The Guest House
’I've been reading a short poem by thirteenth century poet Rumi for the last few weeks. A few big life transitions are coming upon me (starting a new job and welcoming our first kid into the world), and many thoughts - both optimistic and pessimistic - bombard me every day. Anxious thoughts come at random moments. Exciting and unexpected emotions hit me. Some moments I feel courage and others I feel nervous. I worry, “Will this open me up to heartache?” and other times I’m convinced change is truly the spice of life. It’s surprising how quickly different thoughts and emotions pass through me, and I resonated with the metaphor of feeling like a “guest house” as Rumi describes below.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
— Jalaluddin Rumi
There’s an aspiration towards mindfulness in this poem, as it assumes I can perceive what thoughts and emotions are even coming at me (but that’s a big assumption sometimes!). In terms of fearful, addictive, or worrisome thoughts, the poem reminds me not to fully resist these when they show up, but pushes me to greet each of them with courage and some amount of respect — what “momentary awareness” is now my visitor? I can now say, “I know you, insecurity. Hello, certain fear. I’m not surprised by you today.” And if it really is unpleasant, I’m able to remind myself, “It’s just a guest - they will indeed eventually depart.”
Maybe one of the reasons I’ve been drawn to this approach is that it forces me to really believe something that is seemingly so unwelcome may actually be able to help me. It pushes me to be open to all the ways God could open me up and reminds me of the paradoxical wisdom of God. That sometimes I have to suffer in order to get well. And sometimes we surrender in order to win. As a guesthouse, you’re filled with paradoxical feelings and thoughts. Treat the guests well and I think you may be surprised how they serve you in unexpected ways.
- Conor McWade