Sanctuary: Guest House

One of my favorite poems by the Persian mystic poet, Jelaluddin Rumi, describes our own bodies, our own lives, our own selves as a guest house.  At the door of who we are, we greet a host of visitors every day.  Let Rumi explain:


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.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

I have reflected on this poem here before.  It speaks deeply into so much of human experience.  In another place Rumi is attributed with this (source unknown):  “Remember, the entrance to the sanctuary door is inside you.”

Filled with the images of his words, I find some comfort and courage imagining my life as a little cottage somewhere.  I don’t own it, but I live there.  Every hour of every day, “visitors” arrive, whether I want them to or not.  I know that my life is a much more sacred space if I welcome each at the door and treat each one who has wandered or run to my door with compassion, with generosity, with an open heart.  When I do, I find that I have not only welcomed a wayfarer, but that each has been a messenger to me.

There are more than a few stories through the ages that tell of a humble cottage where messengers from beyond visited.  When received with generosity, the messengers are ultimately revealed as the Divine itself, and the humble cottage transforms into a glorious temple, a shrine of all that is good in the world and in humanity.  The cottage becomes a sanctuary.

Today, we can tend the door to our hearts this way.  The door to the guest house really is also the door to the sanctuary of our heart.  May we tend it well.

Bob Patrick

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