Our ability to remember our dreams is a direct reflection of the quality of our waking consciousness. Dream recall is a learnable skill and the more attention we devote to it, the more dreams we remember. This is a measurable function of the dreams coming in the service of health and wholeness and of their direct concern with the evolution of consciousness in the individual dreamer.
The most basic pattern of dream memory – which asserts itself all over the planet regardless of age, gender, language, culture, passionately held beliefs or the lack of them – is that I remember the dream with a me figure in it and I remember everything else in the dream as being not me. This is the same way we remember waking life. Now, the deeper truth of the matter is that there is always a layer of a dream in which everything that I experience as not me is a symbolic reflection of aspects of my own self. This is known as the “Gestalt layer,” the layer Fritz Perls spent his life exploring. The fact that we all dream and remember our dreams in this basic pattern of me and not me, when all of it actually IS me, is an indication of the extent to which we as a species project in waking life. The degree to which we do not know in the dream world that all the drama belongs to us is a very reliable indicator that we are projecting unconsciously in waking life as well.
The key to projection is understanding that it isn’t something we do on purpose. Unconscious material rises, metaphorically at least, to approach the surface of awareness, and the first time we get to look at it clearly enough to name it and talk about it is in the projected form. The first time we see it clearly enough to describe it, we make the mistake that this doesn’t belong to me; this belongs to somebody else. This is a known station on the railway from unconsciousness to conscious self-awareness and the concurrent acceptance of responsibility that comes with that. Once I recognize this isn’t you, this is actually a projection that I am making, then I have to take responsibility for it. I can’t blame you for it anymore. This is a very important piece because the dreams themselves are great advocates of withdrawing projection. The world changes for the better every time a dreamer does that.
Psychologist Carl Jung said that collective human consciousness evolves but that collective evolution can only take place through the accumulation of individual cases – one dream and one person at a time. Every dream reflects the reality of the individual dreamer’s life, yet when an individual’s dream reflects with great clarity our universal struggles, that dreamer not only shows up for his or her own life issues, but also shows up at the boundary of collective consciousness.
Dreams that are clearing the path for collective human evolution may feature unusual and extraordinarily strange images. Often physically large, archetypal figures manifest and the dreamer watches the archetypal figures themselves transform. It is like the special effects in a movie. In a dream shared with me the dreamer (a man) sees a giant snake and he offers it a bowl of oatmeal. “The snake eats it and then starts to metamorphose from a reptile head to the head of an old black man, balding with a fringe of white hair and a goatee. As it transforms we communicate telepathically.”
Because of the dreamer’s background he associated the snake to the brutal macho environment he’d been raised in – it is the snake in himself that he has been terrified of his whole life. In this transformational moment the dreamer who shows up for this lifelong drama, looks the snake in the eye, accepts the role of willing sacrifice (he is terrified of the damage the snake might do him), offers it nourishment and in so doing is “rewarded” by direct communication with the archetypal snake, long an image of potentially misdirected male energy in our culture.
As this masculine energy rises to consciousness in him, as a result of the work that he has done on himself, it still carries the mark of where it comes from, but the archetype itself changes. It doesn’t get smaller; it doesn’t turn out to be just an ordinary snake with a man’s head. It remains this gigantic archetypal figure and yet the encounter and communication with the dreamer causes it to change.
This is an example of a dream of an individual human being who, because of sincerity and whole-heartedness with which he turns up for his own unique personal problems, places himself on the boundaries of collective human consciousness where there is a struggle going on with this issue: What do we do with archetypal masculine energy? It is a collective issue. Every time anyone shows up for his or her own personal version of that drama a person volunteers, without necessarily being consciously aware of it, to be part of this vanguard of human beings who art clearing the way for a major collective change.