A guide from beyond

By some mysterious grace, Rumi and Parker Palmer join the conversation I opened up yesterday when I quoted Maria Popova, “To reclaim the beauty of the multitudes we each contain, we must break free of the prison of our fragments and meet one another as whole persons full of wonder unblunted by identity-template and expectation.” On his Facebook page this morning, Palmer wrote:

Rumi’s famous poem “The Guest House” reminds me of a critical fact about what it means to be human: I have a lot of characters inside of me, and each has a voice of its own.

Some of those characters and voices I like. Some not so much! But I need to listen to all of them – not censoring the ones I don’t like – and try to host a life-giving inner conversation.

In my 2011 book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, I argue that practicing hospitality toward “alien” people and viewpoints is key to restoring the civil community on which democracy depends.

Hospitality doesn’t mean agreeing with things we don’t agree with. It means listening openly and with respect, learning what we can, and responding in ways that build bridges, not walls.

But here’s the rub: We can’t receive the “alien” respectfully if we can’t do the same for the inner voices we don’t want to hear. Hospitality, like all human virtues, begins within.

All of this is more easily said than done! But Rumi gives us a great gift – a vivid image that can make the difficult feel possible. Each of us is a “guest house.” Our first job is to be good hosts to ourselves: “Be grateful for whoever comes / because each has been sent / as a guide from beyond.”

Today I will be grateful for whoever – whoever – comes. Such a one will guide me, will guide all of us, toward wholeness and healing.

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