Ten steps to interpreting dreams with the I Ching

Uniting your dream life with an active relationship with the I Ching can be hugely stimulating and rewarding. Here are some basic ideas to start you on the road. (You'll need a working knowledge of the I Ching to get the most out of this article.)

  1. Which dream to choose? You probably won't want to take every dream to the I Ching. When you have the sense that you have been sent an important message but you haven't quite grasped it - then ask the I Ching. Or if the same old dream keeps coming back - a sure sign that you haven't got the message - the oracle can help to break the deadlock.
  2. Get in the habit of recalling your dreams. Have pen and paper (or a dictaphone) handy before you fall asleep. When you awaken, the last few images from the dream may still be in your mind. Lie still and let them return. You will be able to work backward from here to piece the story together. Don't worry if you don't have time to write out all the details: jotting down a few headings will be enough to jog your memory later.
  3. Try to become aware of the way themes and images flow between your waking and dreaming experience. You can encourage this by writing down your dreams when you wake - and also by re-reading them before you sleep.
  4. Start with the dream itself. When you have a dream you'd like the I Ching's help with, start by writing it down just as you would any dream you wanted to understand. Do whatever you find helpful: give the dream a title, draw it if you can, and (most importantly) recall its mood.
  5. Think about any questions the dream gives rise to. Your relationship with the I Ching is only as good as the questions you ask it: a provocative dream can raise the whole conversation to a new level.
  6. Ask the I Ching what your dream means. My own preference for dream interpretation, or any contemplative question, would be to use the yarrow stalk method. It gives me time to mull over the question's implications, and also to appreciate what an extraordinary thing is happening as the answer unfolds. But choose whatever method suits you.
  7. Look for a theme. When you have your answer, see whether the titles of the hexagrams form a phrase that might be a good title for your dream (such as 'Dangerous Learning' from Hexagram 29 changing to 4).
  8. Treat the answer like a dream. Read the answer as you normally would, but with the dream in the back of your mind. Ask the same sorts of questions about it as you would about a dream: what happens in it, what is its atmosphere, what position are you in within it and what are your options…
  9. What 'leaps out'? Often a single part of the reading - one hexagram, one line - will instantly connect to something about the dream or something about your waking life. This could be all it takes to reveal how the dream connects to waking life.
  10. Work outward from that point you recognise. If it's a moving line, what greater movement or energy is it part of? (Maybe the title of the hexagram will tell you a lot about the underlying subject-matter of the dream.) If it's the relating hexagram, perhaps this is your personal perspective. What is the objective situation, as represented by the primary hexagram? And what is the effect of your perspective, as represented by the moving line? The final effect should be to fit the dream into a wider context.

Still baffled? Give it time: this isn't an exam. There are no deadlines. Perhaps events (waking or sleeping!) will make the dream and the reading clear to you.

If it feels urgent to you, though, then by all means seek help. (Since this isn't an exam, you're not cheating!). An I Ching reader or a dream interpreter should be able to show you a way into the dream. But remember that it is yours!

I Ching dream analysis articles