What Rilke Teaches Us about Conflict and Suffering

It’s the moments of chaos that open us up.

Beth Bradford, Ph.D.
6 min readJan 31


Old handwritten letters
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Rainer Maria Rilke’s ideas from Letters to a Young Poet emphasize the importance of individual creativity and the pursuit of personal fulfillment through artistic expression. He encouraged the young poet to embrace solitude and to develop a deep, intimate relationship with the world, using their experiences and emotions as raw material for their work.

Rilke also stressed the value of perseverance and patience, reminding the young poet that true artistic growth is a slow and gradual process. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a poet, this work can teach us a lot about ourselves. Let’s start with this gem:

How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the 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.

After reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Jung’s idea of the shadow. In short, the shadow is a part of us that emerges — a dragon — when something sets us off. It’s that person who talks and behaves unlike himself, like Will Smith at the 2022 Oscars, who said, “I don’t know what got into me.” It’s a part of us that’s unhealed. It’s a wound that chose to go into hiding — or we chose to hide it because it was too painful to face at that moment. It wakes up whenever someone pushes a certain button. It’s almost like hypnosis, where the magician says certain words that make you do something you don’t want.

Even St. Paul’s letter to the Romans says something similar:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it…



Beth Bradford, Ph.D.

Former TV person, college professor and media researcher. Ironman triathlete, meditation teacher and yoga instructor. https://www.brad4d-wellness.com