Crossing the river is a powerful symbol of change. To leave solid ground, to traverse a powerful current of liquid energy, to consolidate oneself on new uncharted ground, succinctly illustrates the phases of change.
So compelling is this image that the I Ching’s closing hexagram, #64, Before Completion, that marks the end and the beginning, is pictured as a fox crossing a river. In Greek mythology, securing the ferryman to cross the river Styx is the journey into Hades, land of the dead. Even the sophisticated modern texter might notice a ping in the pit of the abdomen as they prepare to drive across the bridge of a mighty river. The ping in the abdomen is the body’s archetypal recognition of the tremendum that crossing the great abyss represents.
Perhaps the great change we must face is as simple as closing our eyes and saying good night to the world. What guarantee do we have that the sun will rise or that we will open our eyes to the light of tomorrow as we drift and fall into the cliffhanger of dreams? What monsters, terrorists, sirens, and entities will we encounter in the underwater current of dream sleep? Will we safely rejuvenate and consolidate on firm ground tomorrow, or will our thoughts interrupt our smooth passage into a new day?
Perhaps our solid ground is the quiet calm of our aloneness. The sudden intrusion of a ring or a ding sparks fear in the throat, our sanctuary lost as we are thrown into the river of needs and expectations of another. Can we find our way to new ground that includes both self and other?
To leave the security of our car, wade across the parking lot, and enter the vast ocean of a store, with its sea of humanity, may evoke a furor of dissolution of self. In fact, every simple action of the day, from waking, interacting, leaving, working, eating, and returning, poses challenges for the smallness of self to navigate the bigness of everything.
In days of old, the rituals of the great religions tapped into the tried and true archetypal bridges of our deep nature to facilitate our crossings from one phase of life to another; crossings from childhood to adulthood, solitariness to relationship, life to death. These rituals literally transformed one into a new sense of self, confident to take on a new ground in life. These rituals bathed the ego in the deep wellspring of unconscious resource that reshaped the conscious self.
In our time, these rituals have largely petrified through the ascendence of rationality and the failure of religion to authentically provide a numinous crossing experience. Today, the individual must turn to the dream, which still offers the ritual crossings to new life. Conscious participation in dreaming can access those transformative crossings. Often the dream uses the river or the ocean, with all kinds of helpers and challenges, to facilitate the necessary changes to successfully effect a safe crossing.
Use of an oracle, such as the I Ching, can offer the guidance of a dream. In Hexagram #64, Before Completion, it offers the following guidance for making the crossing:
- Don’t advance too rapidly just to get it over with—you may not be ready, it might not be the right time.
- Be patient. Develop the necessary strength—the vehicle for the crossing. Don’t lose sight of the goal.
- Sometimes it’s time to cross but you’re not ready, you lack the requisite strength. It is necessary to get help. Be humble. Ask.
- You must battle the forces of inertia, regression, avoidance and doubt. Be resolved. Respect the power of the dissenters. Lay the foundation for mastery by consolidating intent.
- Once the crossing has been effected, keep exuberance in proper measure. Intemperance can drown all one has worked for.
These cautions steer the ego to be in the right relation with the deeper self that then provides its transformative energies to transport the ego solidly and happily across the river to new fertile ground. Remain awake, poised, intent, patient, and calm. Know that the way will be shown. Perhaps the sea will part, perhaps the right floating log will appear. Simply know that you will cross.