Monday, February 8, 2010

Lady of I Ching

Her face glows in the dark of my bedroom like a yellow moon. The lovely young Chinese woman is studying me intently. She is as near as the foot of my bed. Her eyes are both very dark and very bright, her hair is lustrous black, cut neatly at shoulder length to produce a helmet effect. She is wearing a yellow tunic dress, and I remember that in China yellow is the color of Earth.
She communicates her intention: to teach me the real I Ching. As I look in her eyes I see they are like 8-balls, in constant rhythmic motion, displaying the eight trigrams that compose the essence of the Book of Changes, marrying in pairs to make the 64 hexagrams.
If this is a Lady of Earth, of the receptive power of K'un, where is her consort? I see him now, wearing a robe of deep blue silk, embroidered with what may be bronze dragons. He is a Lord of Sky, and I know he personifies Ch'ien, the Heaven of the Changes. His lower body moves, indistinctly, like that of a great serpent-dragon, its coils turning like a mobius strip. I sense that his lower body interweaves with that of the Lady.
I recall that according to tradition, the trigrams were invented by the dragon emperor Fu Xi, drawing knowledge from Heaven, and that in certain Taoist temples Fu Xi and his consort Nuwa are depicted together. Their upper bodies are human; their lower bodies are those of serpent-dragons, intertwined. Awed by the energy presence of these ancient beings in my space, I am also embarrassed by my faulty memory of the Changes. I try to rehearse the names and forms of the eight trigrams in my mind. The primal pair: Heaven and Earth, Ch'ien and K'un. Fire and Water, Li and Kan. Lake and Mountain, Tui and Ken. Wind and Thunder, Sun and Chen. Do I have that right?

Not that way. The code of Thunder flares in the Lady's changing eyes. Her fierce intent interrupts my effort to recite the list of the trigrams. Like this. Her eyes change again. I see a green mountain rising in a soft mist. There is a gentle lake at its summit, and around the peak a perfect cloud ring. Lake on the Mountain. I struggle to remember the name and the attributions of the corresponding hexagram. Something to do with lovers, newlyweds, attraction.
Not like that. She is opening a different way of seeing and reading the code of the Changes. I relax into the embrace of Earth, and soon find myself in a different scene.

I am on top of a very tall and steep hill, with warriors dressed in skins and armed with bows and spears. There is an intense feeling of being alive up here. The wind is fresh and brisk, lifting my hair, fluttering a loose fringe. We may have a battle to fight, but our spirits are high, our defensive position is very strong, and we can see whatever is coming at us from far away. This hill fort has a commanding view. I can see across great vistas in all directions.

Access to our hill fort is via a wooden ladder that goes up the hillside for hundreds of feet. It can be pulled up to deny access to strangers. My lieutenant is so agile I doubt that he needs a ladder. Laughing, he sways his body over the edge of the drop until his back is almost horizontal. This defies human physiology. Maybe he has feet that can grip like fists. Respecting my human limitations, I take a step back from the brink, then smile at myself because the body I am using here can do things the body I left in bed can't manage.
Remembering that my regular body is in a bed in a snowy northern town, I recollect my encounter with the Lady who told me she would teach me the real I Ching. Am I inside one of the hexagrams? If so, which one? My guess would be the 20th hexagram, which is called Guan, or Watching. Wind over the Earth.
The wind blows over the earth.
This is the image of Watching.
In this way ancient kings
looked across the four drections
observed the people
and gave them instruction.
I hang over the precipice, studying the ladder. Despite its great height, it has only six rungs. Now I recall that ascending the Watchtower whose shape is concealed and revealed in the lines of the 20th hexagram is a journey of six steps. Few can manage these six steps in the course of a lifetime. On the first step, we see as an un-wise child; we notice only what relates to our cravings and fears. On the second step. we see like a nervous homebody peering out through a slit in a wall; protected by structure, we see little beyond it. On the third step, we look in a mirror and begin to observe ourselves, and what we have done and not done on our life journeys. On the fouth step, like lookouts, we can see across the land and provide news and warnings for our communities. On the fifth step, we return to self-observation, looking harder and deeper at our true slves. If we make it to the sixth and final step, we can see the whole. We can look at ourselves from a witness perspective. We no longer look from the ego, but from the greater Self.
Again, I see the changing eyes, with the turning codes, and sense the movement of the dragon coils in their mobius dance. I have read thirty books on I Ching, and made my own guide to the hexagrams, giving personal names to each one and noting incidents that followed a particular reading on a certain date. I once taught a course titled "I Ching for Dreamers" in which we drummed the patterns of broken and unbroken lines, inspired by the most ancient, fragmentary text of the Book of Changes, found in a lacquer hamper in the tomb of a lord at Mawangdui as recently as 1973, where it is written that "the sages drummed the movements of all under Heaven" into the oracle. [1] However, I consider myself a rank amateur in this area, and would not trust my ability to read the Changes until I have internalized the 64 hexagrams and the changing lines without the need to look anything up. In Chinese tradition such mastery requires either a lifetime of training, memorizing and practice, or the direct inspiration of past masters, or both.
The shining eyes give me Heaven under Earth, the desirable placement since this means the primal pair are coming together. Maybe I can aspire to know a little more of the Changes in the years that remain to me. Maybe, with the Yellow Lady and the Blue Lord as gatekeepers, I will lead others on a journey through the cycles, to climb the ladder of six steps to the Watchtower.
[1] Edward L. Shaughnessy, I Ching, The Classic of Changes: The First English Translation of the Newly Discoevred Second-Century B.C. Mawangdui Texts (New York: Ballantine, 1997) 203.
Stories should speak for themselves. But for those who want to know more about the practice of dreaming, I'll note that the visitation by the Lady of I Ching was a just-so experience, that began when I closed my eyes around 1:00 AM on Sunday, February 7, in a hotel room near Buffalo, New York. I was in what I now like to call the "wakedream" state; in liminal states of hypnagogia we are especially receptive to visitations. When I drifted towards sleep, I was transported, quite spontaneously, into the dream scene I associate with the Watchtower.
--- Over several years, I compiled a personal book of I Ching, not intended for publication, and I confess that I consulted this after these visionary experiences to check some of my memories and perceptions.
The graphic is a Tang dynasty image of the dragon emperor Fu Xi and his consort Nuwa.


Nancy said...

Robert, having been privileged to be one of your students in dreaming with the I Ching, this post really speaks to me. Although if you're a rank amateur, I'm barely ready for nursery school! Climbing up the Watchtower reminds me of journeys you've led to our Higher Selves, the part of us having a more panoramic view. I also love the image of consorts wound around each other at the lower chakras, but separate above -- how perfectly fitting. Thank you.

JaneE said...

Beautiful Robert. So, you know I've consulted the I Ching for over thirty years and for me it is a matter of stepping into the hexagram, into the image, into the world I'm shown, like entering a dream. It's not so much about the words. It's about reading between the lines, the lines as the portal. The lines as the six steps...I love that! What a rich world to enter.

Alla said...

It’s fascinating… Many years ago I played with I-Ching and tried to feel it. I loved it, but also felt that I need to grow for to see its wisdom better. Not long ago I cleaned the dust on our bookshelf and opened at random one of the books by Masaru Emoto with his water crystals, which I bought as a present for my husband a couple of years ago. I was amazed with one of the pictures. It was the reaction of the water to the Yin-Yang symbol. It gave me chills, because for me it was a clue for my own long-time contemplation on a true monad. Also, it resembled me the picture I gave to you at our playshop, the one with the hearts that my hand drew instead of a written assignment. – So, one half of the water crystal was solid, and the second half was split in two. A few years ago I tried to picture a monad which could have not only black and white, but could also give the idea of a crossover color. Now I saw the monad, which showed a different Yin and Yang idea. Yang was solid, while Yin consisted of a pair of images – solid one and split one. If to continue, then the smaller split Yin would have another pair of solid and split, and so on. It gives the idea of numerology, when one becomes two etc. Also, it gives the idea of a man and a woman, who can give birth. The picture I gave to you had a heart as a root (like the Lord of Sky and his Lady of Earth), which, splitting, showed a solid heart and another one consisted of many little hearts. Drawing it, I didn’t think at all. It just came out by itself. And now I’m reading of the opposites from I-Ching with their dragon tales, intertwisted… Thanks! :-)

Robert Moss said...

Nancy, climbing those six steps to the top of the Watchtower (assisted by creative adaptation of the commentaries on the 6 lines of the 20th hexagram) was one of my all-time favorite group journeys in the cause of rising towards the witness perspective of a Higher Self. Thanks for being part of our excellent and ongoing adventures!

JaneE - You are quite right about developing the art of stepping into a hexagram. People who work with tarot may be familiar with the pathworking approach, in which journeys are constructed with chosen cards as portal images. This can be a rich experience. Yet larger and fresher vistas can be opened when we learn to see through the simple patterns of broken and unbroken lines. Philip K. Dick gave us a sense of this in his remarkable novel "The Man in the High Castle", in which the ability to see through the lens of the hexagram called Inner Truth changes the world, effecting a global shift from one parallel reality to another.

Robert Moss said...

Alla - It seems you are feeling and visioning your way into a direct sense of the processes at work both in I Ching and in DNA. Since I don't have a mathematical mind, I can only grasp these things visually and kinetically. But I'll note a couple of things. First, as is well known, 64 is the number of the hexagrams and also of the combinations of DNA. Second, what mathematicians call the "bifurcation algorithm" is at work both in the I Ching and in DNA, and you may have given us a visual for that.

Wanda said...

I attended only one of your classes and I am light years away from your understanding of the I Ching - and of the understanding of those in your class. But this journey and your beautiful evocation of gaining permission to study in the way that grants you real understanding of the images and experiences is exquisite. Thank you for sharing such a personal acceptance and privilege.

Robert Moss said...

Thanks so much, Wanda. I've been struck, in working with various traditional systems of divination, by how forces that Jungians might call "archetypes" come into play, producing inner and outer events that go beyond the reading itself. Traditional diviners sometimes act in the belief that the casting of a certain pattern actually brings a power of the deeper reality - a god or ancestral spirit or a Greater Trump - into the world of those who are at the present, and may need to be greeted, propitiated or redirected.

Last weekend, in the hotel in western New York, I was not thinking of I Ching, let alone casting it. Indeed, it had been months since I last performed a reading. Something from the realm that produced the I Ching came seeking me. So I have returned to starting my days with a simple casting. In my first reading since the visitation by the Yellow Lady, I asked the I Ching to speak to me about our relationship in this new phase. The response -Hexagram 63, with a changing line at the top - was most illuninating. I am reminded that Jung, when asked to wrute a foreword to Richard Wilhelm's edition of the I Ching, cast the coins to invite the oracle to speak for itself and tell him what he needed to know.