The Guest House is a well known poem by the 13th century Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi (popularly known simply as Rumi). In the poem, Rumi uses the metaphor of a guest house to describe life’s journey.
Rumi’s poetry is sublime and eloquent, and it makes us appreciate the uncertainty of life and embrace mindful living. In fact, this poem is one of the poems offered in classes at UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs.
Here’s the translated version of The Guest House, followed by an interpretation of the poem and its correlation to mindfulness.
The Guest House by Rumi
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.
— Jalaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks (The Essential Rumi)
The Guest House: Poem (Meaning and Interpretation)
In The Guest House, Rumi is using the metaphor of a guest house to form an image that each day is an opportunity to experience something new in our lives, even if it’s unexpected.
And just like the house guest whose arrival at our guest house can sometimes make us uncomfortable, our life too can get frustrating at times.
So we wait impatiently for these unpleasant house guests to leave so that we can put our house back just like it was before they arrived. However, if we treat the house guests with warmth, generosity, and courage, we can learn invaluable lessons from the experience.
To summarize, Rumi is explaining to us that the entirety of human experience is valuable and that we should cherish each moment that is presented to us.
The Guest House: Correlation to Mindfulness
When we correlate this poem to the concept of mindfulness, we realize that our mind too is like the guest house. Thoughts arrive one after the other just like house guests. Some make us happy, some make us sad, and some make us downright uncomfortable. And then we try our best to avoid these uncomfortable thoughts, inadvertently giving them more strength and control over us. But if we take Rumi’s advice and face these uncomfortable thoughts with acceptance and courage instead of contempt, not only will these thoughts lose their power and control, but we’ll learn an invaluable lesson from the experience.