For 18 of the 23 years that I was in my monastery I was the Guestmaster; the monk tasked with attending to all visitors to the monastery. Some visitors came on a personal and spiritual pilgrimage. Some came because of the German Shepherd dogs that the monks bred and raised. Some came to buy the food products produced by the monks and sold in the Farms store. But the point is that they all came, and I had to deal with them!
Being Guestmaster was absolutely crucial in my coming to see how self-centered I really am! I would be in the midst of artwork up in my studio and a brother would inform me that guests arrived, which meant I had to leave the artwork and go and attend to them and their needs. And in the beginning years I did not like it! Each instance of the negative emotions that I experienced when disrupting my schedule for a guest made it all too clear to me: 1) That I was only beginning to learn how to give of myself, and 2) That God had placed me in the position that I was in so that I might be forced to wrestle with my self-centeredness.
I also discovered that a companion to self-centeredness is self-pity! “Why did they have to show up right now?” “Why can’t someone else do this job?” “Why, why, why?!” It isn’t a pleasant discovery to realize that one is a self-pitying whiner! The first 5 years of the 18 were the hardest. Eventually I awoke to the dynamics of what was going on within me! Self-disgust gave birth to repentance, which led to self-lessness… giving oneself away in order to grow.
On my first visit to Hawai’i in 2004, as each of us was greeted at the Polynesian Cultural Center with a lei and an “Aloha” I watched the giver’s face to see if they were connected to the gift-giving they were bestowing upon us, or simply doing what their job said that they had to do. From my own Guestmaster experience I know that it’s all too possible to say “Aloha” with no more interest in the individual than a conventional “How are you?”
In a way, all Hawaiians are Guestmasters tasked with the job of welcoming visitors to the Temple that is Hawaiʻi. From my own experience I can share the insight that we are most alive, most ourselves and most human when the heart learns how to break out of the prison of its own self-centeredness and self-preoccupation, giving itself away… in a lei or in an “Aloha”.