💡Cultivating Negative Capability
⛰️Vision Questing, The Case *Against* Personal Growth, Anti-Libraries & More Nourishing Brainfood!
|Jonny Miller 🐬||May 5, 2019|| 6|
👋 Dear Curious Ones!
🏡 Back to Bali // After bouncing between homestays, I've moved into a peaceful villa here in Canggu with two amazing humans. It’s amazing what an impact consistency of routine plus homely vibes makes on daily levels of stoke and creativity.
🏔️ Vision-Questing // Perhaps one day (when we all have neurolink brain chips installed) I will be able to plug you into my memory banks to share telepathic replays of the recent 10 Day Vision Quest. Until then the mini-journal entries below will have to suffice.
🧘♂️ Mindful Reads // The two main required reading books for my meditation teacher training are: ‘The Wisdom of Yoga’ by Stephen Cope & ‘The Craving Mind’ by Judson Brewer. Both of which I would absolutely recommend (if you’re into that kinda thing).
📖 New Favourite Journal // I’ve spent the last couple of weeks using this Monk Manual (initially a Kickstarter project)—I’m something of a shameless journal snob, but this one feels like a true labour of love, designed with an impressive attention to detail.
🙏 Blessing from a Nepalese Shamanic Grandmother // Just before leaving Kathmandu, I received a blessing from 92 year old ‘Aama Bombo’ (who also has the awesome title of being the ‘13th Grandmother of the Earth’)… it wasn’t so much the words that she shared but the kind look in her eyes that resonated.
🤔 Curious Humans Reader Question: What is ridiculously scary or exciting in your life right now? Please hit reply and share whatever comes up. (My answer: finally polishing podcast episodes recorded nearly a year ago and sharing them here!)
Stay curious out there folks!
🙋♂️psst. do you have friends who are also Curious and equally Human? Then why not forward this link (or tweet) inviting them to join this growing fellowship of question-gathering homo sapiens. If you’re feeling exceptionally generous and willing to invest in my future ramblings, you can also become a paying subscriber of Curious Humans here.
🏔️ Vision Questing
ACT I: HOME FROM HOME
Our first day began with a hike up to a sacred burial ground, under the shadowy peaks of the Himalayas not far from Nargarkot (which somewhat worryingly translated to 'snake town').
Here we constructed our bamboo yurt basecamp and Jerry (our vision quest guide nicknamed: the world's most dangerous therapist) shared this Joseph Campbell quote with us to set the scene:
"It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure."
ACT II: UNDERWORLD JOURNEYS
I'm afraid that I can barely begin to describe the experience of drinking ayahuasca (although Michael Pollan makes a superb attempt of this in his book 'How to Change Your Mind'). The poem at the end of this letter is an attempt to capture aspects of this ineffable experience… but even the most lucid and articulate accounts still feel to me at least like trying to describe colour to a blind person.
Sitting in for the sharing session the following morning was a humbling experience. The level of vulnerability and willingness of all the participants (of all ages and backgrounds) to talk about personal trauma: from shame, abuse and loss of loved ones felt like a privilege to witness.
In her latest Netflix special, the indomitable Brene Brown talks about how the greatest challenge for adult life is one of disarmouring, of looking at all the barriers we constructed out of self protection when we were young. This group sharing felt like watching the armour dissolve in real time.
ACT III: THE WILDERNESS VISION QUEST
Despite initial trepidation, I immensely enjoyed the four days of sitting in solitude. The spot that I chose (or that chose me) was atop of a ridge that looked out across a rather stunning panoramic view of the Himalayas and with the exception of a minor hurricane on the third night, my little bivvy bag did a remarkable job of keeping me dry.
I’ve experimented with fasting before and although not eating certainly sapped my physical energy, there was a strong sense of mental clarity (often associated with Ketosis) that emerged on the third day. For someone who loves their food, I was surprised by how little I thought about it. Finally, on the evening fourth day of the quest some firewood appeared (I still don’t know where from) and I decided to write four short letters which I then offered to the flames of this ceremonial fire shortly after the sun had set.
ACT IV: THE RETURN
Clean clothes. A hot shower... OMG COFFEE!
All these felt like delicious luxuries after ten nights in the hills along with a newfound appreciation for mattresses. I’m definitely still processing some of what arose but it sure does feel good to be back in the world again.
🧠 Thought-Provoking Brainfood
THREE NUGGETS OF WONDERMENT TO FUEL YOUR CURIOSITY!
❓ 1 // The EDGE Annual Questions:
This might be one of the most interesting projects you’ve never heard of.
Back in 1971 James Lee Byars founded the ‘World Question Centre… which has now evolved into edge.org – a compendium of wonder and awe-inducing interestingness which you might find yourself lost in. Each year they pose one question to some of humanity’s most intelligent minds.
To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.
Here’s a sampling from the smörgåsbord of ‘Edge Questions’:
🤷♂️ 2 // The Case *Against* Personal Growth
DO WE ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT 'BETTER' LOOKS LIKE?
Alan Watts famously proclaimed that you can’t lift yourself up by your own bootstraps:
“You can struggle, and tug, and pull until you’re blue in the face, and nothing happens except that you’ve exhausted yourself. All sensible people therefore begin in life with two fundamental presuppositions: you are not going to improve the world, and you are not going to improve yourself.”
Something about the ‘personal growth’ self-help-y genre has never entirely sat quite right with me (although this hasn’t stopped me from hoovering up non-fiction books and youtube videos that definitely fell into this category).
“Here's the problem with personal growth frames: they encourage you to look at the evolution of your life in terms of its deviation from an aspirational idea of it. Ironically, "growth" is framed in terms of a deficiency. A gap between actual and aspirational selves.”
Venkat goes on to describe his idea of ‘life intensification’ as being:
“…the process of consciously becoming increasingly real… by letting go more and more of your idea of what your life should be like, and embracing the possibilities of what it is actually turning out to be like.”
This rather freeing idea reminds me of the David Whyte’s concept of entering the ‘conversational nature of reality’—that in our lives, whatever we desire of the world will not come to pass exactly as we would wish—but equally that whatever the world desires of us will not come to pass. Reality happens in this meeting, this frontier.
👨🏫 3 // The Role of Negative Capability in Creative Insight
I had an unexpected 4am stream of consciousness (at the end of 96 hours of fasting under a tree in the Nepalese highlands) which erupted from my mind along these lines...
📝 The idea begun after reading this by John Keats: "At once it struck me what quality went on to form a Man of Achievement—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."
❓ Keats was referring to a certain form of 'epistemic curiosity' i.e. the ability to be comfortable in high degrees of ambiguity and holding onto meaty questions lightly without grasping for easy answers.
😬 Exceptional creative-types don't flee from contradictions. They embrace ambiguous creative tension and cultivate what Roger Martin called the 'opposable mind' or the ability to 'hold two opposing ideas at the same time'.
😦 But why is this crucial skill of 'Negative Capability' so damn hard for our supposedly well-evolved human brains? (And how might we develop it?)
🧠 Perhaps it's because we are essentially having to turn the volume down on our overused and beloved left-brained perspectives on the world... in order to make these pull-requests of our right brains.
👨🎓 During school, in work culture and life in general we are endlessly rewarded for giving efficient / correct answers. Uncertainty is often equated to a flip-flopping weakness and we squirm like crazy in there (but the juicy insights always surface from those liminal spaces).
🤔 Perhaps we'll start to creative folks focusing on 'Anti-Strategy' ('Strategy' being left brain mapping routes up the mountain & 'Anti-Strategy' being choosing the right mountain to climb.)
🌳 These future hypothetical 'Anti-Strategy Agencies' would rely on left-brain quietening facilitation techniques to hold clients in uncomfortable places of creative tension (ideally outdoors in nature somewhere) in order to tease out the deeper right-brain insights and revelations.
DOUBLE-DARE YOU NOT TO CLICKETY-CLICK ALL THE LINKETY-LINKS
🙏 The art of asking
🔺 Why are barns red
📚 Books that spark joy
💰 Superb passive income guide
🌎 View earth through deep time
🏫 World’s first psychedelics centre
🧠 Superb Mental Models audiobook
🙌 Reddit’s change your view has a home
👨🎨 Which creative type are you? (I got dreamer)
💼 Pretend like you're working for someone else
🐙 What are the state of human-octopus relations
😨 Wearing your thoughts for mental health awareness
A Parting Poem 📝
'THE INHERITANCE OF YOUR SHADOW'
A drum beats. Rattles shake. Time to drink.
Courage is the only currency required
to claim the inheritance of your shadow.
Do you dare sing Grief's Great Lament?
Can you sense its capacity to obliterate
the remaining driftwood you cling to?
Lightning flashes above the trees.
All at once, self surrenders;
extinguished by a thunderscape.
Grateful tears of joy and sorrow,
offered up to flickering flames
that conduct this primordial symphony.
The veil between worlds disintegrates.
Sight and sound. Taste and touch.
Woven tapestries of synthesthetic sensation.
Old maps cannot describe
this numinous territory,
yearning to be explored.
Insights arrive like belated gifts
of remembered bodily wisdom,
transmuted through smoky starlight.
A whispered question
calls out from the fire.
Can this be home?
Oh yes! The clouds answer
as they unleash themselves,
nourishing earth and skin alike.
Self, body and mind return;
glowing like weary travellers
having been cleansed by a storm.
As ambitious flames acquiesce to embers,
you too would be forgiven for sensing
that this Mysterium Tremendium,
this Cosmic Container for Consciousness,
tells of a more life-affirming story
than the commonly shared hallucination
affectionately nicknamed 'reality'. 💫🙏🌎