Ganesha and John Keats Walk Into a Bar…

When I was about 20, I bought a collection of letters by John Keats. Before you read any further, you should be warned that I am a poet. I also like poetry. I read it on a fairly regular basis. I’m not sure why this is, but I think it has something to do with my very short attention span. You get a lot of bang for your buck in a 14-line sonnet.

Anyway, back to Keats. I went crazy for these letters. I’m holding them right now, because something Eddie Stern said at the Confluence sent me looking for them. Eddie said something like this: Ganesha is the Lord of Thresholds. He rules the place between, the neither this nor that.

 He creates the space that allows ambiguity to exist.

When Eddie said this, it was like my brain caught fire. I thought right away of a letter John Keats wrote to his brothers in 1818. Keats was just talking with a friend, when, boom!:

Several things dove-tailed in my mind, & at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

Several things dovetailed in my mind, too. (Dovetail, like the joint in woodworking—such a solid metaphor.) More than several, really. This kind of existing in the middle of things—awareness, the pose, life—was a real thread that ran through the Confluence. A moment of synergy between John Keats and Ganesha crystallized the practice for me. I love the study and practice of Ashtanga, the same way I love Keats’s “Ode to a Psyche.” I’ll never “understand” it. I’ll never own it, or be done with it, or answer its questions. That is a beautiful thing, so beautiful that Keats made an imaginary temple to it, singing praise to his own self:

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane

   In some untrodden region of my mind,

Where branchèd thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,

Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind.

Negative Capability. A lot of ink’s been spilled over what, exactly, the 21-year-old Keats meant by that phrase, which is funny, if you think about it—a bunch of scholars irritably reaching after fact and reason. I think I learn what it “means” every time I practice, and I’m grateful for the space that allows its ambiguity to exist.

I don’t have a punch line for my title. Thought I’d just leave it at that.

Posted by Bobbie


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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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