Exploring Your Capabilities

Climbing wall with woman near the top.
Photo by Stephanie Cook on Unsplash

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

I awoke this morning wondering what today’s writing practice would hold. I had a number of ideas and none of them felt quite right. So after meditation, I padded off to the kitchen to make coffee. In the space between when I rose to when I settled on my sofa with my Photo by Stephanie Cook on Unsplashcomputer, my friend, Lee Hamilton, sent a link to a piece written by Frances Mayes in The New York Times. Lee was my existential literature professor in grad school and frequently sparks my thoughts with songs and articles. This morning before penning this post, I read, “When the World Stops, Traveling in John Keats’s ‘Realms of Gold’”

In it, Mayes whom I first discovered when I read her book Under the Tuscan Sun, says the British Poet John Keats “aspired to what he called Negative Capability, when one is ‘capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after facts and reason.’ At the end of this day, that’s my takeaway,” Mayes reflects. “Facts and reasons can change. Capable, a strong word. Being, an active presence. Uncertainty, a liquid state where you float, swim, and take in the view.”

It seems there have been many times in my life when I’ve been called to “negative capability,” whether in times of doubt when making a decision to end a relationship, leave a job, or any of those other times when life has me dancing at my edge when uncertainty lies before me. It seems that I’m in this place more than I’m not. There are moments when uncertainty leaves me shaking in my boots. These are the moments when I turn to my writing, my breathing, my walking so that I’m more capable of being in uncertainty.

However, in recent months during our pandemic lockdown, “negative capability” is creeping into my consciousness around my body. Over the last year, I’ve been less apt to “dance on my physical edges.” I’ve been unwilling to venture far on my own, so my hikes are shorter, and I haven’t fly fished in six months. It feels safer to be in my cocoon — and not move — much like a rabbit who freezes out of fear.

The result: My hips ache, my flexibility has diminished, my muscles have grown soft.

I wonder if I’ll be able to hit the climbing gym when it reopens. I wonder if I’ll be able to climb mountains without losing my breath, and I wonder if I’ll once again enjoy a hot yoga room and really feel my body elongate. Or will I be stuck in this “negative capability” mindset?

It’s not a mindset that I am proud of — and even before this practice, I’ve been making changes. I’ve been integrating eleven sun salutations before I begin my day. I take frequent breaks between clients and classes to do 15-minutes on my rebounder and use my bands. Three days a week I do lunges, mountain climbers, sit-ups, and planks. I’ve overcome that “negative capability” and it’s showing. I feel stronger, more flexible, and less tense.

Place of Pondering

Ask yourself: Where am I buying into negative capability? Where am I allowing uncertainty and fear to rule my body? What experiences in the past give me proof that I can “float, swim, and take in the view” — and dance on my edges, experiencing more than I dreamed possible, especially with my body?

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