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‘.
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.’
Waiting 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.
“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.
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.”
At 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
I 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…