Fear of the Inexplicable

We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any 
way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible 
in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded 
of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most 
singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. 
That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done 
life endless harm; the experiences that are called “visions,” 
the whole so-called “spirit-world,” death, all those things 
that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been 
so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could 
have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.

But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished
 the existence of the individual; the relationship between 
one human being and another has also been cramped by it, 
as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of
 endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the
 bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone 
that is responsible for human relationships repeating 
themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and 
unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable 
experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.

But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes 
nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation 
to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively
 from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of 
the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident
 that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a 
place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and
 down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous
 insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in
 Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons 
and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode.

We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about
 us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us.
 We are set down in life as in the element to which we best 
correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of
 years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we
 hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be 
distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to
 mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, 
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; 
are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we
 arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us 
that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now
 still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust 
and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those
 ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into 
princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses 
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps 
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless 
that wants help from us.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

4 thoughts on “Fear of the Inexplicable

  1. OM says:

    Awesome thoughts/perspectives. I think my father did some extensive translations of Rilke, but while my father was alive I never read any of Rilke, so now I will never know whether my father resonated with such perspectives. It would surprise me, but I didn’t really know my father as a person very deeply….

    Anyway, I am going to look for an opportunity to cross-post this somewhere.Love it! Thank you, Lauren!

    I’ve heard good things about Rilke. Are you studying him extensively?

    • Lauren Worsh says:

      Hi Om,

      I’m not really scholarly inclined, so never seem to study any particular person or field extensively, but Rilke yields incredible depth and wisdom and has been a companion of sorts for a long time and at very significant times of my life. His wisdom, I think, was profound. Do you know any of his poetry? Have you read “Letters to a Young Poet”?

      This is very interesting about your father! Was he the sort of person to take on serious work that did not resonate for him? Do you know?

  2. caretaker412 says:

    Lord, that is an invitation to ever inspiring outlooks. So much is conveyed in such a brief space and time-I love that he encourages bravery in the face of challenge. So much depends on our response for to see the princess through the dragon. Fear is aversion but compassion has a greater patience and is awakening. When I invoke that kind of openness, I often marvel at the results. Things that seemed impossible somehow inexplicably arise in a transformational sense; as if combining a disposition of curiosity and charity were a sort of recipe for revelation.

    • Lauren Worsh says:

      So beautiful, Doug. I love how you invoke the sense of possibility in your observations. I notice this with you often, that quality of commitment to expansiveness, wholeness. “So much depends” indeed on us recognizing and remembering that “things that seem impossible somehow inexplicably arise” transformationally if we are willing to be subject to revelation!

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