“You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems…I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now… There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself… confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write…ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write: Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if the 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…”
In the passage above, German poet Rainer Maria Rilke is responding to an aspiring poet’s query regarding the quality of his work. “Am I a good writer/poet?” “Do I have what it takes to succeed?” “How does my writing compare to yours and to others?” Rilke disparages such questions and points the young man in the only direction in which he will find the reassurance he is seeking – within.
Rilke urges the young poet to “confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” Not many of us would feel we have to die if we are not able to follow our dreams, but there is a kind of death we may experience if we are not true to ourselves – the kind that makes it difficult to look in the mirror. What is it I must choose if I am to live with integrity, is a question that can arise in both our personal and professional lives. Should I speak up or keep quiet? Should I act now or remain patient? Should I hold tightly to my beliefs or loosen my grip? What must I do or not do, say or not say, in order to be aligned with my deepest truth and values?
Rilke’s advice is good counsel not only regarding major life directions, but when it comes to making daily decisions as well. He encourages us to go inside, to connect with our heart, and to discover there what gives us a sense of peace and passion. His counsel is consistent with that of author and spiritual teacher Carlos Castaneda who writes: “Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think is necessary, then ask yourself, and yourself alone…Does this path have a heart?