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’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.
~ Rumi ~
There’s a question that I hear over and over again from my students at some point during a workshop or retreat.
And that question goes something like this.
“I’m truly amazed at the power of this intuitive painting process. I feel like it’s really helping me shift and change some patterns that I came here to work on. But the issues themselves are nothing new. I’ve dealt with these same things over and over again already.
What I really want to know is … How long does it take to heal this stuff? Is there ever truly a point when you are complete? Do you ever get to have the experience of waking up one day to find that these nagging, all-to-familiar problems are gone and you no longer have to deal with them?”
If I’m in a smart-ass mood, which is often, I will say something along the lines of “You don’t really want to know the answer to that question” or “If you’re still alive and in a body, that means you’re not done.”
Which often gets a big laugh.
But this is a serious question. And I think it comes out of a genuine place of frustration and even a fear that you’re doing something wrong if you haven’t resolved these dilemmas that seem to be stuck on some kind of universal repeat cycle.
Especially if you have devoted time and energy and even good money trying to eradicate them.
But here’s the good news, which at first glance might seem more like ” If you call THIS good I’d hate to see your definition of BAD news!”
And that good news is this.
These dilemmas are not MEANT to be gotten rid of. Which means that you’re not a failure just because you’re still struggling with these same maddeningly recurring themes in your life.
So if you’re not meant to bring these Spiritual Ground Hog Day cycles to some kind of completion, what IS the point of doing work on yourself? And what does it mean to truly heal?
When I was a much younger woman I was a poster child for bad romantic relationships. I kept finding myself involved with the same kind of man over and over again. Guys that were afraid to open their hearts to love, couldn’t commit to me and were unable to make me a priority in there lives.
Which meant that I often felt unimportant and devalued and painfully rejected.
And then I met my husband. Who totally adored ( and still adores) me. With him I felt loved in a way that I had only dreamed about. I even congratulated myself on a job well done cleaning up some of those icky bad love patterns.
I truly thought that my days of dealing with feeling rejected were finally over.
And then I started having the dreams. And in these dreams, which were incredibly excruciating and lucid, I was rejected by my husband over and over again in new and horribly disturbing ways.
Sometimes he had moved out and no longer wanted to live with me. Sometimes he told me to my face that he no longer loved me and didn’t want to be married to me anymore. Sometimes there was another woman involved.
The details changed, but the emotion was always the same, which was that heartbreaking, despairing experience of feeling unloved and like I no longer mattered to him.
I would tell my husband about these dreams and for a while he was very concerned that somehow he was causing them by rejecting me in ways that he wasn’t aware of.
But I was clear that nothing could be further from the truth. He was, and still is, unwavering in his love and devotion for me.
What I soon came to realize was that finding him and marrying him, while in itself a VERY good thing in my life, was not going to heal my rejection wound. That was something that was completely inside of me.
And if I was honest with myself those feelings of being rejected also showed up in other places in my life on a regular basis. It’s just that the romantic dramas had been so all encompassing that I hadn’t been focusing on the more subtle nuances.
This was something that I had to heal from the inside out. But it also meant that I had to take a long and hard look at how I defined healing. And what I expected healing to look like in the end.
We live in a culture that, contrary to all available evidence, believes in the reality of perfection.
We are constantly getting messages that we can and should fix ourselves. We are told in a million different ways that it is possible and even mandatory to improve our current situation whether through positive thinking, drugs or cosmetic surgery. And that one day, if we work hard enough, we will come to a squeaky clean state of unending bliss where all of our problems will be a thing of the past.
And so people feel disappointed and even ashamed if their life doesn’t look and feel like some television ad or movie stars life.
But what if we saw these supposed imperfections as something other than just a royal pain in the ass?
What if the more useful question is not “How quickly we can get rid of these issues?” but “Where can we allow them to take us?”
Most of us already know from long experience that we cannot control them. These patterns form the very fabric of our being and are way bigger than we are.
Call them karma. Call them legacy. Call them fate. However you want to think about them, the reality is they are not going away.
But this is not a reason to despair.
Despair only comes if you see these things as a trap. A punishment. A death sentence.
But what if they are truly a way into a deeper vitality and living presence with ourselves?
We forget that these patterns are a gift. That they are ultimately what makes us who we are. And they are deeply and profoundly connected to our superpowers.
I love the idea that if we are superheroes and heroines there is some evil we are meant to overcome in the world. That we have each been entrusted with some problem we are deeply passionate about and want to solve or make better. Something that totally fascinates us and that we never tire of. Something that gives meaning and purpose to our lives. A thing that makes us noble and tragic and on fire with meaning and purpose.
But that evil is always something that we have experienced personally. That has affected us in some incredibly painful way. It has left it’s indelible mark upon us.
And it’s something that we are called upon to vanquish over and over again.
I think what is true is that we each get a few of these internal obstacles to grapple with over the course of a lifetime. And our primary job is to explore these holy dilemmas from as many different angles as possible.
Healing means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to all of our experiences as they arise. It means staying curious about these often puzzling patterns from a place of compassion. And being willing to meet them head on without pushing them away or running from them.
Radical self acceptance is a practice of opening ourselves to the richness that these predicaments offer. Instead of trying to get rid of them, what if you asked yourself questions like:
“How can I hold my fear of rejection, my need for approval, my struggles around money or love like a babe in my arms?
What does engaging with these conflicts deepen in me?
How do they allow me to practice the ongoing art of surrender?
What if every time it arises you welcome it by singing its song, dancing it, painting it, turning it into art with no expectation that it will ever leave you?
This is what love truly looks like.
It’s the practice of turning away from nothing. Embracing everything. Softening your heart to the exquisite sorrow and joy and tenderness of being a human being.
And one day finding that instead of disappearing, everything you could possibly feel and know and experience has found a welcoming home in the most profound recesses of your soul.