Years ago on retreat with Contemplative Outreach, a new prayer form was introduced which was simple, insightful and effective when practiced. It was noted that most of our reactions and responses to people, places, situations and things are habitual and conditioned from an early age. This makes giving attention to the pause between reception and reaction of an impression very important if one wants to ‘wake up’ and become more aware, wise and illuminated. It was simply called “Welcoming” prayer. . . .
Instead of giving a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to that which enters our inner mental/emotional space or our outer physical space we simply pause, become grateful for whoever or whatever comes, experience it as a guide from beyond and say Welcome. As I listened to this directive I couldn’t help thinking it was a bit unrealistic and foolish. Why would anyone want to welcome dark thoughts, malice, sorrows, irreverence and all other types of unwanted visitors? What might this be pointing to beyond the obvious?
As I reflected on this paradox I remembered an allegory from Rumi called The Guest House where “A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.” It then dawned on me that this crowd of visitors comes to visit me everyday from within and mostly I complain, become dour, inhospitable and project my disdain and negativity on the innocent people that happen to be in my path. The real welcoming had to come from within me, from a source beyond my denying ego.
This was a revelation, a true awakening, but the retreat ended. I flew back home, resumed my job and forgot about the Welcoming practice I’d vowed to engage everyday. Over time however the negativity and lack of inner welcoming caught up with me again.I found myself wondering why my inner house was so cluttered by unwelcome visitors with dark and destructive moods. Tripping over my own furniture I began to see my inner clutter and the need to empty my Self of my self righteous critical selves.
As a strategy I began to throw each visitor out when they arrived. I resisted their overtures, their bribes, their rationale. I locked the door, slammed it in their faces when they tried to enter. I fought with them, met violence with violence, treated them with disdain. The more resistance I put up however, the more they came knocking on my door. Then one day, exhausted and defeated, I remembered the Welcoming practice. Maybe I was approaching my ‘guests’ in a totally inappropriate and self defeating way.
Maybe I could welcome them, smile with them, be kind to them and honor them. Maybe I could entertain them and laugh with them. Maybe they were here to help me see my inner clutter, to help me clear out some of my old baggage. Maybe they were here to surprise me into a whole new way of joyful delight. Maybe the Welcoming practice would usher a whole new way of being and doing for me like the teaching I’d received said it would. Deciding to go for it, I sent out an S O S distress call and began anew.
SMILE – This was the first thing I decided to engage. As Max Eastman says: ‘A smile is the universal welcome.’ The smile I’m referring to comes from the soul, from the Spirit, from the Source of Light and Life. Here, no matter what another is doing, when I’m smiling the whole world is smiling with me, we, thee, being free. This exercise takes significant inner work as it has to be authentic and genuine which means we have to feel it in our heart. Stop and breathe into this smiling heart space. Do you feel it?
OPEN – This is the second engagement which is connected to the first. Openness connects the external, internal and eternal realities. To open is to welcome all visitors no matter where they come from, why they’re here or how often they sweep your house empty of its furniture. The openness is to the Source of All and to the possibilities and potentialities that are ever present here and now. With open hearts, hands and minds anything is possible. Drop your shoulders. Experience the release. Breathe into it.
SURRENDER – Once you access your soulful smile and open your access to the ultimate Source, you’ll automatically surrender to Love because that’s who you are in the depths of your being. This S O S distress code is a universal call that speaks of danger and opportunity. The crisis is in our unconscious egocentric mind that says everything has to be the way we want it. Surrendering to Love is the ultimate letting go to let come the wonder of new opportunities that show up when we Welcome them.
So here we are with Welcoming which is a moment by moment awareness practice that taps into the Essence of who we are. In practicing this method some of the visitors will try to trip you up. Remember that they are parts of you. You and me are they are we. This must be remembered for us to get free. The visitors are always here to help us see who we are and who we’re not, so meet them at the door and give them all you’ve got. Pause, smile, open, surrender to love and WELCOME what comes.
The last word comes from Henri Nouwen: “Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each days surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” And so it is………Welcome Home!