I enjoy tuning into the dream channel when my head touches down on the pillow. It is endlessly fascinating and informative; like Sesame Street on steroids. All throughout the night in my dreams last night, I kept hearing the word ‘telomere’. I looked it up this morning and the description read thusly:
“Telomere (tel-uh-meer) from the Greek telos (end) and meros (part)
Telomeres are an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age.
Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces.
Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job.”
Since this word is not in my common parlance and I don’t recall ever using it in a sentence, I tossed it out to my on line community and this was the varied responses it elicited:
From a Physician Assistant friend: “Telomeres are part of the system that tells cells they’ve hit their expiration date and it’s time to self-destruct (apoptosis). Huge important part of the body’s ability to self-regulate.”
From a well known author friend: “For me, these telomeres are a manifestation and symbol of how in these lives, in this world of form, all thing change and die. Pretending it is not so or defying an expiry date causes huge problems and suffering. The limitation of physical reality is not a bug- it’s a feature!”
From my cousin who is a career Social Worker and highly intuitive person: “When I read telomere I heard ‘tell me more’.”
From a minister, author, healer friend, “I was taken with the definition “end part.” If it were my dream, I’d ask if something in my life was ending or needing to end.”
Others offered detailed medical information and potential ways to ward off cell decompensation through intervention.
Wonder what my mind was wanting me to know about this. The puzzle is whether the message was medical or metaphorical. In an article written earlier in the year on dreams, I presented the idea that they are powerful windows into aspects of our lives that might otherwise lie dormant and unseen. There are far too many dream symbols than can be contained in any number of books, since they are unique to the dreamer. I enjoy having dialogues with mine and have become adept at using them to discern the next steps in my life and ways in which I can experience greater fulfillment. They have also become helpful problem solving tools. Ken Kaplan, M.Ed, who I referenced in the aforementioned dream article, reminds those interested in getting the most out of interpreting their nocturnal story lines, that it is important to discern what influences them, as well as the individual’s take on the symbols. While friends can be helpful in casting out their ideas, it is even more important to discover through internal dialogue.
“Most dreams occur in three layers, the immediate trigger, the predominant set of feelings, thoughts and beliefs going on at the time of the dream, and the life issues underlying the first two,” according to Kaplan.
It seems particularly telling that this dream occurred as I am nearing my 58th birthday in a little more than two months. It is also no accident that I was discussing with a friend over the weekend, my frustration with memory loss and a concomitant near terror that I would forget what I was going to say while on stage presenting or in a classroom teaching. There are times when important information vaporizes when I attempt to reach for it. Many in my demographic are finding that this is so.
Since I had worked for years as a nursing home social worker, I am amply aware of the signs of dementia, so my wandering mind that can’t always locate my keys, recall what I entered a room to do, who I was going to call or which direction to turn at an intersection in an otherwise familiar locale, is in question. The problem for me isn’t storage of information, but rather, retrieval.
The ways in which we process memory:
- Stage 1: Encoding. This is when a person takes information in.
- Stage 2: Consolidation. This is when the brain takes the information it encodes and processes it so that it gets stored in certain areas of the brain.
- Stage 3: Retrieval. When a person recalls stored information in the brain.
She encouraged me to accept that Source (the God of my understanding) has my back and is offering ideas to fill in the gaps. Sometimes what I planned to say, or write, isn’t as profound and inspiring as what comes through when I get out of the way.
Kaplan has encouraged me to focus on the ‘frayed nerves’ imagery that accompanies the description. Perhaps I have truly been afraid of the tip coming off the end of the symbolic shoelace and I won’t be able to thread it through.
I decided to have a conversation with the dream symbol, the telomere that looked like a shoe lace tip.
“So, telomere…tell me more about what you want me to know.”
T: “How ’bout if we look at the idea that you are losing cells every day. Shedding skin, nails and hair. Are you afraid that parts of you are disappearing, never to return?”
Me: No, AND I am sometimes fearful that brain function is changing and I am losing the ability; along with brain cells, to think as sharply or articulate as clearly as once I could.”
T: And what would that mean if you couldn’t present yourself as always on top of things, always on your game?”
Me: “It would mean that I am ‘losing my marbles’ and would not be able to meet the expectations of others and myself. I have this deeply entrenched belief that I ‘should know better’ and have all the answers.”
T: “Yeh, I know. Remember when you would have conversations with your father and he would tell you something he wanted you to understand, and so as not to lose face that you hadn’t somehow come into the world, with that particular piece of information, your response was, “I know.” He would then patiently say, “No you don’t, but if you listen and learn, you just might.”
Me, nodding in embarrassment: “Yes, and even now, I shake my head ruefully that I had let so many opportunities to learn, slip away because I was such a smarty pants and could have gleaned a great deal of wisdom from my blue collar dad who had plenty of street smarts, if not formal education.”
T: “And think about the frayed nerves concept that I embody.”
Me: “It just occurred to me that the word ‘frayed’ reminds me of ‘being afraid.’ When I am fearful, pieces of me feel shredded and torn asunder.”
T: “Time to strengthen me? Time to release fears?
Me: “Good idea.”
Whether the dream messenger was attempting to inform me that I needed to be ‘afraid not,’ rather than ‘a frayed knot,’ I am covering the physiological as well as psychological aspects of the dream by researching ways to lengthen and strengthen this important cellular structure and perhaps even reverse the clock.
- “Now we have found a way to lengthen human telomeres by as much as 1,000 nucleotides, turning back the internal clock in these cells by the equivalent of many years of human life,” said Helen Blau, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford and director of the university’s Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology. “This greatly increases the number of cells available for studies such as drug testing or disease modeling.”
- Diet, exercise and stress reduction
Know that your history is not your destiny and that making important shifts in your lifestyle can assist you in becoming more resilient and by lengthening your telomeres, you may lengthen your life.
“Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate,” said lead author in study, Dean Ornish, MD, UCSF clinical professor of medicine, and founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute.
“So often people think ‘Oh, I have bad genes, there’s nothing I can do about it,’” Ornish said. “But these findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life.”