Let life happen to you — Rainer Maria Rilke told a Young poet, Franz Xaver Kappus when he expressed his doubts about his poetry to Rainer in a letter.
Out of all the golden words that Rainer said, this advice struck me the most when I read the twelve-letter correspondence between him and Franz. Those letters are a brilliant read. But calling them a read would be undermining them.
The art that those twelve letters hold in their hearts thrives with life and hope and advice. That art is like that thunder which roars at night. That art is like that lightning which dances across the grey sky. That art is like that twilight which doesn’t know any bounds.
I started the day thinking about how my roommate had bickered about the hall fan that I had left switched-on to dry my clothes on a humid day. Then I started reading Rainer, and the profound words of that great writer flowed to me from the books and lifted me above the mundane, and soon I was drifting through the universe.
I floated through everything, and everything floated through me.
I noticed the beauty around me. The omnipresent beauty that flows like invisible air and settles like self-effacing dust. We just have to feel that grace. We have to let it play with our skin. We have to let it tingle our soft hair on our round cheeks. We have to let it caress our tresses. We have to find it amongst our things. We have to thud it off to let it settle all over again.
After reading Rainer, I was ecstatic. I was short of words. I wanted to pour gold over this white screen. I had an avalanche of creativity blasting out of me, while my fingers failed to match up with the rising heartbeat.
My feet had turned into wings that took me far from the tensions of rent. Of getting published. Of being disciplined. Of confrontations. Of jobs. Of social structures.
Work and routine and money and anything else that might dig a furrow in the valley of my forehead seemed to have never existed.
Those were wings of freedom. Wings of art. Wings of emotion. Wings of solitude. Wings of words. Wings which lifted me and hovered in front of a mirror so that I could look at myself for long.
And I saw doubt. A lot of doubt.
We all doubt. Before reading Rainer, I could never argue about the logical importance of doubt. I treated it as an enemy. Of my soul. Of my desires. Of my thirst. Of my talent. Of my productivity. Of my life.
As if my art was a tiny goldfish swimming just under the deep-blue surface of a peaceful, pristine lake, and the eagle of doubt could glide and pounce upon the goldfish and fly away with it and devour it, sooner than my art could find its way across the fathomless ocean.
If I wrote poetry, I doubted my story-writing skills.
If I wrote a structured article, I worried about the freely flowing art-form.
If I wrote well, I doubted if I could write better.
If I read, I doubted if I could write like the others.
Though doubt had almost always stayed by my side, I had never treated doubt as a friend.
But then I read Rainer. He said,
And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing. It must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers- perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life.
You must be your strongest critique. But reason with yourself. Why do you think your work isn’t good enough? What didn’t you pay attention to? What were you obsessed with?
And you would see yourself arguing with your doubt. But let that be a healthy discussion. Demand reasoning and only accept logic.
Don’t compare yourself with others. Why won’t your prose be the next Alchemist? Why won’t your painting hang next to the Mona Lisa? Why won’t your idea become the next Google?
Because your work would be yours. And only you can dive into the depths from where your creativity rises, so only you can understand it, only you know what it wants to say, only you realize its sorrows and happiness, only you are aware of the reality it has lived and the struggles it has defied.
Only you can write the story of your creativity. Only you can sing the sonnets of its pain.
Let your doubt follow you but never let it boss you around. Think of it as a colleague.
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Doubts in art are subjective.
We cannot anchor the success of art on objective achievements like an appreciative comment, a loyal reader, a publishing opportunity, a book, some royalty.
We didn’t start practicing art for any of these. We chose art because we wanted to express ourselves. We desired to subdue the mortality of the world (even if for a few seconds or minutes) while being able to appreciate that mortal nature more than we appreciate anything else.
For Art is a way of living – Rainer said in one of these letters.
He said that you should not write if you think you can stay alive without writing. And I think that is true for everything passionate that we do.
We should not love if we can survive without love — for otherwise, our incomplete devotion gnaws at our loved ones.
We should not sing if we can survive without singing — for else our voice won’t ring with the truth, or with the absence of it.
We should not paint if we can survive without painting — for the nakedness then would be roped, though the clothes would be invisible.
If you love art, then practice it. Let the doubt linger. Work with it.
Many storms would strike you on your journey.
Sometimes I don’t understand my feelings about writing. That’s when I read other writers’ self-reflection. What did they feel? Why did they write? How did they succeed (whatever success is)?
When I read Rainer’s poetry or Tagore’s childhood dreams or Ruskin’s wanderings in the Himalayas, I hallucinate.
But what magic do their black words cast? Why can they make me cry and laugh at the same time?
Because writing rose from the core being of those writers: the one who couldn’t help but write. The ones who looked for answers and appreciations inside them rather than searching outside. The ones who were patient and who believed.
And that becomes my solace.
“For what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring your outer and inner lives into harmony or about all the other things that oppress you:- just the wish that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may have gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people.
During those storms, patience and simplicity would hold your hand. Patience to endure and simplicity to have faith.
If you look deep inside, they say you find it all. But you have to be honest and ruthless.
The difficult scares us. It wrinkles our skin. It trembles our hands. It vanishes our smiles.
But if we practice what we perceive as challenging, we could become more confident. We would have to have a defiant patience that neither whimpers nor withers when the harsh winds of the world beat against it.
And as for the rest, let life happen to you.
“And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always – Rainer Maria Rilke
Life is in the right always. Though you have to find a path for yourself. But if you keep seeking, nothing would come to you. Your mind and heart would be like the rippling water of the pond. Truth finds you when you stop searching. Then you would be able to see all the reflections clean and clear.
Let your life flow to you. Let your art flow to you. Ride their waves. Bathe in them. See where you fall and why you fall. But rise again.
You have to trust.
You have to doubt.
You have to have the patience to endure and the simplicity to believe.
And that is all you need.
Rainer shone like the golden sun in the sky, and the blue water sparkled in the sunlight. The goldfish looked up to the sky, frolicked around, flitted from one alga to another, and forgot all the fears that had clenched her fins. She started thinking of the eagle as a friend, the one who would guide her on her way.
I thank Rainer.
I take pride in my doubt.
I have befriended my sleeplessness.
I treat art as life.
I have found a company in solitude.
And I let life happen.
Let the wings of life take you wherever they want to.
Do you think you always try to control your life or you let life happen?