I had a dream the other night in which I found myself in the house where I grew up: a very modest bungalow in a neighborhood where most of the wage-earners worked in an automobile factory. I was born and raised in Detroit.
Shortly before my family moved out of that home, someone broke in one night by smashing through the back door. After that, I was always sure to keep the door locked. But in my recent dream I went down the short stairway from the kitchen to the basement and found the back door halfway open. I shut it quickly and turned the lock and looked around for signs of an intruder. Later, I learned that a young man was interested in my wife and had used the back door to visit her. The dream went on to another scene about bees invading a later, bigger house that we had built on a hill. I woke up thinking about a Lucas Cranach painting of Eros standing next to tall Venus, bees buzzing around his infant head.
In my practice of therapy, I devote a great deal of time to dreams. They are like X-ray machines showing me what is going on beneath the surface of a life. For years, I’ve noticed this small motif of the door ajar and have thought of it as a key image in the mysterious working out of my psyche.
Like all dream images, the door ajar can mean many things and will be focused to some extent on the dreamer’s life. But I have always kept in mind Emily Dickinson’s iambic lines: “The Soul should always stand ajar / That if the Heaven Inquire / He will not be obliged to wait.”
In other words, we should have an opening in our mind and heart for inspiration or instruction.
The first door-ajar dream I remember was from a woman who didn’t want to hear that it was time to move on in her life and end some key relationships. She kept the door tightly closed and in her dream was terrified when she saw it open ― she was sure she had locked it.
Many people say they are looking for new ideas, inspiration, and a new life, but their doors are closed. They want the new life on their own terms and are unwilling to listen to what “the heaven” may recommend. They want the reward, but they’re not comfortable having any gap in their defenses or being open to the appearance of something new.
I think it’s useful to get over the fear of having your door ajar. On a daily basis, you can practice at having your door at least partially open. Get accustomed to asking a friend, “What do you think?” You’ve opened the door a crack. When deciding where to go or what to do with someone, wait for that person to make a suggestion and be willing to follow. When your tastes or fears or need to control come into play, hold them back, relax, and try something new. These are all exercises in keeping your door ajar.
For inspiration, read Dickinson’s poem in full. Better, memorize it. Use it as an aid to living by inspiration and intuition, rather than by logic and habit. Eventually, you may be able to make your important life decisions with an open door.
Find a painting of a door ajar. Paint one. Photograph one artistically, frame it, and keep it in sight. Sit in a room and close the door. Feel what it’s like to be sealed in. Then open it a crack. Sense the difference. Read or recite the poem in the room. Dreams of doors left open reveal a secret about life: We closed up in self-protection, fearful about what or who may come in. But there is no need to fear. The person or wind waiting to come through is almost always benign, even though we fear it. That narrow opening is the way to new life, and nothing is more important than being open to fresh vitality. Either you live or you die. There is no in-between. A closed door is like a lid on a coffin.
Maybe it’s not good to be too open and let everything in and everything out. I always encourage my clients in therapy to keep some things to themselves. Ajar is fine. Wide open isn’t advised; as long as you don’t keep “the heaven” waiting, you’re all right. Even so, that might be worse than having an intruder take something from you. Missing a chance at life is something you may not survive.