The Guest House

Since Jody got sick last fall, I’ve often been overwhelmed with sadness.  It comes in sudden pangs, especially when I look into my dear wife’s eyes.  At other times, I’m enjoying the moments of progress: Jody bipping around the mall in her wheelchair; Jody in the kitchen, collaborating with our personal support worker about supper; Jody taking 300 steps on our driveway with the walker.

The moments of intense badness can be a blessing, according to the gentleman you are about to meet, or remeet.  “Come on in, you sadness, pull up a chair and let’s hang out together.”  Only in my best moments have I been able to do this.  Usually, all my meditation training flies out the window as my knee does its jerk.  But occasionally …

Jelaluddin Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic, wrote this poem.  I like it.

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

Whew!  Mr. Rumi saw things with wide open eyes.  Wish I could have sat down for a coffee with him.  Can I really laugh at my foibles, not just in retrospect but in the heat of the battle?  Can I see that “my” sadness is just one facet of universal human sadness, that none of us can escape that pain?  I understand this in my head but that’s far way from “getting it” as the emotion floods me.

I’m tempted to say that I’ll keep trying to do this, but that’s not it.  I often extend my right hand, palm up, as a symbol of letting go.  More of that, please.  And another thing … I think I need to have many experiences of sadness, fear, loneliness, anger (don’t have many of those), in order to open the door of my guest house.

Maybe three years ago, I sat with colleagues around a conference table in a school, discussing the technology needs of a visually impaired student.  One teacher especially was knowledgeable about computers.  At one point, I realized that I didn’t know what these people were talking about.  I panicked.  Fear smashed into me, again and again.  Finally I stuttered out “I can’t do this!”, got up and left the room.  Total overwhelm.  In the time since, I’ve been remarably gentle with myself about this incident.  Any badness has morphed into humanness.  Hey, I was just being cleared out for some new delight.

What if back then I had started laughing in the middle of the fray, and blurted out something like “I’m completely lost!”?  Awesome.  And who knows, perhaps today will give me the chance to titter a bit when I go to the basement and just stand there, with no idea of what I came down for.  Pretty human, I’d say.


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