Uninvited guest, I wonder if your GPS brought you to the wrong address? I mean, out here, there are a lot of places with names like Mountain View Road, and so it could totally happen. Still, here you are, with your mirrored sunglasses, and I'm really not sure what to do with you. Rumi says this being human is the guest house, but I was looking forward to floating around like an Autre in this bathtub, and so… May I offer you a refill for your Jazzercise water bottle? A granola bar? Some tips on how to descend to paved roads that may connect you to other mountain views? OK. Good luck! Keep that rental car off class four roads!
In Somatic Experiencing universe, the uninvited guest is the pull of suffering that shows up when someone is trying to contact healing forces within themselves. Just when well-being becomes strong and sensible, some memory of being afraid, slighted, or hurt comes up, uninvited, to reroute awareness into old stories of how the world is unsafe, and we exist unwanted and uninvited with in it. What happens next depends on the intention of the session, and the capacity of the person’s guest house. If it’s large and comfortable, maybe the guest is folded into the Lilac Suite over there, and given some towels. Otherwise, the person notes the uninvited guest, says “not now,” and goes back to the project of allowing well-being to flourish seamlessly in the body-mind. It can be hard to accept that we are all invited to be well, through and through, and sometimes the project of feeling this is more important than any notion of psychic inclusivity. Shoulds don't get you very far, in the project of expanding capacity for being with What Is. Until you’ve felt well, you can’t come from a place of wellness, even if you’d like to.
Back pain, Lyme disease, grief, cancer, digestive problems, social problems – hardly anyone hires a calligrapher to write out fancy envelopes for any of these, with curling P’s and deft strokes of brown ink. You are cordially invited to the unfolding of so-and-so’s life, on Thursday, the 23rd of October. Reception to follow. So all of these learn to take their opportunities where they may: pick the lock, crash the party, jam the signal, and pop out of the cake, surprisingly fully-formed for something so thoroughly repressed. It’s me! Your screwy genes, your family’s unsolved mysteries, that injury you were hoping never to think about ever again, that law that’s been on the books forever, and happens to apply dreadfully to what you just did.
Last night I spent some time talking about marriage with a woman who was feeling giddily impressed with her husband of 10 years. They had just come through a rough patch, where she wanted a divorce, and he wouldn't, and then he left, and came back. She was saying, In my family when things broke we just threw them away. But in his family they fixed everything, and so he refused to throw away our marriage, even though I wanted out. (The leaving part remained unexplained.) Anyway, one part of what she said that really struck me was that sooner or later in a marriage, the one you are with takes on all the qualities of an uninvited guest. You wake up, and you think, Who are you? Who let you in, anyway? Did your GPS lead you to the wrong address? You wake up, and you feel as though you are married to digestive problems, or to some kind of endocrine disorder. What happens next might actually be informed by your previous relationship with physical problems.
Is it shameful and impossible to experience pain? If so, you and your affliction-spouse are probably not long for this world together. You will try various medications and experts, see them fail, and fuck-you your ways into an ending. On the other hand, if you've already had the experience of letting an uninvited guest in, to give you a tour of parts of your house that you never knew existed, you might be OK. The uninvited spouse might show you that yes, indeed, it IS over, and you'll be stronger for it. Or, they might open up basement rooms leading to tunnels between you that explain a lot of things: how fresh air sometimes drifts in from the wine cellar; how you can sometimes hear music coming from the vent in the downstairs bathroom. You realize, in this guise, that the uninvited can be the catalyst for expanding the circle of the known.
We used to host people through Couchsurfing, and then that got tricky, because Elliot’s idea of who's invited sometimes differs greatly from our own. He's quite particular about defining the circle of the known, and about showing teeth to the unknown. As this, pretty much, is what humans bred and fed dogs to do, over millennia, it’s hard to really blame him. We manage his encounters with visitors carefully, and have evolved a kind of contain-and-greet protocol that works pretty well. He’d rather most people just let their GPS take them somewhere else, but he can be convinced, in time, that other bipeds can be tolerated, or even loved.
We do something like this internally, of course, all the time. I think part of why I love Elliot so much is that he has helped me see the socially anxious parts of myself, and relax around them. Are used to be so preemptively worried that someone would be mean, or boring to talk to you, that I would be miserable at parties. I kept so much of myself to myself that it was almost inevitable the conversations would be stale and uninviting. Not so anymore. Last night, as Marriage Lady told me her story, I could feel whiffs of some matrimonial-maternal mythology that set my teeth to tingling. I found ways to call them out, that I think set us both free. When we nod in agreement with something that we feel is horseshit, we are essentially politenessing our selves onto an island where no connection is invited. When we greet nonsense with truth, we open up tunnels beneath us, and admit the forms of suffering we've learned from, whether we wanted to, or not.
This whole time, I have been writing around a spectacular unwanted guest – the senseless of wine and because of a weird-whacker that just will not quit. It's funny to know it's there, to sense the annoyance of those around me, and still to allow the words to form themselves one after another. Now it’s a duet – a big motorcycle. A cherry-picker makes a trio. It’s a genuine Richard Scarry village of unwanted guests, and there is room in here for all of them.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now