The Guest House

The Guest House

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 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.

I came across this poem the other day and it caught me off guard, not unlike the unexpected experience I encountered at Starbucks recently, or living in close proximity to my husband now that I’m retired, even that pesky mood that dropped by uninvited last week.

I had to read it three times, whispering out loud, “meet them at the door laughing and invite them in,” seriously, this drastically challenges my typical response to conflict. How about you?

The thing is life keeps coming at you as if you’re sitting on a beach in the warm sand delighting in the gentle waves trickling over your legs when suddenly an unexpected surge encapsulates you, knocking you backward, filling your nostrils with salt water.

You sit up, seaweed clinging to your arms, wondering what the hell just happened?

Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” is perhaps one of the most relevant reads for our current predicament. I mean who would have expected a virus to come barging into our lives, throwing itself an epic mask party, and destroying the daring lives we had so painstakingly arranged?

Not me.

But maybe we didn’t fully recognize this “violent sweeping of our house” for what it was?

I retired because of the pandemic and it appears I’m not the only one. Suddenly there is a surge of people deciding not to return to work? Is it an enigma or simply trending?

Maybe we need to “treat this guest honorably,” instead of bemoaning the virus’s mysterious existence, we might be experiencing a much-needed “clearing out” for that which we do not know.

I was so busy being busy I failed to realize how all my energy was going to one thing, my job, and the negligible amount that was leftover, I doled out to family, friends, and writing in shockingly measly amounts. The thing is I was exchanging my most valuable resource for a paycheck, a bi-monthly reward for giving my blood, sweat, and tears to a job, and at the end of the year, my entire bounty would go straight to the IRS in the form of taxes.

After talking with my son Tony the other day I came away with a new appreciation for how I spend my energy, not only is our energy capped, but so are the number of days we have left on this virus-ridden planet. If we don’t spend it wisely it’s as if we’re putting all our assets into one stock, banking on an unpredictable return, but in the meantime, there is no residual.

I know, I’m being dramatic. It’s really quite simple but profoundly easy to ignore.

The pandemic certainly provided us with a new paradigm. Stay home, stay away from each other, don’t rub your eyes, or forget your mask, no hugs, or kisses, and wash your hands at least a dozen times a day. But the thing is when the spin of our daily life suddenly decelerated it allowed us the opportunity to process this new reality. And guess what, many of us took an impossible situation, and decided to focus on the positive.


Driveway Happy hours became a thing, a quick upgrade to our internet allowed us to play Zoom Jeopardy with the relatives, and as if champagne we started forming our own tiny bubbles. Such rebels.

As I’m juggling all these profound thoughts Larry barges into the room, he says, “I’m taking the couch and the chair in the garage to the dump since I still have the trailer.”

I smile, thinking of Rumi and his advice to welcome uninvited guests, “You can take the couch but not the chair, it’s my Mother’s, and it’s in good condition.”

“Maybe we can stash it at Julie’s?”

“Might work.”

“Help me load the couch in the trailer.”

I’m still in my pajamas, but I crawl out of my warm comfy writing space and follow him barefoot into the garage. Can I just say, it might be California, but it’s still frickin’ cold. I put the Christmas wreath still lounging on the couch up on the shelf, as you know the garage is not my responsibility, but believe me, I’m an expert at portraying nonverbal displeasure. It’s my superpower.

I fold the gray sheet now covering the furniture and tell him to take the lighted snowman to the dump, it had a meltdown last year.

While Larry and I drag the couch over to the trailer, I marvel that only six people have seen me in my pajamas, when he comes up with another stellar idea.

He says, “Hey, what else can we take to the dump?”

We check both side yards and came up with one rusty old bike. He loads it into the trailer.

After catching two more people gawking at my mismatched pajamas, he says, “you know instead of paying the dump fees I could just take some pictures and post them on Craig’s list.” (for those of you reading from another country this is an online service where people sell or give away their junk)

I give him my most confounded look known only to blond women (that’s horrible, couldn’t help myself), “what the hell?” Slightly annoyed, I help him unload the reincarnated rubbish, and set them up attractively in the driveway.

He takes a few pictures, posts them on Craig’s list, and says “I’m taking the trailer back.”

Hallelujah, ten minutes of peace and quiet, I return to Rumi, and my derailed train of thoughts.

So…taking a few moments each day to consider how I will spend my time, how I will respond to the unexpected, and welcome that which I usually avoid is my new retirement plan. I’m a 9 on the Enneagram, I value calm over all else, and I can smell chaos coming from a mile away, which usually gives me enough time to bolt the door.

Newton’s First Law claims that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, clearly where we put our energy is the direction in which our lives will go.

It’s the law, people.

This poem was written in the 13th century by the Persian poet Rumi, he writes, “welcome and entertain them all” whether it be friend or foe. It’s a reminder not to resist the thoughts and emotions passing through you but to meet them with courage, warmth, and respect.

That’s the kicker.

I hear the front door open, the familiar footsteps coming down the hall, his handsome face appears in my doorway as if a pop-up ad on my browser, he says “I’m glad I didn’t go to the dump, apparently the trailer was due back by 9:30 am and I dropped it at 10:15 am. The guy was going to charge me for another whole day.”

The smile is forced by my reaction is genuine, “Really?”

“I told him to give me a break, it’s less than an hour late, so he removed the charge.”

“Good.” I look back down on my work.

He stares at me a minute and heads back to his office. He’s a master at body language.

I can’t help but wonder what Rumi might have been dealing with when he wrote this poem, words so beautifully imbued with universal connotations, but somehow applicable to our modern lives.

How is that possible?

I tell you why, I think it’s the elasticity of the message, meaning it fits a variety of situations, and I think that is its genius. When you consider the most successful people in life, they have the same abilities, the capacity to recover quickly from adversity and assimilate to the current conditions.

In a brief span of time, we’ve managed to process a tidal wave of conflicting information that has further polarized our community. After securing cotton masks that coordinate with our most beloved loungewear, we’ve learned about the inefficacy of cloth masks to the tenacity of a virus most likely developed in a lab. We became fluent in mutative languages, and just when we thought we were bulletproof, we found out we weren’t.

Maybe Rumi is on to something here, if we are unable to accept our own internal conflicts, we’ll never be able to facilitate those same emotions stirring in the hearts of our closest neighbors.

Many of us discovered working remotely was not the catastrophe (schools not included) we anticipated, in fact, we quickly realized commuting was not only inefficient, but a total time suck, especially if you can work from home. And traveling around the world to attend an hour meeting was about as cost-effective as heating an entire office building with only three people coming to work.

Larry saunters back into my writing space, I look up, affix a smile to my face and wait for the startling revelation he is about to drop on me. And it better be worth the intrusion.

He says, “I can sell my truck through that service you saw on the television this morning.”

I nod (it was a brilliant observation but I keep that information to myself).

He says, ‘I contacted their appraiser and they offered me 4,000 more than the dealership. A guy’s coming to do a physical inspection, they can drop the estimate if they discover something they don’t like, but if we all agree on a price, they take the car, and it’s done.”

“That sounds fair.”

“Yeah, well who knows, the estimate might be a hook, and besides I’m not sure I want to sell.”

As sassy as possible, I say, “please keep me posted on your every thought.”

He walks back to his office while I scramble around for my repeatedly bludgeoned vein of thought.

Not spending money became a thing maybe for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. We didn’t go out to eat, drive anywhere, go to the theater, salon, shopping malls, or travel. Although we were destroying our own economy, just about everyone who retained a job was saving money. Online services like Amazon made an absolute killing. I mean Jeff Bezos traveled into outer space!

Did he send you a thank you note? Me either.

We had more time with nowhere to go and nothing to do but cook, play board games, watch Netflix, and chill.

And we liked it, in fact, we liked it so much some people decided to embark on a whole new lifestyle. With the internet available everywhere, some bought trailers to travel the states, many decided to leave the crowded cities altogether, move to a more aesthetic location, with inviting communities, and small-town charm.

The thing is we realized our paycheck didn’t match the outlay of energy and collectively we decided to divvy up our energy more efficiently. Once we realized we could live on less and enjoy our lives a lot more, returning to the workforce full-time became optional for some.

Before I am able to process my own retirement, I hear those familiar footsteps coming down the hall (I’m rethinking the whole open door policy), he pokes his head around the corner and says, “the bike’s gone. Someone picked it up already. A teacher just came by on his break to check it out and it was gone. Bikes are really popular right now.”

“Are they now?”

He exits as quickly as he appears, I decide I need fresh coffee and an offsite office.

Yes, now I remember, I was about to tell you about the thing that happened at Starbucks.

So the other day, while I’m driving to the lake, I pull off the freeway to get a cup of coffee and a snack. I order my coffee with cream, an egg bite, and resign myself to sitting in the drive-thru line while waiting for my turn to pay. When I pull up to the cashier, she hands me my coffee and egg and says, “the person in front of you paid your bill, you’re free to go, have a great day.”

I say, “wait, what, who paid my bill?”

“The car in front of you. Enjoy.”

Looking around for my philanthropist, I realize they’re long gone, but I drove away thinking how delightful it was to get an unexpected surprise, to be the beneficiary of a stranger’s goodwill. I’ve heard about this happening to other people but it’s never happened to me!

Ten miles down the road I start beating myself up for not paying for the car behind me, I’m more like the tortoise, eventually, I get there.

As if from The Shining, “It’s Larry,” hacking his way through my indefensible refuge.

I try to be welcoming, I’m sure I pulled it off, he says, “Here, stick your finger in this,” he’s holding out a jar of Duke’s Mayonaise, the one I recently scored online and was saving for a special occasion. The lid is removed and he wants me to have a taste.

Holding the jar inches from my nose is a little off-putting, but when I stick the tip of my finger into the white creamy substance, he says, “you have to taste more than that.”

I say, ‘this is plenty, hum, it’s tangy, it would be good with artichokes.”

“Yes, and tuna, but we don’t have any relish.”

That’s my cue to offer to go to the store, instead, I say, “that’s too bad, I’M WRITING.”

He takes the jar of mayonnaise and heads back to the kitchen.

You know, I’ve been sitting here for quite some time, trying to pull together a post, wrap my thoughts around Rumi’s message when all the while, unbeknownst to me, Larry’s been testing the theory.

Is it possible to maintain a welcoming response to all things knowing they might be some sort of made-to-order guidance from beyond?

I’m skeptical.

Larry seems less driven by some otherly guidance than his own tribulation of thoughts which he blithely acts upon. It’s his nature, my cross to bear, and definitely a hospitality challenge.

The thing is if I allocate my energy intentionally Newman’s Law claims it will continue the motion maybe even long after I’m gone.

This sort of imagery is profoundly personal, Rumi reminds us when the unexpected sweeps your life of the familiar, to consider the possibilities, it might be preparation for delight.

And what is more delightful than a fingerful of Duke’s mayonnaise?


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