You may have heard of Rumi, the famous 13th century Persian poet. In this era he has found his kindred spirit in Coleman Barks, who has translated both Rumi’s words and feeling into English.

I discovered Rumi through his poem “The Guest House.” A simple title for a profound poem that teaches us to welcome all of our parts and emotions equally.


And don’t let the word “poetry” scare you. Unlike the poems your English teachers may have forced you to read, this poem is easy to read and understand.

The Guest House

This human being 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.

They 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 (trans. Coleman Barks)

There’s so much Internal Family Systems (IFS) thinking in this poem!

It has a deep and powerful message about how to cope with the messiness of life.

Your emotions are just guests. Not permanent residents.

The guests in Rumi’s poem are emotions. And what are guests? Visitors.

Think of visitors to your home. They don’t live in your home. They come for awhile to stay and then they leave.

Emotions aren’t permanent fixtures of your life. They’re just visitors. They come and go! They’re not residents or even citizens. They’re just here for awhile.

Your emotions are not just visitors however. They’re guests. And that’s an important distinction.

Guests are visitors, but they’re not the same thing, are they? Pay attention to this word choice.

Guests are invited. There’s a closeness and intimacy to that word.

Joy, depression, meanness are all feelings that walk in and out of our house. But like Rumi says, “Welcome and entertain them all!”

That applies even to the bad feelings. Imagine your cousin Dean is coming for a weekend visit. Cousin Dean may not be your favorite person, but you would still show Dean hospitality and kindness.

When we read this poem written so very long ago, it feels like it could have been written today to show us a way to soothe ourselves and detach from our suffering.

This poem gives us a way to see and acknowledge all of our experiences. Not just the ones we prefer.

It describes the importance of not cutting off parts of ourselves but how to include them to see who we are today. When we repress, exclude, deny parts of ourself and name them bad, wrong, or not good enough, we hurt ourselves. We do violence to ourselves.

Open the door and laugh as you invite each emotion in

When we can change our perspective and believe that all parts of us are welcomed, we’re in better communication with ourselves.

We see our emotions as just messages. It’s just information! These emotions that are passing through give us a message about what we might need or what we are afraid of that terrorizes us.

When we can open the door within and meet these different parts of ourselves with Compassion, we still feel distress. It’s hard for this part of you to hold such negative beliefs and feelings alongside the Compassion.

As the host/hostess of these visitors you also can meet them with a Calm caring knowing and stand alongside your emotional visitor with acceptance.

Each emotion, each one of your guests is an opening into knowing yourself better, it is the door to a new awareness inside of you. When you can meet each part of you as it walks through your door of awareness in this way you also begin to feel as you would a cherished guest.

Why won’t your guests leave? How to cope when guests become squatters

You know when those bad feelings come and stick around? Like if cousin Dean ends up staying for longer than the weekend, we say in English that he’s “worn out his welcome.”

I can’t speak for Cousin Dean, but I know when a part sticks around it’s because they weren’t made welcome.

In IFS we talk about parts. Emotions that you feel are linked to parts of you that carry a memory from the past. These parts become squatters when you don’t meet their need / hear their message for you. These sensitive younger parts of you need to be welcomed with open arms.

When these so-called bad feelings are met with Compassion and Curiosity these parts of you feel welcomed and can relax and unfold. They can unpack the misery they hold from the present hurt as well as hurts from the past. The hurts from the past gave them beliefs about themselves.

These beliefs that they are not worthy, unlovable, will not achieve, are less than and so on can come out in the light of day as they walk through the door and you greet them with open arms.

Then those parts can heal and they feel like they can leave.

Welcome your parts even if they’re a crowd of sorrows

When a friend of mine lost her husband recently she stepped into a role that has served her well. She faced her new life without her life’s partner with optimism and love. She was determined to carry on what her partner would want. Not to complain or suffer but to move on in life.

Of course she felt grief and deep sadness at her unexpected and immediate loss. However, she denied the depth of it and carried on with her very skilled optimism.

In choosing to meet her emotions at the door of her inner house with optimism and love there was not enough acceptance of the deep grief and loss also wanting in. She gradually became overcome with tiredness and created a lethargic place in how she lived.

The insistence of her deep grief to be recognized and admitted fully in whatever condition it came swept her down a darker path one she also didn’t choose. The grief became a squatter.

She would cry at happy times and withdraw when she would have enjoyed to participate. Her grief was demanding to be recognized despite her well-intentioned optimism.

Over time she learned the lesson Rumi teaches. When she accepted the deep grief with open arms she realized something new.

Her grief was a tribute to her love for her deceased partner.

Her grief of course would be as deep as her love.

She began to feel more whole in herself and feel more joy in her life while she lived alongside her grief. Once again she could feel grateful for all that she feels as a gift. As Rumi says,

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Having emotions are like snowflakes. No two are alike. However, how we meet each one is always the same. Rumi teaches this. Meet each one the way you would a cherished guest….


Image credit

Welcome” by Flickr user alborzshawn is licensed under CC BY 2.0.