January 25, 2010

The Eighth Letter

***The first three letters were posted in "10 days of Rilke 'til Christmas" in December 2009. Unfortunately the rest of the ten letters weren't posted by then, so here's the rest of this very profound writing for your enlightenment.

“…You have encountered many very sad experiences, which by now have passed…Please, dear friend, think about this: Did not this great sadness rather pass through you? Did not much within you change?…The only sad experiences which are dangerous and bad are those that one reveals to people in order to drown them out. Like illnesses treated superficially and incompetently, they retreat and, after a short pause, break out even more intensely. They gather together within the self and are life. They are life unlived, ridiculed and scorned…

…I believe that nearly all our griefs are moments of tension. We perceive them as crippling because we no longer hear signs of life from our estranged emotions. We are alone with the strange thing that has stepped into our presence. For a moment everything intimate and familiar has been taken from us. We stand in the midst of a transition, where we cannot remain standing.

And this is the reason the sadness passes: the something new within us…has entered out heart…into its innermost chamber and is no longer there either — it is already in the blood. And we do not find out what it was. One could easily make us believe that nothing happened; and yet we have been changed, as a house is changed when a guest has entered it. We cannot say who came; we shall perhaps never know. But many signals affirm that the future has stepped into us in such a way as to change itself into us, and that long before it manifests itself outwardly.

Therefore it is so important to be alone and observant when one is sad. The seemingly uneventful moment, when our future really enters in, is very much closer to reality than that other loud and fortuitous point in time, when it happens as if coming from the outside. The quieter and more patient, the more open we are when we are sad, the more resolutely does that something new enter into us, the deeper it is absorbed in us, the more certain we are to secure it, and the more certain it is to become our personal destiny…our evolvement will gradually go in that direction: nothing strange shall befall us, but rather that which has already for a long time belonged to us.

…it is possible that we shall gradually learn to recognize that what we call fate emerges from human beings; it does not enter into them from the outside. It is only because so many did not absorb their destinies while they lived in them, did not transform them into themselves, that they did not recognize what emerged from them. Their fate was so strange to them that in their confused fright they believed it must just now have entered into them. For they swore never before to have found anything similar within themselves. As people were mistaken so long about the movement of the sun, so it is that people are yet mistaken about the movement of what is to come. The future stands firm and still…but we are moving in infinite space.

Why should we not encounter difficulties?
To return to the subject of aloneness: It becomes increasingly clear that it is basically not something we can choose to have or not have. We simply are alone. One can only delude one’s self and act as though it were not so — that is all. How much better…that we concede we are solitary beings… Our minds will certainly reel at the thought, for all points on which we could heretofore focus shall be taken from us. There is nothing near and familiar left us; everything is in the distance, unendingly far away.

A person would have a similar feeling, were he…taken from his home and placed on…a high mountain. It would be a feeling of unequaled uncertainty — a vulnerability to a nameless something would nearly destroy him…

Some of these changes cause many to lose all perspective…as with the man on the pinnacle of the mountain…But it is necessary that we experience that also. We must accept our existence to the greatest extent possible; everything, the unprecedented also...That is…the only case of courage required of us: to be courageous in the face of the strangest, the most whimsical and unexplainable thing that we could encounter.

The fact that people have been cowards in that regard has caused infinite harm to life. The experiences that one calls ‘ghosts,’ the entire spirit world, death, all these related things have been forced out of life through daily resistance to such an extent that the senses with which we could grasp them have become atrophied. And that is not even considering the question of God.

The fear of the unexplainable not only impoverished the existence of the individual, but also caused the relationships of one person to another to be limited…For it is inertia alone that causes the unspeakably monotonous and unrenewed human condition to repeat itself again and again. It is the aversion to anything new, any unpredictable experienced, which is believed to be untenable.

Only he who can expect anything, who does not exclude even the mysterious, will have a relationship to life greater than just being alive; he will exhaust his own wellspring of being… …every uncertainty fraught with danger is so much more human. It is the same uncertainty that motivated the prisoners in Edgar Allen Poe’s stories to explore the form of their terrible prisons and not be a stranger to the unspeakable horrors of their presence there.

But we are not prisoners. There are no traps or snares set for us…We are placed into life, into the element best suited to it. Besides, through thousands of years of adaptation, we have acquired such a resemblance to this life, that we, if we stood still, would hardly be distinguishable from our surroundings. We have not reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our own terrors…if we fashion our life according to that principle, which advises us to embrace that which is difficult, then that which appears to us to be the very strangest will become the most worthy of our trust, and the truest.

How could we be capable of forgetting the old myths that stand at the threshold of all mankind, myths of dragons transforming themselves at the last moment into princesses? Perhaps all dragons in our lives are really princesses just waiting to see us just once being beautiful and courageous. Perhaps everything fearful is basically helplessness that seeks our help.

You must not be frightened…when a sadness arises within you of such magnitude as you have never experienced, or when restlessness overshadows all you do, like light and the shadow of clouds gliding over your hand. You must believe that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand. It shall not let you fall.

Why should you want to exclude any anxiety…grief…melancholy from you life, since you do not know what it is that these conditions are accomplishing in you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where everything comes from and where it is headed? You do know that you are in a period of transition and wish for nothing as much as to transform yourself. If some aspect of your life is not well, then consider the illness to be the means for an organism to free itself from something foreign to it. In that case you must help it to be ill and to have its whole illness, to let it break out. That is the course of its progress…

…Do not scrutinize yourself too closely. Do not draw conclusions too quickly from that which is happening to you. Just allow it to happen. Otherwise you might easily begin to look with blame…upon your past, which, of course, is very much a part of everything that you encounter now…The influences of the vagaries, the wishes and the longings of you boyhood upon your present life are not the ones you remember or pass judgment on. The unusual conditions of a lonely and helpless childhood are so difficult, so complicated, vulnerable to so many influences, and at the same time so distant from all real connections with life, that, whenever a vice may have entered, one may not simply call it a vice. One must, in any case, be very careful with that nomenclature. It is often the name of the crime upon which a life shatters, not the nameless and personal act itself at all. It might have been a definite necessity of this person’s life, of which he may simply have availed himself.

The expending of effort seems so important to you only because you value victory too much…It is not the ‘great thing’ that you believe to have achieved, even though you have a right to your feelings. The great thing is that there was something already present—and you were allowed to substitute it in place of your misconceptions—something true and real. Without it your victory also would have just been a mere moral reaction without meaning. As it is, it has become a chapter in your life…

Do you recall, from your childhood on, how very much this life of yours has longed for greatness? ...That is why it does not let up being difficult, but that is also why it will not cease to grow.

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