you form your intention before you cast – it’s no bad idea to write down what your reading is for and how things will be different as a result of it, before you cast. But dreams are like synchronicities: they volunteer themselves, come unsolicited, so it’s far from clear what they’re about, let alone how to respond.

Are we meant to ‘respond’ at all – or even to understand? Dreams are an important inner process, true… but so are the workings of the gallbladder, and we don’t try to bring those into conscious awareness; we mind our own business and let it do its work. Maybe dreams are best just left alone. Or maybe we should…

  • interpret them, seek to identify their message
  • or interact with them in other ways, re-entering them in imagination, turning them into art or fiction
  • or share them, make them part of relationships
  • or just store them away for review
  • or always look for a way to translate them into action in waking life


Question: what would be a good way to respond to dreams? What are we meant to do with them?

Answer: Hexagram 2, Earth, unchanging.

(If you’re familiar with Yi – isn’t that brilliant?)

The first and second hexagrams of the Yijing are the ‘gates’ into its world. The first is made of pure solid lines -


- and represents Creative Force, Heaven. It’s the ceaseless driving creative power that makes acorns grow into oak trees and the stars move in their paths: the principle, the information, whose movement becomes reality. Human experience of this hexagram is usually about trying to find ways to relate to its power – it can show up as inspiration, driving energy, or sometimes as knowing, even as moral certainty.

The second hexagram, the way to respond to dreams, is made of pure open lines -


- and represents Earth, the Receptive. Those open lines are space where everything happens, and the capacity to sustain it all. As often as not, this hexagram’s answering some variation on the question, ‘How can I serve?

Isn’t Hexagram 1 – the pure energy, creative spirit without embodiment – a lot like a dream? So doesn’t it make perfect, beautiful sense that our response to that should be Hexagram 2?

Here’s the oracle of Hexagram 2:

From the source, creating success.
The constancy of a mare bears fruit.
A noble one has a direction to go.
At first: confusion. Later: gains a master.
Fruitful in the southwest, gaining partners.
In the northeast, losing partners.
Peaceful constancy brings good fortune.’

This begins just like Hexagram 1, which says simply,

‘Creative Force.
From the source, creating success.
Constancy bears fruit.’

But as Earth, responding to the pure energy of the dream, we specifically need the mare’s constancy to participate fully in the creative flow. She’s gentle, swift, strong, and above all alertly responsive, available to be guided.

So… the working of dreams is not like the workings of gallbladders, then; it’s not enough just to forget them and leave them be. It’s better to approach dreams with ears pricked, ready to change course – to do something in response.

zhu, master‘A noble one has a direction to go.
At first: confusion. Later: gains a master.’

The ‘direction to go’ is a lot like the intention that begins a reading: I want to go this way (I just don’t know how/ what it might look like). This line in a reading about dreams reminds me that we always have an intention: we’re always walking round with a question, a deep desire. If we become aware of what that is, then we have a chance to notice how our world is already answering it. Then the master and guide – the Chinese character for ‘master’, wonderfully, shows a lit lamp – emerges from the confusion. (Though it seems it’s necessary to have the confusion first!)

‘So, you are soil to be worked, you are a mare. Or, more literally, you are a nobleman who is looking for a job, hoping to be worked by a spirited leader.’

(Freeman Crouch, I Ching: the Chameleon Book)

- and this is the best approach to take to dreams.

‘Fruitful in the southwest, gaining partners.
In the northeast, losing partners.
Peaceful constancy brings good fortune.’

We had the southwest/northeast axis in my previous dream reading, too, in Hexagram 39. Here as there, I think this says that dreams are something to be worked on together, with partners. At least, there is a balance to be had between going southwest with the dream, to find allies, and then going alone to the northeast, following your own lamp-guide to act on your dream.

an, peacefulThen from the mare’s constancy to ‘peaceful’ constancy – one of my favourite characters, meaning content, still, quiet, at ease, and showing in its ancient form a woman under her roof. Be alert to dreams, respond to them like a mare to guidance, like earth to seeds, share them, act on them – and also settle in quietly and make yourself at home with them. This is where you live.


(If you find the images of ancient characters in this post interesting, please show your appreciation by making a donation at Richard Sears’ Chinese Etymology site!)

I Ching readings available for January

January 4th, 2014

Just a quick note: I’m excited to say my doors are open for readings this month. I have a limited number of openings – just four this time.

I limit myself to these small numbers because I ‘carry the reading with me’ for a month, reviewing and revisiting, listening for synchronicities, and chatting via email with the querent as the reading unfolds. I don’t have the capacity to do this for many people at once! And I also need to limit ‘opening times’ so I can give readings the focus and energy they need – and so I always look forward to the  experience :) .

The individual reading service I offer these days is a spacious, in-depth exploration, through three calls and however-many emails over the course of a month or so. If something in your life is asking for this kind of attention (you know how the issues we shove out of sight at other times like to resurface in the quiet of winter?), please have a look at the full details here.

If you’re not sure, by all means download Ways of Opening (use the form at the end of the page) and book a free preliminary call so we can talk through your situation and question and decide whether a reading is right for you.

Dreams: rain dance of the soul?

December 11th, 2013

I asked Yi,

‘Why do we dream?’

I had a few reasons for asking: huge curiosity about the answer, of course, and wondering what Yi might say out of all the possible answers I could think of. (‘Processing’ stuff from the day? Receiving messages? Random noise? Ongoing inner work?) Also as a starting point for an exploration of all the ways Yi and dreams work together – quite a few possible questions come to mind, and this seems a good one to ask first. And because I wanted to share the answer with you, whatever it was, to get ideas flowing that nourish all of us. (So even though this is going to get a bit long, I’ll leave it as a single post so it’ll only create one forum thread.)

(Maybe this is a good place to say that I never expect this kind of reading to tell me everything there is to know about the topic. It’s not possible to learn everything there is to know about why we dream; it is possible to learn something. I trust the oracle to provide the ‘something’ that I – and anyone else drawn to the reading – most need to learn at the time.)

Why do we dream, Yi? (What are dreams for?)

Hexagram 5, Waiting, changing at lines 1 and 2 to 39, Limping.

The relating hexagram is usually the ‘where you’re coming from’ hexagram, the subjective anchor for the reading. With this question, my first thought is that it’s about the waking world: struggling uphill, needing help, needing a radical change of direction. Hexagram 39 I associate with going ‘against the flow’ – being ‘out of dao‘.

xu, waitingHexagram 5 is the dream’s action – Waiting on help.

Looking at the two together, the dream Waits on help at Hexagram 39, in the place of difficulty and struggle. 5 is waiting for a change in the weather – for the rain to start, or for it to stop, to bring what we need. It reminds me of the Rainmaker story from Richard Wilhelm: the little rainmaker who visits a drought-stricken village, sits alone in his hut and returns himself to dao, until – of course, naturally – it rains.

Dreaming as Waiting

‘Waiting, with truth and confidence.
Shining out, creating success: constancy brings good fortune.
Fruitful to cross the great river.’

guangWaiting is not passive; waiting ‘shines out’ with trust. When you dream, you are not trying to make stuff happen; you’re waiting with truth and confidence. The ‘shining out’ character, guang, is a remarkable one: its early form shows a kneeling figure with a head of fire. There’s the dreaming mind, alight with readiness.We dream as an invitation for what we need to come to us. You might deliberately incubate a dream, asking as you fall asleep for a response – but this sounds as though all dreams are incubated by the deeper self.

This doesn’t, of course, tell us what it is that comes through dreams; Hexagram 5 doesn’t say what you’re waiting for. But Waiting does also mean ‘needing’ -

‘Young things cannot do without nourishment, and so Waiting follows. Waiting means the way of eating and drinking.’

(How interesting that dreaming, as a way of Waiting, follows on as a response to Not Knowing.)

‘The clouds are above heaven. Waiting.
A noble one eats, drinks and relaxes with music.’

We’re waiting for what we need, for the means of life and growth. It seems to me that dreaming is part of the mind’s working like hunger is: an intrinsic appetite to ensure we’ll be nourished.

LiSe says of Hexagram 5,

“Creativity is not obedient. One cannot call for it and expect it to be there.
But waiting in an open and quiet way makes the clouds gather, and very often they will bring creative rain.
Many things come by waiting, rather than by acting. As if one opens a cosmic door for them to enter.”

Falling asleep = opening a cosmic door. Exactly.

Hexagram 5 pairs with 6, Waiting with Arguing:

‘Waiting means not progressing, Arguing means not connecting.’

In this reading, 6 looks like the waking correlate to 5′s dreams. If something isn’t working or a need isn’t met, in waking life I don’t tolerate this, I take the initiative and seek to make progress; in dreams, I wait and invite connection. There are any number of stories of people finding creative solutions in dreams – to anything from the molecular structure of benzene to the design of the sewing machine needle.

It’s also fruitful to cross the great river, though: to show willing by paying full attention, going as far as you can towards what you’re waiting on. Have you found that when you make a regular practice of recording all your dreams in a journal, even if they’re nothing but insignificant fragments, you start remembering more and more?

 Moving lines – two things dreams do



Lines 1 and 2 are ‘lit up’ as changing, making a yang change pattern of 19, Nearing, and a yin pattern of 33, Retreat. A clear picture: presence comes; the conscious mind gets out of the way.


Line 1: the outskirts altar

‘Waiting at the outskirts altar,
Fruitful to use perseverance.
No mistake.’

I’ve been doing more research for an expanded Words of Change, including a section on offerings, so I’ve learned a bit more about the outskirts altar. It’s an open-air altar, sited outside the town walls – a counterpart to the temple within them. The temple is to honour the ancestors; the outskirts altar, equally important, is to care for the relationship with all the spiritual powers inherent in nature – including wind and rain.

This line points over to Hexagram 48, the Well – another communal resource. Dreaming: waiting at the outskirts altar, waiting at the well, waiting where you can connect into a deep source of sustenance. (And one, interestingly, that belongs to the community as a whole. No-one maintains a well single-handedly, or makes a solitary offering at the outskirts.)

I think it’s important that this altar is at the border of the town; the ancient character combines elements meaning ‘city’ and ‘exchange, meet, join, communicate’. This is where the city meets and exchanges with natural forces; the ‘intersection altar’ between human concerns and the larger world.

When you dream, you wait at the intersection between your daily stuff and the bigger reality. You haven’t wandered right out into the wilderness where everything is wild and strange; you haven’t stayed inside where everything is familiar and comprehensible: you’re inbetween. This is why you can interpret a dream about your friend Marge by asking yourself, ‘What is Marge like?’, or interpret a dream about a horse by explaining what a horse is to a Martian. The forces from beyond ‘normal’ come close enough to normal to speak and relate in terms you can understand.

“Dream is the personalised myth, myth the depersonalised dream.”

(Joseph Campbell)

hexagram 32, hengAt the outskirts altar, it’s fruitful to use perseverance – no mistake. This ‘perseverance’ character is the name of Hexagram 32, heng – the heart-boat between two shores. It’s good to make a steady routine of the journey to and fro, inbetween. This is what Stephen Karcher calls ‘fixing the omen’, and keeping a dream journal so the dream images don’t drift away from you is a good start. (You know the well doesn’t maintain itself.)

Also, it just makes good practical sense to persevere at this altar. You might spend an hour in offering and ceremony and see no change in the clouds. Natural forces move at their own pace, alignment with them takes a while, and that’s as it should be: no mistake, persevere, come back tomorrow. So you asked for a dream to solve a great crisis and all you remember dreaming is that you ran out of tinned tomato soup? Write that down and ask again tonight.

Line 2: on the sands

‘Waiting on the sands,
There are small words.
In the end, good fortune.’

You can feel the sands shifting underfoot as you walk, and their shape is constantly changing. Not a secure place to wait. What are we doing, dreaming here?

Well… this line joins with 63, Already Across – which, despite having the decision made and everything in the right place, is a thoroughly anxious hexagram: ‘beginnings, good fortune; endings, chaos.’ You’ve really only got started on the journey; you don’t know if it’ll end well. So you’re across and yet still waiting, and smallness has plenty to say in the meantime.

There’s an idea, isn’t there, that some dreams are Big and some are small? Mostly mental chatter, not amounting to much? Or recurring anxiety dreams that simply rehearse our fears. (I’m trying not to start talking about line pathways here, but doesn’t 63.2 sound like a fear-of-exposure dream?) These things should resolve themselves over time.

So I think that while line 1 dreams are there to invite guidance, line 2 dreams are there to allow the small inner selves time to catch up with outer change, to get used to the idea that we’re moving on. The conscious decision to cross is never the end of the matter. That could be why 63′s Oracle says ‘endings, chaos’ while 5.2 says ‘endings, good fortune’: if the small selves can talk it all out, we can keep our momentum and avoid falling into chaos.

In fact (that resolution about line pathways is not doing well),  if 5 and 6 are like dreaming and waking, maybe the paired lines here have something to say about the waking situations for these dreams? Dreaming goes to the outskirts altar for help when we face one of those ‘significant problems [that] cannot be solved at the level of thinking that created them’ – 6.6 problems, where we can keep on winning and always lose. Or, when we’re making progress outwardly through flexible engagement (6.5), dreaming rehearses small words on the changing sands so there will be good fortune in the end.

Hexagram 39: struggle and turnaround

clouds over mountainI already mentioned that hexagram 39 in this reading looks like a waking place to dream from – struggling uphill, against the flow, ‘out of dao‘, with dreams expressing and meeting our need to get back in. On reflection – and after looking at the lines – maybe it’s also true that dreams are the struggle of waiting for rain: a limping, to-and-fro dance like the Pace of Yu (the flood hero – he had plenty of weather problems of his own, poor man); the mind ‘showing its workings’ as it grapples with change. Waiting amidst limping, waiting as limping…

But then 39 isn’t only about struggle -

‘Limping. Fruitful in the southwest,
Not fruitful in the northeast.
Fruitful to see great people.
Constancy, good fortune.’

- it’s about co-operation and getting help. Yu the Great struggled on and conquered the floods, but with the help of dragon, tortoise and the lords and spirits; the Zhou conquered the Shang, but only with the help of their allies from the southwest. There are times when the only lucid, realistic response to struggle is to turn round and look for help.

Which reminds me… of the success of ‘dream circles’, and the sheer number of thriving dream forums, and how when the members of my own Yijing Mastermind group turn their wise attention to my dreams, I experience them especially strongly as powerful allies. Sharing readings is a great thing in itself, but… I wonder if there isn’t something intrinsic to dreams and their purpose that makes us want to tell them. It’s a way to ‘go southwest’ with our waking-and-dreaming work, and share in the energy of other people working the same fields. (Though the dream itself could be seen as a journey southwest, too – enlisting help from inner allies or helping spirits.)

So now I’m not sure whether 39′s turnaround happens inside the dream or outside it – nor exactly where that boundary is to be drawn anyway.

‘Above the mountain, there is water. Limping.
Noble one turns himself around to renew his de.’

Actually… maybe any turnaround worthy of the name is both inside and outside, renewing self and strength. I once asked Yi for the meaning of a dream about Ann, the most enthusiastic of the girls who bullied me at school – an effortlessly popular, confident, dominant personality – but in the dream she needed my compassion and help. I received Hexagram 39. The dream’s inner turnaround couldn’t help but be an outer one, too – a big (and overdue) rearrangement of my way of seeing. So yes… I suppose that’s what guidance does, from dreams or oracles: reorient you, align you with a deeper reality, nudge you away from the uphill struggle…


Checking the answer?

November 27th, 2013

A kind correspondent (I haven’t sought his permission to quote, so I’ll just call him KC) wrote to ask me my opinion on the ‘RTCM’ – the ‘Retrospective Three Coin Method’ developed by Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog, which is meant as a way to confirm or deny your interpretation by casting three coins to get a definite or tentative yes or no response.

I had to pause and think about my answer, because although I’ve read their description of the method, I’ve never been at all interested in trying it. (KC had tried it and found it inaccurate, even though it seemed to make sense in theory.) Why not?

Also, I’m reminded of a question addressed by all the contributors to Into the Flow of Change (link to follow) – ‘How can I trust the message?’ In other words, how can you know you’re not covering over the truth with what you want to hear (or what you dread hearing) and just making stuff up? We had a mix of responses from our tarot reader, dream interpreter, tracker of synchronicities and Yijing diviner: some challenged the value of ‘objectivity’, some suggested practical tests to apply to your answer. Funnily enough, no-one suggested tossing coins to be sure… which probably doesn’t greatly surprise you… but then again, why not?

In my own experience, there isn’t really a moment in a reading when this kind of practice would fit. Sometimes I understand at once; sometimes I don’t. When I understand, all the ‘verification’ I need arises internally; there’s an inner resonance, a clear assent. And when I don’t… well, I don’t. It’s almost never the case that I have an idea of what it might be saying and need to check. I either know, or I just don’t have much of an idea at all, and need to wait. To ‘turn the symbols in my heart’, as Stephen Karcher would say, and attend to them, and see what arises.

I said ‘almost never’: the few exceptions tend to come when I’m reading for someone else. The most important thing here is for the querent to experience that inner resonance – but the more I can understand, the better.

If I need more insight for a client, and if waiting and pondering isn’t enough, I’ll cast a supplementary reading. For example, if the first reading seems to be advising a particular course of action, I might ask, ‘What difference would it make if she did that?’ As I’m looking for a more complete understanding of a complex situation, to be able to reflect the whole picture back to the querent, I need to work with whole readings; there’s still not much call for yes/no.

And also… I wonder if this way of seeking confirmation might not be counterproductive for the kind of reading I do?

KC wants to get accurate answers to factual questions, so he needs yes/no answers. Either x is true or it isn’t – the objective answer is ‘out there’. (I’ve sent KC some links to more information on traditional methods of prediction.) But I don’t often use readings that way – and locating the authority ‘out there’ when your readings are mostly about yourself and how you move in the world feels discordant.

It seems to me that if you’re hurrying to get external validation for your insight, you might miss out altogether on the inner experience of a reading. You might never learn what it feels like – the way a reading gradually settles in and shapes your thinking, or how an image can connect and resonate until your understanding chimes like a bell…

If you enjoy this kind of reflection, you’ll appreciate this exploration of ‘yes/no’ answers and the RTCM from the I Ching Community last year.