Rilke’s Wisdom for a Dying World

We must want the change.

Rev. Ganga Devi Braun
4 min readOct 4, 2019

I read this poem this morning,

And it settled into my bones in a way it never had before. I am living in a world that is dying. We all are. Things are changing in ways and at rates that we can’t fully understand yet. We may never fully understand. But the seasons changes and the wisdom of long dead poets hold deep wisdom for us, if we remember how to look, how to listen.

Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Rilke’s wisdom so deeply came from a sense of premonition about the ending of his world, an intuition that came about through the devastation and horrors of the World Wars.

So many of us feel a dread that seems similar to where he was coming from. As the pain keeps coming to the surface, as Extinction Rebellion gears up to disrupt business as usual (through their methods of strategic joy, art, and celebration of life), we are faced with this intense, undeniable, fertile, powerful truth: things are changing.

Want the change.

If the living world can teach us anything it is this: life is never truly over; and nothing is ever truly lost. Life wants to continuously cycle through the processes of change, decay, transformation, and rebirth.

This is as true in our own lives as it is in the life of a forest.

Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.

I know I am not the only person who is reminded of grief and loss this time of year. The brilliant colors of changing leaves, heralding the long dark of winter, the change in the air, the shifting of light. The increased awareness of our planetary crisis is bringing this felt sense of loss into wider and wider spheres of our own consciousness. We do not know how chaotic things will get, but we know there will be immense chaos. We do not know if humanity will survive, but we know that things cannot remain in the realm of business as usual.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be grey and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered

We are in the Great Turning, a term coined by Joanna Macy, the translator of this poem by Rilke. Nothing will stay the same. We have the opportunity now, while there is still some sense of choice, to choose how we live. If there are to be generations to remember us, what would we want them to say?

I want to be remembered as a person who lived in congruence with everything that I hold sacred. That I loved and nurtured my family, and that I had no borders of exclusion around who my family was. That I welcomed every being that entered my space with compassion, presence, and kindness. That I helped people to become free of their fear when fear was destroying the world and ruling people’s lives. That I was uncompromising in this, that I sacrificed many comforts and opportunities so that my life’s work would be nothing less than devoted service to all that is sacred to me.

That I helped as many people as I possibly could, in the ways that I was able, with the time that I was given.

I know this world is ending, that it is dying, and dying violently. And I know from sitting at countless deathbeds that with every passing there is a new life, new meaning, new mystery born, waiting for us to become aware of it.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive.

I don’t know the trauma that you have survived to be who you are, now, reading this. I don’t know what your ancestors went through to allow you to be alive, now, at this precious moment of profound opportunity on this planet. I don’t know the prayers that were whispered in darkness, the courage that had to be found in the face of despair. But I know that we share a home together, now.

We must learn to care for one another if we are to care for ourselves.
We must find the courage to imagine new ways of existing.
We must choose to embody those ways in every moment.
We must forgive ourselves and learn from our mistakes.

We must want the change.

Change is coming.
Change is happening.
We must want the change.

Wanting gives us choice.
What do you choose?



Rev. Ganga Devi Braun

Regenerative counselor, in continual process of devotion to the integrity of all living systems. Constant student of love, death, and chaos.