Hospitality to Our Feelings
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 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 whatever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
Do I need to say any more than that? My favorite 13th century Sufi Poet Rumi, kinda says it all. I usually keep print outs of this poem in my office and I hand them out to clients whenever the issue of how to be mindful of our emotions comes up.
Most of us were not taught how to befriend our feelings or be ok with them. If you have any memories from childhood, you might remember one or both parents or caregivers telling to stop crying or worse, criticizing you for your emotions.
As adults, we may intellectually appreciate the value of our feelings but still struggle to be truly present to them.
What does that mean? Being mindful of our feelings means to be able to allow a feeling to emerge and run its course. If you grew up the way a lot of adults have, there might be a lot of fear or resistance to doing that.
One fear might be that if you allow sadness to just be, for example, that you would just be sad all the time (i.e., depressed). This is where I love to refer back to Rumi’s poem. If you view each emotion as an energy or a wave that is just passing through, like a guest paying us a visit, then we would be less likely or willing to allow that guest to set up a permanent residence there. The sadness may have a gift to offer, such as Rumi suggests, but we need not let it wear out its welcome either. Show it the door after you have entertained it to your heart’s desire.
Our every day language about emotions can sometimes be a set up for an emotion to overstay their welcome. When we say, “I am angry,” you are implying anger as a part of you, embedded in your identity. Versus, “I feel angry” suggests you are in a temporary state of anger.
What is the value of befriending our feelings anyway? Why do therapists always put so much emphasis on feelings? Why can’t we just turn off the spigot and leave it at that?
If it were that simple, you wouldn’t even be reading this. Contrary to what we would sometimes like to believe, we need our emotions and we need to process them in a healthy way. Ignoring them or stuffing them down can cause a myriad of harm, including health effects. You can try to keep a lid on a pot of boiling water but the pressure inside is still going to build and boil over. And someone will get burned, I assure you.
Here’s the other thing. A life without emotions is like a life without color. A black and white, emotionless life is not an enjoyable or meaningful one. Emotions remind us that we are ALIVE. When we allow ourselves to feel, and feel fully, we bring the technicolor back into our world.
So “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.”