I have recently been experimenting with a technique for maintaining a sense of inner openness: I visualize my thoughts and feelings as guests that I welcome in to the guest house of my mind. This was inspired by (outright stolen from) the Rumi poem The Guest House (see below). It’s been very helpful for maintaining a peaceful curiosity to embrace whatever thoughts and feelings arise in a given moment.
Here is what I visualize when I encounter an experience or thought that I have initial resistance to:
A jovial and compassionate innkeeper with a big belly stands in front of a rustic wooden door of a quaint guest house. You can hear him laughing from a distance and see the rumble of his gut as he puts his arm around the shoulder of a new guest entering his house. He welcomes in all of those thoughts that are not wanted: criticism, judgment, blame, shame, etc. And he is always ready to offer a warm meal and a comfortable bed to those feelings that are difficult to experience: sadness, confusion, anger, frustration, sorrow, etc.
He laughs as he ushers them into the guest house and sits down with them at a table to get to know them. He listens with patience and care, often with a sense of complete understanding. He accepts them for who they are. He sees only the good in them. He finds beauty in their stories. Even if they enter in a drunken stupor and create chaos, he has no wish to make them leave. He laughs with a sense of detachment at the mess they make, all the while knowing that they will soon sober up and be a little more sensible.
He is okay with letting his inn get thrashed once in a while. The keeper is primarily concerned with remaining hospitable to all that come knocking on his door. He knows that each of these guests have something to contribute, a gift that is unique. He always trusts that they come to his inn for a particular reason and sees it as an opportunity to learn something new about the world.
Why Remain Open?
I used to think that we had to shield ourselves from thoughts and feelings that are difficult to experience (what I have often called “negative thoughts” in the past). What I am learning is the value of being open to all of our thoughts and feelings, regardless of the pain that they may bring with them. This can be difficult work at times and it is important to know when we need to reach out to our community and friends for help. I am learning that almost every internal experience we have is a teacher. And these teachers, or to use the metaphor of “guests” as I used before, have so much to offer if we can allow ourselves to be open to all of the wisdom they bring. They can offer incredible insight into our deeply imbedded beliefs systems and help us transform the way we live. By learning to welcome our thoughts and feelings as guests into the guest house of our minds, we can remain open to the wonder of all of life’s experiences.
The Guest House
From The Essential Rumi
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.
What do you think about this approach?