“Welcome and entertain all your feelings,” Rumi says in The Guest House. Then he gets specific, “The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.”
Why in the world would I want to do that? I wondered when I first read this poem.
“Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond,” Rumi replied.
Over the years, as I set an intention to befriend my feelings, I’ve come to trust what Rumi said. Feelings are a part of being human. We have all kinds of feelings, and when we allow them to be seen and heard, they help us become more fully ourselves and more deeply rooted in God.
When I’m disconnected from my feelings, I do what I don’t want to do. I’m driven to overeat, overwork, obsess about relationships, worry, and numb out. But when I finally sit down with God and welcome my feelings, something shifts in me. I see something I didn’t see before. I feel something I didn’t feel before when I allow the silenced part of me to have a voice.
Welcoming my feelings can be scary. I mean, really, who wants a crowd of sorrows sweeping their house empty of its furniture? People who have experienced depression know only too well what that’s like. They may fear that if they allow their ominous feelings to be acknowledged that they will become even bigger and consume them.
I know. I’ve been there. I start thinking about how hurt I feel by what someone did, and it can escalate into dark thoughts that validate my worst fears: I’m not lovable. There’s something wrong with me. I’ll never belong anywhere.
So welcoming my feelings doesn’t come without a risk of things getting worse.
Fear that my feelings will pull me under, makes me want to distance myself from them. I ignore or minimize them. This can be helpful in the moment by keeping me from doing something I will later regret. But feelings are persistent, and if they continue to be dismissed, they come out as anxiety, depression, bursts of anger, or impulsive behaviour.
Another strategy I have for handling my feelings is to name, judge, analyze, and control them. For example, if I feel angry, I judge that as wrong. Then I try and figure out what about the situation is making me angry, tell myself I don’t have to feel that way, articulate the reasons why, and then take steps to become a better, calmer person in the future. I love this plan and yet, I know from experience, that it doesn’t work. I know it doesn’t work because the anger doesn’t go away.
It doesn’t work because I have judged the feeling and tried to manage it. I haven’t welcomed it and listened to it.
Instead, I’m learning to set aside the desire to manage, fix, or get rid of my uncomfortable feelings. I want to step closer to them, but not so close that I become overwhelmed or identified with them. I can tell when I’m identified with a feeling when I say I am hurt, irritated, or lonely instead of recognizing that something in me feels hurt, irritated, or lonely. It helps to become the observer of my own emotions. From this place, I can listen to them calmly and compassionately. I also make sure I’m not alone when I listen to them. God and I do this together in a quiet moment or in spiritual direction.
When I tell my director about an overwhelming feeling I have (e.g. fear or loneliness), eventually she asks how I imagine God feels about me or my situation. In the silence, I hear a gentle voice say, “This is so hard.” God’s compassion brings me to tears. I gradually notice that God is calm. God isn’t upset or afraid of my feelings or disappointed with me. This helps me relax and opens me to experience love and self-acceptance while also feeling afraid or lonely. In this space where I am enveloped in love and present to my feelings, some new awareness or freedom comes into view as if it were “a guide from beyond.”
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning there is a new arrival: a joy, a depression, a meanness.” I may not meet them at the door laughing. I may not meet them at all, today or even tomorrow. But when I find the courage to take God’s hand and open the door, those guests guide me home to my true self.
Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard to do, but for some reason, when we name it, feel it, and welcome it, transformation can begin. Don’t lose presence to the moment. Any kind of analysis will lead you back into attachment to your ego self. The reason a bird sitting on a hot wire is not electrocuted is quite simply because it does not touch the ground to give the electricity a pathway. Hold the creative tension, but don’t ground it by thinking about it, critiquing it, or analyzing it. —Richard Rohr
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The Welcoming Prayer practice “is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life. The purpose of the Welcoming Prayer is to deepen our relationship with God through consenting in the ordinary activities of our day. The Welcoming Prayer helps to dismantle acquired emotional programs and to heal the wounds of a lifetime by addressing them where they are stored — in the body. It contributes to the process of transformation in Christ initiated in Centering Prayer.”(Contemplative Outreach). You can find the method on Contemplative Outreach’s website. They also have a book available which is a 40-day guide.
I also want to let you know about Sounds True’s free event 10 Days to Activate Revolutionary Love hosted by Valarie Kaur. Kaur was a speaker in a similar event Sounds True presented last year at this time called the Radical Compassion Challenge which impacted my life a lot. I am looking forward to this year’s event and hearing what the other speakers (including Brian McLaren and Parker Palmer) have to say. In the meantime, you may want to listen to Valarie Kaur’s Ted talk on Revolutionary Love.