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Coming as guest

The concept of ‘guest’ is one that I engage with often. So often we think of the ‘guest’ as that person who we invite for a meal on a Friday night or to a BBQ on the weekend. In this blog I want to engage with the concept of ‘guest’ as a mindset and heart-set; a way of approaching another and their sacred story.

Guest is a mindset and heart-set when approaching another that knows deeply that they have an innate dignity, that we can only glimpse the ‘truth’ of their story and their inner truth and hence we come to that encounter in an open, humble, respect filled way ready to give and receive, to learn and to break open story.


So, step one in guestness is to grow daily in self-awareness. Self-awareness like guestness itself is a life long journey; we never truly get there – but it is the journey that counts. When we grow in self-awareness we become more aware of our own bias, our preconceptions, our blocks and more. Self awareness clears the space for true and deep encounter.

Taking off our shoes

Guestness is a taking off of one’s inner shoes. It is a clearing of the space for true encounter. It is first of all built on a deep belief in the innate dignity of self and of the other. We truly believe in the innate worth of all. We see their value as a person – for who they are.

Seeing and sensing the innate dignity of the other we come to their sacred space – to the holy ground of encounter slowly. We don’t rush in. We don’t invade their psychic space. We don’t rush opinions, views, our language, our beliefs etc and we don’t impose them, dump them on to the other. When we enter the space slowly, there is a gentleness about the encounter. When you are ‘slow’ you can be more attuned, you hear more, you see more – you see and hear more clearly. When you are slow you are more aware of the ‘invitation’ of the other – sometimes verbal, sometimes non-verbal to engage with and enter their sacred space. You may also become aware that that invitation is NOT there and then you gently and respectfully withdraw and remain outside but with an openness of heart that should they one day be ready – they may then invite you ‘in’ and you will be ready to break open story with them.

The guest comes respectfully. The word respect is from the Latin respecere / respectus – which means to ‘look again’. The guest encounters beyond labels, beyond stereotypes, beyond preconceptions. Labels limit. They limit myself and they limit the other. When we come respectfully we see and engage with the other as they are. We see ‘them’! The energy and the focus is on THEM and their sacred story. We look again, we listen again to the person beyond the presenting ‘data’ or layers of pain / hurt etc.

For many years I worked with young adults working with the homeless of my city Brisbane. We would talk to the students about ‘coming to the homeless as guest’. The homeless sensed that the students were just with them; as fellow travellers on life’s journey and it gave the encounter a magic. One night a student was chatting with one of the homeless and I could see that the homeless man was a little agitated. Concerned for the safety of all concerned I gently passed by asking, “Is all OK?” The student smiled and said yes. Later on I asked him what was going on. The student simply told me that the homeless man had a degree of mental illness – some paranoia and that he was pointing out to the student that we were constantly being watched by cameras on the tops of the city buildings and in some cases by army marksmen. The student inwardly noted that there was a degree of mental illness present and then made a deliberate choice to stay engaged with the man – taking off his inner shoes – and coming as guest to the mental state of this homeless man – being with HIM as he was.

Part of guest-ness is a profound sense of equality as brothers and sisters on life’s journey. We don’t enter the sacred space of encounter with an underlying belief that I am superior, that my story is more whole and complete, that I am their saviour, that I will fix them up. No, there is a deep sense that we are coming to the other and to their story as they are – to break open story and to be in that space in a reciprocal way. Yes, in true encounter we give and we receive.

This concept of ‘guest’ relates equally with the Earth itself. We see the beauty and the dignity of the planet itself. We are ONE with it; we are all of us made up of the same stardust that constitutes every part of all that we see. We are intimately interconnected and interrelated. From this space of intimacy we are invited to walk ‘gently on the Earth’, to walk with awareness of the interconnectedness of all, to respect and to live as wise stewards of all. This guest-ness leads us to be deeply aware of our footprint; our carbon footprint – our impact upon all around us.

As I mentioned earlier guest-ness is HOW we come to the encounter. It is the mindset and heart-set that we bring with us. It is a deep honouring of the encounter. Guest-ness asks deep listening of us; a listening to body language, to the verbals and non-verbals, to what is not said. The Aboriginal people of Australia – and especially the people of Daly River in the Northern Territory have a word DADIRRI. Dadirri is deep, inner, heart listening. The people of that Aboriginal community would walk country and sit in country – whether in a dry creek bed or under trees and just ‘be’ and come with a deep listening to the earth upon which they walked. This dadirri asked of them a profound heart attitude that they were part of all that they could see, hear and sense and that as part they were invited to be in that environment gently and respectfully – as guest.

Eyes: When you come as a guest your eyes are soft. Your eyes sparkle welcome and non-judgement. The guest brings ‘one-with’ eyes, beside eyes (I walk beside you as brother or sister). The eyes of the guest invite healing. Touch: The guest will touch gently, softly and in a way that honours the other. It is a sensitive touch, a respect filled touch, a touch that nurtures and can heal. But they who touch do so from a profound sense of guest and importantly – of invitation from their ‘host’ – the other. Listen: When we guest we listen to the whole, to the body language, to the verbals and non-verbals. As guest we listen with the heart. Ours is agenda free listening. We are not listening waiting for the moment when we can pounce in with OUR answer to their question (even if they have not asked a question). Guest listening is ego aware and ego hushed. Our ego wants to ‘win’ in any encounter, to have the power and the control. In the encounter space of guest we become aware of this, let go of it and come to the encounter more freely. The listening in the guest space is focused and humble; it is not about us. Words: If we do the work of encounter guest-ness the words will just flow or the silence will flow – our role will be to trust our heart and trust the gentle, slow, respect filled space that is other centred – then the words will come from the heart. The guest is NOT trying to find the ‘right’ words – there are none and often the ‘right’ words will come from the ego space or from a head space that is struggling to be in this space as a guest. It is NOT that we don’t trust our professionalism, our skills or life wisdom – but that will all emerge and be gift naturally from the inner well of silence and being there for the other.

Some of what I am sharing here comes from the work of a Catholic priest – Fr Henri Nouwen. Nouwen wrote about host and guest and about the wounded healer (The Wounded Healer 1972, Reaching Out 1975). Henri Nouwen broke open the concept of us being invited into the space of the other – the host. That it is an invitation. We are called and invited, we come and are welcomed (much of this may not be verbal). In this sacred space there is a blessing of the other.

Silence: Silence is an important part – almost an essential part of guest-ness. To truly be in the encounter space as guest we need an inner silence – so we can deeply listen and be there. Within the space of encounter there will be times of silence – when one just sits with the other. This silence space is profound. I once worked in a school as the school counsellor. I discovered that some of my best work was done when I was with a student and they were sharing and then stopped. Often at that point – I would simply sit in deep guest-ness and silence. Often what followed was profound as the space of silence invited them into a deeper space of self awareness – a doorway into their pain, a door that the silence helped them to open. When they were ready, they would often break the silence with profound insight. My role was simply to honour the space and the silence and the integrity of their sacred journey.

In my next blog I will break open the twin of guest-ness – presence. Guest-ness leads to presence. The whole purpose of this blog is not to impose my views on anyone but to invite a dialogue from which we both grow. I would value your responses.

2 thoughts on “Coming as guest”

  1. Bob Hardy (ex Rocky)

    Hi Damien. You share some wonderful insights into the sacred and healing art of listening. In my mind, it very much seeing the other as someone just like me. That someone who also has their own special thoughts, beliefs and world experiences. Indeed, a fellow human being and traveller. It is a special privilege for others to share with us their highs and lows on that “roller coaster” road of life.
    From my own experience, I know you are a good listener. It’s great that you have the courage and wisdom to share that gift with others.

    1. Thanks Bob – yes it is a privileged space – and seeing the other as someone just like me is the secret I feel; then true brotherhood and sisterhood grows. Have a great weekend. Damien

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