Cura Personalis: ‘Wildest dreams’

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I stared at Memom — my staunchly Republican, 94-year-old grandmother.

Karen Konkoly

Karen Konkoly

“I was sitting across a table from Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and we were playing a board game,” she said. “I excused myself, and got up to leave the room. When I opened the door, I entered my childhood home in Hungary. My husband, who you know has been dead for many years, greeted me at the door. He said, ‘Why don’t you come home, Ilona?’ But I told him, ‘Not yet. I have to finish this game.’ I went back to playing a board game with the presidential candidates.”

It was Christmas Day, and Memom was complaining about the wild dreams she was plagued with the night before. As she recounted them to me, I felt closer to Memom than I ever had before. I asked her how she felt seeing her dead husband, what board game she’d been playing and what elements of the dream tied back to her real life. For the first time in my life, my conversation with Memom transcended the typical grandmother-to-grandchild chit-chat.

Memom’s dream showed me the underlying Ilona, whose intrapersonal life was richer than she ordinarily let on.

“Memom, could your dream have been about dying?” I asked, slowly and clearly, so she could hear me through the failing hearing aids she refused to replace. “Do you feel like you can’t go to Pop-Pop in heaven until you vote in this election?” 

“Oh, I don’t know. I dreamed about playing a board game with Cruz and Rubio!”

Touché.

I didn’t press the point — I don’t give much merit to universalized dream interpretation. Google what any dream means, and you’ll get a dozen horoscope-like interpretations. However, researchers have proposed that dreams play an important role in processing emotional memories. As we dream throughout the night, we often re-experience the powerful or important emotions we’ve had that day. Many times, such emotions are not outwardly acknowledged during the day. By remembering, recording and sharing our dreams, we all have a platform to discover more about the inner conflicts we need to address in waking life.

Sharing and discussing your dreams with others can lead to personal insights, but moreover, dream sharing can strengthen relationships. Studies have shown that couples who tell their dreams to one another can increase marital satisfaction and intimacy by providing a forum for self-awareness and self-disclosure.

Although, of course, each dream and relationship is unique, here are some tips that I aim to follow when discussing dreams with my friends and family.

First, listen to the dream in its entirety, only interrupting if necessary to reaffirm that you are listening and following along.

Next, seek out details, especially ones about how your friend felt in the dream, or about how the other dream characters felt. Remember that every character in the dream is an equal part of that dream. Thus, if you dream you feel threatened by the approach of a ravenous hawk, the dream could relate to waking feelings of being threatened or waking feelings of being ravenous and threatening somebody else.

If there is an antagonist or other important element in the dream, ask about any associations they might have to that element in waking life. For example, a friend once described a dream to me in which a hawk swooped down and started pecking them. I asked about any experiences or thoughts they’ve had related to hawks or hawk attacks in their waking life. The nature of your friend’s waking relationship to dream subject material could relate to why they had the dream or what it might mean.

Based on the feelings and content of the dream, ask your friend to reflect on the feelings experienced in the dream and encourage them to think of situations in their own waking life that evoke similar emotions. Then ask them how their awake self would typically respond to the dream’s content or events.

For instance, say your friend had a dream where they felt confident that nothing bad would happen, but as the hawk overhead swooped lower and lower, they felt terrified and mistaken. You could ask whether there’s anything in waking life they’ve outwardly been feeling confident about, but perhaps subconsciously have doubts. People often need to think a while before answering this, and more casual friends might not feel comfortable discussing such personal implications. Nevertheless, it will give friends something to meditate on and provide them with a framework for better understanding themselves.

Finally, leave others space to come to their own conclusions, or no conclusions, about possible inspirations for their dreams. Dream discussions can help us understand ourselves and our loved ones, but the so-called right interpretation is whatever makes the dreamer feel satisfied and better able to address feelings and issues in their waking life.

Karen Konkoly, ’17, is a columnist for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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