The poet John Keats was one of these bursts in history. A beautiful yet rapid explosion whose echo survives in the hearts of those who appreciate ephemerality. Keats left writers, and really all humans, one of the grandest, most humbling guiding principles. It stemmed during a conversation with Charles Wentworth Dilke:
"I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason"
3 years after this grand realisation, having risen to the same rank as Lord Byron and other superb contemporary poets, Keats died. At 25, in Rome, in the last stages of tuberculosis, he would wake up crying as he would notice he is still alive.
Negative capability. Remember that musician, rock star, sports champion you respect and look up to. Remember how effortless she or he seems when he is performing. She makes it look So easy! It isn’t because it isn’t hard. It is because of the comfort she exerts despite the pressure.
It is the art of dancing when there is no music left, to dance when there is no dance floor. Dance for me, dance with me my friends! As Burkeman puts it, “negative capability” explores a new meaning of the word “negative”: “not doing”. But “negative capability” is one of these beautiful semantic mixes that hold the seed of an epiphany in that suddenly, “not doing” becomes a skill. Feel the fear and do it anyway ... or not, really :)
And with that, a question to my dancing friends:
> Stating Dilke’s biggest flaw, Keats wrote: “He will never come at a truth so long as he lives because he is always trying at it”. Burkeman, in “The antidote” writes, “it was the trying - the ‘irritable reaching' " - that was the whole problem. But do you see? To try and “solve” your anxiety towards uncertainty is to fall is the same pitfall. To try and solve the problem with the same "problem-solving" approach is to mimic the snake trying to bite its tail. When was the last time you realised this? Have you?
> How then can we transcend - ouh! new-age words :° - the tail biting? How can we Joots (Jump Out Of The System)? Should we stop asking the question maybe? Is it even a mistake to think about it? Or is it rather a subtle emotional and mental (as if these were different) equilibrium we need to reach often enough until we’re able to maintain it more durably?