Welcoming difficult guests

I’ve been feeling rather raw lately.

Between the political unrest, the prolonged stress of the pandemic, and dealing with other changes in my personal life, it often feels like just too much. I’m tired and cranky and on edge with my emotions lying way too close to the surface.

There are many days when it seems like this pressure cooker of stress is the new status quo with no end in sight.

In the midst of feeling this way, I recently re-encountered Rumi’s poem “The Guest House,” and it’s helping me cope a little better.

You may have heard it before. It’s the one that starts with the lines:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

Take a moment to click through to read the whole thing. (It’s not long, but I want to honor copyright law by not copying the whole thing here.)

Every time I’ve read this before, I’ve focused on the idea of learning how to welcome in whatever emotions come up—learning to treat each one as a welcome guest, even when their visit may feel a bit disruptive or challenging.

That’s a skill I still struggle with, despite having discovered time and time again that it’s ultimately easier on me (and those around me) for me to welcome and feel my emotions as they happen than to let them pile up below the surface like stores of dynamite in the basement that eventually explode out of control.

However, this time I realized something else in this lovely poem.

It’s not just about welcoming in each new guest; it’s also about realizing that each one is a guest, which means that they are not a permanent part of me.

Yes, they sometimes stay way longer than I’d like, but they are still guests that do not define me.

That realization has been so helpful over the last couple of weeks.

On the days that I feel broken, I remind myself that this is just a guest that’s come to visit and don’t need to make it my identity.

On the days that I feel so raw and on edge that I want to scream, I remind myself that this guest of an emotion won’t stay forever.

On the days that I feel bowed down to the ground with the all of the stress I’m carrying, I remind myself that this too will pass.

It’s easier to welcome these difficult emotions in when I remember that they are only guests who last forever. In fact, the very act of welcoming them in and making space for them is actually less draining than all the resistance I otherwise put into resisting their incessant knocking upon my door.

All I need to do is be open and welcoming (even when that’s hard). I don’t have to fix anything, make myself anything different, or be something I’m not. I just need to be open to what comes.

The temporariness of these difficult emotions can even be seen in the metaphor of kintsugi where even the broken places in our lives don’t last forever as we mend them to become scars of gold instead.

Perhaps this idea of being a living, breathing guest house is just one more image of kintsugi living, but I sure have found it to be a particularly powerful one these last few weeks.

What guests are pounding at your door that you need to welcome into your guest house?

Which guests are currently staying in your guest house that it would be helpful for you to remember that they are truly just temporary visitors and not a definition of you?

How well do you welcome in these difficult guests?


Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

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2 thoughts on “Welcoming difficult guests

  • January 20, 2021 at 8:36 am

    Kenetha, this really resonated with me, and it may be one of those things I save to read every morning… Love it.

    • January 20, 2021 at 8:41 am

      Thank you so much, Sara! I’m so glad you found it helpful. I love that poem by Rumi so much. It’s both profound and beautifully written.

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