The Guest House

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The Guest House
by 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.

Before I left for the monastery, I collected several poems and quotations and short essays that I wanted to take along for pondering and meditating: David Whyte’s short piece on Rest, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman. My parents each gave me separate Einstein quotations about Mystery, and my mother pulled this Rumi poem out of her own journal-book and handed it to me.  These became the texts which helped to frame my thinking.

On my final morning in Wernersville, I sat down with my friend to talk about our times of solitude, and at one point she began to quote this very poem!  I tend to absorb synchronicities like this with the weight of Messages.  When, in three days, two different people offer me the same set of words, it makes me perk up my inner ears a little more intently.

This was my third solitary retreat at the Jesuit Center.  The first time, many years ago, I was wounded, needing to recover my sense of myself after some significant re-arranging of my own ego.  Last year, I was exhausted, needing to re-establish my connection with my inner self after a heady first year of high school teaching–I was psychically hungry for introvert time.  This year, while I felt a deep inner need for solitude and quiet thought, it felt less like a time of recovery than a time of shifting and integrating and re-structuring.  This year, the question is less one of how I heal than of how I carry retreat into my daily life, how I grow and expand my contemplative work into my non-retreat life.

In a way, going on retreat is like playing at being a monk.  The word monk is etymologically related to the Greek word monos: singular, alone.  My work in these days following my monastic moment is to integrate that singleness of purpose, that enriching inner solitude, into my daily life.  This is where Rumi’s poem comes in.  After three days of quiet reflection, I want to slam my door on the noise, the dark thoughts, the interruptions. I want to hold on to that sense of peace and quiet with every ounce of my inner strength. Instead, Rumi invites me to be hospitable to the distractions and interruptions, to welcome them all–laughing–at my door.

That third stanza, particularly, about inviting in even the crowd of sorrows who clear your rooms of furniture, reminds me of the story I just read about Abba Eupreprius, a desert father who was robbed of all of his few possessions, except for his walking stick.  When he discovered the loss, he picked up his walking stick and ran after the thieves, calling, “Wait!  You forgot something!”  Can I be that hospitable?  Even to the thoughts and hurts that grind at my ego?  Even to the griefs and anxieties that threaten to destabilize my inner rooms?  To welcome them as guests who are clearing me out “for some new delight”?

Gratitude List:
1. All the guests who arrive at my “guest house,” and Rumi and my beloveds, who remind me to be hospitable even to the challenges
2. Mystery, wonder, delight
3. Yesterday’s quiet and cooperative hours of play.  There was almost no fighting whatsoever.  I know that the fighting is part of their work, part of how they teach each other, but it’s nice to have some moments of other kinds of learning.
4. Putting a puzzle together, how it makes the mind work hard to visualize, then re-formulate the vision, how it offers the brain and the heart a metaphor for problem-solving
5. Metaphors, symbols, tools

May we walk in Beauty!

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