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Metta’s Guest House Opens its Doors

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Welcome to my new column for Buddhistdoor Global, as well as a new chapter in my life.

Regular readers may remember my two previous columns: Lily Pad Sutra (about my seven years combining meditation practice and location-independence) and Living Metta (about taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world). After taking a few months off to noodle my next metta-morphosis, and as the world slowly opens up after various lockdowns, I’m back to welcome you to Metta’s Guest House, inspired by this Rumi poem:

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 whomever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

From blog.logox.co.uk

After a roller-coaster year both inside and out, it’s still hard for any of us to know from week to week whether we can travel or if we have to shelter in place yet again; whether work can recommence or stop again, or whether we can rejoin our loved ones or have to shield them again. So imagine my surprise at spotting a job listing looking for guest experience hosts for a new brand of serviced-apartments-meets-AirBnB offering sanctuary and soulful hospitality in the midst of all this global “two steps forward, one step back.”

My metta meditator’s curiosity was tickled by the idea of turning the tables on years of being a guest, so I applied.

Now, as someone who makes her best decisions by feel rather than reason, the first stages of the online application felt very alien indeed: it was hard to get a sense of anything concrete as technically the brand hadn’t yet launched, the flagship site hadn’t opened, and all communication was by phone or video call. When the day of the in-person group interview arrived, I turned up at the hotel it was held at to find a dozen fellow applicants all looking a little jetlagged by life. In between group activities, we joked in the waiting room that it wasn’t just the usual interview nerves we were feeling but that this was the most strangers we’d interacted with in more than a year.

The day progressed to individual interviews, speed-dating style, with various project and operations managers at different tables. One interviewer shared the ups and downs of opening a hotel on an island in the Scottish Hebrides, and in turn I told them about a winter house-sitting a stone cottage, looking after a black labrador, and surviving 100mph hailstorms on the Isle of Mull. After years of employers not really knowing what to make of the seven location-independent years listed on my résumé, it was heartening to discover that not just turning but practically spinning tables—what had been working against me—was now suddenly in my favor as the new brand was hoping to attract location-independent guests!

Two days later, I was offered one of four guest experience host positions and we soon made a start on three weeks of training, in everything from learning the online reservations system to emergency first aid to managing difficult conversations to putting out literal fires. The learning curve was steep at times, and—as Rumi eloquently put it—“every morning a new arrival.” One of the more fun tasks was a tourist site scavenger hunt on our first day. We were split into two teams, and given 90 minutes to find the answers (and take selfies) to 30 clues around the city. I was partnered with a born-and-bred Liverpudlian, and it was gratifying to discover that, after three years of moving to Liverpool after winding down my lilypadding years, I was able to show him a few new discoveries. On our mad dash across the city center, he even gave me the rare compliment that I now jaywalked like a native.

When our new manager joined us on the third day of training, the shift in the team’s until-then playful dynamic threw me. My four colleagues suddenly felt more like 24 as they all recalibrated to the new arrival. I must admit, watching them behave differently depending on who was in the room had me secretly wondering whether I’d made a huge mistake as I no longer knew who or what to trust anymore. What had felt like being on the set of the TV show Friends had suddenly evolved into The Hunger Games overnight.

As I sat with my discomfort, I remembered the number-one thing that years of meditation practice and location-independence had taught me: take each person/place exactly as you find them and sometimes you have to leave them there.

As we pitched in with practical preparations, such as taking inventory of assets, stocking apartments, or tidying the communal garden, I observed who was prepared to roll up their sleeves and help and who wasn’t, who criticized and praised whom, who sought the project managers’ approval and for what, and who respected our new manager’s authority and who didn’t. When they gossiped about the others, it put me in an awkward position of not wanting to join in but also not wanting to divide the team. I did my compassionate best to point out everyone’s strengths and how we were all facing a big unknown together after months of facing all sorts of unknowns in our personal lives, but my unease was growing: if the team dynamics were this changeable while taking on simple tasks like counting vacuum cleaners or weeding flower beds or distributing duvets, how would they eventually come across to guests and would they undermine our new manager?

Not exactly sanctuary-like, was my guess.

In the end, I found the self-compassion to reach out to those I felt I could trust.

The first was emailing the most beloved boss I’ve come across from a previous job, who replied with this wisdom: It sounds like you are flying through a baptism of fire. Politics and people of such events, be the glue they need to get through it.

And so “be the glue” became my new inner metta mantra with every new loop-the-loop of the team’s roller-coaster ride.

From asiatrend.org

The second was asking one of our trainers, who regularly supports new openings, for a private chat. As we walked along Liverpool’s Albert Dock later the next day, I shared my conflicting impressions and asked what was usual in new teams forming-storming-norming-performing and what might be cause for genuine concern.

Albert Dock itself was one of the first ports in the world to combine docking and warehousing facilities, and went through numerous redesigns and test fires until finding the perfect fire-retardant combination to begin construction. Its unique design turned Liverpool into a global trading centre in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Here in the 21st century, our trainer explained that posturing in the first few weeks was to be expected after being thrown together daily during training, but that that would soon shift again once our doors opened to the public and we were behind the desk on solo shifts. They hadn’t noted much of what I was describing but thanked me for my openness and promised to arrange for extra support from other site managers for our new manager.

That one word—posturing—hit the nail on the head of what I was observing and helped me make the inner shift from taking my coworkers exactly as I found them to now leaving them to their respective learning curves. My misgivings docked, my own learning curve became fun again amid the daily chaos of elevators breaking down, rooms mysteriously flooding, locking ourselves out or in or not at all, and mad-dash shopping trips for last-minute missing items. Behind closed doors, the classic British tv comedy Fawlty Towers had nothing on us—“meet them at the door laughing” indeed! And yet, by the time staff from other sites arrived for soft-opening test sleeps, things magically came together enough to open the doors to welcome the world at large.

British TV comedy Fawlty Towers. From babbletop.com

Whatever the newest arrival in your own lives, dear readers, I urge you to be the metta glue as all manner of inner and outer doors open again.

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