Gestalt Visions & Negative Capability


Banff was a beautiful trip. In short, I was intimidated by the immense skill of the attending musicians and inspired by the rehearsals and recitals I witnessed. The entire creative energy of the Banff Center left me feeling both optimistic and worried about my creative abilities. If I want time and space to grow, I need to make it. Witnessing the 5-year-old that I accompanied for much of the time was just as inspiring to me, but in a different way. His young mind was making real connections about art being connected to artists. Not only did he see his mother perform improvisation for the first time, but saw that the people who we interacted with at meal times each day also created other-wordly music with their instruments, and realized that this is real, art is real and comes from real people. He and I also had lots of creating time of our own- landscape paintings, gift cards, ship diagrams, robot models, songs, dances- during which he would often ask to hear my music. Yes, the music I made. I had played a few songs in the car on the drive there to show Mary what I’ve been working on, and he requested it day after day during our art sessions and would intermittently ask, “Is this really you singing?”, “Are you sure that’s you?”, “Even this part?” I could see his gears turning when we sang our own songs and looped them with an app called Loopy. I broke out my guitar, he made up words and provided some very impressive sound effects, and it was awesome. His concept of art is now becoming less, “I made a thing” and more, “This thing is part of me”. Such a special thing to witness. Makes me wonder when I began to make these discoveries. Feels like I’m still making them.

I also encountered a number of internal conflicts, sparked by the spectacle of the landscape, the affront to my alone-time, and by a few personal interactions, all of which I was unable to address because of my necessity to be on-point in my support role while there. I tagged them for later, and have been tearing away at them, and others still, that have cropped up in my few days since returning.

So, if you’re just reading this for the surface tidbits of my life, probably best to bow out now before my lengthy, hearty spewings of innards.

“…Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…”- John Keats

The above idea is on my mind as I sit in the welcome sun, sans headphones, at a dreamy teahouse and garden in my neighborhood. It’s a semi-secret local gem and is cozily situated in the backyard and garage of a lovely family comprised of a tea expert, an herbalist and their charming 5-year-old daughter named after, you guessed it, an herb. I won’t say which, but…it’s not Rosemary. She sometimes gives me writing tips, has been known to search my bag for “treats”, and warns me when there are trolls approaching. It’s a favorite spot of mine, and one I dedicate to no interneting, phone or quick-stops. I come here to write in my notebook and/or read at length, though now type into my whole-page-expanded Pages document, still with concentrated intent. I drink a green Pu’er, one that I’m told is full of a young, vivacious power (as opposed to wise and steady, says my super tea guru) to tackle obstacles, especially moral. It immediately sounded like a prime fit. He usually knows. When I come in, I tell him how I’m feeling, what my aim is, maybe a bit about whatever is going on, and he produces a few choices— typically along with a great story about the tea itself. On occasion, the tea is just too much. Pu’er, my favorite for consciousness-expanding drinking, can be extraordinarily impactful, but if ingested too quickly or at too high a volume can become adverse to its intended purpose. (I once took a “fear-conquering” tea and its effect was…less than fearless, but I never blame the guru, only myself.) Sometimes I’m here for a few hours, sipping and writing or reading and certainly not paying attention to how many steeps I’m downing. Things can get intense. Most often, it leads me to a strong, present state of mind where I can grasp a firmer, more balanced perspective on whatever is at hand. What’s at hand today? Well:

(*The steeps get more potent as they go, so let’s see how and where this goes:)

90% moved out of my house and into, essentially, nowhere (I’m only keeping 6 boxes, two suitcases, a backpack and my instruments. Not too shabby). Preparing for the unknown. Bearing down to handle potential blows to the heart, gut, mind and soul that I may not be ready for (is it even possible to be ready for something that you have no experience with?). Reminding myself that these are things I’ve dealt to myself because they’re difficult but I believe I can face them with grace and honesty, or at least end up there. There Will Be Tears. Instigating and integrating problems instead of solving them, that’s what I’m doing— only seeking answers to the degree that they’ll open up new levels of consciousness. What’s the problem? Anxiety, of course, the opposite of Negative Capability. 

(*I’m saying nothing novel here, only interpreting what I learn in a way that seems clear and honest through my experience.)

Not just my anxiety, but the regrettable expanse of it splayed across modern society, creeping in every corner and hidden by everyday ‘life’. A vacuous, distractedly apathetic society whose only defense seems to be to seek scapegoats to blame for their many afflictions and assume an illusory “power” built from pride and selfishness and all the things life shouldn’t be about. But I don’t see us as hopeless, irreparable, not yet.

My experience with anxiety (and, I would now argue, most everyone’s) is historically rooted in very limited, toxic categories, but ones which I let take over everything due to a lack of understanding of what anxiety actually is, how it develops and why. How I am beginning to experience it now is world’s beyond, in that I have learned that we, as humans living in 2016, are so culturally conditioned to react to the problems of the world (and indeed what are considered “problems” at all) with personal offense and bewilderment, and that it takes an awakening to our selves, our inner desires and truths (of which everyone is capable) to achieve happiness. Turns out, we are not as powerless as we are convinced to feel. But we are largely weak if we lie in wait for answers and excuses. Action takes courage and courage is borne of inner will and inner will is developed as we understand ourselves and we understand ourselves by being alone. 

Solitude is important to me, more so than many people. I have struggled with the reasons for this, and have on occasion felt some guilt about being viewed an unhappy, antisocial, (insert-other-diminutive-term-for-“introverts” here) person. Overall, I now believe that my solitary tendency is not at all a weakness in me but a positive state that best serves my own creative, intellectual and emotional growth. But solitude becomes a problem when felt alongside anxiety (loneliness), and I’m still not fully immune to it. In fact, many times when I feel like I need to be alone are the times where I want to be with someone. This feeling, that by being alone we must be unworthy, unloved, unwanted, unknown, is one of the true obstacles of humankind, and the most difficult to overcome because its so-called “solution” is to understand and love oneself to the degree that one needs no outside acceptance in order to feel happy. Sounds simple enough. But what are the ways we circumvent this trap of loneliness? The internet, and all media, for one. Work, or busyness, for another. A person always occupied or stimulated in some way is one who is ceaselessly escaping being confronted with themselves, their most feared opponent. We don’t know what we want, who we are, what to do or why we’re here, and that’s goddamn frightening, so of course it seems the best thing to skate past these enormous challenges by watching comedy or drinking at a bar with other people who, knowingly or not, have the same affliction, or working a job and having a family that requires 14 hours a day of attention and even hijacks us in our sleep (what little is had of if). These things can be good, but I think are rarely engaged in a way that serves our real desires. I’ve been guilty, like most everyone, of distracting myself when I’m anxious. That was never enough for me, I realize now. I knew it wasn’t the answer, and it gnawed at me. What is beyond this, I wondered. Why did I feel anxiety if it didn’t make internal sense to me? And further, why did I have so much hope? 

The beauty that is art is, I feel, humanity’s way of confronting the inevitabilities that come with mortality (the ultimate tragedy), joy, despair, and love, to name a few headliners. Subtle or blatant, any piece of art created in earnest portrays a truth about one’s experience as a conscious human, and this is extremely important. Even if its original intent is mistaken upon an audience, interpretation is another gift we can employ to our benefit- we grow from any attempt to understand ourselves and others. It’s a start, and art could take us so much further. Everything grows, and art helps me believe that along with myself, all people are capable of growing at least to the point of love; a self and projected love that requires no conditions or return, but that grows from a deeper understanding of humanity, turmoil and all. I want my life to become a continual expression through art. It’s hard. Hard to stop thinking and start feeling. Hard to break up with what we know and embrace uncertainty. Hard to be patient and sit with ourselves. Hard to know who we are without others to tell us. But if we’re too scared to try we assume responsibility not only for our own condition, but for its contagion. We do contain multitudes, it’s just a lot of them are hidden and flighty. Our society isn’t fostering a way of life that allows for true personal development, growth in a fashion that is compatible with our capacity to love. We are unrealized, most of us. It is a sad fact to face, but if we stop at the stage of blaming the world around us we only perpetuate the cycle of missing the beauty of life entirely. We can all find our ways, however is kind and honest, to seek and be who we are. It helps everyone to be wholly ourselves. I write and make music to make sense of my feelings. Occasionally sharing helps, but mostly I coalesce and set intentions. As much as I want to be understood, the only thing that matters is to understand and feel myself and that I have no control over what others understand or feel.

I read a playing card the other day with the message, “Here Today, Gone Today”. That’s kind of it.

It’s fucking hard and arrestingly beautiful and, I believe, utterly worth it.

Even now, I have some difficulty, despite having written what I’ve just written, to not get comfort by thoughts of people around me being supportive, and to not feel threatened by the potential that I may not act with enough courage, that I may do injustice to myself or others, or that what was the true a few weeks ago might not be true now. But every felt feeling helps, so I steep in all of them. Speaking of steeps…over 7 now, for sure. Graciously feeling the tea work its magic through me, accepting the heat of the sun on my face and embracing not expecting. I know that once I  walk back to my house (which, let’s face it, I’ve already broken up with), revive my phone and internet, and find myself grappling with uncertainty, it will be up to me to continue trying to accept it without turning outwards.

Ready or not.


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