When you go through any major life transition, you look for anything to help make sense of your emotions, to help you manage that life transition. As a reader, I naturally turned to books – lots of them.  And here is what I learned:

“When a truly great and unique spirit speaks, the lesser ones must be silent”

Written over 100 years ago,  Letters to a Young Poet continues to inspire us.  Whether you are an artist, writer, entrepreneur or looking for answers, you need to read these letters.  They will inspire you, just as they inspired me – most likely in a different way.   That is the power of this little book.

How is a series of letters considered a tool for life transitions?  Think of it more as wisdom from your mentor.  Rilke’s words of wisdom for his friend still relate today – whether starting on your path or changing it. His words truly are timeless.  The 10 letters that form this book are some of the most famous ever written.   They are the work of a great soul: Rainer Maria Rilke

Born December 4, 1987, in Prague, Rainer Maria Rilke is considered one of the great poets of the 20th century. Between 1903 and 1908, Rilke corresponded with Franz Xaver Kappus (1883–1966).  Kappus was a 19-year old officer cadet studying at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt.  Kappus was uncertain about his future career, so he sought Rilke’s advice.  These letters offer insight into the ideas and themes of Rilke’s working process, and philosophy.

It is within this correspondence that I found answers into my own life…

1.  Don’t Read Critiques

“Read a little as possible of aesthetic critiques.  They are either prejudiced views that have become petrified and senseless in their hardened lifeless state, or they are clever word games.  Works of art can be described as having an essence of eternal solitude and an understanding is attainable least of all by critique.  Only love can grasp and hold them and judge them fairly.  When considering analysis, discussion or presentation, listen to your inner self and to your feelings every time.  Allow your judgments their own quiet, undisturbed development, which, as with all progress, must come from deep within and can in no way be forced or hastened.”

Art, writing, any type of work is very personal.  When you’re in the midst of creating, most times it is best to ignore the naysayers.  Trust your mentor, but avoid giving details about your choices to the general public or even your family.   While your family and friends love you, their own fears invade their fine advice.  It is fine to do research to determine the viability of your life transition choices, protect your choices until it has structure and foundation to stand on its own.

2. Be Humble

“Be genuine and without posing.  This is the most difficult task for the true artist. He must always remain innocently unaware of his best virtues (if he does not wish to rob them of their spontaneity and their unaffectedness).  Great artists live inside their work; they do not constantly seek it and court it from amongst the intrusive distractions of daily affairs.  Great writers/artists/entrepreneurs think, feel and speak not through words but through their creations and actions”   

Have you ever meet a person who is all talk – no action?  What did you think about him (or her)?  Your Ego can destroy your work.  Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy; Letting your work speak for you is far more powerful than speaking yourself.  While it’s important as an artist or business person to promote your work; it should be done as authentically as possible. If your work is good, others will speak for you.

3. Stay Close to Nature

“Stay close to nature, to its simplicity to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.  If you will love what seems to be insignificant and will in an unassuming manner, as a servant, seek to win the confidence of what seems poor, then everything will become easier, more harmonious, and somehow more conciliatory.

When Rilke talks about staying close to nature, I immediately thought about how nature helps me emotionally. I find that if I am distracted, and can’t work, going for a walk in nature inspires me.  As well, nature calms me when anxious.  These two attributes are very important for handling life transitions.  What does nature do for you?

However, the more I read this passage, the more insight I gain from it.  Nature is simple; she doesn’t pretend to be anything she isn’t.  It is this simplicity that is so attractive.   The beautiful scent of a rose, or the sweet sound of a bird – even the wind whistling through the trees.  All very simple – and usually taken for granted.  When we try to solve problems – live our lives, complexity usually gets in the way. We, humans, tend to make things complex; making everything more difficult, less harmonious, and definitely not more conciliatory.

I need to remember the simple; whether it’s the simple solution, the easy path or just taking a breath and relax about my life transition from corporate life.

4. Be Patient with Yourself and Your Journey

“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.  Do not now look for the answers.  They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them.  It is a question of experiencing everything.  At present, you need to live the question.  Perhaps without noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day. Transition times are difficult.  Be patient.  Like springtime, we can not control, it comes when it comes.”

These words really speak to me about my life transition. My goal is to quit my corporate job, start my own business, and soon afterward hit the nomadic trail.  There are many things unsolved in my heart!  When I look at my budget forecast, and my to-do list I’m overwhelmed.  Just yesterday, I cried with overwhelm.   I have so many unanswered questions, and I get overwhelmed looking for solutions.  But as Rilke says I need to trust that the Universe will provide that information when I’m ready for it.  It’s about letting go and letting Spring come when it comes.

5. The Challenge

“Everything assigned to us is a challenge; nearly everything that matters is a challenge and everything matters”

While Rilke was referring to one’s relationship with sexuality, and spiritual creativity, he also makes a point many times in the book about challenges.  It is in the difficult times that we find our true essence.  It is easy to do the easy stuff;  what makes us grow is when we challenge and stretch ourselves.  We should not be afraid to do that thing that scares us – in the end if will be our best moments.  During trying times is usually when we find our voice.  Don’t despair, don’t give up – tests happen for a reason.

6. Embrace Silence and Aloneness

“I dislike writing while travelling because I need more than the basic writing implements:  I need quiet and solitude and at least one friendly hour.  Feeling alone, rejoice in that feeling!  While aloneness is not easy to bear, it is great.  What you really need is simply this – aloneness, great inner solitude.  To go within and for hours not to meet anyone – that is what one needs to attain.”

As Rilke mentions many times, it is within the silence that great writing and ideas come.  It is so hard to turn off the noise, both in our minds and surroundings.  Rilke wrote in 1905 about needing silence.  I can’t even image what “noise” he was referring to!  Today, there is so much more “noise” and distractions that it is amazing we get anything accomplished, yet alone greatness.

Going within is powerful.  You are not really alone as your silence allows you to access universal knowledge.  Susan Cain also talks about this power in a LinkedIn Pulse article The Rise of the New Groupthink and the Power of Working Alone 

Both Rilke and Cain have the same belief: solitude is an important key to creativity.  Susan Cain even discusses how we all might want to develop a taste for it; for it is not a trait all people are born with. As an introvert, this is my preferred work mode and have felt that it is not respected within the Corporate world.

It’s interesting that many people are now reevaluating the use of collaboration, and the real power of silence and working alone.  Rilke strongly believed in this power. In our age of technology and instant connectivity, I think it’s even more important.

Personally, when I block out the world, and go within and really listen – that is when I access great ideas.  I find that during these brief moments, the words fly onto the paper (or the computer screen). It is effortless to create a blog post or chapter in my book.  Sadly, these moments are brief. but I truly believe that the more I meditate right before sitting down to write, the quicker and more frequent they will become.

Many bloggers talk about collaboration, working in coffee shops, etc.  But if you look at how the great writers work, it is similar to Rilke’s beliefs.  While it is hard to be alone, it creates amazing results.  Incorporate silence, and aloneness as part of your life transition:  it will help.

7. Look at the world as a Child Does

“Look to the world as a child would see it, reflect on the world that you carry within you. Most adult activities are superficial and not necessarily linked to life.  

We create busy-ness.  As adults we entangle ourselves in too many things, thus losing the special connection that children have.  They can look at simple things with wide-eyed astonishment, and make connections.  It is only when we condition them with school and society’s rules that they lose this connection.  In Buddhism, there is a notion call “Beginner’s Mind”.    It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.  Rilke brings up a good point to look at everything as a child would, for how many times have you made assumptions because you thought you knew something – looking at the world with a beginner’s mind, frees you to truly understand. Another great attribute when dealing with anything, especially your life transition.

8. Don’t Explain Yourself to Others

“Do not expend too much courage or time clarifying your position to others. Observe carefully what wells up within you and place that above everything that you notice around you.

This quote doesn’t really need much explanation.  It is far more important to see how you react to the critics than what the critic actually said.  Criticism, both positive and negative, can create interesting situations for the artist to analyze his own self-doubt, confidence, and true creative path.  Personally, based on past programming, I look to others for confirmation.  Looking for confirmation or clarifying your position to others expends a lot of energy; energy that you could use to build your business or start that creative project.

9. Confront your Doubt

“Your doubt can become a good attribute if you discipline it.  It must become a knowing; it must become the critic.  Ask it, as often as it wishes to spoil something, why something is ugly.  Demand proof of it, test it and you will find it perhaps perplexed and confused.  But don’t give it; demand arguments.  The days will come when doubt will change from a destroyer to become one of your best fellow workers, perhaps the wisest of all that have a part in building your life.”

I love this idea.  We all have doubt.  For me, it appears within the quality of my work. I consistently say  “I am not a fast writer” or “I don’t think this blog post is useful.”  What do you say to yourself?  If you start questioning your Ego (doubt), several things will happen:

  • You will analyze where your weakness really lies (the truth not programming from the past)
  • You can work towards building strength in that area
  • You will start doubting yourself less
  • You can self-edit your work and create stronger pieces

This self-work can apply to writers, artists, and entrepreneurs for any product (blog posts, novels, artwork, business ideas and plans).

Final Thoughts

I wouldn’t say that every letter spoke to me – some had many words of wisdom while others had none.  But this is how I saw Rilke’s work.  For each reader, these letters will be completely different.  The letters speak to that inner poet in each of us.  And each of us has a different poet trying to find its voice.  This book will help you find yours.

While this review highlights Rilke’s wisdom, this is one book you should read for yourself as it will be your experience. The sections that spoke to me relate to what is happening in my life; TRANSITION is obviously foremost on my mind these days.  I suspect that re-reading this book in 1 years time will even be a completely different experience for me.

If you are going through a major life transition, I leave you with one last quote from Rilke…

“It is always my wish that you might find enough patience within yourself to endure, and enough innocence to have faith… Believe me, life is right in all cases”

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