Zombies are very popular these days. They’re big in pop culture, comic books, movies… they’re all over the place. The zombie must be an important symbol in our collective psyche right now. Why? What’s going on? Maybe we can find some answers by looking at the dream world… A 33-year-old woman recently told me the following dream: “I was walking down a hospital corridor. There was a group of zombies (at least three, maybe four or five). I walked past them, then I turned around to look at them. I was walking backwards and I faced them for a moment, then I turned back around and kept walking…” Before we go further in working with this dream let me flag three important guidelines to keep in the margins of your awareness whenever you are working with any kind of “monster” dream:
- This kind of dream is calling attention to something that is wrong. It is asking for the dreamer to be aware of this problematic issue and to do something about it as soon as possible. This is an example of orienting through asking what does the dream want?
- The thing that is wrong may be inner (a part of the dreamer) or outer (something or someone in the dreamer’s life). This is orienting through the inner/outer question. Be sure that you stay open to both possibilities and offer them both to the dreamer as you are facilitating.
- The be-the-part technique is usually what opens up the dream. In most dreams that feature a monstrous figure of some kind you will probably want to ask the dreamer to “be the monster” sooner rather than later.
In this case the dreamer had some difficulty being the zombie. I interviewed her-as-zombie, but the identification was difficult and she kept slipping out of her role; the exercise did not open up much new information. So I switched to the inner/outer question and asked her if she felt that these were referring to a zombie-like part of her or something zombie-like in her life. I was half expecting her to make some connection to her part-time work as a critical care nurse. Were the group of zombies a reference to some of the zombie-like patients she cared for? Or did her job, which she had grown very tired of and wanted to quit, make her feel like a zombie? (this last possibility would be a mixture of inner and outer–an external situation that was creating a problematic state within her). “Well…” she answered…“I do feel like there probably is a part of me that is dead. Or not as alive as it could be. It comes alive for moments and then it’s gone.” This was a very poignant moment of connection that brought tears and strong emotion. She was feeling sadness for herself, sadness that a part of her was shuffling around in a half-dead state. I asked her when this usually-dead part of her came alive– “When I’m dancing!” she replied, and as she said this her aliveness meter visibly shot up several notches.
Now we both knew how the dream connected to her life–she felt a zombie-like deadness most of the time, including at her nursing job. We also knew what the dream is asking for–it wants her to find a way to enliven these zombie parts and bring them out of the living-dead limbo that they are stuck in. It also spontaneously led us to a response–dancing. I suggested that she pay a visit to J, a colleague of mine who specializes in “dancing the dream”, amplifying a dream through movement, voice, gesture, and dance. I had a hunch that if she took this dream onto the dance floor she might experience a much fuller and more dynamic connection with the zombies. It took two months for her to get onto J’s dance floor, but when she finally did the results were indeed dynamic.
She wrote to me the next day describing the session: “I finally saw J yesterday (Yaaayyyy!), and we enacted the zombie dream. It got quite intense. It was hard to get into the zombie character…not a lot of feeling or emotion but I am assuming that that is because they are zombies. If you can recall in the dream I walked briefly with the zombies, only looked briefly at them and then kept on my way. It was when I turned to look at the zombie (J played the zombie, I was me), it felt like I got slapped in the face, like I had been searching for something for a long time and there it was in front of me…what that something is, I’m still not sure. But I had a huge emotional release, the zombie was DEFINITELY a part of me, a good part. Now to figure out what it is…”
She has achieved a critically important breakthrough– she now feels an empathic connection with the zombie part of herself. She can feel the connection in her emotional body for the first time, and she knows how important it is. Now she just needs to stay with it. This is a powerful beginning but, as usual, more work needs to be done. In my experience one of the biggest problems with doing psychodynamic dreamwork is simply that it requires a lot of work. Most of us know what we need to do but we cannot make the time in our busy and stressed lives to actually do it. Bringing the zombie part fully back to life will be a work in progress. One of my mottos as a dream facilitator is “stay on your client’s case!” Don’t let them drop the work after a promising beginning. A little therapeutic nagging can be a good thing.
So, does this help us understand why zombies are so prominent in the collective consciousness these days? I think this woman’s dream provides a good illustration of a collective problem which must have something to do with living-deadness. For many of us something is half dead that should (and could) be fully alive. Another clue is that zombies tend to move in groups, as was the case in this dream. I suspect this has to do with the soul-numbing effect of being too caught up in the group-mind at the expense of living one’s own individual life and developing one’s own individual gifts. Whenever we have to do what everyone else is doing, again and again, day after day, the zombie problem could take root in us. That’s why it is very exciting to get a zombie dream (even if it might feel ominous and unsettling) because it means our unconscious is setting the stage for us to work on the problem.