Dear Mr. Rumi,
I wish I could come by to thank you in person but this being 2009 and you having lived back in the 1200s it’s a wee bit complicated. But still: thank you! Your poetry has helped me live life with more kindness and understanding and humor toward myself and my brother and sister humans. And that, Mr. Rumi, is huge.
I think you’d be surprised and not surprised by the state of our world today. We still fight. And we still delight. We still make love and we still make war. Do we ever. What has changed is our capacity to manifest these things on a much larger scale, and that, necessarily, makes the stakes for both joy and suffering seem higher. Though maybe that—stakes being higher—is an illusion since Life does tend to inexorably move forward, come what may, in spite of our human shenanigans.
I want you to know that your poetry, beloved for centuries in your native lands (today called Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan…), has crossed all the oceans. Yes, your Persian words have been translated into many languages and just a couple years ago, matter of fact, you were named the most popular poet in America! This, probably in large part due to the work of a lovely man, a poet in his own right, Coleman Barks, who has and continues to translate thousands of your poems into English. And this in spite of our country having waged war upon not one but two of your people’s countries. (Much sadness about that).
I should know better than to name any one poem a favorite as I tend to have many favorites of many things and many poets but still: your poem The Guest House has been a favorite of mine for going on ten years, which I hope counts for something coming from such a fickle, multi-favoriting girl.
When I first heart The Guest House it felt like warm oil in kind hands on a sore and tired body. Your words, they smelled like rain on cracking, parched ground. The sentiment of your poem felt like an open-armed invitation for me to come home to myself.
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.
You mean I don’t need to make that mean thought go away? (As if I could!)
You mean there’s nothing wrong with me if depression has come to pay a visit?
You mean this thing of having difficult inner states is a human thing, not a Heidi-thing?
You mean I can be kind even to the most difficult of guests?
You mean this incredibly difficult guest that keeps visiting me in spite of my best efforts to remodel and transform my guesthouse might be clearing me out for something new?
What a notion! What a relief!
Mr. Rumi, my note today is prompted by an immediate, personal matter pertaining to my guest house, and one guest in particular:
Anxiety. Not a new guest. At all. In fact, for many years Anxiety had pretty much taken up residence inside me. Oh those were some scary times. I did not, then, know Anxiety was simply a guest passing through. I thought it WAS me. It was in charge! I was living at its mercy, cowering in a closet or running away.
Thankfully, much has changed, in large part on account of gentle remodeling of my house more along the lines of your Guest House, wherein I’ve cultivated Kindness as the Presence that runs the place.
But still, of all the guests that visit the house of me, Anxiety is my most difficult. And here it is, AGAAAAAAIN! It’s enough to make me want to put up a “No Vacancy” sign.
(Whispering: I don’t like it. See this here bald spot on my head? Oh yeah. Anxiety made me pull those hairs out. M-hm, I don’t like it one bit.)
This guest brings with it a feeling at once far away and removed (as if a lamb’s coat of wool had been felted between my ears) and hyper sensitivity (as if I suddenly grew a million more motion detecting hairs on my arms). When Anxiety visits, it feels like a thick blanket of unease settles on the house of me: Heart rate, revved. Patience, threadbare. Tears, about to spill. Thoughts, multiplying like incestuous fruit flies. Mind, crowded. Future, doomed. Present— hunh? Wha—? Presence?
So I’ve been pulling out all the stops to take care of it and all the other guests in the house of me these days. I’ve written. I’ve been doing my best to be an impartial host to all. I’ve fed everyone well. They’ve been to the park. They’ve run. They’ve gotten fresh air. They’ve sat on the porch with lemonade. We’ve heard children laughing, running through sprinklers. I’ve written in my thought-book. I’ve worked. I’ve shown up. They’ve watched a couple episodes of my heroine-of-the-day, Buffy, on hulu. They’ve connected with friends. I’ve scheduled a massage for me …
By all accounts Anxiety should have checked out during the night, right?
But no. This morning, there it was coming down the steps to breakfast in those god-awful hole-y slippers it has. (Could it at least get with the times and update its wardrobe a bit? Or go barefoot for a change? Lighten up? It is, after all, the height of summertime.)
Mr. Rumi, as you can see, I’ve been doing my darndest to entertain this guest with magnanimity and kindness, but I’m having a hard time. Do you have any thoughts for me? Can you point me to another poem of yours?
I’d be most grateful.