Q: I’m in Africa with another young woman and a black man who’s our guide. We’re running down a hill and realize there is a group of people on a pathway below. Some are black and some are white. We know they have heard us so we must approach them. As we get closer, I realize they’re zombies. Only the woman leading the group is conscious. We approach her with fear, but I am confident in my guide. Later, I see my guide eating cooked body parts. I realize he has killed and cooked the woman who was leading the group. This is a good thing. I feel better knowing this. He also skins her and drapes her skin over his shoulders like a cape when he’s done eating her. Then, a strong black man from the group breaks from the line and joins us, gaining consciousness as he does. We are stronger now that we have him and I am relieved. I am not afraid of these people anymore.
A: Excellent! No pun intended, but this fine dream of yours presents a buffet of some of my favorite concepts in depth psychology. The psychological meaning of race, for starters. And the method and value of expanding one’s consciousness.
We’ll start at the beginning. You are a white woman. Simply put, the figure of a black man in your dream can be seen to represent that which is opposite of your conscious attitude and identity. If you are a thinking type, for instance, he might represent a feeling function. Your specific descriptors of him would tell us more, but your relationship with him in the dream is indicative of some very dedicated inner work already undertaken. You’ve explored “the other” within and you don’t shirk when facing aspects of yourself that you might have once rejected as “not me!”, uncomfortable, or strange. This is evidenced by the fact that you are not only in a respectful relationship with this man, but that you are following his lead. You’re allowing him to guide you in areas of life where your ego identity is not very familiar.
A similar figure in the dreams of the majority of white people raised in white dominant cultures will likely appear with violent or disheveled aspects. These characteristics are likely to represent the rejected parts of themselves, those parts of themselves with which they are not likely to identify. The very unfortunate consequence of this lack of relationship with “the other” within ourselves, is that these unwanted characteristics end up being projected outward, in this case onto literal black men in the world versus worked with internally and viewed symbolically. This is a critical and sadly under-appreciated argument for the importance of psychic hygiene. When we learn about our own unconscious, we naturally integrate the projections of our own disliked and disowned characteristics, thereby relieving others in society of the burden of carrying those pieces for us.
For an easily understood example of this kind of projection and discrimination, think of all those rabid anti-gay activists who have been caught with their pants down. We all project the parts of ourselves of which we’re ashamed onto others, and then demonize those characteristics externally. If this concept is ever widely understood, discrimination, violence, and wars could be subverted on a broad scale and intentional human evolution could actually proceed. So cheers to you, dreamer! You’re leading us all.
Your dream suggests that you have entered unfamiliar territory in your life and that another side of you kicked into gear to guide you through it. In the dream, you encounter a band of zombies. Zombies, as we now know well from TV, are the walking dead. Psychologically speaking, they represent aspects of consciousness that are dissociated, only half-conscious, and dangerous. Very dangerous. Zombies are like viruses and may represent in this dream a person or a situation that has come into your life which is dangerous to your well-being. Review the days prior to this dream. What stress or encounters can you remember? Luckily, due to your strong inner work already undertaken, your psychic immune system is strong and healthy. Where your conscious identity might have left you vulnerable to serious harm in this situation, you have developed backup.
Without fear, your guide moves into the group and kills the leader. He depotentiates a former threat, just like antibodies. The threat is not only nullified, however, but its former power is integrated. Like killing an enemy in a video game, this symbolic kill means your consciousness advances forward. Your guide cooks and eats the leader and then cloaks himself in her skin. As if stewed in an alchemical cauldron, this unconscious aspect has been broken down and digested. Its nutrients have been integrated into you, and the skin cape provides you with new tools with which to walk around the world. Your persona has been strengthened. (You can read more about the images of cooking and eating meat from a previous dream interpretation.) Finally, “a strong black man from the group breaks from the line and joins us, gaining consciousness as he does.” You’ve liberated more of what was once unconscious within you and brought it into consciousness.
The whole point of dreamwork is to expand our consciousness. When we engage in understanding our personal unconscious, we engage in very real work to bring into light that which was once in the dark, in ourselves and in the world. If we imagine that our possible awareness and consciousness is as vast and deep as the universe, our conscious minds are infinitesimal in comparison. Our job? To intentionally, devotedly, respectfully continue to learn about ourselves and that universe in which we’re immersed. You’ve clearly been engaged in this work for some time, dear dreamer. May you continue to battle the walking dead — for yourself and for all of us.
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Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their late teens, 20s, and 30s. For more information about therapy services in Portland, visit www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com