Rumi's Poem: 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 our 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.

  • Rumi

This is one of my favorite poems because it reminds me to be vulnerable and welcome mine and my clients’ emotions. When I meet with new clients, especially those who may be participating in therapy for the first time and are unfamiliar with the experience, they sometimes hesitate to openly and directly express emotions or share experiences. They are unsure if it is acceptable to do so. They are scared to be vulnerable. They fear judgment and being ostracized. They have been socialized that it is impolite to be so open, or in some cases, even dangerous to be so revealing. They are unsure if I can tolerate their emotions and experiences. They may have had negative experiences in the past of the listener not holding them well emotionally, and are unsure how I will react to them. They also worry that if they open up the floodgates to their emotions, they will be not be able to contain them and will become overwhelmed.

I like to think of my office as The Guest House, where I welcome clients as they are. I often wonder with clients, how can we welcome our whole range of emotions and experiences? Rather than suppressing emotions, can we be open to them all? Can we build awareness of and reflect on our emotions, sit with them for a while, and then let them pass without judgment of ourselves for feeling them? What can we learn from them? Can we be open to experiencing them all, even if it takes a lot of energy? Can we be that brave? Rather than avoiding, can we reflect on our emotions and thoughts that we suppress? Can we hold them up and examine them? Can we recognize that there are value and meaning in these thoughts and feelings? That we may have something to learn from them? Like Rumi says in his poem, can we invite them in and be grateful for them, knowing that they are sent for a purpose? I believe it takes a lot of courage, but we surely can!