The following poem, “The Guest House,” by Rumi is often quoted by mindfulness teachers because it gets at the core of the meaning behind being mindful: being peaceful with all of our emotions, whether positive or negative. “The Guest House” poem by Rumi, although extremely relevant to our lives today and seemingly written by a new age self-help guru, was actually written way back in the 13th century!
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,
translation by Coleman Barks
There is a lot of power in the imagery in “The Guest House” poem. Rumi uses the metaphor of each human being as a guest house. He personifies our emotions as visitors in this guest house and suggests that we welcome these “visitors,” even if they are terribly unpleasant and “violently sweep your house empty of its furniture”. The reason we should welcome even the worst of the guests is that they might be “clearing you out for some new delight”. Rumi believes even the worst emotional experiences happen for a reason and that the growth that we experience will come to some fruition. The last line is very powerful. In it, Rumi again personifies emotions, but now, they are not only guests, but actual guides from “beyond”. Rumi is saying that our emotions have come to teach us something and that we should therefore welcome them with open arms and learn what they have to teach us. “The Guest House” poem is very popular because it gets at the very heart of what it means to be mindful, which is often something that is difficult to explain. Many people don’t really understand what meditation is. “The Guest House” poem helps provide clarity, illuminating the meaning in a few succinct verses. This is why it is a poem that is well known and popular many centuries after it was written in another language.
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