The following advice is taken from the eighth letter Rilke wrote in 1904, and it explores how sadness can transform people.
Rainer Maria Rilke: how to use our sadness to evolve /
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart and try to love the question.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
“It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis,” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke to the young Franz Xaver Kappus, with whom he maintained an epistolary correspondence for over five years. “Because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us.”
Rilke analyzes the subject of sadness, and the loneliness that accompanies him in almost every single one of his letters, which, beyond being meant for Kappus only, a man of the army, allude to all of us in the most profound sense. In her eighth letter there is a rich selection of advice, or perhaps more accurately, meditations, that are worth considering when we feel clouded by the omnipresent ghost of melancholy. Comparing emotions to the architecture of a house for example, or to a crossroad, or with measurements and distances, is a good way of understanding them. When we feel a great sadness, we become transformed as a house is when a guest enters it. “And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad”, Rilke wrote.
The more quiet, patient and sincere we are in our sadness, the more profoundly and definitely we will be impacted by the new. By truly making it our own and truly accepting it, it becomes our destiny.
The importance of loneliness, according to him, is not something we can choose or refuse. We are loners. The poet speaks about the possibility of making ourselves believe that this is not so, a task that most people are willing to go through just to avoid getting lost in the infrastructural changes that happen around them. “It will, of course, make us dizzy; for all points that our eyes used to rest on are taken away from us, there is no longer anything near us, and everything far away is infinitely far.”
This is the transformed architecture we mentioned before. Solitude is such a great change that it extends unto the physical world. Walls can no longer be removed to make us feel that we are not there, that we cannot inhabit the room that contained us before.
He would feel he was falling or think he was being catapulted out into space or exploded into a thousand pieces: what a colossal lie his brain would have to invent in order to catch up with and explain the situation of his senses. That is how all distances, all measures, change for the person who becomes solitary; many of these changes occur suddenly and then, as with the man on the mountaintop, unusual fantasies and strange feelings arise, which seem to grow out beyond all that is bearable.
Many of the changes which Rilke speaks of occur suddenly and roughly, and then unimaginable apprehensions emerge, odd feelings that seem to surpass what is humanly bearable. “But it is necessary”, he suggests. “We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can”. In his letter he emphasizes that humans are cowards when it comes to inexplicable or abstract thinks like solitude, and this has deeply hindered humankind. In other words, cowardliness has slowed down our evolutionary process and has circumscribed human relations. “For it is not only indolence that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new, inconceivable experience, which we don't think we can deal with.”
The remainder of the letter —and all of his other letters for that matter—, come to the same conclusion: sadness is a possession that must be received. We must be patient. So you mustn’t be afraid “if sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you?”
Rilke, like Borges, Cavafis and many others, is categorical when he says that courage is the only thing that truly matters. “We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within. 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.”
The letters are an arsenal of wisdom that, by speaking to our most “human” emotions, are directed at every single one of us, they make us reflect and perhaps change our own perspective. But Rilke himself made it very clear that “nobody can give you advice and help you, nobody. There is only one path. Go towards yourself.”Tagged: Rainer Maria Rilke, writers, inspiration, sadness