Some days I get more visitors than others. I’m not talking about the kind that knock on the door, or even those that fly in the window (yesterday a tortoiseshell butterfly) or make their way in through devious means (we are regularly visited by cats who take advantage of any opportunity, one of whom belongs to a neighbour but who long ago decided to take up permanent residence with us).
The visitors I am thinking of are those that arrive spontaneously and unbidden in my head, when I may be visited by anxiety, fear, despair, bewilderment, anger, dread and foreboding. I am happy to say that nowadays I find myself welcoming happier visitors such as delight, peace, calm, and joy on a regular basis, but this has not always been the case.
Our brains evolved to react with lightening speed to signs of danger and to register with careful attention signals of fear, anger and so on, as a survival mechanism. (Sabre-toothed tiger! Look out – run!) So much so, that feelings of pleasure, like (my, it feels good to sit here in the sun), – sensations that are important but of a less urgent nature in survival terms, are given less attention on the scale of what’s really important and tend not to register so memorably or with such powerful effect. They tend also to slip away, and don’t re-visit us as spontaneously or dramatically as the negative emotions do, which is why it’s important to redress the balance and give them more of the attention they deserve.
But I’ve also learnt to treat all these visitors for what they are – just that. They come, and they go. It’s no good trying to hang on to the nice ones any more than it’s helpful to stamp on the nasty ones. Far better to observe them; feel them – there’s no point denying them whether you like them or not – but remember, they’re just passing through. As Rumi’s poem says, better to meet them at the door laughing. Besides, you never know what they’re trying to tell you….
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
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.
– Jelaluddin Rumi (Sufi poet, 1207-1273)