Great art occurs when harmony exists through unity and balance. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke contributes to the argument, suggesting that harmony manifests itself when there is an alignment between our outer and inner lives. Rilke further suggests that doubt occurs when we question this relationship.
While our outer life is clear to us (our conscious, ego self), the inner life is not so clear as, amongst other things it contains feelings and experiences that have caused sadness, which, because they are painful, we stuff deep into our subconscious. Rilke argues the need to dig into the inner life and “ask yourself whether these large sadnesses haven’t rather gone right through you…”. In Letter # 8 Rilke suggests “If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys…….. It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing.”. Rilke argues “that is why it is important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad…… [and] the quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadness, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own….”.
If solitude is the key, it is necessary to accept being alone. Rilke offers “We can delude ourselves about this and act as if it were not true……. But how much better is it to recognize that we are alone; yes, even to begin from that realization”. Rilke offers that “works of art are of an infinite solitude” and therefore you must work to “love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you…… Your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths…”.
But it takes courage to be alone. It requires that we accept we have no reasons to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. Rilke suggests “if [our world] has terrors, [we have to accept they] are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience”. When sad, it is natural to search our inner world to find answers from the past. Rilke suggests “don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you to look with blame at your past, which naturally has a share in everything that now meets you….”. With that understanding in mind, Rilke goes on to ask: “[but] why would you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression since after all you dont know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going?”. Rilke concludes that “… you mustn’t be frightened if a 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….”.
So, in great moments of sadness, embrace solitude and accept loneliness as a means to identify with the sadness and create art that aligns our outer life with our inner life. As Rilke so beautifully stated “to let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to be an artist: in understanding as in creating.”.