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The Guesthouse of the Mind

student essay Jan 10, 2023

Inspiration from Rumi’s poem “The Guesthouse”

There is a lot of talk of self-improvement, in the yoga world, and of “unlearning” as if the nervous system is able to simply forget! It doesn’t work like that- we can retrain the nervous system, we can form new neural pathways, through lack of use old pathways disappear. We can grow new neurone, and new receptor cells to absorb neurotransmitters, i.e. the brain chemicals that shape how we feel- until we have more receptor cells for serotonin we won’t see the effects of an increase in this neurotransmitter. But as we produce more, more receptor cells appear. We can't simply eradicate the past, it’s all a process that takes time and for yogis, practice. To suggest we can “switch” or “unlearn” completely, denies us many of our real struggles- those that shape our hearts and minds. Those that may have scrambled the messaging of the nervous system.

In the past I also believed I had to better myself, train my mind to be quieter, teach my heart to be kinder. That this was the work of a good yogi. But as the years of practice have passed by, I find myself transformed in ways which look and feel nothing like what I expected! I am much kinder to myself, but I don’t feel I have to be “nice” to everyone. I have vast patience and deep love for many- a deep compassion for myself and also my students. I see and feel the frailty and suffering of all humanity. But I still don’t have patience for traffic lights on a quiet night! I still don’t know where my keys are, even if I can sit still & find focus in meditation.

But I am able more and more to work with the depth and breadth of acceptance that Rumi describes in his poem the Guesthouse. We don’t need to be “perfect” there is no such thing as a filtering system for humans so we are made only of sugar, spice & nice. We still have the rage or jealousy or insecurity. But we can learn to welcome them and let them pass through us more easily. We aren’t either good or bad, in need of improvement. We are just human, in need of practice of the ideas that sustain us.

A simple meditation is to read the Rumi poem, and then sit with the sense of what the poem means for you. How does it feel to welcome every thought or feeling rather than push them away?

It is not by changing ourselves that we find more peace and kindness, but by accepting ourselves that we transform in ways we perhaps did not expect! Every meanness is welcome- if we can be aware of it we can see where it comes from and how perhaps we no longer need it. In welcoming the shame or the malice, being familiar with its root, its taste, its power- we weaken it’s grip on us. We free the feeling or thought to move through.

If meditation feels at all gruelling for you- perhaps a walk reflecting on these words is your meditation. Or a moment with a journal. Let the practice suit you. Because you might just be pretty near perfect enough as you are!

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.

Taken from SELECTED POEMS by Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks (Penguin Classics, 2004).

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