Reading Rumi’s “The Guest House”

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The Guest House By Rumi

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.

Were you in pain today? Yesterday? I’ve had my moments. Nothing too grand, just an annoyance here, an anxiety there, a sadness or a sense of upcoming loss. My instinct is to avoid the pain or to ruminate on an imagined future worry. I’m a great ruminator. I’ve come to understand it and accept it more

It’s clear to me that we seek pleasure and avoid pain. But as Rumi says in the above poem, perhaps that is the wrong idea. How can it be wrong to seek pleasure and avoid pain when it comes so naturally? The answer is that it is not wrong. It is human nature. But human nature has its flaws with regard to our happiness. 

Our instincts are useful to survive. The instinct to seek out what is pleasurable and avoid things that hurt is common to all sentient beings. It has helped humans evolve and survive. But these instincts are less useful for the modern world when many of us get to live long lives. What is needed more than anything is what Rumi calls “momentary awareness.” 

It means that our thoughts and feelings will pass because everything passes. There is nothing to get hung up about. You are not that serious. It is not that serious. All is vanity. Can we live with a little more humor about ourselves? Can we laugh in the face of pain and absurdity? Can we invite in all our pain and anxiety? 

We can. Stop resisting it all. Live in Big Mind. Of course, if it was so easy, we’d all be doing it. In one respect it is very hard. We are so attached to “I” and our identity. In another respect, it is the easiest thing in the world. The present moment is always available. Let go, pay attention, and breathe. 

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