Rilke on the connection of spiritual and physical through sexuality

Well, lovely readers, I am back in California and getting back into regular life after my second and final session of training in spiritual direction.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the last three weeks of guest posts as much as I have! We will continue to have Five Questions on… every Friday for as long as we still have willing participants.  Everyone is welcome, so please feel free to share your responses and add your voice to the conversation.

I had some grand ideas for launching back into regular posting here at HBTB, but I’m afraid I’ve suffered from technical difficulties (three laptops in three weeks!).  For today, let’s enjoy this little snippet from the ever-wise Rainer Maria Rilke on the connection of the spiritual and the physical through experiencing our sexuality.

In the Fourth Letter of Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke writes:

We can recall that all beauty in animals and plants is a silent and enduring form of love and longing.  We can see the animal just as we perceive the plant, patiently and willingly uniting, multiplying, and growing, not from physical desire, not from physical grief, rather from adapting to what has to be.  That existing order transcends desire and grief and is mightier than will and resistance.  The earth is full of this secret down to her smallest things.  Oh, that we would only receive this secret more humbly, bear it more earnestly, endure it, and feel how awesomely difficult it is, rather than to take it lightly.

Oh, that we might hold in reverence our fertility, which is but one, even if it seems to be either spiritual or physical. Spiritual creativity originates from the physical. They are of the same essence — only spiritual creativity is a gentler, more blissful, and more enduring repetition of physical desire and satisfaction.  The desire to be a  creator, to give birth, to guide the growth process is nothing without its constant materialization in the world, nothing without the thousandfold consent of things and animals.  Its enjoyment is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is filled with inherited memories of millions of instances of procreation and births. In one thought of procreation a thousand forgotten nights of love are resurrected and that thought is fulfilled in grandeur and sublimity…

Perhaps the sexes are more closely related than one would think.  Perhaps the great renewal of the world will consist of this, that man and woman, freed of all confused feelings and desires, shall no longer seek each other as opposites, but simply as members of a family and neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to simply, earnestly, patiently, and jointly bear the heavy responsibility of sexuality that has been entrusted to them.

Thoughts? Questions? Reactions? Share in the comment box below.

About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on May 6, 2013, in Equality, Physicality, Sexuality, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Hi Laura. Thanks for visiting and sharing with me what you enjoyed about my site! They were very encouraging words. I checked out yours as well. Such a calming and soothing opening page. Very nice. And I really liked your About page. It’s warming for the reader, like me, to get to know more about who you are- you did a very good job with that- it feels homey and comfortable. It would be great to stay in touch. Perhaps we can share with one another the beginnings of our journeys on the path as spiritual directors. I plan to begin my journey this summer with working on creating a space in my home for meeting with and welcoming directees . . . we’ll see how that goes . . . .

    • Hi Gina, and thanks to you, too. I figured out the word I was trying to come up with when I said “whimsical.” I think “graceful” gets more to the heart of it. Your ministry must be very grace-filled. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about my site, too. I went through a number of drafts of the About page, so it’s so nice to hear you liked it. I would love to share as we both get started. Maybe we can transition to email. You can reach me at And I’d love to see a picture of your space once you get it set up.

      • Thanks, Laura! I will send you an email soon, so you can have mine as well. I will look forward to contacting you soon. Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

  2. Thanks for this Laura! Love Rilke and spiritual direction! I just completed my training as well in New Mexico this last week. I wish you well on your journey and a rich companionship with everyone you serve!

    • Hi Gina, So nice to meet you. I’m glad you liked the excerpt. What program were you trained with?

      • Hey, Laura! I just finished training with Stillpoint. It’s based in Pasadena, California, but has an intensives option at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM. Where did you train?

      • Oh yes, I’m familiar with Stillpoint and know several directors who trained there. I lived in Pasadena for 5 years and still commute there for work occasionally. I didn’t realize they did training in NM, too. Is that where you’re setting up your practice? I trained at the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction at the Redemptorist Retreat Center in Tucson, AZ.

      • No. I actually live on Whidbey Island in Washington. It was just a better set-up for me to do a commute and intensives over 2 years. Did you enjoy your experience at Hesychia?

      • I love Washington! That’s quite a change in climate from New Mexico. I did enjoy Hesychia. It was a whirlwind of information because I chose to take all four one-week intensives at once, but well worth it. Now I’m taking time to let it all steep. I checked out your blog and like the focus on teen girls. Will you set up a separate spiritual direction practice or blend what you learned with what you are already doing?

      • I’m letting it all steep, too, at this point (good word, by the way!) My work with rites of passage feels like a separate endeavor at this point. I’m tiptoeing into the pools of spiritual direction populations slowly. Hopefully, soon, I’ll continue to get a sense of the types of people drawn to my work- who knows! Maybe it will end up being teen girls as well . . . do you know who you intend to work with?

      • Hi Gina, I just saw this, sorry! I’m kind of in the same boat in terms of not really knowing and hoping it becomes more clear over time. At the moment, I would say I can’t think of anyone I would turn away. I feel so honored to be able to hear people’s stories, whoever they are. Right now I’m focusing more on trying to decide whether to add the spiritual direction element to my current online presence or market that separately. Are you advertising yourself online at all?

      • You know, I’ve created a website (sort of an online brochure), but haven’t begun the foray into marketing. I’m still letting it settle in. I want to be in the right place internally (I know that might sound pretentious or odd) when it comes to marketing this. I want to find a way to open up the invitation for people in a way that feels aligned with who I am. I’m still figuring that out!

      • You’re ahead of me, then. I’ve added that I’m a spiritual director to a couple of my online profiles, but I haven’t gone so far as to make a website yet. I agree that it takes time to figure out who we are as directors. I think that will always be evolving. One big question for me is payment. I want to figure out a fee that feels both appropriate for my value and that I would be comfortable saying out loud without any hangups or awkwardness. Maybe I just need to work on valuing myself enough that others will, too. Is your website live yet? I’d love to see what you did with it.

      • Hi Laura. Yes, it is live. You’re welcome to check it out. It is: . I know in this neck of the woods, the going rate is 60 dollars per session, with some very seasoned directors asking as much as one hundred. I think I’ll ask 60 as my going rate, with the first session and introductory free session, and a check in after three months to see if it remains a good fit all the way around. I’m still processing all that stuff, too . . . .

      • Hi Gina, I loved your website. It has such a gentle, spiritual, almost whimsical quality that I bet has a lot to do with the person you are. Thanks for sharing it. You may have noticed a spike in views since I referred to it so often in the last few weeks as a reference among others while creating my own: I’d love to stay in touch. I feel a little isolated now that my program is over, and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one still learning!

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