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The Journey Inward A Reflection On "The Guest House" By Poet Rumi


Last updated 6/16/2021 at 11:45am

I am one of many people who consider the poem “The Guest House” by Sufi poet Rumi one of their favorite poems. The poem: “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 quest 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.”

This poem invites us to respect and honor, even love, all aspects of ourselves.

The other day I was packing up some of my books for the AAUW book sale. Some “sorrow” swept through my house and emptied my mind, leaving only grief.

The books represent the changes and losses of this time in my life. I am no longer the young whippersnapper in the heyday of my career but the older man who is preparing for another season of life.

Curiously, I am still working and enjoying the connection with people who are on a journey of growth and who want to become familiar with their uninvited guests.

My vantage point is different now. What I use to disown from within, stays around, even if only for a while, and sits a spell while we talk.

Welcoming the dark thought, the shame, the malice is an act of inviting what has been there all along.

But our culture creates standards of achievement, affluence, appearance and pressures us to disown how we feel on the inside as if that that is a distraction.

If I become angry at my boss, but if that feeling of anger is a threat to my sense of self (“I’m a nice person; nice people don’t get angry”), then I try to rid my house of anger. But that doesn’t get rid of anger; anger is either pushed aside or projected outwardly. The anger continues to arise, but since it cannot be me who is angry, it must be somebody else. Next thought: “My boss is going to fire me.” He’s angry.

Those things in the world that most disturb and upset me about others are shadow qualities of myself. This doesn’t mean people do not possess qualities I abhor. True! But what if I, for example, consider my neighbor a control freak! “Just look at the way he puts up signs to protect his precious lawn,” I think. And I try to convince other people that he is the way I see him.

What have I done? I have left the messages that reside in my own house and start looking across the road at my neighbor. If I instead consider those guests that reside in me, I can see that I am more of a controlling person than I care to admit.

Though we might be afraid to acknowledge our disowned and neglected thoughts and emotions, the poem by Rumi suggests that if we invite them in, rather than shut the door on them, we learn after all that we are human. We need not pretend we are more than we are.

We become more alive to our sorrows, depression, malice, shame, meanness and see these as guides for discovering who we are.

We are many selves. Welcome and entertain them all!

(Dr. John Campbell is a psychotherapist and pastoral counselor in Brevard.)


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