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 honorably.
They 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.
From the time we entered school and before, we were set on a course to solve problems. Solving one problem, there’s another and another and another. Life became largely about looking at problems and searching for solutions. Psychotherapy is similar; of course, problems motivate us to seek solutions and they get us in the door. So, what’s the problem? Well, consider the goals of therapy: peace of mind, wellbeing, self-acceptance, happiness, freedom, relationship harmony, peace, self-actualization. The issue with problem-solving, in addition to the fact that there is no end to problems to solve, is that while we’re tackling problems we’re generally stressed, unfulfilled, not at peace, not happy. While it can feel satisfying to get on top of a problem, we’re soon on to the next and the next. In reality, we’re not likely to get away from dealing with difficult situations. However, rather than seeing these events as problems, to tackle and master or overcome, what if we could simply be with what is? To calm, to breathe, to relax and allow rather than our instinctual response to reject and push away what unsettles us. We are constantly reacting internally and externally to what we don’t want to accept. Yet, there is much to be gained by relaxing around what is. Accepting what is doesn’t mean we buy what is—it simply means that it is what it is in this moment. When someone says or does something we don’t like or agree with, we react by getting tight physically and emotionally. By breathing into the discomfort and giving ourselves time, we can begin to see with greater neutrality and openness. Therefore, I suggest opening and pushing nothing away as everything is our potential teacher. Consider repeating ‘thank you’ over and over, as you look for and open to the possible ways of better understanding and handling any situation at hand. Be with what is.
Joe, upset and judgmental with his partner leaving things around rather than returning them, adjusted his focus and rather than pushing against his partner’s habit, shifted his attention from an external focus on his partner to an internal focus, noticing his reaction of judgment and tightness. He began to open and look for the deeper meaning and lesson repeating to himself: thank you, thank you, thank you, allow, allow, allow. By opening, he was able to see the events with greater neutrality and began to consider rather than react: Can I allow this? Is my behavior controlling? Can I stop taking this personally? Do I need to make this a problem, or can I relax and breathe into what is and allow? With this, he was able to release, let go and feel peaceful – a much-welcomed experience. He stopped judging his partner and his ways and their relationship improved.
Another individual made the decision that a two-year relationship needed to end and both agreed the relationship had run its course. This individual, with a long history of substance abuse, fell prey to old behaviors and relapsed. In hindsight, he said he simply wanted to escape from the stress and loss. However, like other relapses, he was left with remorse, shame, and depression. With guidance and assistance, he was able to let go of the negative self-talk and self-deprecation by shifting his thought process. He began to look at the relapse as his teacher and opportunity to go deeper within himself. He opened to a new way of thinking; one of allowing non-resistance to what is and looking for the opportunities in this experience, rather than applying labels of ‘looser’ and ‘bad’. He describes the change as profound and is now consciously practicing the art of allowing, of gratitude and mindfulness. He is opening to what is, to life’s experiences, rather than pushing away what was once an unwelcome thought, feeling, and experience. He accepts that this new way of thinking requires a commitment to ongoing attention and is committed to the practice, having experienced the benefits in the form of freedom and peace.
Breathe into whatever it is and push nothing away. With curiosity, consider the possibilities for growth that you are being offered. It is tempting to look outside and blame. However, If someone does or says something hurtful, consider how you can use that event for your growth? Are you still trying to control what others say and do? Can you breathe in deeply and release and allow what is? If you are holding anger, resentment, or blame, consider the following parable:
Two monks were walking on a country path and came upon a maiden unable to cross a rushing stream. She asked for help and the elder monk seeing her distress offered to carry her to safety on the other side. This accomplished, the monks continued their journey in silence. At long last, the younger monk unable to hold his tongue any longer expressed his anger and disappointment: “You know well the vows we took not to touch a woman and you have violated these sacred vows.” The elder monk remained quiet for some time and finally spoke: “Dear one, I put the maiden down a long way back and I see that you are still carrying her.”
How long do we continue to hold old resentments or experiences of times past? Can you feel the resistance to letting go? Can you imagine the relief in letting go of trying to control what others say and do?
It had been years and yet the memory of words spoken at a memorial service for a deceased friend stayed with Sally. One of the speakers praised their mutual friend and coworker for her abilities and strong work ethic. Glancing at Sally, she commented that the deceased friend was superior to Sally who at one time, held that same job position. Over time Sally felt more and more hurt and embarrassed taking what was said personally. Like the monk, she was unable to ‘put the maiden down’. Recognizing her ongoing stuckness, she accepted the suggestion to shift her approach and ‘welcome it all’. Working with the mantra and words ‘thank you’ ‘thank you’, she looked instead for the gift hidden in her experience. With this, she came to appreciate that the speaker was her ‘teacher’ for giving her this experience and for the hidden opportunity to allow what is and not take what others say personally. The experience became the ‘gift’, giving her insight and peace.
The crack is where the light enters.
What we focus on expands: The value of gratitude as a daily practice can’t be over-emphasized. It is a practice of shifting our attention from what is distressing to what is good. Since our evolutionary tendency is to be on the alert for anything that can threaten our safety, we need to intentionally shift our attention to the good in life, to what we are grateful for. We do this when we take time to notice the good, notice the beauty, notice the gifts we have within and around us.
See everything as your teacher and welcome it all. Nothing is gained by pushing away and everything to be gained by opening to the deeper message and teaching. Welcome it all, welcome what is. Breathe deeply, let go and release resistance. Taking full responsibility for what we do with what we’ve been handed is the path to freedom.