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skilfully, they can lead to depression, cause us to argue with those we love, or make us aggressive/paranoid/socially withdrawn and so on.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


Going home

Pond at arboretum-2347

‘Going home is like turning down the volume, so I can hear myself again.’

Steve Jampijinpa, from the documentary ‘Milpirri, Winds of Change’

Where is the place you can ‘come home to’, where the noisy volume of your everyday life is muted so you can become more grounded, gather your thoughts, hear yourself? When people meditate, they often describe a sense of coming back to themselves. Life is still busy, the demands which others make of them haven’t decreased, but there is a greater sense of living out of their centre rather than simply being buffeted about by life.

Home can be a physical place where we feel comfortable, at ease, not having to prove ourselves or be someone special. We can also cultivate a sense of going home through rituals, reflection, taking time out. It is where we can reconnect with our deepest values, with what really matters to us. Yet it’s possible to rush along for months or years without ever touching base with this sense of returning home. Continue reading “Going home” »

The two wings of a bird

Birds in tree.jpg2

‘My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.’

HH the Dalai Lama

Meditation is sometimes described as the two wings of a bird – one wing is insight, and the other compassion. Another way of describing insight is to think of it as greater clarity, having more awareness of what is going on in our lives rather than living in avoidance or fantasy. This is developed by staying with body sensations, thoughts and feelings during meditation, having an attitude of openness and acceptance to our experience, and thereby gaining deeper insights into our inner life and though patterns. Compassion is then about approaching ‘life as it is’ with kindness rather than judgemental harshness.

In our meditation practice, we often tend to lean towards one or the other – insight or compassion. Some of us might be rigorous in our meditation and sit very still and solidly, but we could be impatient with those who are restless and fidgety. Other people give up easily at the first signs of struggle, not wanting to put themselves through the discipline required. Yet both wings are equally important for the bird to fly. Continue reading “The two wings of a bird” »