angry_disregard (angry_disregard) wrote,

Rilke: Letters on Life: On Work

Perhaps creating something is nothing but an act of profound remembrance.
This is the one experience that has been confirmed repeatedly and to which I have progressed slowly after a fearful, despondent childhood: that the true advances of my life could not be brought about by force but occur silently, and that I prepare for them while working quietly and with concentration on the things that on a deep level I recognize to be my tasks.
Before they had a genuine opportunity to truly get to know work, people had already invented leisure as a diversion from and the opposite of false work. If they had waited, alas, and if they had been patient for a good while, then true work would have been slightly more within their reach and they would have realized that work cannot have an opposite just as the world cannot have one, or god, or any living soul. For it is everything, and what it is not is nothing and nowhere.
Get up cheerfully on days you have to work, if you can. And if you can’t, what keeps you from doing so? Is there something heavy that blocks the way? What do you have against heaviness and difficulty? That it can kill you. So it is powerful and strong. This much you know about it. And what do you know about things that are light and easy? Nothing. We have no memory whatsoever of that which was light and easy. So even if you could choose, ought you not to actually choose what is difficult? Don’t you feel how it is related to you?...And are you not in agreement with nature when you make this choice? Don’t you think a little sapling would have an easier time by staying in the soil? Things that are light and things that are heavy don’t actually exist. Life itself is heavy and difficult. And you do actually want to live? Then you are mistaken in calling it your duty to take on difficulties. It’s your survival instinct that pushes you to do it. So what is duty then? It is duty to love what is difficult…You have to be there when it needs you.
One may do anything: only this corresponds to the full scope of life. But one ought to be certain that nothing is done out of opposition, to defy obstructing circumstances, while thinking of others, or based on some kind of ambition. You must be certain that you are acting out of pleasure, strength, courage, or a sheer sense of abandon: that you have to act this way.
In the boundless heavens of work we are afforded one form of bliss that surpasses all others: that something first experienced much earlier is returned to us and can now be grasped and assimilated into the self with the love that has in the meantime grown more just. That is when our divisions begin to be adjusted, when something from the past returns as if from the future; something accomplished as something yet to be completed. And this is the first experience that positions us, out of sequence, at that spot in our heart that is in space and always equidistant from everything and subject to rising and to setting because of the unceasing movement around it…
A particular life’s greatness and intensity might be attributed precisely to its willingness to entertain excessive wishes that would drive as if from the inside action after action, effect after effect into life without much recollection of these wishes’ original aim and intent. Purely elemental, they transformed themselves like cascading water into decisive and genuine acts, immediate existence and cheerful optimism, all depending on what various occurrences and opportunities required.
I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spent in the most profound activity. Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.
            In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.
The widely asked question whether one “believes in god” (as we hear it today) seems to me based on the wrong premise, as if god could be reached at all by means of human striving and overcoming. The term belief has acquired the meaning of something strenuous; especially within Christianity it has assumed this connotation to a degree that one might fear that a kind of reluctance toward god is the soul’s original state. But nothing could be less true. Anyone may take stock of the moment when his interaction with god originates in inexpressible rapture; or he might seize in profound reflection upon one often inconspicuous instant wehre he had first been moved by god, independent of the influences of his surroundings and often in opposition to them. It will be difficult to identify a life wehre this experience does not strongly impose itself sooner or later, but it imposes itself with such immeasurably gentle force that most people, being pressured by more explicit realities, do not register it. Or at least it does not enter their mind that this could be a fact of religion because they have been raised to receive religious stimuli only within shared conventions and not where their most solitary and proper essence is in question…
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