Do you tend to welcome and embrace all of your emotions? Or do you try to ignore the unpleasant ones, pushing them away as unwanted? Although much of psychotherapy is geared toward helping people to feel better, happier, and more fulfilled, there is much value in learning to accept and tolerate the feelings that we tend to consider undesirable. When we live a life of constant busyness or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, we may be trying to dull and ignore unwanted emotions of sadness, loneliness, anger, or anxiety. But suppressing and ignore these feelings can actually lead them to intensify. It can also cause us to miss important messages that our emotions may be telling us.
I have recently heard a few references to the poem "The Guest House" by Rumi. As I was not familiar with the poem, I looked it up and have had it on my mind for the past few weeks. The poem speaks to the importance of welcoming all our emotions and thoughts as visitors because each has been sent to you for a purpose. This idea is echoed in the principles of mindfulness, which informs therapy approaches like Dialectical Behavior Therapy. We can help to address intense and overwhelming emotions by cultivating an attitude of "radical acceptance," embracing without judgment the experiences, thoughts, and emotions in our lives.
One of the places that I heard reference to this poem was in a listener's letter that was read on the podcast The Mental Illness Happy Hour. (Learn more about it at www.mentalpod.com) The listener shared about her experience with trying to manage overwhelming emotions. When she first tried to push them away or suppress them, they kept coming back up. In thinking of The Guest House, however, she changed her approach and began to treat the emotions as visitors, welcoming them, dialoging with them, and asking them what they needed and wanted to tell her. As she approached her emotions from this new attitude of welcome and acceptance, their intensity lessened until they faded away.
Here is the text of the poem, as well as my art piece in reflecting about the poem. Although my art piece is fairly simple, working on it provided some meditative time to think about how this poem can apply in my own life. I share them in the hope that they will inspire others to see how acceptance and welcoming your emotions can make a difference in your life. The Guest House
By: Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks)
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.
Carolyn Mehlomakulu, LMFT, ATR is a psychotherapist in Austin, Texas
who works with children, adolescents, and families. For more
information about individual therapy, child counseling, family therapy, and art therapy services, please visit www.therapywithcarolyn.com.