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 honourably.
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.
Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)
I used to think that life was a puzzle to be solved, a kind of Rubik’s Cube. I thought that as I got older, I would learn the combinations, how to twist pieces of my existence, my circumstances and myself in just the right way, so that everything would fall into place and be all neat and colour-coded and manageable. At first, this kind of thinking led me to pretend a lot. I had to convince myself (and others) that I was getting it right. Those niggling insecurities and struggles weren’t real. I buried them under a pile of activity, and when that didn’t work, I hid inside books and stories.
Then came a series of failures and disappointments that threatened to undo me. I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. I read books and practiced what they preached. I delved into my mind, creating awareness of the patterns and habits that shaped my choices, and tried hard to understand the swirling currents of thought and motivation that formed my identity. I encountered insights and had epiphanies, all the while believing that zen-like peace lay just around the corner. I was gathering all the pieces together and soon the picture would be complete. I would become the mother/wife/daughter/friend/Christian/writer/horsewoman/homemaker I always knew I could be.
I would have days that confirmed my belief that I was making progress, only to sink into frustration when the inner compass of my emotions veered south, or some external struggle came my way. I pushed myself harder, if I could just be better, do better, get more clarity. I rejected emotions I saw as negative, as the enemy of my quest for equanimity. And the more I denied them, the more they insisted I hear them.
So I started listening; I started to believe that those ‘dark’ parts of me had things to say, lessons to teach. I stopped trying to shoo them out; I acknowledged my frailty to myself, and to others. I discovered that people would still love me, still respect me, even still like me. I invited these heavy things into conscious recognition. And I learned that I am, after all, just human.
I am still reading, still trying to understand. But it’s no longer an attempt to reach perfection (a moving target if ever there was one). I am learning that it is a good thing to sit with the ambiguity and complexity. It’s okay to allow myself to ponder on my anger, my fear and my anxiety. I can welcome them to the table where I sit to have conversations with myself and with God, conversations about what it all means and how I can reach more fully into everything I am meant to be. I can learn to be present to the discomfort and confusion. I can stop striving, while still stretching into new capacities and perspectives.
I know now that life is full of puzzles, and I will solve some of them. In some parts of my life, I feel freedom and light. In others, there is still struggle. I do get discouraged and overwhelmed sometimes. But I am learning slowly to be comfortable with that, to be curious about it, rather than spiralling into defeat. I am beginning to appreciate the whole, with all its incongruity and imperfection.