Rumi’s 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.
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,Rumi
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Who was Rumi?
Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rumi was a 13th century Sufi mystic born in present day Afghanistan. His large scale poetic work, Mathnawi is considered one of the greatest poetic works of the Persian language.
The Guest House is a poem based on parts of Rumi’s Mathnawi (Book Five). There’s a few versions of this poem from various writers, but the most popular one by far is the one above. It was written at the end of the twentieth century by Coleman Barks.
While we’d probably prefer to be on holiday, this poem reminds us that we’re all actually guest houses. New guests arrive every day, and whether we like them or not, it’s our job to accept them and welcome them in.
Internal Family Systems
The poem describes the guests as our own feelings and thoughts, and resonates with a psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems. IFS describes the mind as being divided into a number of sub-personalities, or ‘parts’.
These are the guests in the guest house.
There’s also a Self, which would be the guest house itself. Internal Family Systems aims to achieve balance and harmony within the parts, which it regards as all ultimately wanting something positive.
There’s also parts who’ve experienced trauma and can become isolated from the rest of the family. They’re ‘exiled’, in order to avoid the feelings of deep pain or terror associated with the trauma.
If the exiles are excluded these from the guest house, they tend to become more desperate to get in, and can start becoming disruptive. They need to be welcomed, along with the difficult emotions they bring, so they can be cared for and tell their stories.
Guests as emotions and thoughts
Emotions and thoughts come and go. You can learn to observe them, as they form, and eventually disappear. Difficulties arise when you try to control or block them.
Emotions can be difficult to tolerate, and you won’t always consciously know you’re blocking them. It’s the same with thoughts – you might want to stop certain thoughts coming to you because they don’t fit in with what you believe you should be thinking.
A new perspective
The poem encourages you to embrace all of life’s experience, including the difficult parts. Suffering could be said to be caused from trying to control or change what you’re ultimately unable to.
Welcoming every aspect of your experience – your emotions, thoughts, encounters and situations is a form of acceptance.
It doesn’t mean you can’t change anything. Allowing what’s happening right now means giving up the fight with reality, which actually puts you in the strongest position for change.
Embracing your whole self
The guests also represent parts of yourself which may have been cut off from an early age. Like a tree which has been pruned to fit the aesthetic of a garden, some of your branches may have been removed.
When you’re young, survival is the most important concern, so a child will do anything to fit in with their family’s or society’s values.
Welcoming your guests into the guesthouse means allowing those branches to grow back. Some branches might surprise you. There’ll be parts of you which you’re ashamed of, and parts that you’d prefer not to have.
Treat them with respect and compassion and you’ll be able to witness their transformation as they integrate with the parts you already know.
But there’ll also hidden gems and potential talents. Be open to anything which has been repressed and allow yourself to discover your whole self.
How IN Therapy London can help
If you’d like to explore your own guesthouse, and learn to live an authentic and fulfilling life, don’t hesitate to get in touch to arrange an initial consultation.