Loving the Questions, Some Thoughts on a Passage by Rainer Maria Rilke

In a letter to a young, idealistic poet, Rilke writes:

You are so young; stand before your beginnings…Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.  Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language…Live the questions…Perhaps gradually you will, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.  Perhaps you are indeed carrying within yourself the potential to visualize, to design, and to create for yourself an utterly satisfying, joyful, and pure lifestyle.  Discipline yourself to attain it, but accept that which comes to you with deep trust, and as long as it comes from your own will, from your own inner need, accept it, and do not hate anything.”

From, Letters to a Young PoetLetters & Correspondence Books) , by Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. By Joan M. Burnham

This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and profound things I have ever read.  The whole book of letters Rilke wrote should be read at least once a year by every serious writer and lover of the world.  It is seasoned with wisdom and gentle encouragement.  And it definitely holds up well to repeated, devotional reading.

This passage holds many keys to living your dreams.  First, Rilke reminds the young poet (the author, which we all are—we all author our own lives) to have patience in regards to the questions.  We tend to want answers now.  We want the knots loosened immediately.  We want the finish line now, or better yet, we want it yesterday, because then we wouldn’t’t be in this mess of not knowing today—or so we imagine.

Not only does Rilke suggest having patience with the questions, but to learn to love them.  I know for myself I often become frustrated when things don’t go my way.  And when things pop up on the road to my dreams that I don’t understand, I tend to hate them—or at very least, become annoyed by them. 

Rilke encourages us to love the unknown instead of fearing it.  And when we do this, hidden rooms open their doors, foreign books translate directly into our heart, and then, the answers themselves appear as experiences—not simply intellectual, head-knowledge. 

Rilke proceeds to humbly tease out of his young reader the question of whether or not he carries within himself the ability to manifest the answers he seeks, to manifest his dreams.  Rilke, I believe, knew the young writer had the ability, for we all have the ability.  But Rilke also knew that most of us do not use it, and thus, he floats it out there as a question—very nearly a challenge…”Perhaps you are indeed carrying within yourself the potential…” 
And then Rilke gives him the key to the attainment of the answers—discipline his thinking to able to imagine and visualize the lifestyle he desires and needs.

Finally, Rilke ends this passage with a radical statement, one that might sound completely impossible—“and do not hate anything.”  Now that is different.  We are all so conditioned to view everything as good or bad, but Rilke not only says to love the uncertainty, but to not hate anything—even the uncertainty.  In fact, he says to accept everything that comes to him “with a deep trust.”—not just any old trust—a deep trust.  For that’s what it takes when things come to us we are afraid of, when the future seems almost threatening, when you’re trying not to fan the flames of a fear-frenzy, or when something comes to us that seems tragic, painful, or disappointing.  Trust, he says, implying there is a greater Author at work, one that wants to use him for His purposes.  One that wants to be the Ultimate Answer to every question the young poet can ever have.

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *