The archetype of the guest – a forgotten art

Have we forgotten how to be guests? To be invited to join? To bow in gratitude at being invited? To honour the host?

Have we forgotten that to be invited is an honour? That you get invited while others do not? That effort has gone into the occasion of which you have been invited?

Do we show up as a guest with an empty cup and a hand outstretched? Or do we bring gifts? Not because they are needed, but because in bringing gifts we honour the archetype of the guest. Gifts may be simple and physical, or subtle and long enduring. A beggar can bring a smile and great humor, stories to regale and connect, or acts of sacred service….

As Lewis Hyde writes in his magnificent book, “The Gift”, The work of art (your art might be literal art, or your ability to convene people for an event) exists simultaneously in two economies, a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of those is essential however: a work of art can survive without a market, but where there is no gift there is no art.

The archetype of the guest is a gift from host to guest. In its enactment it evokes the archetypal energy of all gifts, which is to be in flow, to be passed from person to person in a field of abundant generosity.

Even if attendance is not a financial cost to the host this does not mean guests have the right to treat the occasion as an opportunity for criticism, to dishonour the host in multiple ways. As any host knows, the financial cost is only one of the many costs to the host. Time, love, commitment, thought, preparation, risk, courage, logistics, long term planning, after planning, the actual cost to the host in monetary terms which is often not covered totally, generosity of spirit to even host an event when most people simply do not bother…these things constitute the hosts art.

Which begs the question? How do we respond as invited guests?

By saying yes to the invitation as a guest does that gives us carte blanche to take, to question, to judge, to deride, to criticize? To expend zero effort in gratitude towards the host because it was all for the taking and the agreed contract was completed at a transactional level. (Forgetting of course the multiple other dimensions of relationship, risk, effort, love, care, generosity)

There is no transaction in the archetypal energy of being a conscious guest.

The word guest comes from ghostis…which is stranger…hence to be welcomed or feared. It includes the opportunity to break bread, or break a head. Within the etymology of this word also lies hospice, hospitality and hospital. To hospice a soul’s transition is a sacred act. To be a host, is a sacred act…perhaps..perhaps…being a guest is a sacred act.

The host invites a guest at the risk of having their head broken. Or, of welcoming a new friend.

I always hope for the later.

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.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

Rumi speaks of the hosts role…but what of the guest?

Photo credit: Christine McDougall, taken by Jim Breen, Tralee Ireland. In honour of Jim’s magnificent generosity in opening his home, business and network to me. I was his honoured guest.

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