Contemplaying In the Guest House

A little voice in my head says: “Contemplaying our hopes and aspirations may be delightful, but what about the dark side of life? What about loneliness, apathy, anxiety, misery, grief, shame? What about the rage that ferments beneath long unmet needs?” Is the art of contemplaying applicable for these experiences?

Or is contemplaying only the province of those lucky enough to live a life of relative ease? This Rumi poem (translated by Coleman Barks) evokes the possibility of contemplaying the difficulties and mortifications that come to all lives:

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 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.

Rumi evokes the essence of the contemplayful possibility of embracing the full spectrum of life. What does it entail to live in this spirit? How does one practice welcoming the dark thoughts, the shames, the resentments and despairs that inevitably visit our consciousness? Well surely this practice is easier in community than alone. “Joy shared is doubled. Sorrow shared is halved.” Yet sometimes we must host our difficult guests alone. What then? Curiosity, presence, the ability to investigate and free associate with our uninvited guests: these capacities are essential to the practice of hosting the guest house of the soul. It is skillful also to introduce them to each other: “Joy, meet Sorrow.” It inevitably turns out they’re long lost relatives, or even close friends. Art, music, and poetry are also invaluable tools in shifting our attitude towards the uninvited guests. With practice we can pivot from evasion and/or hostility to a mindful embrace, a dance of discovery with feelings and thoughts that at first may seem unbearable, unpalatable, intolerable.

And when life’s a bitch, activate the magic of contemplaining! To contemplain is to contemplayfully complain. I contemplain when I creatively explore my most vexing problems and discontents. I contemplain when I create the atmosphere in which I can both despair and inquire, grieve and wonder, dissolve and transform, rage and marvel.

What do you think?

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