Have You Seen Rumi’s Fascinating Poem ‘The Guest House?’ By Dr Linda Berman.

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 honourably.

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.”

from: Barks and Moyne. Copyright 1995 by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, (Penguin Classics, 2004) originally published by Threshold Books.

imagePierre Bonnard The Breakfast Room. Wikimedia Commons.

  • Being Hospitable

Hospitality, the subject of last week’s post, is also an important theme here today, but, this time, the focus is on hospitality at a different level. It requires symbolic and psychological ways of thinking.

Rumi’s poem, written in thirteenth century Persia, has as its focus the idea of welcoming everything that happens into our lives, into our consciousness, as if it were a special guest in our lodging-house. This ‘guest house’ represents ourselves.

imageJean’s House, the Guest House at La Crescenta. Charles H Woodbury. Wikioo.

In similar vein, this poem by Mary Oliver implies that ‘darkness’ can be something precious:

The Uses of Sorrow . Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Rumi’s poem is what I would call a ‘Marmite poem.’ You will love it or hate it, just like the poem  by Mary Oliver.

4155990603_b06c5f806f_oMark Botham. Marmite 4. Flickr.

When I Tweeted Oliver’s poem some weeks ago, I received some mixed responses- ranging from puzzlement, doubt and disagreement, to absolute love. For many, it is deeply meaningful.

I think I would receive the same responses to Rumi’s poem, for it has a similar message.

  • What Exactly Is This Message?

imageSwedish Boarding House – Bertha Wegmann. Wikioo.

Rumi’s poem urges us not to reject any thoughts or feelings that may arise, however difficult they might be. We never can tell who may arrive at our door.

We are encouraged to greet with a warm welcome whoever- or whatever- unexpectedly arrives at our ‘guest house.’

In the poem, (and so often in our dreams) the house is a symbol of both body and mind.

‘This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival.”

In a similar way, Carl Jung regarded the tower-house he was building on Lake Zurich as a symbol of himself and his own inner world.

Each new tower, every additional annexe he constructed, was interpreted by him as representing different parts of his own psyche.

imageJung’s  House At Bollingen, viewed from Lake Zurich. Wikimedia Commons.

  • Life is Full Of Uncertainties.

As they wait at the threshold of the house that represents our psyche, our guests will be a mixed bunch. Who knows who will turn up today?

imageColourful Group – Paul Klee. Wikioo.

However, amongst this motley crew, even the difficult ‘guests’ can teach us something. These are the ones who bring us bad news, sadness, discomfort.

Fortunately, no guest stays forever; they will all leave eventually.

This is a powerful metaphor for the impermanence of life, and of all life events, whether they are experienced as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Nothing lasts, except uncertainty.


Vilhelm Hammershøi. Dust Motes Dancing. 1900. Wikimedia Commons

“Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honourably.”


  • The Arrival Of All Kinds Of Lessons

Each guest has a lesson for us, even the ones who bring ’emptiness’ or, in Mary Oliver’s terms, ‘darkness.’ 

Such darkness, as Mary Oliver came to realise, is definitely a ‘gift,’ for within it are hidden some of life’s painful lessons, waiting to be discovered.

These various different ‘guests’ will come and go as we move on through life, each leaving their traces, their teachings and their influences.

This is reminiscent of the quotation by James Joyce:

“I am a part of all that I have met.”

Thus grief, sorrow and loss all enable us to learn lessons. Not all house guests are pleasant, as we have seen above. In fact, some can be quite troublesome.

Sometimes we have to put up with the less acceptable ones, and even smile at them.

imageVittorio Reggianini – An Unwelcome Guest. Wikioo.


Grief. José Clemente Orozco. Wikioo.

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.”

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

imageGrief – Jennings Tofel. Wikioo.

before i could release
the weight of my sadness
and pain, i first had
to honour its existence.

yung pueblo

imageDark thoughts – Arthur Hughes.

“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

Meet them at the door laughing,

And invite them in.”

Rumi’s words, above, may be disagreeable and troublesome to many.

These could be the basis of my feelings that this is a ‘Marmite poem.’

If dark and ‘shameful’ thoughts come into our head, shouldn’t we banish them to the depths of our minds, forget them, push them away, lock ourselves in and keep them firmly on the ‘back burner’?

imageI Lock my Door upon Myself – Fernand Edmond Jean Marie Khnopff. Wikioo.

Why dwell on them, for won’t they just make us miserable and ashamed of ourselves for having such ‘dastardly’ thoughts?

How can we possibly “Welcome and entertain them all ?” Even worse, how could we possibly laugh at them?

Shouldn’t we just bar the door and keep them all out?

Rumi says a firm ‘no’  to this suggestion.

Sutherland, Graham Vivian, 1903-1980; The Laughing WomanThe Laughing Woman (study) – Graham Vivian Sutherland. Wikioo.

“Meet them at the door laughing,

And invite them in.”

In recommending that we do not bar the door, but open it, laughing, Rumi is trying to help us to take a step back and detach ourselves from pain.

This does not, however, mean that we should not learn from what the painful arrivals may have to teach us.

On the contrary, we need to offer welcome and learn to accept them and certainly not shut the door in their face.


Door – Richard Allen Morris. Wikioo.

Can we try to imagine what might happen if we were to turn them away?

Where will they go? Will they just re-enter our house through the back door and hide, festering, cowering, in the musty, dusty attic of our unconscious?

How might that affect our mental health?

imageThe Attic Stairs at Elmsley, Yoxford – (Charles Paget Wade)

The disturbing energy has to go somewhere….

don’t run away
from heavy emotions
honor the anger;
give pain the space
it needs to breathe
this is how we let go

yung pueblo

Rumi attributes the sending of these thoughts and feelings to our door to a spiritual power.

Perhaps we could also compare his way of welcoming ‘malicious’ or ‘shameful’ thoughts to psychoanalytical ways of thinking.

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”

Sigmund Freud

To an analytical therapist, such thoughts arrive ‘unexpectedly’ at the door of our minds, from the depths of our unconscious.

The fact that they have arrived, though, may indicate a readiness to consider them and to allow them to more fully enter into our consciousness.

imageConscious and Unconscious – Louise Gibson Annand. Wikioo.

“i closed my eyes
to look inward
and found a universe
waiting to be explored.”

yung pueblo

imageFrederic Edwin Church The Icebergs. Wikimedia Commons.

“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.”

Sigmund Freud

The psychotherapist will help the patient ‘greet’ any thoughts or feelings that arrive at the door of their ‘guest house,’ or, similarly,  ‘welcome’ chunks of ice that float to the surface of the water from the bottom of Freud’s ‘iceberg.’

In order to help the patient to do this, the therapist will show an attitude of empathy and non-judgemental acceptance towards all material that enters our consciousness.

There will be an open and receptive atmosphere, thus encouraging all thoughts and feelings that arise from the unconscious to be freely shared in the therapy room, without fear of judgement or breaches of confidentiality.

“So much of what we do in therapy-providing a safe environment, establishing trust, exploring fantasies and dreams- serves the purpose of encouraging self-revelation.”


Freud’s couch was abundantly warm and comfortable. This was a way of enabling physical relaxation so the patient could feel safe and contained enough to allow thoughts, feelings and fantasies to emerge, uncensored, straight from the unconscious.

“A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.” 

Sigmund Freud

In this way, hidden and previously repressed thoughts and feelings can be explored and understood.

These may have been, as Freud said, ‘directing’ the patient’s world in way that can cause problems in life and in relationships.

Having them out in the open, therefore, can only be a good move, in that things that are concealed can be examined, worked through or resolved.

We might now understand the similarity of the poet’s approach to the way we think about ‘welcoming in’ all thoughts and feelings in psychoanalytical psychotherapy.

We could relate it to Freud’s ‘free association:’


Freud’s Couch. Wikimedia Commons.

“Freud called free association “this fundamental technical rule of analysis… We instruct the patient to put himself into a state of quiet, unreflecting self-observation, and to report to us whatever internal observations he is able to make” – taking care not to “exclude any of them, whether on the ground that it is too disagreeable or too indiscreet to say, or that it is too unimportant or irrelevant, or that it is nonsensical and need not be said”.”


Exactly as the owner of a guest house makes visitors comfortable, welcoming and feeding them, providing them with soft beds and clean towels, so the therapist will also make us feel ‘at home’ and accepted.

We will, in our turn, as patients, learn from the ‘welcoming’ and enabling attitude of our therapist, to, as Rumi says, warmly greet ‘a joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness.’

Rather than turn our back on such arrivals, we surely need to regard them as gifts from our unconscious.

We need to learn to face such discomforts, in order that we can move through them. Only by entering into the dark places inside us, can we come out the other side.

“The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain.”

Gabor Maté

Rumi states that we should ‘be grateful for whoever comes, as such guests are ‘sent as a guide from the beyond.’

This may be regarded as a spiritual, or religious place, depending on our beliefs and approach.

We might, however,  interpret ‘the beyond’ as an aspect of ourselves, the unconscious part, which may be beyond our current awareness.

Perhaps what arrives at the door of our consciousness are, for example, feelings of anger, envy or unworked through grief.

Sometimes these kinds of feelings, when dormant and unacknowledged, can manifest themselves through physical illness, or haunt us with a general sense of unhappiness and disturbance.

‘Allowing in’ such messengers can enable us to acquaint ourselves with them and understand them, with a view to resolving our latent personal issues.

This can mean that we could have a more fulfilling life.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”


Having the chance to ‘examine’ our lives can mean that we begin to see things in a different light, and find new perspectives on old issues.

imageViktor Vasnetsov. Sirin and Alkonost Birds of Joy and Sorrow. 1896. Oil on canvas. Wikimedia Commons.

“Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

“But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”

Kahlil Gibran

Gibran is highlighting the fact, using a similar metaphor to Rumi, that joy and sorrow will inevitably come to us for ‘bed and board‘ and that they both can be learning experiences.

Both affect every one of us because they are a part of the human condition, something that everyone in the world inevitably experiences.

“Regardless of your age, you will always have adventures, unexpected joys and unexpected sorrows.”

Betty Friedan

In ending this post, I have selected, below, for your reflection, some images and quotations relating to today’s theme. I do hope you enjoy them.

imageClaude Monet. Rain (La Pluie.)1886. Wikimedia Commons.

“Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

BON67727She Looks And Looks, And Still With New Delight. James John Hill. Wikioo.

“Still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out

For some new delight.”


imageShade and Darkness – William Turner. Wikioo 

i kept running away
from my darkness
until i understood
that in it i would
find my freedom

yung pueblo
And the Symbol of Welcome is Light – Norman Rockwell. Wikioo.

“You cannot defeat darkness by running from it, nor can you conquer your inner demons by hiding them from the world. In order to defeat the darkness, you must bring it into the light.”

Seth Adam Smith

© Linda Berman.

It would be lovely to have loads of you arrive at the door of my blog, and become followers! All welcome.

Do come into the world of waysofthinking.co.uk and reflect on and respond to my thoughts and ideas!


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