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What to do with dreams?

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 this 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!)

6 responses to What to do with dreams?

  1. I have no doubt myself that dreams are unconscious processes asking to be acknowledged and integrated. Hex 2 is brilliant here, open to receive. I used to write dreams down but then found that drawing a little sketch as soon as I woke up helps me keep more of the feel of it. Always include a little dialogue from any characters in my dream – what were they saying and doing?
    I had a whole year of continuously dreaming about dying horribly and about babies being born. Needless to say, lots of soul-shaking! Since I started to develop a creative practice, I dream a lot about babies too – creativity as playfulness.

  2. I just saw this. Yes you can draw! You may not want to which is a different thing, but everyone can express an experience/moment through images. Which colour calls out? Which shape wants to land on the page? The drawing draws itself – our job at first is to only be loose so the image can come through.
    I also said for years that I can’t draw, and I still have no technical skill, but I do now have a folder bursting with meaningful images. And a little book of dream-sketches. Which I have been neglecting actually…
    Hope you are enjoying your morning writing.

  3. Ah… by ‘can’t draw’ I just meant ‘cannot reproduce what I see on paper’. That includes what I see in my imagination. I can capture it in words, though, and I love doing that.

    (At school we had a tremendously kind art teacher who refused ever to give anyone less than 40% in an exam. I think she would have been happier if there were no art exams in the first place. Anyway… lots of 40%s 😉 )

  4. I have some really great I Ching dreams. Once you start really seeding these primal symbols into your subconscious (I’m trying to memorize it) it becomes a language that the divine can communicate through. You could also use it as secret code I suppose.
    I had one dream where the hexagram lines turned into friendly rainbow tarantula’s and started teaching me… the most striking one was actually a hypnopompic vision. It was 11 unchanging. Or 11:11 as I interpreted it. I saw a two headed buffalo standing upon a cliff over looking a virginal paradise of lush green. it had one head on each side connected in the middle so that it had no tail, or no end as I interpret. Like somekind of mirrior induced optical illusion.
    Another weird fact, I used to call the mother of my daughter by the nick name of hexagram 64 :Wei- Chi, long before I ever cast my first hexagram.
    Of all the forms of divination, tarot would be the standard issue automobile that everyone drives. The pictures make it easily accessible to the conscious. That said abstract symbols (like those found in the Iching or runes) affect the subconscious directly, and are in my opinion,far superior for developing ones intuition than images. ( I would not make any claim to one system being better than another. Its dependent upon the user’s personal preference. also the tarot is not without its symbology, but its hidden,take the shape of the hanged man’s gallows for instance, shaped in the Hebrew letter Tau.) Runes, as abstract symbols without the wealth of commentary provided by the I-ching would be the muscle car. in my opinion, as bare streamlined symbols, the fastest system, and the most difficult to control.
    And of course tarot wouldn’t be so popular without good reason. The holy Qaballah is encoded into its very structure.
    The I-ching however, with its haunting poetry and abstract symbols is the luxury automobile. The poetry provides the accessabilty of the tarot’s beautiful iconography, while the abstract nature of the hexagrams’ stark forms provide the same “intuitive training supplement” that the runes do.
    These archetypal images are seeds. If you work with diligence and faith they will bear fruit. These divine engines have been sorely degraded.(witch is fitting I suppose as man himself has become degraded) if you give them the respect they deserve they will return it…and then some.
    That said, the runes, in my opinion are awaiting a revelation that the I-ching attained way back in the day of king Wen.
    If you think of it, once the Iching was once just 8 primal trigrams on the back of a magic turtle (27.1). Then someone decided to put them together making 64 hexagrams. Imagine the uproar. poor trail blazer, he or she must have been brutally attacked.
    then Kin Wen was imprisoned, and he decided to spend his time illuminating the meaning of the individual lines. I believe his son finished his fathers work.
    Sometimes when you are really in tune you can actually carry on a conversation with the I ching. It speaks directly too you and there can be no question of doubt, when it answers as such.
    Still , like anything of true value, you will only get out of the I ching what you put in. Trust is a two way street, and if you can’t give it you won’t get it.
    So I’ve really went off on a tangent here. Can you tell I’m REALLY lonely. at least I have the oracle to speak too. I trust no one’s advice more. I never thought three pennies would provide me with such true wealth!!!
    The I-Ching: A book that reads you!!

  5. Friendly rainbow tarantulas? Two-headed buffalo? You enjoy a very high class of Yijing dream.

    Yes, ‘the book that reads you’ describes it well, and I know what you mean about conversations. Not sure about which vehicle it would be, though… sometimes it seems like hexagram 2’s mare, responsive and gentle, but frequently more like a camel – capable of carrying me onward indefinitely, but not exactly a comfortable ride, and it doesn’t appear to have a very high opinion of me much of the time…

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