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We are the guest house

I first heard Rumi's poem, "The Guest House," on retreat over fifteen years ago. It's one of my favorite teachings on skillful relating to our thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

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.

Rumi says we should "treat each guest honorably." It doesn't matter who the visitor is -- a joy or meanness -- all should be welcomed at the door, invited in, and entertained. I'm not always that gracious! What if I don't like the visitor? Shame, sorrow, fear -- these are tough emotions. I've been known to ignore the knock and run and hide. It took a while to learn this is a losing strategy. Some guests are stealthy and seep in through the foundation. Other guests are loud and shatter my windows! One way or another, the excluded visitor gets in and seems determined to stay until recognized and known by me.

I wish it was as simple as "every morning a new arrival," as if just one visitor awaited my attention each day. In my experience, a hundred arrivals may come knocking all within the span of five minutes. A flood of thoughts, a colorful array of emotions, a somatic splendor of nervous system firing. This is not my preference. Crowds overwhelm me and I'm more of a one-on-one kind of girl. Deciphering the ensuing chaos and confusion may take a day, a week, or months as I make the rounds discerning who has come and what message is being shared. Some visitors show up daily and I wonder "why are you here again? I thought I learned your lesson already!"

In the past, I've consoled myself with the idea that the visitor "may be clearing [me] out for some new delight." I've thought, "Okay, I'll entertain sorrow and fear. I'll be gracious if I know for sure something better will come along. I'll learn the lesson so that I can grow and become a better person."

This thinking isn't wrong, but it's not exactly right either. Yes, life has a rhythmic way of moving in cycles and it's true that periods of darkness are usually followed by light. But in this approach I'm essentially saying "I only want one half of the experience of life. I only want the parts of life I like. I'll tolerate the parts I don't like for the parts I like."

Over time, I've learned an attitude of partial acceptance doesn't work. I can't know light without fully knowing darkness. A welcome embrace of all visitors is necessary to be fully human and fully alive. As Rumi says "each has been sent as a guide from beyond." I've learned that an attitude of courage, curiosity, compassion and radical acceptance is the best approach for these unwanted guests. To "meet [the visitors] at the door laughing" is an invitation to stand in my humanness with ease.

True respite is in Rumi's reminder that we are not only these arrivals, we are also the guest house. Ah. . . . We are the home, the heart, in which this colorful array of visitors comes to be seen and known. We are the open unconditioned presence, the always already here love, and through our embrace of the visitors we integrate more fully into our wholeness. The guides from beyond are inviting us into the fullness of our birthright, our true nature.

Don't you also know of what I speak?

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