I had a day to myself recently (a rare thing). During this day, rather than it being a seamless 24 hours of bliss (as I had hoped for), I experienced a range of different emotions – sometimes feeling two opposing feelings at the same time, notably joy and sadness and irritation and calm. It made me reflect on how, when we reflect about our emotions, we can look back at them and think about ourselves experiencing them separately and over a long period of time, when really different emotions can exist in our experience simultaneously and fleetingly. We don’t need to hold on to them so much.
I have attached Rumi’s ‘Guest House’ at the bottom of this post as a reminder of the oft-cited poem in which he refers to our emotional experience as a guest house. The theme for this blog post is to explore the extent to which we allow more than one guest in at the same time and whether we really need to let them overstay their welcome.
My day of harmonised emotional experiences started with a film. I had a feeling I would need some Kleenex and I did. Instead I had to wipe my tears on my sleeve. One moment in the film captured the scene of a single mother apologising to her son for shouting at him. It was a dramatic scene which brought me to tears. (I am a woman of a certain age: it doesn’t take much). The next moment there was a scene of children singing and I was ricocheted into joy, as my heart pumped out little explosions of fizziness into my tear-streamed face. As my heart pulsed, I could see that sadness and joy were twins, seeking to push and pull it in different emotional directions. Even so, my heart stayed firm in my chest, holding a strong, and generous space for all who came in to pass through. Neither of the ‘twins’ decided to hang about and in a matter of moments, I felt at peace again.
After the film I wandered over to the outdoor foodie market in town and stumbled upon a tacos bar. I ordered two. My empty stomach growled in anticipation and I started to salivate as I smelt the onions frying. Then after what seemed like a very long five minutes, I was handed a diminutive offering in large packaging (not the first time this has happened to me). I felt my heart sink a bit and I regretted having paid a fiver for what was merely a snack. Not more than a second later, I was sitting in the sun, feeling grateful for the opportunity to sit outside in such warmth in September.
The sun soothed me like a purring cat and this inspired me to do some soporific stretching. So off I slinked to a yoga class. I walked into the studio and went straight up to the water fountain. I nodded to a young girl with patterned leggings covering a svelte physique and remarked chattily on how you forget to drink when it’s warm. She said something notably unchatty and, I thought, mildly patronising in response, along the lines of, ‘take all that you need. It’s often important to re-fill. Water is available here’. I smiled weakly and secretly wished she would go f*** herself. Then on entering the studio I realised she was the teacher and so I then proceeded to bore her senseless with details of my neck and shoulder injury. She was very understanding. I liked and disliked her at the same time.
While the class was peaceful and relaxing, the young woman proceeded to irritate the hell out of me. I felt very peaceful and still while simultaneously hacked off. Cue sivasana (which is the end bit where you lie on the floor) and the girl lulled us into deep relaxation. I let my body flop and surrendered myself to the floor, letting out a big contented sigh. I was just about to float off into ethereal everlasting bliss when the girl proceeded to rabbit on incessantly about the breath being a wave joining the ocean. I did at that stage feel blissful but the sort of blissful you feel when you are lying in the sunshine gripping the copy of your newspaper as a wasp buzzes around your ears.
I drove home and on the way I whacked up the stereo as it played out Louis Armstrong. I felt happy and wound down the windows. The sun was shining and there was a light breeze which teased my hair and tickled my cheeks. (If my teenage son had been with me he would have been mortified. To him, I was the very epitome of uncool – a ‘cruising’ parent).
Then someone didn’t let me into the left-hand lane. My heart sank. I threw the guy a stony glare (no hand gesture). But just two seconds later, I was chuckling along to Louis’s vocals on Lazy Bones again. The sparky range of jazzy harmonies made me feel wakeful and revived. It also left me with a lingering question.
The question is this. We can harmonise notes and melodies but how much can we harmonise our feelings? Are they like a range of notes on a piano, so that you can play the high keys at the same time as the low keys? Can you never entirely drown out the high notes when you play the low?
Harmonising the melodies of emotions that we feel throughout a typical day is essential to feeling centred and avoiding overwhelm. Also, by not identifying with our visitors and by allowing whatever tune is working itself into your heartstrings to play on, you can make your day flow a bit better, knowing that any more challenging emotions will soon pass out. By noticing more about what you’re feeling and allowing your feelings to arise and then pass through, you are not being played by your emotions, rather they are playing insideof you. They all welcome and all valid. Bad emotions. Good emotions. Bad weather front. Good weather front. Radiant sunshine. Rain. (Maybe your partner forgets your birthday – then it’s thunder).
In closing and to just about sum it up, let’s return to Rumi’s guest house allegory. If you watch yourself just a little bit closer and be more allowing, you can see all of the guests dance around inside of you, all with different footsteps, some heavier and some lighter, some stamping their feet and some with just a dusting of footfall, but none who will (hopefully) overstay their welcome.
Cue Rumi’s poem. Enjoy!
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.