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Reflections on "The Guest House"

One of my favourite poems is "The Guest House", by Rumi. It's often read to participants of the MBSR course during one of the sessions. In this post, we'll dig a little deeper into the relevance of this poem and how understanding the messaging behind it can help with our mindfulness practice. Here it is....

Picture of a 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.


I'm not going to analyse this line-by-line, but will instead pull out a few key concepts. You might like to read through these and then reflect on them as part of your practice using the suggested Reflection at the end of this post.

The Title...

I'd like to start with the title, "The Guest House". The poem is about our thoughts and emotions, how they enter our minds and suggests that we should embrace all of these, regardless of whether we perceive them to be good or bad. But the first concept that I'd like to consider is that the emotions are Guests. They arrive, stay for a while and then leave....they have no right to remain indefinitely!

This is the same with our real-life emotions. While, when they're happening, they may feel like they're permanent fixtures, i.e. a part of who we fundamentally are, the reality is that they are fleeting in nature (impearmanent). How many times have you woken up the next morning, and the thought or emotion is a distant memory?

This can be useful to bear in mind irrespective of whether you perceive the emotion to be positive (it will eventually fade and we should accept that, enjoying it while it lasts but not clinging onto it) or negative (it too will eventually fade and we'll probably wonder later on what all the fuss was about).

Some Momentary Awareness...

"some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor"

This is true of everyone, but is probably more true if you don't currently have a regular mindfulness meditation practice. Perhaps you're out walking in nature and all of a sudden your're 100% there, in the moment, with no thoughts of the past or future whirring around in your mind. Or you could be playing a sport and you suddenly find yourself 'in the zone'.

Oftentimes, these periods of awareness are fleeting. But we can cultivate them through mindfulness meditation so they're a more integral part of our daily lives. This allows us to live a life that's more "fully present" and can help improve our relationships and our sense of joy.

Welcome and entertain them all...

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.

In daily life, this is asking two things of us:

(a) to accept all emotions and to "let them be" without trying to cling to some and/or push others away.

(b) to recognise that emotions perceived as negative (anger, frustration, etc.) may have an eventual positive outcome, e.g. you make a positive change in your life as a result, or that something you, at first, perceived to be negative actually turned out to be positive.

Point (b) is a fact of life. We experience a whole range of emotions each and every day that we dislike, push away, resent. Do all the cirumstances that generated those emotions turn out bad (or as bad as we first thought)?

Point (a) is a little trickier. This is asking us to embrace all that we experience. To sit with those emotions. To accept them. This can be an uncomfortable practice, especially if you're experiencing strong emotions. The key to working with this is to bring kindness and self-compassion to your experience, which can be achieved through a regular meditation practice, such as those taught in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Compassionate Mindful Resilience courses.


As a suggested reflection for today, call to mind a recent event that generated a negative emotion or response from you. Don't pick something too severe. What did it feel like in your body when that emotion reared its head? What thoughts were in your mind?

Feel into your bodily sensations for a few moments to get a sense of what's there for you.

Now take a breath.....Looking back, what's different about how you viewed that situation and the emotions & physical sensations it generated at the time compared to how you feel about them now? What can you learn from that?

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