Welcome to this site. Welcome to this place. Above all welcome to this work.
Welcome is a crucially important element necessary to live a human life. It’s one that I think is so often overlooked in the contemporary Western world. It’s an art we’ve lost, though it’s definitely still a finely honed art in many places around the globe. Hospitality is the fancy more ancient word of what we’re talking about here.
Welcome is not only a metaphor but a practice. It’s a way of being.
In my own practice and in my work with folks, welcome is immensely valuable. Welcome is more than worth it’s weight in gold. Fr. Thomas Keating once said that we should have “a jolly attitude to even the most horrid of thoughts.” That jolly attitude he speaks of is a welcoming posture.
A woman comes in struggling with anger. Her family taught her that ‘good girls don’t get angry.’ She’s shown anger–maybe healthy, maybe not so healthy–in her adolescence and someone labeled her a bitch. That someone who called her that name was very possibly another girl or woman, probably herself struggling with anger.
This hurts her…badly. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t try to show anger anymore. She tries not to show, not even to feel, anger. This approach doesn’t work so well. She finds herself grouchy, ill-tempered, even worried she is in fact becoming the ‘b’ she was called.
A man comes in real suffering. His five year relationship with his sweetheart has just ended. He’s wracked with pain, guilt, grief, and sadness, among other feelings. But he can’t show or express these feelings to his friends. They’re all too busy trying to fix him up with someone new to able to listen attentively and compassionately to his pain. They sincerely mean to console him, reminding him of all the fish in the sea. He’s supposed to get “back up on that horse” (why eligible women are horses in this analogy I’m not quite sure, but that’s a story for a different day I guess). His mother is not so secretly pleased with the situation because she never really got along with his ex anyway: “She wasn’t marriage material”. He feels really alone even though he’s being swarmed by people trying to help him. He finds their help, well, the opposite of help.
He can’t show vulnerability and pain. He’s supposed to be a real man (whatever the hell that is). He’s afraid he’ll be called unmanly if he cries or has to admit defeat. Meanwhile his body is sending him signal after signal that he’s not well and needs to take a break. He doesn’t listen. He’s afraid to face these feelings alone. He feels unequipped to handle them.
First off, what they both need is welcome. They need to create a space–perhaps with someone skilled in facilitating such a space–where they can welcome these feelings. These feelings are harbingers of healing. These feelings are helpers, teachers, and friends for them, intimates who actually know how to deal with the challenges these two people are facing.
When the beautiful mystic St. Francis of Assisi was in his final days and hours, he asked to be taken outside. He wanted to die in the arms of Mother Earth. His friends were around crying. But Francis said, “Let us welcome Sister Death.”
Similarly, let us welcome Brother Anger, Sister Grief, Grandmother Sadness, Grandfather Guilt, Mother Fear, and Father Vulnerability.
Our sister begins to embrace her anger and finds she can set much clearer boundaries. She has more energy. She actually feels happier. Contrary to her fears, she’s not angry all the time. She’s not bitchy. Her expressions of anger are becoming cleaner and cleaner. She finds, amazingly, she can express love at the same time she can express anger. And she now knows if she needs to go away for a little bit and just have a rant in private to exorcize some deep frustration, she can do that. She’s going to be responsible for she what she does. She’s not going blast somebody and hurt them because she knows what the pain of unhealthy and unwelcome anger did to her. She doesn’t want to inflict that on anyone else.
Our brother, after a number of false starts perhaps, with grace, begins to welcome his pain, his loss, his tenderness. He finds in them a deep strength. Not an all-powerful, all-conquering kind of strength, but a genuine source of help in time of need. It takes him some time, more time than his friends and our culture tell him he is “supposed to need”–though interestingly he notices that none of them seem all that content in life (weird huh?)–but he feels that a dawn is starting to shine after a long dark night. He comes to learn skills that serve him and a future beloved better in his next relationship. He forgives his ex and asks for forgiveness from her in return. He finds he’s more patient with others, slower to jump in with advice for them in their struggles, and more willing to listen and simply offer attention and care. Quite incredibly, increasing numbers of his friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances start sharing their pains and their hurts with him.
Both our sister and our brother find moments, sometimes only fleeting in duration, when they sense a peace, a deep reservoir of something they can’t exactly name. It feels like an undertow pulling them in. They find themselves both fearful but also strangely attracted to this pull. They don’t really know what to call it, though spiritual comes to mind. Except they’re not really sure they feel comfortable with that word. Spiritual. It seems too heavy, too cold and formal. But never mind, somehow when they relax their thinking they simply return to this sense of….whatever it is. This ‘thing’ they like, this ‘thing’ that draws them in. They welcome this feeling, this experience as well.
This whatever-it-is feels somehow different than yet connected to the moments of welcomed anger, grief, sadness, and pain. They are really unsure how to talk about this experience with others. They’re concerned they’ll be branded weird or be misunderstood. Yet this feeling is one of coming home and they can’t ignore that truth.
They are learning to welcome the moments of clarity as well as confusion.