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'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.
No, there’s no light
In the darkest of your furthest reaches
-The Mars Volta
Thinking of human beings as solid and sturdy houses, which both welcome and reject surprise visitors, is a powerful metaphor which can be helpful for anyone experiencing unexpected and unwanted change. However, the most powerful piece of this metaphor is recognizing that houses are refuges. They are sheltering structures, which protect and nurture and are inherently benevolent in their design. It could be argued that just like a house, the foundational structure of every human being is that of a generous and protective platform, modeled for infinite growth and limitless redesign. What impedes an individual’s ability to harness this however, are the uninvited guests, who can damage the space and impair the development.
Much of the positive change that can take place in life is due to de-personalizing our problems and recognizing that our difficulties and struggles are not fundamental aspects of our personality. Our biggest problems are typically external forces at work, or uninvited guests. It is important that each of us create an opportunity to examine the visitors in our proverbial houses, and begin to recognize who has taken up residence and how they will affect our plans for expansion or remodel. The worst failing of individuals are often the corners in which the uninvited guests of their lives have begun to inhabit and dictate plans for future direction, causing the individual to give up on their own blueprint and their potential for limitless development and growth.
Currently, research across a variety of fields is demonstrating that a fundamental aspiration of all individuals is close human connection and attachment. Within this context, we are beginning to recognize that there is indeed light in the darkest of each person’s furthest reaches, and that within that dim glow, a process is at work to discover connection and to seek out protection from pain, which can shine too brightly in the light of day. Healthy human connection can pull back the curtains and disrupt the isolation that grows within the darkened corners of our proverbial houses. It could be argued that isolation is the single greatest threat to human growth and development. Close human connection and healthy attachments expand emotional flexibility and instill resiliency, which allows individuals to recognize their uninvited guests and “meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.”
When I speak of emotional flexibility I speak of the exact process that Rumi so eloquently illustrates in his poem: The ability to allow emotions, positive and negative, to visit and take leave, without requiring control of their passage. This process is one of the most basic mechanisms of a healthy and thriving personality. Experiencing fully and allowing a complete range of human emotions is what allows individuals to regulate healthy reactions to events in the world, thus strengthening their inner life and their participation within their greater familial and cultural system. Denying and hiding from feelings are what lead to dysfunction and the eventual decay of our sheltering structures, which house our emotional lives. The uninvited guests in our lives are not always the biggest part of the problem; our reaction and resistance to them are where the difficulties lie. Additionally, healthy and thriving personalities who seek out emotional connection and attachment are better equipped to create healthy relationships, which systemically replicates into healthy communities, cultures, and societies.
Try this: Next time you recognize a personal difficulty you would rather escape or avoid, close your eyes and ask yourself, "Who is this uninvited guest, and where are they choosing to take residence?" Then do something kind of silly. Say, "hello" to this guest. Let them know you are aware of their presence and that you see that they have decided to move in for a while. Then try to take solace in the notion that while you are a sturdy guest house, spacious and capable of housing whoever may chose to visit, your guests are no more than lonely travelers, who will eventually leave as unexpectedly as they arrived.