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 are 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 whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Jellaludin Rumi
It is very difficult to think about welcoming all guests when some of them are deeply painful, confusing, life altering, and challenging. We have been in a state now for several months where we have guests in our home that we never dreamed of, the unexpected and the uninvited. We have a pandemic, fear, confusion, and transition. We have violence, fear, protesting, inequality, rage, courage, and the hope of change. All of these are visiting at the same time. If you are like me you are not sure that your house has enough rooms to manage all of these unexpected guests. Could it even be possible that all of this is coming to guide us to something greater, some joy, some change?
A few years ago, I started a new trauma training called Somatic Experiencing. In that training I heard a new word related to our ability to manage states of distress, emotions and physical sensations. The word is capacity. I had never thought of that word before as it relates to me personally. I had heard capacity used related to how much your refrigerator could hold for example or how many people an auditorium could handle at one time but never how much I could manage effectively within myself at a certain time. Now that I know the word in that way I find myself using it all of the time. It actually makes so much sense. My whole system; body, soul, mind, and heart are a container much like a refrigerator or an auditorium. I too have boundaries of space and limitations. Recently my husband cleaned out the refrigerator. This is a dreaded task in our household. You never know what you are going to find. Yet it is completely necessary because each time we returned from the grocery store we had more and more trouble fitting in the new because we just had not cleaned out the old. We were pushing the capacity of our fridge, and who really needs 5 jars of pickles. Literally, 5 jars. Apparently, we just kept buying pickles because one jar would get lost in the back behind the milk and the juice and another on a separate shelf behind the eggs and the containers of left overs from 3 weeks ago. At times you have to clean out the junk to make room for the new. We are not too different from this.
Capacity simply means, “the maximum amount that something can contain.” I am sure that if you are like me you know what it feels like internally when you are beyond your capacity. You have maxed out on what you can contain in a healthy way. The tricky part is, we all have different capacities. Right now, many of us are stretched in ways we never imagined. Our capacities are at their brink. Some of us have spilled over, our capacity overwhelmed and now feel that it is all just too much. This is not something to be ashamed of, it is very normal. At times, things are just too much, beyond our capacity. In these times, we need more help. We need more simplicity and more self-care. We need to slow down and attend to our boundaries, emotions, relationships, and our bodies. As we attend to these they speak to us and let us know how we can care for ourselves in the moment.
By talking about refrigerators and auditoriums I absolutely do not want to trivialize or minimize the enormous stress on our capacity as individuals, families, communities, and countries at this time. We have exploded outside our ability to manage and are currently in a state of complete chaos and stress. It is one thing when our refrigerator exceeds its capacity and another thing all together when it is the world in which we live on a daily basis. It is terrifying and can feel totally out of control.
In her book, “Rising Strong” Dr. Brene Brown discusses resilience and stories from people who have shared their experiences in times of extreme stress, their stories of being brave and stories of falling and learning to get back up states that a commonality among these people is that “They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.” She later states, “The process of regaining our emotional footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.” This is a challenging process but it is necessary. We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time and it is testing all of us. How will we Rise Strong? We start today with a simple invitation.
Invite the guests. Listen. Learn. Allow the sorrow and allow the joy. These are all guests. They all have lessons to teach us. As we learn we heal. We grow and we expand. When the guests of this time leave we have expanded capacity if we choose. This capacity allows for more. Right now. Right here. It matters. We invite these guests. The ignored. The rage. The sorrow. The pain. The Beauty. The Strength. These are all guests who need to come and stay awhile in our guest house. We need to learn. We need to imagine. We tear away what was old so that something new can arrive. At times this comes in violent ways. Is it terrifying? Yes, at times. Change does not come easily for most of us. It can be painful. Yet, it is necessary. When we can learn to accept all of the guests we expand our capacity and our resilience. Reach out and get help if you need it. We all share in this process of humanity. You are not alone.