A Haggard Old Woman At My Door

Last week I was in the middle of a yoga posture clinic with 40 or so other students. Yoga mats were spread around the classroom in a starburst formation, my instructor at the center, giving instructions. This day, unlike most days, I was at the edge of the starburst nestled between two pillars. A perfect spot to hardly be noticed. I guess I should have known it was coming.

As my mind drifted from the poses of the day (navasana and ardha salambasana if you must know) I suddenly noticed a sort of panic creeping from my core up my chest and down my arms. Wtf. I looked around the room – all eyes were on center. I closed my eyes lifted my hands to my knees palms up and breathed. I knew in that moment that if I didn’t allow the feeling to have its say it would be back and probably fiercer next time. Luckily I also knew breath would help me ride the waves of distress that were growing in my belly. Breathing in silently, suddenly alone in my own world, I welcomed this strange feeling. On the out breath I found myself inside a cabin approaching the front door. Someone was outside knocking. I carefully opened the door – my conscious mind began to recite one of my favorite Rumi poems, “The Guest House,” wherein he encourages one to welcome into one’s life anything and everything that shows up. As I opened the door an old woman, dirty, haggard, and dressed in rags pushed her way in. I brought her to the table and set a steaming mug of tea and a fat slice of bread in front of her. She took a quick sip and stuffed her hungry mouth. “I’ve been wandering out there forever,” she said in a gravely tone. She was more than miffed.

I sat with her in my day dream knowing immediately that she was the Feeling personified. There was more I needed to know. But I didn’t have time to ask her because I was being called to come into the poses and practice teaching a partner. Back in my vision I told the old woman she could stay in the cabin and watch; I had to move on for the moment. She nibbled her bread and huffed.

Later, I returned to the cabin and allowed her to share her thoughts. Rather, I listened while she raged about how awful I’d been to do that to her. What did I do? Projected my limiting beliefs onto her that she’d had to carry all this while. As her tirade continued, her hard shell literally began to crack and out stepped a young woman. I walked towards her immediately knowing I knew her but not quite recognizing how. As I got closer I stood before and saw. Tears came to my eyes… We were a mirror image.

The feeling hasn’t returned – I believe I set her free. Set myself free. And came home to myself.

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.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks




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