Life during a pandemic brings unexpected, unwelcome feelings.  What if we were to meet those feelings at the door and graciously “welcome and entertain them all” as Rumi suggests in “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 are 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 whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.*                                     

A few days ago I woke with a heaviness in my chest. Pushing it aside, I moved through my day weighed down.   A “momentary awareness” of the heaviness was my “unexpected visitor.”

How can we honor a feeling that wants to “violently sweep [our] house empty of its furniture?”  One way is to listen to the feelings as they present in the body.  Begin with present moment awareness, grounding ourselves in God’s presence, feeling the earth beneath our feet, following the breath.  Is this a good time to be with the feeling?  If yes, welcome it with reverence and compassion as we would a friend.  Explore the body’s felt-sense of the feeling. What are its characteristics?  Shifting awareness between grounded presence and felt-sense helps us stay present to the emotional energy of the feeling without getting overwhelmed.  Notice. What lies under the feeling?  What does it want to say?  How might it be teacher or guide?

Grounding myself, I turned my awareness to the heaviness in my chest. Underneath it I discovered sorrow for what has been lost in this pandemic and fear of what the future holds. Following my breath, my feelings guided me toward what I hold most dear, who and what I have taken for granted. The sorrow and fear offered a nudge to be gentle with myself and those with whom I live, to make extra efforts to connect remotely with family and friends, and to appreciate nature in its spring glory.  A sense of spaciousness and gratitude replaced the heaviness. Honoring my feelings led me to honor myself and those I love. The heaviness in my chest—the sorrow and fear—had indeed “been sent as a guide from beyond.”

* “The Guest House” by Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks