I first learned of Rumi when I was a sophomore in high school. My English teacher was . . . eccentric. But in many ways, she was my first introduction to what would become my current path. Not only Rumi but Lao Tzu graced our reading lists, and even then, I connected with their words. Rumi’s poem, The Guest House, the poem I first read 16 years ago, comes and goes in my life, and right now, I feel its draw again. Here is the poem in full:
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.
In short, he says, welcome whatever comes. It will not be staying long, and it may be making space for something amazing! It can be very easy to get caught up in the sorrows and meanness, especially when we are always expecting disaster, participating in the downward spiral of email, or caught up in vicarious trauma. But as Rumi points out, these experiences are just momentary guests. We may feel that some will overstay their welcome, but eventually they pack up and go. Eventually something new takes their place.
Yoga has shown me another level of The Guest House. Not only are these moments in life going to come and go, but we never have to let them define us. Our humanity, “this being human” is about being the building where these moments occur. They are not who we are. We are not defined by our sorrows anymore than we are defined by our joys. They are simply visitors who interact with us and perhaps change us, but they need not define us.
It is easy to think they define us. When we forget how temporary each of these guests are in our lives, it is easy to allow them to overtake our mentality. But when we do that, we forget that every one of these guests is something that can teach us something new.
I have been extremely blessed to have travelled a lot in my life. I have spent many nights in hostels interacting with people from around the world. And each and every one of them has taught me something new. I see them as the physical embodiment of Rumi's point. Sometimes I really enjoyed our conversations, and other times I was fairly annoyed by them, but I have always learned from them, and then they vanished from my life and I from their life. Rumi reminds us that all of our life experiences can be the same type of gift. We can always learn from them.
And we never know when they are going to clear us “for some new delight.” And thus, each and every one of them is a gift. We just have to recognize them as such. And that can be hard. That can be really hard. But Rumi helps give us a new perspective, a new way to smile and laugh when we think life is going to overwhelm us.
I have not, in any way, mastered Rumi’s suggestion. I have carried it with me since high school, but it is not something we are taught in modern society. Quite the contrary. We are taught to mask our pains, pretend they are not there, or cover them up with medications. Rumi’s suggestion is not a mask, but instead an experience. We are not to ignore the pains and sorrows. Instead, we are to recognize the gifts they are. The pain and fear still happen, but we can know they are nothing more than temporary house guests. Once they are gone, we can wash the sheets and be open for the next arrival.
In many ways, yoga has made this easier for me. When I struggle on the mat some days, I know that the next day, I may feel great. Some days my meditation practice is nothing but a movie reel of my thoughts, and on other days it is calm awareness (much, much more rarely than the former). But each day is new. Each experience is new.
And when we do not expect that everything is a disaster, but instead expect that everything is a gift, that awareness can open us up to the greatest possibilities of our lives.
© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.