Sometime during my senior year of college at Saint Louis University I was introduced to Rumi’s poem “The Guest House.” I think I was listening to a podcast about Young Adult Literature for a project, and an author referenced it. Since I have difficulty processing information solely through auditory formats, I had to track down a copy of the poem to read over. Ever since reading it that first time, this poem and its powerful message has stuck with me.
To me, this poem is an invitation to be present to whatever season of life you are in, and to entertain the moment to moment experience of it. I invite you to read it below:
The Guest House
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 are 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 whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
As someone who is still learning to acknowledge, accept, and appreciate all emotions, I find Rumi’s words both comforting and challenging. Currently, my “guest” is a fall cold and the anxiety of not being able to keep up with graduate school coursework, which has come with being sick. As much as I wish I was not sick, I cannot deny that my sore throat, runny nose, and low energy put limits on what I am able to do each day. Instead, with Rumi’s coaxing, I have tried to welcome my cold as an invitation for rest and learning my limitations.
In a culture that only validates some emotions — and only if they are experienced by some people — Rumi’s words remind me to make space for everything: the joy just as much as the pain. In two of my classes yesterday, the concept of honoring emotions was discussed, and people noted how difficult it can be to first identify and then tend to our emotions. One instructor shared that she personifies her emotions and imagines each one as a child needing attention. Another person mentioned she talks to her body in order to acknowledge the somatic manifestations of her emotions, and then asks what they are trying to tell her. Whichever method used, the important part is to “entertain them all,” as Rumi says.
As a social worker in training, the ability to support others in welcoming each and every morning’s new arrival of feelings is both an honor and a challenge. Sometimes others’ expression of certain emotions can make us uncomfortable. Sometimes we’re uncomfortable because we have not given that feeling enough space in our own lives. However, bearing witness to another’s exploration of vulnerable emotions is one of the greatest things we can give one another. The trust, closeness, and connection experienced in those moments can be incredibly healing. One of my JVC housemates taught me that.
During my JVC year I experienced a great deal of grief and sadness. One day I was having a particularly difficult time, and texted my housemate to let her know I wasn’t doing well. She came to my room where I was laying face down on the floor sobbing and snotting all over the place, and just sat with me. She didn’t say much. She didn’t do much other than play Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book album and a Filipino children’s choir’s songs. It wasn’t that she said or did the exact right things; what mattered was that she was there, that she didn’t try to fix anything, and that she was willing to be with me in that uncomfortable space. When I think about the kind of social worker I want to be, I think of my housemate and the space she held for me that day. I think about Rumi and the guidance to “treat each guest honorably.” I think about all the ways we would be a more loving and caring society if we could do this for one another more often.
So, whatever it is you are feeling at this moment, know it’s ok. Some guests stay longer than others. Some are easier to entertain. Some we wish would just leave but insist on gaining our acknowledgment before bidding us adieu. But through it all, be open to whatever comes. Rumi’s wise advice has served me well, and I hope it does the same for you.