Welcome Difficult Feelings

by | Feb 18, 2022

Have you had an experience when somebody else’s good news made you feel something other than good? This happened to me recently. Somebody else’s good news, instead of bringing up joy or happiness, brought up feelings of grief. It took me awhile to recognize and name this experience because my feelings of grief were difficult to welcome, especially in the face of someone’s good news. They were feelings I “shouldn’t” be feeling. I was “supposed to” be joyful and happy.

Whenever I struggle to welcome the full spectrum of my feelings, I find it soothing to return to Rumi’s poem “The Guest House.” I invite you to take a few moments to read it slowly, maybe even twice.

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.

Somehow this poem feels simultaneously like a deep breath and a relieving exhale. But of course, I cannot do both of those things at the same time. I must do one and then the other. And so it might be with my grief. First I must feel it – to welcome and entertain it as an honorable guest – before there is space to feel what I’d like to feel, which is joyful and happy for this person in my life. Instead of feeling ashamed that I’m feeling the wrong emotion, I’m intrigued by imagining myself meeting grief at the door laughing, and inviting it in with a posture of curiosity.   Another word for what is happening in Rumi’s poem is self-compassion. In my formation as a spiritual director, my instructor posed self-compassion as one model for how we process human experience. In this model (based on the work of Kristen Neff), we notice difficult feelings, we work to understand those feelings by recognizing our humanity, and we act on those feelings by offering ourselves compassion. With that said, I bring this all forward today for two reasons. One, as a way to process my human experience through a lens of self-compassion in solidarity with this seeking community. And two, with the hope of an invitation to welcome and offer compassion to all of your feelings, especially when the “shoulds” or “supposed tos” threaten to blot out something that will most certainly be a guide from beyond.