Posted by: Long Huynh | May 14, 2009

A Thought on the Art of Living the Beginner’s Life

“So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.”

This excerpt is from the first letter in a series of Letters to a Young Poet written by Rainer Maria Rilke, a late 19th century poet in response to a request for critique. His advices were addressed to an aspiring poet – a beginner, but could be easily applicable today to an aspiring blogger such as myself or someone looking for the “art of living the beginner’s life” such as my blogger buddy, Christiaan Hillen at his blog Mind the Beginner.

Let’s read on:

“No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

“Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty. Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.”

“What else can I tell you? It seems to me that everything has its proper emphasis; and finally I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.”

Even if written more than a century ago, Rilke’s thinking still resonates very much with me, and in several ways:

1. On Writing (Blogging)Avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary. Take the subject of blogging for example. There are too many bloggers writing about “How to blog successfully” or “How to make money from your blog”. Unless this is a subject that you are passionate about and your power to create something individual is great and fully ripened, it’s better to leave it to others.

2. On The Art of LivingGo into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows. The art of living is to live a full life in every aspect, be it personal, professional or social. Unless you are a narcissist or a hermit, chances are that you spend the majority of your awakened hours interacting with others, reacting to their opinions and emotions. Even when you manage to have some time of your own, you risk spending it on the quick and easy – the mind candy (watching a reality show, reading a detective novel …). Getting in touch with the deep sources of life, either through reflection or meditation, would make you more conscious of self and more grateful for the ordinary things around you. Writing and sharing them with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity would then complete the art of living.

3. On Beginner’s LifeKeep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development. Life is a journey full of desire, expectation and aspiration. Throughout the journey, each new place or event provides a new vista and experience. Even if it seems that we have learned something, there is always a new element present. That’s why people of faith have made the annual pilgrimage, Santiago de Compostela being the most written about. That’s why practicing Tendai Buddhists performed their annual “kaihogyo”. One of them, Jim Curry, once observed: “I’m always walking the same places I’ve never been before.” On this life journey then, everyone of us, regardless of age or station in life, is a forever beginner. Having the humility and the curiosity of a beginner would keep you growing, silently and earnestly, until the very end of your earthly life. 

What are your thoughts about Rainer Maria Rilke the poet and his advices? Please write and share.


Note: This post is unusual and personal, written in response to a question from a blogger buddy, Mind the Beginner. It will be moved to a companion blog called The Q Force when that one is fully set up.



  1. Thanks for passing this one on! Great information isn’t it…

  2. I like the thought about writing your everyday life experiences. Those were the things I thought were too trivial to write about when younger. Then they became too personal (and too suggestive that I am a failed individual). Now I am discovering that there is power in facing my imagined (and real) failings and making something better – maybe just me but maybe someone else as well.

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