The Hospitality of Emotion


I love hosting dinner parties– the planning, shopping, prepping, pairing, cooking, connecting, eating, lingering– hell, I don’t even mind the clean up so much.  I’m pretty sure my most domestic moments happen in the kitchen. (Laundry? Not my gig, much to my husband’s chagrin.)  For me, cooking has always been a creative as well as a therapeutic outlet for me.  For a hot minute in my mid-twenties, I toyed with the thought of culinary school.  In my short-lived career as a sous chef at a local wine bar/cafe, I found that cooking on someone else’s watch for people I couldn’t actually connect with was a deal breaker. It hijacked the joy for me. 

I eventually discovered two real driving passions behind my love for all things culinary: the connection that happens around it and the creativity had in the process (oh, and there is that eating thing as well).  Hence, this favorite past time of mine—throwing dinner parties.  I get a buzz just thinking about it.  

We live in a world on crack–a world jacked up and in a constant crazed state of busy, exhausted, immediacy, devices, and traffic–all set to repeat.  Hospitality has become a lost art because it forces us to slow down and do things that can't be automated and/or bypassed by hitting the nearest Chipotle or even the newest foodie hot spot on the scene.  As a result, we lose out on a beautiful process that facilitates good old-fashioned, real-time connection, intimacy, and laughter.

This past Saturday evening, myself and five other ladies hosted a wedding celebration at my house. Having an outdoor sit-down dinner party in the young days of November in Nashville is like betting your life savings at a craps table in Vegas. It’s risky, if not ludicrous. 

Much to our amazement, God flexed his creative muscles and painted the most magical fall scape one could possibly ask or pray for.  The wind, cold, and rain came to a precise halt.  The sun-drenched rolling hills popped with a smattering of brick, gold, and orange.  The burn your-eyes-out blue sky held on patiently all the way up to sunset.  Between the outdoor heaters, cozy blankets strewn on every other chair, and the roaring conversation and laughter, we stayed warm well into the night.  It was delicious and lovely complete with clinking glasses, a stained table runner, and hours of clean up the next morning.  Perhaps my favorite part of the evening was the interesting mix of friends who came, both new and old.  Stories were shared, intimate toasts given, and wild connections were made.  It was truly a magical evening.  

As I sat back contentedly and observed conversations happening across the table, glasses being filled, fall flavors offering up their glory, something occurred to me...something big.

Why can’t we learn to practice hospitality internally with our own full cast of emotions? What if, we welcomed them openly, leaning in to the complex story they are trying to tell instead of handing them the keys to our misery?  I’ve been intrigued by this idea ever since, playing around with it in my head and heart…and I like it.

Emotions are a gift if you can believe it.  I sure didn’t for long stretches of my existence.  I always thought emotions had all the power, dictating the success of any given day from the moment my eyeballs popped open in the morning.  I used to feel totally powerless over my emotions, especially anxiety, she was a loud and clumsy beast.  What I have come to learn and embrace with open arms, and a big fat sigh of relief, is that my emotions are not who I am.  I am not my anxiety, sadness, hurt, depression, etc. 

They are also not against me.  Of course, there are more enjoyable ones we feel such as glad and excited; we tend to coddle them like spoiled children.  Then there are negative feeling ones such as guilt and anger we attempt to avoid like loud, messy roommates. However, the truth is they all invite us to the greater wisdom of our needs and desires.  Our emotions are a gift nudging us towards a more colorful, expansive experience.  

Just as the generous practice of hospitality beckons deeper connection and understanding of our unique perspectives and experiences across a dinner table, the inner landscape of our feelings long for a space to be heard.  How will we host these voices, facilitating a curious exchange, an open conversation?  Here are a couple of questions to ask them when they chime in, with their often abrasive tone.

What am I feeling?  Sad, hurt, fear, anger, lonely, guilt, glad?  Naming it identifies and externalizes it.  

Where do I feel this feeling in my body?  (Our body’s center of intelligence houses emotions just as our heart’s center does.)

What is the story you are trying to tell me?  i.e “I am afraid I don’t have what it takes to succeed, I'm not enough”.  “I am guilty because I spoke harshly to my co-worker”.

What is the need attached to the emotion? i.e. “I need some encouragement and affirmation, ” or “I need to apologize for reacting at work. I was pretty fried and took it out on Sarah.”

How will I meet that need?  i.e. Reach out to a trusted friend or have a conversation to set the record straight, etc…

Emotional hospitality removes unnecessary shame from our internal experience by letting light and air into dingy, dusty corners of our beings.  It swings wide open the door of our heart and places a fresh mix of flowers on the table, welcoming deeper connection and cohesion.  It nourishes our beings to live with presence and generosity.  When we are willing to curiously experiment with each and every emotion, engaging it like we would a stranger at a dinner party, we gain new insight and perspective.  We hear a new story.  If we listen closely enough, we may even hear our own story.  

Love & Gratitude,