"The ancient Chinese used the image of the host to describe the observing, stable meditator. Many guests visit the host. Some are invited, and they tend to be kind, charming and a pleasure to entertain. Others are not invited: they are drunk, unruly, and eat all the food. Or they stand around, staring into space.
If you become so absorbed in the behaviours of the guests that you forget you’re in charge, you’re no longer the host. Can you stay awake in the face of all the diverse visitors who come and go? This is your practise when you sit. To be the host. To be awareness itself.”
This passage is from Three Steps to Awakening: A Practice for Bringing Mindfulness to Life by Larry Rosenberg, and is a mindfulness tip I always find very helpful, particularly when feeling emotional. The notion of being the host came up in our Christmas Eve mindfulness session, when we considered our expectations for the day ahead, and what attitudes might be useful for this particularly challenging festive season. Although Larry is talking about experiences we might have when we sit and meditate, it’s also true for all our experiences.
When I stand back from emotions that are arising and see them as guests at my party, I’m a lot less affected by them. Even coming to write this, I noticed I was feeling tired – simply welcoming Tiredness to the party meant I could simply let it be and get on with opening the laptop. (Accompanied by a decaff coffee admittedly!).
Being the host with whatever guests are here helps me stay calm and cheerful. It’s quite amusing to consider emotions such as anger or fear as drunk and unruly guests, and humour is always helpful to give some sense of perspective. It is important to remember we can welcome guests even if they are not actually welcome. I can be polite and suggest such guests relax, have a drink and make themselves at home even if I’d rather they had not arrived. Being a good host whoever comes.
I have also written about this idea of welcoming emotions in a mindfulness blog post, based on Rumi's great poem, 'The Guest House'.
Christmas Day party
For most of Christmas Day I was having a very happy day with my family, yet in the afternoon I felt gloomy for a few hours, and I completely forgot the idea of being the host. Gloom was certainly being loud and boorish at the party in my mind, (probably helped by the fact I’d had my first glass of white wine I in the UK all year!)
The delightful thing about present moment awareness is that it can return in a flash; and the moment I realised I’d stopped being the host, I was back at the helm – with a lightness of heart and body.
As self-compassion is something I’ve been focusing on this month, although I was disappointed that my Christmas Day joy had evaporated for a few hours and I’d forgotten the most basic mindfulness tools, I welcomed Disappointment to the party, and suggested it joined Gloom on a sofa. Once they were acknowledged and placed to the side, there was space for Merriment and Lightness to take the dance floor for the evening.
Like all mindfulness techniques, being the host is something that one gets better at with practice.
As Sharon Salzberg said, ‘Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”