“The world is perfect as it is, including my desire to change it.”
– Ram Dass
Welcoming everything is an authentic relating concept that many people find easy to grasp but incredibly hard to master. We don’t expect anyone to be able to fully achieve the ability to truly welcome everything, but even the intention of welcoming everything is one of the most powerful ways to participate in authentic relationship.
Welcoming everything means exactly as it sounds. It starts by welcoming whatever I’m conscious of, both in myself and in whoever I’m in relationship with. I welcome all my thoughts and emotions as they arise, giving space for each one to be fully expressed. I welcome all the sensations I feel in my body, no matter how uncomfortable. I welcome all my judgments and assumptions about myself and others, never dismissing, suppressing, or rejecting anything that arises in my conscious awareness.
I also welcome the parts of myself that live in shadow, and welcome all that I don’t know about myself. I welcome each fragment of my whole experience as I might welcome an honored guest in my home. Consider that every single fragment is a message, delivering a precious and important gift. We can’t know the wisdom in each fragment until we have fully welcomed it into the space of our consciousness and let it arise and bloom into its fullest expression.
We may find it relatively easy to welcome experiences of joy, happiness, or delight, but much harder to welcome experiences of discomfort, trigger, or pain. Yet it is exactly the fully welcoming surrender to these particularly challenging experiences that move, dissipate, and ultimately release them from our psyche. It is the full welcoming of our own darkness and that of others that fosters the co-mingling of darkness with light to help us become a fully integrated human being.
The practice of welcoming everything also helps loosen our attachment to pleasurable experiences and our resistance to unpleasurable experiences, cultivating within us an empty space of pure consciousness that is steadfast and rigorous in its capacity to be with whatever is arising within and beyond ourselves.
This frame is particularly useful when confronted by an emotionally triggered person. Often, people who are triggered are feeling a lot of intense energy, and that energy can spill over into harmful and aggressive speech (and physical action if taken far enough). When we practice welcoming everything, we welcome both the emotional trigger and its expression in the other person exactly as it is. We also welcome our own discomfort, defensive state, or reactivity, without acting on it. It is simply enough to let all the facets of this interaction arise in empty space, welcoming each facet as if it contains a precious gift, and letting the energy be expressed and ultimately dissipated.
If a friend or loved one is triggered and yelling at you, welcome his expression in the same way you might welcome his expression of love or appreciation. Remember that welcoming does not mean affirming. You don’t have to agree with anything he says (or yells) to be able to welcome everything. When you can fully welcome whatever arises and is being expressed, very often the other person senses the safety and space to be fully expressed, and will settle much more quickly than if you react or get defensive, as the energy moves through.
Another common phenomenon is that after the intensity of the emotional trigger has been fully welcomed, it often leaves behind a more authentic and vulnerable emotional experience. For example, Steve’s girlfriend Libby is yelling at him for not giving her enough attention at a recent gathering of friends. Let’s see how this might sound when Steve is able to welcome everything:
Libby: “You didn’t even look at me for a whole hour. It’s like you didn’t even notice I was there. You’re just lost in your own world!”
Steve: “I totally understand why you’d be mad at me. You’re right, I was distracted and wasn’t paying attention to you, and I’m now feeling what it must have been like for you.”
Libby: “Yeah, it doesn’t feel good! I just want to feel like you’re aware of me, and that you won’t disappear.”
Steve: “Yes, I get that. It doesn’t feel good to be ignored, and I really appreciate knowing what you want. I notice I’m feeling some relief now that I know what you’re wanting.”
Libby: “Thanks. I just always felt insecure at parties when I was younger, so sometimes when I feel like you’re going away, it triggers those old memories and I get really anxious.”
Steve welcomed both Libby’s emotional and verbal forms of expression unconditionally. She was angry at him, and her statements included some exaggerations that he could have argued against, but Steve was able to rely on his capacity to welcome everything into the expanded space of his conscious, non-reactive mind, and be with both Libby’s and his own emotional experience. In doing so, he allowed her intense energy to move through freely, leaving behind a softer, more vulnerable and authentic engagement with the source of the trigger.
Welcoming everything extends to welcoming the greater world and all of its attendant complexities, chaotic states, and myriad cultural and individual perspectives. Can you expand the space of welcoming to include cultures and people whose values and opinions oppose your own? Can you stretch to welcome violence, abuse, and darkness in all its forms?
Remember that welcoming does not imply agreeing with… In fact, the more we can welcome, the more intimate we are with whatever it is we’re welcoming, the more attuned we are to its nature, and the more skillful we can be in bringing about transformation and integration. Turning away or shutting down in response to anything, whether it’s inside or outside of ourselves, can shut us off from the full life-giving spectrum of human interactions and dilute the profound richness available in connected, authentic relationships.
You can start practicing welcoming everything by bringing your focus to your own experience as you go about your day. Notice where it’s easy to welcome your own experience and where it’s challenging. See if you can welcome both the experience itself, and the resistance you have to fully welcoming it. The amazing thing about practicing with yourself is that this automatically translates to welcoming everything in others. In fact, we typically only welcome in others what we welcome in ourselves. So the more we welcome all aspects and dimensions of ourselves, the more we welcome others fully.
Notice if you have any automatic welcome/unwelcome reflexes as you engage with or notice the world around you. Are there certain people or situations that trigger your unwelcome reflex? If so, consider that they mirror an aspect within yourself that you are not welcoming. If you can trace the reflex back to its source, you have a good chance of integrating this aspect into your whole being and subsequently putting out a welcome mat to new guests of both your inner and outer world.
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 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.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.