This January, I have slowed down to reflect on the meaning of “self improvement.” So many of us show up to therapy with a list of things we want to work on. Maybe we want to conquer our anxiety or improve our moods. While these are more than understandable goals, when we get caught up in what we lack, we sometimes approach ourselves impatiently and with frustration.
Much like we would approach a beloved friend, we must approach ourselves with an open heart. Maybe those anger issues we want to curb actually also offer wisdom about maintaining our boundaries. Maybe our depressed moods lead us to tender, sensitive hearts who need our care. We can only learn from these parts of ourselves if we approach them with curiosity.
Approaching ourselves as a guest house, as Rumi writes, can help us approach each of our emotions, thoughts, and patterns as opportunities to get to know ourselves.
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.
— Jalaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
With Rumi’s work in mind, along with my January reflections, I no longer see self-love as a state of mind but rather as a practice of welcoming in all of the parts of us, just as they are today. It is only then that we can gently guide ourselves toward growth.