A Beginner’s Guide To Change: Live The Questions. Don’t Be afraid.


“I would like to beg you, dear sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, from Letters to a Young Poet

Have patience with everything unresolved.

What’s most perplexing about life these days, is this overwhelming sense of limbo that most of the people I talk with feel. Everything is raw, ragged, confusing. There’s no sense to be made or found anywhere. It seems there aren’t answers to any of our burning questions.

It is as though we are forever in flux, walking a dead landscape of uprooted trees, smashed cars, swollen rivers spilling their banks. We wander in neighborhoods of broken houses full of random (and often useless) belongings. An egg beater. A wheel. One lonely shoe.

Love the questions like locked rooms or books written in a foreign tongue.

We want to feel some sort of solace, but there is none. There’s just a sense that everything in this wide world is shifting, but nothing has shifted, yet.

Live the questions. And, perhaps, as Rilke wrote a hundred and ten years ago, we cannot live the answers. Yet.

So we must live the questions.

To me, this is what this particular time is all about. Living with this sense of foreboding. Living with the acid burn of negative potentials. Catastrophic climate change. The rapacious over-use of our natural world. The senseless killing of our own wildness, simply for the sake of killing.

We must live inside these terrible questions. These questions that make us ache, so we will become larger, more pliable, and more open.

Finding our way into the answers.

We cannot solve the problems we face with the same sort of thinking that created them. We cannot be so certain of which path to take. We must all become beginners. We are slowly cracking and breaking the outer shell (ego) in order to reveal the true. We have never been here before. We are brand new.

So, as I sit shaking in my boots and shitting my pants at the mere thought of all this change — of these paradigm shifts that are unseen in any lifetime before ours — I keep reminding myself, always be a beginner, always realize there is something to learn, always remember that you know far less than you think.

Be a novice. Be a blank page. Be embryonic in your sense of yourself. You are just learning the steps. You are just starting out. It is okay to be stupid or blind or to not have the answers. It is okay to be wrong, to make mistakes, to muck it all up. This is all part of the process of becoming. Of enlightenment. Of living.

Love it all.

The confusion. The mess. The raw, red rims of your eyes. Love the experience of being born. Love the experience of watching the old way of life die. Watch everything burn. Watch everything go. Don’t be afraid.

This. This is how you find your way. You don’t notice the changes as they come. You just wake up, one bright morning — sky the color of robin’s eggs — and you realize that you are there. And you open the door and smell the restless air and say a prayer of profound thanks.

{Love your life. It’s all you really have.}

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Shavawn M. Berry
Shavawn M. Berry’s work has appeared in The Huffington Post, elephant journal, The Good Men Project, The Anjana Network, Be You Media Group, Journey of the Heart: Women's Spiritual Poetry, Olentangy Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Vagina - The Zine, Rebelle Society, The Cancer Poetry Project 2, Kinema Poetics, Kalliope, Poet Lore, Westview – A Journal of Western Oklahoma, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Concho River Review, North Atlantic Review, Synapse, Living Buddhism, Blue Mountain Arts/SPS, and Poetry Seattle. She's been writing about spiritual topics for more than twenty years, and has been a practicing Buddhist for the past 30 years. In addition to her blog and Rebelle Society, she regularly writes for Be You Media Group. Her technique essay on the dramatic monologue/persona poem is featured in a poetry database published in 2013 by Ebsco Publishing. In 1998, she received her MPW in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where she specialized in Creative Nonfiction and Memoir. Ms. Berry teaches writing at Arizona State University where she received a Lincoln Ethics Teaching Fellowship in 2013 and has been honored for curriculum design and innovative pedagogy. She is one of just two teachers at ASU involved with Prison Education and The Pen Project, a unique writing and editing internship that allows undergraduate students the opportunity to critique the writing of maximum security inmates in New Mexico and Arizona, while learning about the need for better educational opportunities for prisoners throughout the US. You can follow her on Facebook or read more of her work on her blog. Her website featuring a selection of her essays, blog postings, and prose is available at shavawnmberry.com.


  • Tracy Wisneski
    Tracy Wisneski commented on June 24, 2013 Reply
    Shavawn, I wanted to choose a quote from this, but then realized that I might have to quote it all. Such an important lesson and so artfully expressed. More please!
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on June 24, 2013 Reply
      Thanks so much, Tracy!!! I love it. It looks wonderful. I can’t wait to send you more work.
      • Tracy Wisneski
        Tracy Wisneski commented on November 18, 2013 Reply
        I look forward to it (them)!
  • Victoria Erickson commented on June 24, 2013 Reply
    Beautiful, soothing, brilliant. Here we are. Thank you.
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on June 24, 2013 Reply
      Thanks, Victoria. :-)
  • Emily S commented on June 24, 2013 Reply
    Shavawn, this beautiful piece spoke so much to me. Breathing through and embracing the challenging moments will show us strength in ourselves that we never knew we had. Thanks so much
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on June 24, 2013 Reply
      Thanks for your kind words, Emily!
  • christystolper commented on July 23, 2013 Reply
    I am in awe of your fluidity. Jellies, for sure! We have to mourn the loss of the old and sit with the unknown before the solutions appear, for sure, for sure. My life has been enriched from reading this and I am sending it to everyone I know. Loverly.
  • Shavawn M. Berry
    shavawnb commented on July 24, 2013 Reply
    Thanks, Christy! I appreciate it. Shavawn
  • selfxt commented on July 24, 2013 Reply
    GREAT! “live the questions” Thank you…and one day I want to see the hat above the eyes: “They say” the eyes are the mirror into the soul and if the eyes are smiling then they are truly “living the question” Keep on Shavawn you’re doing great.
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on July 25, 2013 Reply
      Thanks! There’s a picture of me (eyes showing) on my blog. Click through the link on the bio here. :-)
  • Marney commented on August 11, 2013 Reply
    Real. Empowering. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with the world. It needs to be heard.
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on August 15, 2013 Reply
      Thanks, Marney! :-)
  • Marc Weicman commented on September 14, 2013 Reply
    And then we get to do it all over again….. And that’s the point. Learn how to flow with life. Learn how to surf its waves, its currents…. Occasionally we may be able to choose a path along it, like sailing with the wind, or even into the wind. Always, it’s a choice. Every moment. And from each choice comes a new set of possibilities. That are another opportunity to embrace the questions, what’s so, what IS. And enjoy….. Kinda fun, when you get the hang of it. :)
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on September 14, 2013 Reply
      Yep. Living our way into the answers and enjoying the ride.
  • Laurie commented on October 13, 2013 Reply
    Absolutely beautiful…now that I’m post menopausal, I embrace all the questions and the limbo and the fear with a gentle sense of Ease and Grace….most of the time..he he he…. Suzanne Evans says “the message is in the mess.” I love that! My 20 year old daughter says, Row Row Row your boat is a profound song about the Flow of Life… Gently down the stream! Cheers, Laurie
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      Shavawn M. Berry commented on October 13, 2013 Reply
      Absolutely! I love that idea of ‘the message in the mess’. So true. The older I get, the easier I get in terms of how I treat myself (and others). I used to be so afraid of uncertainties. Now, I know they are simply part of life. Yes, gently down the stream we go. Thanks for that. Shavawn
  • Kearstin Gabrielle Marie Ivory-Helmstetter commented on November 20, 2013 Reply
    This is friggin’ amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insight; it is MUCH appreciated by ALL! Please never stop providing so many people with your compassionate inspiration, which you’re probably oblivious to giving anyway lol…
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      Shavawn M. Berry commented on November 21, 2013 Reply
      Thanks so much, Kearstin! I am glad it resonated with you. Rilke has been a favorite and a constant comfort to me. In particular, the notion that we can’t always ‘live the answers’ until we are actually ready to do so. I appreciate you replying to this post! ~Shavawn
  • peggy chilson commented on December 11, 2013 Reply
    Shavawn, this piece was perfect for me today! I just had a well-deserved, long overdue sob while reading your work. When I asked myself what was really behind my sobbing, the resounding answer was fear. I was afraid that I had to shut down, stuff my vulnerability to survive, and I didn’t want to do that ever again. Your words help me stay open. Thank you.
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on December 11, 2013 Reply
      Thanks, Peggy. Yes, we must keep our hearts open. It is terrifying to live from this raw space, but it is our only option, right? I can’t go back to sleep. Sending love. ~ S
  • Diana commented on December 11, 2013 Reply
    This site is phenomenal, so much raw power and truth spoken. So seldomly do I hear such terrible gorgeousness, yet it’s good and I’m very glad you are saying it!
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      shavawnb commented on December 11, 2013 Reply
      Thank you, Diana. I love that phrase “terrible gorgeousness.” I am glad it resonated with you. ~ S
  • Kris Lord commented on December 26, 2013 Reply
    The raw beauty of this made my heart pound – a profound reminder to me that living with the questions is living in presence, and that in itself is the best beginning. Thank you.
  • Lee commented on December 26, 2013 Reply
    Such perfect wisdom. I’ve long kept a copy of Letters by my bed and open it at random whenever I’m feeling stuck. It never fails to provide the perfect kernel of wisdom I need at that very moment. Pure magic. And now you’ve managed to weave RMR’s magic with your own special blend to provide just what I needed tonight. More magic. Thx Shavawn!
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      Shavawn M. Berry commented on December 26, 2013 Reply
      Thank you, Lee! I love Rilke and have loved and carried this quote in my heart for years and years. This piece has been such a magical gift for me. It is lovely to see so many people resonate with these words. ~ Shavawn
  • Tamara commented on January 7, 2014 Reply
    Sublime :).thank you <3
  • Angie M. commented on June 10, 2014 Reply
    I want to thank you, and the universe too, if I could all at once. It must be fate. Whenever my heart breaks, it is quickly mended. The universe allows me to reflect and then helps me even out my staggered breathing as I finish reading your words. And for that, I thank you.
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      Shavawn M. Berry commented on June 17, 2014 Reply
      Thank you, Angie M. Your message made my day! ~ S
  • Abba Maru commented on October 14, 2014 Reply
    Thanks for the beautiful quote and inspiring words!
    • Shavawn M. Berry
      Shavawn M. Berry commented on November 13, 2014 Reply
      Thanks, Abba Maru!
  • carolinemellor2014 commented on December 7, 2014 Reply
    Your writing is beautiful and so rich in truth. I’m glad to have found you!
  • vyana commented on January 23, 2015 Reply
    “Zen mind, beginner’s mind.” Such a beautiful assertion of how to live, love, and understand who i/we am/are. Thanks!

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