I’d like to explore the topic of resilience in the context of The Guest House, a poem by the 13th century Sufi mystic Jellaludin Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks). The Guest House is an audacious encouragement to embrace our difficult selves and messy lives. Rumi begins,
This being human is a guest house.excerpt from The Guest House by Rumi
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
To this laundry list of emotion, Rumi exclaims – “Welcome and entertain them all!” Imagine, befriend them all! As inspiring as it sounds, this fearless welcome also seems risky.
Discussions of resilience speak of toughness and flexibility; one dictionary definition is: “the ability to recover quickly from difficulty”. In her TED talk Angela Duckworth describes the quality of “grit” (synonymous with resilience) as “passion and perseverance for very long term goals.” Still, there is more in what Rumi is saying, he enjoins:
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,excerpt from The Guest House by Rumi
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
It is the quality of “honor” that surprises; to honor even that which is painful. To honor is to hold deep respect within. In respect there is trust, we are not closed off, we are open. It is here, I think, that the seed of resilience germinates.
“How am I resilient? How is resilience already within me, my life, my work, my relationships?” It is perhaps in our willingness to consider this question that we begin to honor ourselves, we begin to know the strength between what feels broken.
A few years ago I decided to explore a new profession in executive and life coaching. I was in my mid 50s and cognizant of the impending limits of age (alongside the positives, including the wisdom of experience, I hope 😉 I experienced the vulnerability and satisfaction of starting fresh. Taking the risk was important. And, still there have been no guarantees. It is in this landscape of uncertainty that I feel the essence of Rumi’s message most personally. Each new challenge awakens voices of limitation. The image of meeting ““them at the door laughing” raises a smile, quiet determination and a willingness to honor the whole of it.
The photo below is of a painting by Theodore Clement Steele entitled “The Boatman” from the collection at the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University. I see in this man qualities of resilience: determination, strength, and honor – an expression of living life fully. What’s an image of resilience for you?
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