Rainer Maria Rilke was born to a family of a military officer in 19th century Czechoslovakia. Despite his interest in arts and poetry, he was sent to a military school. After the school, he proceeded with the artistic career and extensive travels, becoming a world-renown poet and novelist.
Years later, a young poet named Franz Kappus found himself in the same military school, and decided to ask Rilke for advice and guidance. Their correspondence was published as a series of ten letters from Rilke to Kappus, probably the most famous letters ever written. Although written to a young poet, Rilke’s words would apply to virtually anyone with an inquiring mind.
The letters are nothing short of a wonder of deep, gentle, and poetic coaching and mentorship. Rilke not only shares his views on the notions of aloneness, grief, joy, and beauty, but also gives some very counterintuitive advice on how to handle difficult situations in life with grace and integrity.
Key ideas that resonated with me:
- Going into nature: to stay close to its simplicity and to connect with the greater web of being.
- Having courage to be alone, in solitude, to go within, and to turn inward — in order to question and examine what the truth is. Being ready to accept the findings, and give up what one thought to be right.
“We are utterly alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and most important to us.”
- Embracing patience and perseverance. Transformations take time, and answers to grand questions don’t come quickly.
- Only love, not aesthetic critiques, can judge the works of art.
- The sources of creative experience and sexual experience are very close to each other.
- Being left without answers is extremely beneficial. One should endure this state, and be patient with unsolved matters in their heart.
“Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms ad like books written in a foreign language. […] At present you need to live the questions. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing, find yourself experiencing answers.”
- Embracing struggle and fighting for one’s identity is essential for all beings.
- In questions of love, one should find space for solitude, differentiation and boundaries. Young lovers throw each other into togetherness, forgetting about this.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
- Endurinng grief and listening to it, as it creates silence and space for something new and different to appear.
- Expecting everything, not excluding mysterious, and embracing uncertainties with all the dangers allows one to feel more human, and explore human experience fully.
“There is much beauty here because there is much beauty everywhere.”