Grabbing the mind-dog's attention with expanded horizons of meditation! A partial memory and a shallow understanding had left me like a doggie chasing its own tail (or tale) of sadness, making endless circles on the living room carpet until this past Monday when something changed...
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 honorably.
~ Rumi, Read more here.
This was just about as far as my imagination had held of Rumi's The Guest House: it was about all I was able to paraphrase to share with a meditation group I participated in on Monday night (even though there is more to the poem). And as I was saying my poorly remembered version of this poem, what I saw was that I had seen a picture of myself in the words, and what I was able to remember was that picture of myself. So I wasn't really remembering the poem; I was actually remembering a perception of myself as seen through the magic mirror of the language of the poem.
My creative offering towards these words (also known as my understanding) painted my house to be "the guest house" as in an extra house owned by a wealthy person that was a little less grand than the one they lived in. A guest dwelling like the smaller coach house in the back, hidden behind the established splendor of the main house.
In my memory of the poem I saw the crowd or “band of sorrows” running round and round in my little house, sweeping the insides clean. But If I had also remembered the next part my perception might not have been so stuck:
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
And here is an awesome take on “the Guest”:
Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think... and think... while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.
If you do not break your ropes while you're alive
do you think
that ghosts will do it after?
~ Kabir, Read the rest of the poem here.
So when I put the sensibilities of these two excerpts together, I see that a “Guest house” might be an extraordinary situation, indeed… But in the sensibilities based in my experience of myself in my life’s personal stories the situation looks different.
Am I a guest in my own house? I have definitely felt that way… Like a guest that gets a cheerful greeting upon arrival, but then realizes later that they are an imposition on the host. I think that this is how I also treat my needs: yes, I see you sadness, shame or anger, but my preference is for you to go away. And since I want to be true I attempt to entertain these unwanted guests, but many times I fail to see things clearly, shutting down in the face of my anger when I might be better served to move toward a motivated action.
On Monday night at a neighborhood Soto Zen center, I heard Taigen say a couple of things that came together in my mind as a question: 1)"Thoughts are seen like clouds moving across the sky." and 2)"When we sit we don't want to ignore our thoughts." So my question was "Does the sky ignore the clouds?" because my understanding of this metaphor is that the sky is pure perception, and the clouds are the thought forms. And I also realized that I had been ignoring my thoughts in meditation, because I saw them as having a low priority in the process. I mean, how much attention do we really pay to the clouds moving across the sky, anyway… But my perception in my body is smaller than the sky (or is it?). I tend to see myself as very small in that process.
My mental framework as a “guest house” then came together with the language of clouds and sky, and I saw that I had been ignoring what was in my “house”, which is really my head. I realized that I need to pay attention to what is visiting, and I might find that certain guests like those circulating sorrows, are actually ghosts from the old stories I have told myself about who I am (ghosts having little relevance in my reality today). It is high time to take another fresh look: every time I pay attention.
* with thanks to Taigen Dan Leighton, who gave an engaging Dharma Talk (one of many great talks!) at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate last Monday night *
** and see my latest offering at Elephant Journal: Spiritual Declaration of Independence **