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.
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys
Dan Kindlon, Ph.D; Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Every so often, it is not uncommon for my male friends and I to regale each other with horrific tales of awkwardness and inadequacy from our middle school experiences. The stories are frequently similar, not only due to their tragic content, but also because of their humorous delivery. The other commonality the stories all share is the hurt that lurks beneath their perfectly crafted punch lines and superb comic timing. They are painful memoires of alienation and cruelty that have been skillfully crafted into entertaining anecdotes. And while it is an exercise in catharsis to share the stories in an amusing fashion, the experience is one that is uniquely male: Painful memories and experiences are refashioned so that they are more digestible, not only for other men to hear, but for a world at large to hear; a world, which expects it all to be taken in stride. To be taken like a man.
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson contends that at a very young age, boys are driven away from their emotional lives into a proverbial fortress of solitude and isolation and thus begin their decent into “emotional illiteracy”, a type of emotional miseducation that turns boys away from their inner selves and leaves them ill equipped to successfully navigate the myriad complexities of life; the very complexities that emotions are designed to regulate. The authors suggest that the rigidity with which boys are indoctrinated into the annals of manhood, rob them of their greater potential to cultivate emotional resilience and flexibility. Within this discussion, two primary questions are posed: What is the cost to boys who hide their feelings and silence their fears? And what do boys need to become emotionally flexible and complete men?
The authors use the chapters of the book to differentiate the varying factors that have the most significant impact on the lives of young men. This comprehensive overview includes sections on boys’ experiences within the school system, their lives at home and their lives amongst peers. Several chapters in the book concentrate on more specific issues such as anger and violence, drinking and drugs and intimacy and love. Additionally, there are two particularly touching chapters that explore the connection and conflict between fathers and sons as well as the tenderness and turmoil between boys and their mothers.
Kindlon and Thompson bring a tremendous base of knowledge and authenticity to the book, both due in part to their 35 years of combined clinical experience working with boys and also with their distinctive, yet universal experiences as men. Both authors share their professional experiences, which are illustrated in helpful vignettes, and each are brave and forthcoming with their own experiences growing up amongst all of the various challenges posed within the text. For clinicians who might be working with boys on a regular basis, or for those who might only see one during their entire career, the book is very useful and powerfully normalizing for those frustrating sessions fraught with stoicism and resistance, while reminding therapists, just what it is that boys need, and what it is that their silence and steely demeanor is telling us.
Furthermore, this is a book that could be very powerful and helpful for parents and educators of boys, in addition to adult male clients and their close relations. The authenticity and optimism that Kindlon and Thompson bring to the material allows the authors to challenge and question damaging cultural norms without being dismissive of masculinity as a whole. One of the most skillful elements of the book is that it does not demonize maleness and seek to change it; rather, it celebrates boyish exuberance and masculinity while clearly identifying all the areas in which it could be broadened and made more complete.
In the Eastern Highlands of Papua, New Guinea, there is a native tribe who regard manhood as “the big impossible” due to it’s difficulty, or rather, perceived impossibility to achieve. As both a clinician who works primarily with boys and young men and as a male who is in a never-ending search for his own piece of the big impossible, reading Kindlon and Thompson’s book was both a transformative and affirming experience which has given me deeper insights not only into my own professional work, but deeper insights into both myself and the men in my life. It is a book that created a sense of connection and shared experience deep within a place that will always house the remains of a fortress of solitude.