There are times when I just don’t know.
What to do for the best? What to do at all? Which path to follow? How to make a bit of progress? How to get done what I want to get done, but can’t seem to start, or continue?
I’ve tried having a good think.
Writing down the pros and cons.
Asking a friend.
Setting a deadline.
I’m not convinced any of these work, though they might help shift the ideas along. But they seldom deliver answers.
This week, mulling over the questions of how to find out where I want to go with Beyond 60, and how to get there, I was given a timely reminder of a beautiful piece of wisdom written by early 20th-century Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in his book: Letters to a Young Poet. Rilke wrote:
…be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Notice the wording. It isn’t ‘Live With the Questions’ – which carries a note of resignation ‘I suppose I’ll just have to live with this uncertainty’, and a sense of giving up on finding an answer. It is Live the Questions.
What an interesting idea. How do I go about living my questions? I simply do my best to inhabit them, examine them with curiosity, keep them in mind when reading, tie them to a string and let them float, sip them in my glass of wine, take them along on a walk, relax under a blanket with them, give them my attention and my intention, and at the same time leave them to drift gently in the background.
Above all, I don’t fret over them. Let them be. As poet Mary Oliver says, ‘Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.’
The one thing that put me off Rilke’s words was the implication that answers might not emerge until ‘some distant day’. At Beyond 60, I’m not so keen on waiting that goes on into the distance.
But strangely, I’ve found that answers bubble up naturally and sometimes very swiftly, if I live the questions, without prodding them.
Have you tried living a question? What happened? Please leave a comment below.