Fear of the Inexplicable

By Rainer Maria Rilke

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 ofthe 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 dungeonsand 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

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  1. Rilke – one of my favorites.

    Obviously, this is applicable for someone who suffers from anxiety. But just as much it is applicable to this diffuse fear of the unknown (inside themselves), that drives certain people to project their own terrifying unknown into others, describe it as the enemy, in terms of “symptoms” and “illnesses” – such as “anxiety”… – and fight it, fight (their own) human nature.

  2. Good article. I’m trying to come to terms with anxiety, that in 2006 actually made me suicidal. I’m not sure why it happened, but at that exact time, they were doing a medication change from seroquel to geodon. But long after this, I had anxiety, that was really making me miserable. I had no relief from pills of any sort.

    I’m trying to think of my anxiety as a positive thing. It made me from a person who used to sit and watch TV all day long, to a person who force herself to exercise, and to form a social network.

    I think, wouldn’t it have been a waste, if I had spent my whole life watching TV? So, then, I don’t think of it as a horrific terror, but as something that has ultimately changed my life for the better.

    Great article.


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