Negative Capability

Today, February 23, is the anniversary of the death of poet John Keats. I noticed the date of his death recently and realized it was the same date that my 40-day committment/experiment of blog writing was ending; the day I would be deciding whether and why to continue investing time and energy this way. I flattered myself by deciding that the coincidence of this date might mean something since Keats means so much to me. How can a writer who died at the age of 24 have had so much effect on the thinking of so many people for almost 200 years now? I just bought a huge biography about Keats and I’m going to investigate.

In honor of him today I want to mention the comfort that one little phrase he wrote in a letter to his brother has given to me. He refers to: “Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” I read this soon after resigning from the ministry. After 20 years of having a system of spiritual practice and faith, a wonderful map of how to think and be, I was suddenly and unexpectedly drowning in uncertainties and doubts. I doubted everything, was certain of nothing. It was terrifying. When I came across these words of Keats’ they affected me deeply. It was my first sign that there might be value and sense in the experience I was having. Aha, now I see, I am developing a “capability!” It is a capability that poets seek. I was losing most of everything familiar, but now I understood that I was gaining something also. That one little phrase possibly saved me from an utter sense of despair, helping me to embrace and trust my life at that crucial time.

And so, in honor of Keats and what he taught me about the power of words to convey life-saving notions far beyond what is actually speakable, and in thanks to the spirits visible and invisible that helped me make up my mind, I believe I will continue this blog writing venture. I don’t need to know facts or reasons why just yet, I can stay in the mystery. It’s Negative Capability.

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