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Living the questions

Thursday, December 3, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love
the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now
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.”

            Rainer Maria Rilke ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ (1934)

I've read this quote so many times. In the past I've read it and aspired to love the questions, even while my heart and mind seemed determined to yearn after the answers. We live in a society that believes in solutions and that sees the questions not as a place to reside but as a barrier to get through as quickly as possible. Recently I rushed headlong towards a resolution to uncertainty. I leapt to embrace a solution despite the fact that it didn't fit.

I woke up the morning after this moment of decisiveness and felt out of sorts and out of place. I was not ready to live this answer. Instead I decided to keep company with the questions for a little longer. It was a wonderful relief.

At first I wondered whether this was the relief of avoidance. I wondered whether I had simply turned away from the hard questions and chosen to live in blissful, willful ignorance. I wondered how I would know the difference.

But as I sat in meditation one morning I realised that I already knew the difference between avoiding the question and keeping its company. As long as the questions were with me, as long as I was willing to sit with them and observe the feelings, thoughts and sensations that came up for me in their company, I was living the questions. 

Three weeks later I don't know if I am any closer to an answer. But in the meantime living with the questions has turned out to be a refreshing change. Now that I don't feel the terrible pressure of making a choice, I can relax and really pay attention.


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9 Responses to "Living the questions"

  1. amy says:

    “I already knew the difference between avoiding the question and keeping its company”… i love this. thank you for sharing this insight.

  2. cath says:

    that’s exactly what i needed today. thankyou zen friend.

  3. Mel says:

    That is such a great post and so fitting to the situation I am in at the moment! Love it!

  4. gem says:

    yes, yes, yes to this…
    always grateful for you/your being,

  5. claire says:

    All my favorite Rilke quotes are from that book, though oddly it took me a while to realize when I’d see the quotes other places even though I’d read the book a few times. It’s chock full of good stuff and I think you’ve got this one down.
    Living with the questions versus avoidance is something I’ve struggled with, but these past couple of months though things aren’t really different, they feel different. An acceptance of the not knowing and a willingness to try moving ahead anyway.
    I hope this makes a bit of sense. In any case, here’s to Rilke!

  6. pen* says:

    this was a really thought provoking post and until i read it, i never realised i was often asking myself the same question: how do i know the difference between avoidance and “living the question”. you have given me insight into this. thank you 🙂

  7. that quote is one i came across earlier this year and it seems to pop up again and again as a reminder to me.
    i guess i need to pay attention to it again, as i find it here.
    i love your realisation that you already knew the difference between avoiding the question and keeping its company. that’s so awesome.

  8. Swirly says:

    It is a delicate balance between taking action – making a choice – and sitting still in a room with all the choices in front of you, considering them, with all the questions they bring up. As always, you inspire me to remember both are necessary.

  9. Richenda says:

    “the relief of avoidance” – I love this phrase. As soon as I read it I realized that I have been carrying this nagging doubt about one of my recent decisions to stay with a question instead of force a solution.
    Thank you again for writing what I needed to read. You have a real knack for that!

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