Written by: @aliyahajee
Done reading? Read it again.
Has your world changed yet? Mine sure has.
In this poem, Rumi introduces a unique perspective. He sees us, humans, as guest houses, who frequently have unexpected guests - anger, fear, sadness, shame, and jealousy. Rumi explains that each of these guests should be welcomed, and even more, they should be entertained.
Now, why in the world should we invite these guests in? Do we really want to welcome anger, sadness, fear, shame, and jealousy? These are the guests we want to lock out because if we let them in, they might take over… and harm us or those around us… right? Maybe not.
When some of these emotions are repressed, they can sometimes translate into different forms of mental illness such as anxiety, depression, and panic disorder. Yes, I am speaking of these from experience. I am living proof that repressed emotions can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. My reluctance to welcome these guests into my house ultimately impacted my job, my schooling, and my relationships.
This poem helped me realize the importance of embracing the entire range of human emotions. When I tried taking the approach of welcoming these guests into my guest house rather than fighting them, I noticed that most of these guests would stick around for a little while, and then leave like any other guest would.
There was a point in my life where I felt that I needed some help in “hosting” these guests. After extensive research, I reached out to a friend who helped me make the decision to seek professional help. Taking this leap was the best (and most difficult) decision of my life. If it weren't for my friends, my family, my therapist, and cognitive behavioural therapy, I would not understand myself the way I do today.
Every time a guest stops by, I ask it a series of questions, and every time I do this, I learn more and more about myself and the guest.
Here is an example: You’re scrolling through your Instagram Feed. You’re watching Snapchat stories. You come across all these body builders and models. You feel a bunch of emotions coming on. You feel terrible for sitting around all day and not being able to lift a finger. You feel self-conscious because you start comparing yourself to them. You feel inadequate because you don’t feel as beautiful as others. Whatever you feel, welcome it. Remember that this feeling is only a guest. This feeling chose to stop by for a reason. Become an observer rather than a consumer of this feeling to better understand it. Ask it questions so that you can better prepare yourself for when it drops by again. Figure out what causes this guest to visit you, and at what times. What is going on in your life that causes this particular guest to come knocking? Is it a pattern?
Another example: You wake up one morning, can’t move your body. You feel devastated, but for no particular reason. You feel a dark cloud hovering above your head and can’t think clearly. You feel like crying, but don’t know how. You don’t know why you feel the way you feel, or what you even feel. What should you do? Ask it questions. Keep track of this guest every time it stops by. See if it is associated with anything else in your life… big life changes, sleep, physical activity, eating habits, relationships, etc.
One last one: You see someone who has bullied you in the past. You feel your heart drop to your stomach. You feel your pulse racing and your heart pounding through your chest cavity. You feel your hands shaking and visibly sweating. You start thinking about painful moments with them. You refuse to feel so weak. You feel anger running through your entire body. You feel your blood boiling. What should you do? With practicing this guest house approach, you’ll find yourself observing and questioning this anger rather than letting it raise your blood pressure. In this particular situation, the trigger for this guest is seeing this bully. Asking this guest questions could reveal more about you - unknown insecurities, low self-esteem, etc.
Whenever you have an unwanted guest, try to take a step back and ask why it’s visiting you. Guests don't usually come empty-handed, they all reveal something.
Having a hard time dealing with a stubborn guest? Trust me, I get it. Reaching out to my friend and therapist is what helped me realize I wasn't alone. And you know what? Neither are you. If you ever feel trapped by one of these guests, don’t be afraid to ask for a hand and always remember that a guest will never nest.
Who's in your guest house?