National Geographic just published a beautiful photo essay about the empty prisons in the Netherlands. They have been re-purposed into shelters for refugees seeking asylum from armed conflict. In these shelters, they learn to speak Dutch and ride bicycles – “both skills are essential to life in the Netherlands.”
They are free to come and go, and have made friends among their Dutch neighbors.
While the reasons behind the Netherlands’ declining prison population are complex, I’m sharing this story with you because it’s a beautiful analogy for how to relate with difficult emotions.
In a state of fear and scarcity, the impulse is to reject the less appealing parts of yourself. The aspects of you that are needy, messy, and not quite ready for public consumption; you make them wrong, or bottle them up so they don’t bother you…much.
But what if, as Sufi poet Rumi suggests, you welcome and entertain them all?
From his poem, Guest House:
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.
Let’s face it, life is scary. Being human, with all our weaknesses and insecurities, it’s tough.
You try to put on a happy face and pretend the hard stuff isn’t there. Or you criticize others, when really, they are a reflection of your own failings.
What might it be like if, instead of being afraid of the difficult & dark aspects of this life, you cultivate what Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron calls “unconditional friendliness” towards yourself and everything you experience?
In her words:
“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back.
They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.
They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck…”
Is there a part of you that you are stuffing, denying, or rejecting?
What if, like the Dutch, you let that part integrate into your inner ecosystem? What if you allowed it to teach you something new, and add another texture to the fabric of your being? I wonder…
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