Living the Questions

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

–Ranier Maria Rile

Letters to a Young Poet


Be patient toward all that is unsolved within your heart. Yeah, right.

Because patience is something we are all busy cultivating, in this culture of instant gratification. Because patience is something we humans are so good at right from the start – ever been around a young child who wants something? Yes, patience is a virtue we only possess if we actively seek and practice it, because we are not (most of us) born patient.

Lacking patience, how does one live within the questions long enough for the inner self to discern, then make known, the answers? It is not easy. Have you ever had an itch that would not go away, despite extreme bodily contortions to reach and scratch it? Living with the internal itchiness of unresolved questions can be truly uncomfortable. I’ve been given the advice to trust my gut, which is fine if your gut is a trustworthy ally. Mine tends to be a trickster, responding from fear but pretending otherwise. (And then prompting me to eat because food will make me feel better.)

Rilke’s suggestion that, gradually, without realizing it, we might live into the answers someday isn’t particularly comforting. I mean, how are we supposed to move forward without answers?  Steve Jobs, in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, uses the image of connecting the dots. That each decision, each step we take, is a dot. He goes on to say that the dots cannot ever be connected moving forward, they can only be connected looking backward, in retrospect. We have to keep choosing and trust that the dots will connect.

My tricksy gut tells me he’s right. Cultivate the patience to wait for the answers to make themselves known, while trusting that the choices I make in the meantime will connect in a coherent way someday. Remaining where I am because I am afraid to move forward without all the answers, may seem safe. But the truth is, I’m just stuck. To get unstuck, I need to cultivate my inner Wile E. Coyote (from the Roadrunner cartoons). I need to be willing to keep moving forward right off the edge of the canyon into the unknown. Now, Wile E. always looks down, and in doing so loses his faith that he can make it to the other side, causing him to plummet to the canyon floor. That’s where the trust part comes in: take a step and keep going, trusting that I’ll get to the next dot. Because I will. Even when Wile E. Coyote falls, he gets back up and tries again in the next episode.


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