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’re 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 whoever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


I tend not to quote poetry. But this one resonates.

Many of us spend a lot of energy trying to force uncomfortable thoughts and feelings out. What would happen if you treated each one as a guest? Even anxiety? What if, rather than trying desperately to push it out, lock the door, make it go away immediately, you instead noticed its presence, said hello, and allowed it just to visit for a moment. What would happen if you let go of the struggle?

Guests come and go.

For some, this is an outrageous idea. Anxiety is painful. Why invite it in??? One reason is that anxiety and other uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are inevitable. They’re showing up whether you like it or not, whether they were invited or not. Another reason is that pushing away often amplifies distress. So now you have to contend with both the initial discomfort as well as the tension and suffering inherent in resisting something that would likely float in and out, if left alone.

How to get more skilled at disengaging from this struggle? Cognitive defusion exercises help. For example, next time you notice an uncomfortable thought or feeling, pause and say “Welcome.” Seriously. Imagine yourself handing that thought or feeling a cocktail or a cup of tea. It’s a guest.

You can also practice building that capacity with daily meditation, even very brief ones. This site offers many free guided meditations worth a listen.