The Sidewalk Book of Changes

Walking east with my dog on a city street in the early light, I pause to inspect some business cards spilled on the sidewalk. There is the logo of the ABC News network, and the name of a local anchor; I recognize her name because I recently saw her on TV. What’s the message for the day? A news theme, perhaps. I am struck by the number of spilled cards: six. That is the number of lines in a hexagram of the I Ching, the Book of Changes.

Can I read the pattern of these cards like a hexagram delivered by the oracle of the world? A crazy idea, perhaps, but not altogether crazy, since the cards on the sidewalk form a distinct pattern: four up, two down. If I read the cards that are face down as yin or “belly” lines, and the the ones that are face up as yang lines, I have a pattern that is easy to recognize. It is the repetition of the trigram Li, or Fire, producing hexagram 30 in the sequence of the I Ching, which is itself called Li, Fire or Radiance, but also The Clinging. Whether I look at the pattern while facing east, which is how I first saw it, or facing west – as I saw it later, walking back from the park – the arrangement is the same. Fire above Fire. “That which is bright rises twice.”

At home, I pull out my personal workbook on the I Ching. This is a collection of the notes, commentaries and readings I’ve assembled over the years, rich in illustrations. It came fully together in the year when I taught a class on I Ching for Dreamers. We worked back into the primal, shamanic level of the Chinese oracle, drumming the patterns of the changing lines, watching like hawks to see what followed from each casting, and adjusting our associations with each phase of the Changes according to what the world revealed after it appeared. Themes suggested by the hexagram Li, I noted, include: Enlightenment. Shedding light on things. Sunny day. Brightness. Need to understand synergy and interdependence; fire has no definite form but “clings” to its fuel. I look again at the Chinese ideogram for Li. There are two figures. The one on the right is called zhui and may be seen as a golden bird, a bird with sun-bright feathers. The figure on the left is more mysterious, and – for traditional Chinese readers of the oracle – is sometimes seen as ominous. It could be a very ancient bird or animal, or a demon; it could be holding a net to catch the sun bird. All in all, I like Fire as a pattern for today. Yet I remember that tomorrow I am traveling to Boulder, where fire has not been a pleasant theme in recent weeks. A “net” to contain a fire could be good.

Every morning in the city, I am alert for a fresh message from the Sidewalk Oracle. I’ll watch to see what happens next, since the oracle spoke in the language of the Book of Changes. It’s fun reading what turns up in everyday life – in the woods or in a gritty urban neighborhood – as a language of signs and symbols. Playing games like the one I’ve just played here is a way of growing the power to notice what rhymes in a day; it helps maintain what Baudelaire described, with a poet’s clarity, as a necessary state of “poetic health”.

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by Robert Moss
Robert Moss describes himself as a dream teacher, on a path for which there has been no career track in our culture. He is the creator of Active Dreaming, an original synthesis of dreamwork and shamanism. Born in Australia, he survived three near-death experiences in childhood. He leads popular seminars all over the world, including a three-year training for teachers of Active Dreaming. A former lecturer in ancient history at the Australian National University, he is a best-selling novelist, journalist and independent scholar. His nine books on dreaming, shamanism and imagination include Conscious Dreaming, Dreamways of the Iroquois, The Dreamer's Book of the Dead, The Three ""Only"" Things,The Secret History of Dreaming, Dreamgates, Active Dreaming and Dreaming the Soul Back Home: Shamanic Dreaming for Healing and Becoming Whole.