The guest house

‘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.’

From ‘The guest house’ by Rumi

 

In his poem ‘The guest house’, the Sufi poet Rumi invites us to metaphorically open ourselves up to all visitors, just like a guest house which doesn’t get to choose who stays the night. Every morning, new guests arrive – ‘a joy, a depression, a meanness’; and he asks us to treat all of these unexpected visitors honourably, even if they ‘violently sweep your house empty of its furniture’. This poem seems to resonate with a lot of people, although on the face of it, what he is asking us to do appears rather strange. Why would we welcome dark thoughts, shame, malice? Surely it makes more sense to bolt the door against them and threaten to call the police if they don’t go away?

The instinct to protect ourselves against threats is very powerful, and our dark thoughts can pose a real to our lives. If we’re not able to deal with them skilfully, they can lead to depression, cause us to argue with those we love, or make us aggressive/paranoid/socially withdrawn and so on. Or we may project these feelings out, and someone else might become our scapegoat, forced to carry the burden of our shame.

Mindfulness asks us to see ourselves truthfully, to accept the full range of our thoughts, emotions, and personality quirks. This is an ongoing challenge, but fortunately mindfulness also enables us to better manage the challenge. Through mindfulness practice, we are able to create a compassionate space around our experiences, and this is really the key. Without self-compassion, we are likely to call the thought police on ourselves at the first sign of one of these unexpected visitors arriving at the door.

‘Treat each guest honourable’, Rumi tells us, ‘he may be clearing you out for some new delight.’

What are the delights of accepting ourselves more fully? What can we gain by engaging with those aspects of ourselves we’d rather turn away?

Weekly practice idea:

This week, when a dark thought or uncomfortable feeling arises, imagine you’re the innkeeper in Rumi’s poem, inviting them into your house. Does this make a difference to how you experience this aspect of yourself?

Anja Tanhane