The Guest House by Rumi
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.
I’ve been playfully tracking each day’s “new arrival” by the stripes on the blanket I’m crocheting. I began it as a way to use up my leftover yarn and to occupy my mind and hands on a particularly difficult evening. It’s been a map of my changing emotions ever since. The second red stripe was delight and peace. The third purple stripe was anxiety with a bonus of disappointment — feeling the pain of two steps forward, one step back with my inner work with anxiety. The recent black stripe was bravery and relief. Yesterday’s yellow stripe was a variety pack.
This is not simply an experiment in self-awareness or self-indulgence — it is a physical expression of the attempts I am making to integrate Rumi’s “The Guest House” wisdom into how I see myself. I struggle to welcome in each daily emotion because I feel each SO deeply, it’s overwhelming. Despite being told, critiqued, and celebrated for being a “deep feeler” I’m still surprised how intensely emotions can rock me. When I’m happy, I feel like a balloon filled beyond capacity, and frustrated because there are not enough words or emojis to properly communicate my joy. That’s the best part of being a deep feeler, though. It’s the other emotions that I struggle with: fear, sadness, shame, etc. When they sweep the house of all its furniture, my plans or projects get derailed. A few nights ago I had every intention of writing for a few hours, but then I snapped at my roommates, hurt their feelings, and sank into guilt (and my sofa/Seinfeld/crocheting). We made up quickly, but the guilt hung around for longer than the situation. It’s hard to welcome in the exhausting emotions with laughter, and see how they’re sent from beyond as a signpost when they stick around so damn long. My love of self-awareness enables their stay — when the guests arrive, I intently study them.
I know this is common human experience — some of my friends and favorite artists descend into the changing emotional depths, too. Feist bellows “I Feel It All,” Rilke lovingly echoes Rumi with “No feeling is final,” and my friend Jari decrees “Today I feel this way. Yesterday it was that way, so who knows about tomorrow!”
Tracking my emotions by the stripes on the blanket has been a step towards a lighthearted embrace described Rumi’s poem. Here are a few other steps that have helped:
- First off, somedays the negative emotions get so large and I just don’t have it in me to deal. So I watch Seinfeld and trust that the next hour or day will bring a different feeling. It usually does, even if it’s just a slightly different shade from the day before.
- On the days I can face the feelings but can’t sit still, I go for a walk without headphones. The movement helps channel the excess energy that the feelings build, especially walking up or down steep hills. The cityscapes bring a perspective beyond my own life and situation. I can sort through my thoughts and take notes in my phone on anything that needs further exploration. Bonus that this is when I begin to draft my blog posts.
- At lunch I practice short bursts of still and silent prayer/meditation in the Grace Cathedral plaza. I set my timer each day one minute longer than before and let my mind air out. Some emotions exit the house, others stick around, and I’m able to look at the ones who remain. In those moments of presence I’m finally able to welcome them in laughing, which usually loosens their hold on me.
- Mindfulness therapy helps me see the “signposts from beyond” wisdom of the emotions: that anger is a protective parent, sadness awakens me to change, etc. (Some emotional responses were developed from childhood that are no longer needed now. I can see them now as old friends that were helpful at the time, that now I can begin to transcend.)
- In this whole process, it’s crucial to be gentle with myself, using the tone that I’d use with my friends and directees.
This is a very present topic, daily opening the front door with surprise and slight annoyance at who is there. I’d like to have a perfect concluding statement, but the reality is I’m in it. Right here, right now, feeling it all each day.