Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet has advice that is timeless to anyone struggling to find, (and then lose), and find again, his or her voice– or struggling in these troubled times:
We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it. This in the end is the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us. - Rilke
I admire Rilke's poetry, of course, his fidelity to his own inner voice, and willingness to accept everything. In Letters to a Young Poet, I am also reminded of his generosity. He wrote thoughtful, detailed letters to the young man who was trying to find his way with words. I imagine, in this process, he also discovered things about himself.
(This winter I have rediscovered the gratification of writing letters– handwritten, sent through the post. The slowness of picking up a pen ignites a different part of me. Whether sending or receiving a handwritten letter, it happens in a slower time).
So much of what Rilke has to say is counter to the immediate results we are now used to getting. I remind myself this morning, that to actually experience "results" in any significant way, time spent being, rather than doing, is essential. It is inside being that meaning resides. Doing itself can never be satisfied– never.
On this subject– what it means to live as an artist– the heart of which is timeless, not numbering– Rilke says:
In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn't matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.
No measuring with time! How often do you try this? I think this is key to fortifying the senses that allow you to apprehend what is liminal– and show each of you what you have to offer, the something you were born with, that doesn't belong to anyone else, or disappear. There are so many ready distractions, that we no longer have any need to use intuition, to be patient, to experience boredom- to wait in line, wait in traffic or wonder where someone is when they haven't arrived home yet. Yet the apprehension that is possible by being still is where wisdom, rather than information, and meaning, come from.
And a reminder to resist the temptation to measure yourself against others:
As you unfold as an artist, just keep on, quietly and earnestly, growing through all that happens to you. You cannot disrupt this process more violently than by looking outside yourself for answers that may only be found by attending to your innermost feeling.
–Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke
Rilke's trust in the process, in his inner world, and in the "bigger picture" is all we have when life looks bleak.
Just because Rilke understood the value of patience, does not mean that he tempered his passion for thinking big, for wanting everything. He accepted the darkness as well as the light– seeing that they belong together. He tossed out excuses like "too old" and "not enough time".
This sentiment is beautifully stated in his poem from Book of Hours:
You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.
So many live on and want nothing
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.
But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst....
You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.
When was the last time you wrote a handwritten letter? Or received one in the mail? I'd love to hear from you.