In Hindu and Buddhist cultures, Dvarapalas guard doors or gates of important buildings, such as temples or palaces. They are made out of stone, can be of any height, are fearsome looking warriors, and often armed with a weapon. I was living and working in Indonesia (1), and saw them on many islands, including Java, Bali, and Lombok. I was not surprised when I woke up from my dream with the memory of one marching back and forth in front of a threshold.
Carl Jung, in working with dreams, suggests that upon waking, the dreamer continue the dream’s message through dialogue with the symbols that emerged from your psyche. With my coffee and a notebook and pen, the symbol Dvarapala and I had a discussion.
“What are you guarding?” I asked him.
“You,” he answered.
“What are you protecting me from?”
“I’m protecting you from yourself. I’m ensuring your shadow stuff doesn’t leak out and get you locked away and in trouble. You’ll end up homeless. I swoop in when you don’t conform to society’s expectations, when you have differing opinions from the status quo. I stop you through fear, guilt, and shame. You need to keep your opinions about injustices to women and the environment to yourself. Go along with the flow. Don’t speak out, be nice. Otherwise people won’t like you, they’ll kick you out of the nest.”
You Need a New Job
I knew where this came from. When I was a child, my mother and older sister were sent away and I lived with relatives. I was dependent upon these caretakers, and so I learned to acquiesce, to be silent, to go along to avoid loss of safety and security—the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And then, upon freedom after high school, I went feral for a couple of years before fear walked me back to the familiar and I joined a patriarchal-controlled, conservative Christian group that kept women as children. By the time the Dvarapala showed up, I had moved away from that religious rigidity, but the ruts from childhood and early adulthood ran deep and unconsciously ruled my reactions to the world around me and kept me in fear.
I continued my dialogue with the Dvarapala: “Thank you for protecting me when I was a child, but I’m an adult now. Abandonment won’t put me in physical danger. In addition, you’re stopping me from doing and saying things that are important—not only for me, but for the world around me.
“You need a new job. How about you patrol the borders of my being, and alert me when harmful thoughts, ideas, and emotions come creeping along the edges?”
Well, he thought that was a good idea and briskly began his patrol of my psyche’s perimeter.
Thank Your Ego for Protecting You
The Japanese tell a similar story of their returning soldiers after World War II. These young men didn’t know how to be husbands, fathers, or farmers. All they knew was war and fighting. Their communities were falling apart. The elders came up with a plan. In the villages they called the soldiers and villagers together. They held a big banquet, honoring and thanking the soldiers for how they had protected the nation and fought valiantly.
“But now,” the elders said, “The war is over. The time for fighting is finished. It’s time to plant and harvest crops, to raise your families.”
Notice the pattern: they honored the soldiers for protecting them and gave them new jobs.
Our egos kept us safe but in the process we developed unconscious responses to the world around us. Those became patterns, ruts in our brains. Now we are aware of them through our dreams, therapy, our moods, depression, anger, or sadness, and we know they aren’t serving us anymore. But the ego is still guarding, still fighting a battle, still protecting us.
Meanwhile, we’re trying to move past that, and inner turmoil arises. The voice inside our head thunders warnings to us: “Don’t open that door to past pain or shame! Don’t take that risk! Don’t create that kind of art! Don’t wear those clothes! Don’t say that!” Sometimes we’re still seeking permission from supposed authority figures to live our authentic lives. Sometimes we’re still waiting for their approval of our life-style choices.
Our childhood ego still wants to keep us safe and is quick to introduce self-criticism when we’ve stepped over its boundaries.
When that happens, talk with it, thank it for its protection, remind it that you’re an adult, and then come up with a new job description for it. It won’t change its habits overnight—this is where your adult consciousness steps up and reminds it often, “Hey, you have a new job, remember? I’ve got this.”
My Dvarapala was unconscious—until he showed up in my dreams—which is what the dream world does: It brings up images and symbols that represent beliefs, attitudes, and values that we need to re-evaluate, tossing out those which don’t serve us anymore.
Practice mindfulness and pay attention to your inner world and welcome any discomfort. Find a supportive counselor. Journal. Remember that life transitions are normal.
Cultivate an Hourglass Meditation
Every hour take five minutes to stop and visualize an hourglass. You can sit at your desk with eyes open. Then breathe, open up to your body’s physical sensations, move into the hourglass’s constrictive space with just breathing, and then open back up to emotions, including any energy you feel is stuck in your body, such as stress in your shoulders, forehead, stomach, hips, hands, or arms. Breathe into those areas nonjudgmentally.
Notes & Sources:
- Along with my family, we lived and worked in Jakarta, Indonesia, for six years. I worked as a copyeditor and writer for The Jakarta Post, at the time the only English daily print newspaper. Our son went to high school there, and my husband was seconded to the Government of Indonesia, and worked for a nonprofit organization, Christoffelblinden Mission, whose ethos was to work with people with disabilities.
- Kabat-Zinn, Jon. He defines mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. For more information, refer to his many published works.
About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working, and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, where she focused on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.