Sometimes the flow of conversation doesn’t make it easy to practice curiosity in an active way. That said, it can provide a forum for a gentle, ongoing kind of curiosity. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours talking with old friends (one of whom was the recipient of the somewhat failed birthday cake) in a lovely, rambling conversation, one topic leading to another. We listened to each other and asked questions in an unforced way. That, perhaps, too, counts as curiosity.
If I had called this blog “A Year of Living Mindfully” I would have found it a lot easier to describe my progress and successes, but that isn’t the kind of curiosity I wanted to practice especially.
Similarly, my life would be easier if I had undertaken to practice just desire-to-learn curiosity. That one more or less takes care of itself.
But, no. When I think back I realize that what I most wanted to practice in this Year of Living Curiously was interpersonal curiosity and existential curiosity, the two I have the hardest time with.
First of all, interpersonal curiosity. I want to practice interpersonal curiosity, especially in the form of Inquiry–genuinely trying to understand how other people see the world. Partly this has simply become a challenge to me. I have tried so long to achieve this and have made so little progress. It is bringing out my cussedness. I also happen to see this kind of communication and interaction as essential to the future of the planet. The way I see it if we can’t learn to engage with openness and a desire to understand other ways and worldviews we will at some point simply self-destruct (not to put too fine a point on it).
Second of all, River or existential curiosity. This is for my own personal well-being. I’m aware that I create a great deal of stress for myself by trying to control things (like whether I am curious or not ;-)) rather than meeting life with anticipation and an openness to what comes.
At this point, I guess I have to say that thanks to the last 285 days at least I have worked out for myself that I see different kinds of curiosity. Now I can spend the the remaining 79 days concentrating on making at least a bit of progress on the two kinds of curiosity that I feel need work.
I’ve been aware for a while that I practice a special kind of curiosity when I walk my dog. He loves to sniff around and, when he can, eat stuff off the ground. Usually it’s harmless, like someone’s old pizza crusts. At the same time, I can’t help being aware that there are people who put out poison or booby-trapped treats for dogs (treats with pins stuck in them, for example).
So, what’s this special kind of curiosity? I watch as he sniffs and try to let him sniff as freely as possible while remaining open to the fact that I may need to intervene and take something out of his mouth very quickly. It’s really quite an active kind of curiosity. No daydreaming, no letting the thoughts wander. I have to be there.
This evening I proctored an exam. Suddenly I got the feeling that my role is very similar to when I walk my dog. I’m keeping an eye on the students to make sure they don’t cheat, but I don’t want to intervene unnecessarily and break their concentration. The comparison brought a smile to my face.
Today I was talking to a friend about affirmations and in the middle of the conversation realized how a sentence I repeat to myself numerous times per day may be helping me practice curiosity. About two months ago I identified feeling safe as one of the factors that helps me enjoy the journey, one form of curiosity. I can imagine that feeling safe also helps me engage with other people more openly. The sentence is “ich bin sicher”. I use the German form because it can mean both “I am safe” but also “I am secure” as in “I am secure in myself.” Having repeated this sentence countless times in the last few years it finally seems to be taking effect. I feel immediately calmer–and more open–when I say it.
Yesterday I posted about exercises I’ve already mentioned that help develop the different kinds of curiosity I’ve identified for myself so far. Today I realized it would have made more sense to post those lists with links to the exercises themselves. So here we go …
Existential curiosity and its lite cousin enjoy-the-journey curiosity
And the clear winner is The Five Senses exercise! 😉
I woke up yesterday (Sunday) with a thought I wrote down on the clipboard I keep next to bed precisely to capture such thoughts: Check blog exercises and see of you have at least one for each kind of curiosity. (I have a weird, overactive unconscious.)
Since it was Sunday and a bit murky outside I decided to do that. Here is the results of my labors, to be improved as I go along:
True to form I have been emphasizing the practice of curiosity in intellectual and interpersonal arenas. Today I realized I have really neglected the more physical arena, where we DO something different from what we usually do and do this openly and with curiosity.
Today I did something for the first time and practiced curiosity (was open and did not try to influence the outcome overly)–I participated in a photo shoot. One of the organizations I am a member of was looking for volunteers so that they could update the photos on their webpage. I volunteered and spent an hour this morning holding poses and looking where I was told to look and trying to look natural while I did this. People who can do all that well are artists, I’ve concluded.
I don’t know if I’ll be chosen to appear on the website, but at least I got to try out something new and different. Curiosity practice. 🙂