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 honourably.
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.
In this poem, Rumi (1995) compares the essence of being human to the idea of a guest house, meaning that we are vessels for innumerable experiences and emotions throughout our lives: the depression, the joy, the dark thought, the shame, the malice and a crowd of sorrows.
The metaphor of the guest house with its 'new arrivals' and 'unexpected visitors' is associated with the capacity to contain a broad range of human experiences that life brings to us - invited or uninvited. The guest house could be thought of as an inner holding capacity, a psychical freedom, internal strength and continuity which, if well developed, allows us to be with the emotional heights and depths of our lives.
In line with Rumi's poem, I have come to understand that life’s experiences and challenges are un/manageable and overwhelming to the degree that we are un/able to tolerate the feelings they stir up within us. The potential range of experiencing stretches from being open to the beauty of nature, the compassion and love for another to an awareness of our own limitations and brokenness, the pains and joys of love and life, fragmentation and conflict, isolation, disintegration as well as integration and harmony.
What most often brings people to therapy is a real difficulty to accept, contain and reflect some of life's experiences (e.g. loss, separation, disappointments, feelings of loneliness, vulnerability). This difficulty of being present and attuned to our inner experiences and emotional states is frequently related to the nature of our early attachment relationships which can promote or undermine our capacity to feel, think and communicate.
In essence, our capacity to 'welcome and entertain new arrivals' in our inner guest house is often associated with the nature of our attachment relationships we have had in life and what we have been able to internalize from these experiences (e.g. a critical, judgmental inner stance; a kind, accepting, curious, encouraging inner voice or something in between). We tend to identify with and internalise experiences from our early attachments with parents and family, but also other meaningful long-term relationships, perhaps later in life.
Many people, to a varying degree and intensity, have experienced emotional neglect or trauma within the context of their family relationships. This can lead to difficulties later in life (depression, anxiety, eating disorders, difficulties to form and sustain supportive relationships, problems with identity and self-worth etc.).
My therapeutic approach, which has evolved over years of study, clinical work and my own life experiences and self-development, is concerned with identifying and working with these kind of difficulties. The therapeutic aim is to facilitate the gradual unfolding of our life-giving ability of making friends with our feelings - cultivating an inner holding capacity akin to Rumi's guesthouse - welcoming and entertaining expected and unexpected experiences.
Individual and group therapy, and sometimes a combination of both, offer an arena for vital corrective emotional experiences which can enable us to learn to better pay attention to ourselves and our feelings, to become more aware of others and their feelings, to better deal with conflict and the balancing of our own needs with those of others. Learning to change in this way requires a strong and sustained commitment to self-development. This in turn can engender a new sense of vitality and belonging in our life which we can carry into our relationships, families, work and other areas of life.