It is Thanksgiving day in the U.S. as I am writing this month’s article, and I must share with you that Thanksgiving day is one of my favourite holidays. While other holidays have more hoopla, the spirit of Thanksgiving day is pure and simple and touches my heart. It is a day to give thanks for all the joys and blessings in our life. This is an important ritual and practice, especially in a year that has been very challenging for many. But challenges have their gifts as well. It is through the process of surmounting challenges that we develop strength of character, through challenges that the very best of us can be brought forth. So I thought this month I would share with you a poem from the mystic Sufi poet Rumi: It is called The Guest House.
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 the beyond.”
Let’s examine the wisdom in this poem: “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.” This is an excellent analogy when you think about it. Every single day we experience a constant, never-ending parade of thoughts, feelings and experiences. Sometimes our thoughts are hopeful and sometimes fearful; they can change even within the hour. Sometimes we’re feeling relaxed, sometimes uptight, often at the most inconsequential events. Experiences good, bad and indifferent all come our way in a never-ending sequence. Some stay for a short while and then leave; others linger. It is indeed as if we’re a guesthouse and we’re hosting all these things every day.
“Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,” says Rumi. Now this is a little bit harder to understand. Why would you welcome a “crowd of sorrows,” especially if they “sweep your house empty of its furniture.” Well, because “a crowd of sorrows” is the path of the sacred wounding, the path of crisis, and it is an important ritual in our life. A life without any crisis or misfortune would be a shallow life. We can be assured that each of us will have our share of both. This is not fatalism but a recognition of the richness and diversity of a life. Crises always, and I want to emphasis the word “always,” produce new and greater benefits when one approaches them in the way that Rumi suggests. “Welcome them,” because they have arrived bearing gifts, though the gifts are disguised as a crisis. Welcome them and then seek out the lessons and messages that they bring. Comfort is the enemy of change and when things are going well for us we make no attempt to change our actions or attitudes. Why would we change when everything is comfortable and going so well? But when a crisis checks in to our “guest house,” we must deal with this guest.
Crisis can take many forms. Everything from losing our job, health problems, financial struggles, a death of a spouse, a child, a parent—the list of possible visitors in this experience of “being a human” is endless. But why welcome crisis you might ask, shouldn’t you fight against it? No, because to fight against it gives the crisis power. And it weakens you. By welcoming crisis you are showing trust in yourself and life. Do not bemoan this “new guest,” but learn the lessons that he brings.
I cannot count the number of times that individuals have shared with me how the major turning point of their lives happened in responding to a major crisis. Someone loses a job but in doing so finds himself directed to a new career that is far more nurturing. A woman is left by a husband but three years later meets someone else and ends up far happier than she’d ever been in her first marriage. Another goes bankrupt but by dealing with this finds deep spirituality and connects with himself and others in ways he would never have imagined. The stories are countless of how tragedies and crisis have eventually led to deep happiness, and Rumi says welcome them because they “may be clearing you out for some new delight.” New delights always follow crisis when you use the transformational power of trust, faith and gratitude. And don’t forget you have Mind Power too.
Now let me be clear, I’m not advocating that you invite these experiences into your life, but if life delivers them to you then you must greet them. The great boxer Muhammad Ali said, “A champion has got to be able to take a good punch.” All of us will have our own particular opportunities to rise to this occasion. And rise and act we must.
Rumi finishes with the lines:
“Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from the beyond”
“Be grateful for whoever comes.” Gratitude is one of the most misunderstood and neglected energy sources in our life. Whatever we give gratitude for we increase. Give gratitude for your health and you’ll enjoy better health. Give gratitude for your successes and you’ll gain more successes. Give gratitude for the simple everyday joys and pleasures and you will receive more of them. Gratitude is a powerful force, so use it. When you give gratitude for a “crowd of sorrows” that comes your way, you are not giving gratitude for the sorrows, but for the opportunity to change, grow and learn. Give gratitude that life always supports you in this process. Giving gratitude for the particular experience you are within shows that you possess faith and trust that life has amazing things in store for you in the future. As Rumi says, “Welcome and entertain them all,” because “each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
We do not always understand why certain experiences happen to us, but we can trust that there is a meaning above and beyond what we understand, and that is as it should be. It is with this faith that we greet each challenge as an opportunity to move into something deeper, different and more nourishing for us.
So in this holiday season, a time of festivities and family and friends, remember that it is not how many gifts you give or receive that count. It is the love and joy that you bring into each other’s hearts. Count your blessings. Be grateful for everything you have and give thanks for this life that is yours to experience. A happy holiday season to you all.