Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Guest House: A Love Story

A few years ago, my oldest son and I had a falling out. He was at the tender and blind age when he was technically an adult but still figuring out how to be one. I was at the tender and blind age when I was technically the mother of an adult but still figuring out how to be one. Neither one of us was very good at this task. While I was trying my best to be motherly and supportive, I was, in fact, overbearing and judgmental. While he was trying his best to be a man and heroic, he was, in fact, irresponsible and hardheaded. Neither one of us could see the other's best intentions. It got ugly there for awhile.

Eventually, after several months of this ugliness, I broke off communications with him. I had to because I knew every time I talked with him two things happened: I became more judgmental and more hurtful, and I didn't like who I was when I was with him.

We didn't talk for almost a year. The rest of the family circled around us with caution, concern, and frustration. But as uncomfortable as it was, I knew I had to find a way through this brick wall of anger I felt towards my son. I was so filled with righteous indignation.

The complicated thing, as my therapist assured me, was I had every reason to be angry and judgmental. Some of the things my son was doing weren't right and were hurting other people. Plain and simple. It was a conundrum. How to be nonjudgmental in the face of another's wrongness and blindness? How to be in loving relationship with another person who "just didn't get it?" But I knew in my heart of hearts the paradox: as I sat on my throne of justice and judgment I was just as wrong and blind as he was. There was something I just wasn't getting. A piece of the puzzle was missing, a key to dismantling that brick wall, and I couldn't find it anywhere.

That year I worked harder than I'd ever worked on facing my shadows~my pride, my tendency to judge others, my righteous certainty that got in the way of my flexibility and ability to be in relationship, my entrenched anger, my stubbornness. All while weathering the cold silence between us and my son's anger, his immaturity, and his pain. It was a year from hell. No exaggeration.

The details of how I eventually saw the light are too many for this posting, but some of the pieces that came together were these: my continued work in therapy with a depth psychologist, bringing some of these feelings and emotions into active imagination work, the book by John Welwood Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart, and a conversation with a young friend of mine, wise beyond his years in so many ways, who asked just the right question at just the right time. The question led straight to my own woundedness, my own self-judgment. This last piece was the key to that brick wall which brought it tumbling down before me. The relief was exquisite.

Finally, finally, finally! I knew I could sit with my son in all of his anger, his hurt and pain, all of his young, male, heroic pride and just authentically be with him, listen to him with an open mind and heart, and not become defensive, angry, judgmental, or hurt in return. It was the moment I had worked for and needed that year. So I called him, arranged a meeting, told him this was a time for him to talk, that my turn would come at some point in the future. But this time I would just listen. And I did. While he poured out several years' worth of feelings of rejection and scorn from me, while he told me stories that let me know how much he misunderstood, assumed, and misinterpreted my actions, while he sat there as a young man also filled with righteous indignation - I just listened, with all of my heart.

It was the closest thing to a miracle I had experienced in a long time. Because after that afternoon, I never did feel that I had to tell my side of the story. I never felt I had to correct his misapprehensions. There was no longer a burning need to be right. Which, for those who know me, this is, indeed, a miracle!

The most valuable thing that came out of that experience is it has allowed me to be in this kind of relationship with everybody around me. And if I can't be, I immediately know I have work to do. I don't wait for the other person to do theirs. Because what I learned that year is this: If I do my work of coming to terms with my demons and shadows, -and it's the hardest work there is-then a loving space is created for the other person to enter authentically. The other person feels safe enough to wander around in that space without being judged or seen less-than.

Be assured, I am not a saint. It is often times the hardest thing to do. I catch myself again and again saying or doing things that make others feel judged. Here's the important thing though: What allows me to finally get there is not compassion for the other person first but compassion for my self. That's the key, folks, the primary key we need to open all other doors and bring down brick walls between us and others. It's the opening act of compassion for everybody else out there wandering the hard roads of this life. And it's the hardest one to learn. I struggle with it all the time, and I see how self-loathing, shame, and the finger of self-blame can bring a person to their knees. How do we love ourselves fully and authentically? This is not about egotistic, prideful, boastful love. It's about loving the parts of ourselves that are most vulnerable, sometimes most unlovable, and giving them a voice, a place to reside.

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're 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 whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

Image from


  1. So much food for thought. I enjoyed your 'delving into self' perspective here.

    Nice to have met you, and to have inspired you is bliss.
    Ciao Bella


  2. Thank you, Carmelina. Delving is, indeed, the appropriate verb! And so nice to have met you!