May 24, 2011

About Feelings

Painting by Marc Chagall

All feelings that gather you up and lift you are pure. If they twist and tear at your being, they are not. All tenderness you may feel for your childhood is good. Every emotion that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is good. Every intensification is good, if it seizes you entire and is not an intoxication or delusion, but a joy you can see into, clear to the bottom. Do you understand what I mean?

Furnborg, Jonsered, Sweden, November 4, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet


  1. Yes, I understand what you're saying, my friend.

    But tell me, why is it so easy to get lost in the ones that twist and tear? There is something in us that feeds on that, I think. I often feel more drawn to the negative emotions, like to food that is bad for my heart. Somehow they taste good for a while, delicious even, but the long term effect is bad. My mom used to say, "You get hungry for what you feed yourself."

  2. On the other hand, I appreciate the concept of "feelings as friends" and that we need to pay attention to the negative ones for their important messages. Most often, when I encounter feelings again and again that make me feel bad, I have to change my belief about something. And that's good.

  3. The qualifier at the end is so important ... Rilke knew too well what it was to become "lost on the mountains of the heart." With gestation, maturation: to grow fully into one's feeling. I don't think there can be joy without acceptance, without the courage to say Yes free of Yeah, But ....

  4. it's interesting to me ruth that people (myself included of course) concern themselves more with the value and significance of negative feelings than of positive feelings. i too am intrigued to know why negative feelings arrive and swirl about me such that i am compelled to examine them and understand their sourcing while the same cannot be said for the many good feelings i experience which are like dust devils on the field of my feelings - spinning wildly for a while and then mysteriously gone. steven

  5. A favorite expression of my is "Our minds return to negative feelings like our tongue returns to a broken tooth"
    I struggle to let my negative thoughts go. I ruminate on them far too much, twisting and tearing as they go. It is in the positive I experience joy and am edified and so you would think that I would gravitate towards that. Therein lies the struggle.
    Part of my spiritual practice is to regularly note the negative feelings
    as they come up, and let them go, with the breathe.
    And of course, some days I succeed better than others. Some days, I don't succeed at all

  6. I would be nice to read the context of this excerpt. It seems like it could vary greatly in meaning if they were corresponding about sobriety or hashing out theories on oedipus complexes that Rilke would later write flaming letters to Freud because Sigmund may have been a role model (regarding business practices)for Bill Gates.

    after the success of The Cornet I imagine Rilke no longer cared about the ordeal.

  7. Myself, I'm assailed by both good and bad feelings without any seeming choice in the matter, as are all of us, even the most diligent Buddhist. And this Buddhist would say it's how we deal with all these disparate feelings that matters: recognising them, being intensely aware of them, using them, controlling them (yes, it is possible I've found!) This may sound at first a little inhuman, cold and manipulative - but actually it's quite the reverse in practice: the positive emotions are even more positive and intense!

    As always with Rilke, it's good to look carefully at what he's really saying here. What is his definition of good and positive feelings and emotions? These are feelings which buoy you up, they give you purity, joy and clarity, they don't ravage your soul, they accentuate the positive aspects to yourself and your history (even exaggerate it) and increase your self-esteem, they bring a kind of ecstasy of intensity (providing they are the real thing, not some froth or delusion), they are transparent - as crystal clear as an unpolluted river or an unmuddied well.

    I just wondered how you can tell if an intense feeling is a delusory one or not?

  8. Robert, I don't quite trust my mind to keep up with you and the others here (I tend to feel the world more than understand it with my mind), but my response to your question is a question that my mother used to ask me. If I ever said "I'm disillusioned," she'd ask, "What were your illusions?"

    That leads to the question (which may be what you're getting at), How do we know what is illusion and what is not? Sometimes I think that my deep joy in nature is an illusion, even though I am restored by Her whenever I go out. But for me illusions are when I build my castles of bliss on ego cards, or upon things I hope and imagine to be true that really are not.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!