Seven posts to go after this one. As I start the countdown I’d like to take a look at my definition again. At the beginning, I defined curiosity thus: A state of experiencing a situation, with any or all of one’s senses, with openness and a desire to see what happens and without feeling the need to influence the outcome.
At some point along the way, I questioned the use of the word “state” wondering if “attitude” or something else might work better. Today I look at that definition and find it works well for me.
I think curiosity is a state of being, rather than something else. I like the idea that it speaks to and uses all our senses. Perhaps the one thing is that I would now add that it speaks to and uses our cognitive functions, like thinking, learning, and analyzing, as well. The openness has been a major part of my quest from the beginning and the “desire to learn” expresses for me the active component that is one of the differences between mindfulness and curiosity for me. As to not feeling the need to influence the outcome—I have come to feel that this is not only a component, say, of existential curiosity but also the other kinds of curiosity I identified for myself: mindful, interpersonal, and desire-to-learn curiosity.
For me, my definition has worn well.
A couple of years ago I did a course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). One of the mindfulness exercises was eating a raisin mindfully, which was fine for me because I like raisins. One person though had long had an aversion to raisins and was skeptical about the benefit of eating even one raisin. He reported afterwards that it wasn’t as bad as he had expected. Apparently, using all his senses and seeing the raisin as an exercise helped him.
Well, we are having Salade Nicoise for lunch, which has anchovies in it. In the spirit of curiosity practice, I ate an anchovy mindfully, even though I’m the kind of person who doesn’t even want someone else’s pizza half with anchovies on it in the same carton as my half with other things. I decided to look at the situation as a chance to practice curiosity, to remain open and not judge. I focused on what I tasted rather than what my opinion was of what I tasted. The anchovy was just as salty and fishy as I remembered and it wasn’t a great pleasure to eat it, but approaching it that way did help.
Today, after the bear sighting yesterday, I noticed that I walked outside the house in a completely different mode than usual. I wasn’t afraid, but I was alert and simply paying attention, openly and without trying to influence the outcome. It struck me this was pretty close to my definition of curiosity.
One thing I’m realizing this week is how often I actually do practice interpersonal curiosity and openness in the classroom. That is a really nice realization for me. I seem to go into a special mode where I wait to see what the person means and ask really good questions to find out more (even if they aren’t classic Inquiry questions). For the time being, I’m satisfied with that, even if I don’t transfer that openness to my life outside the classroom as often as I would wish.
Clearly, I am going to be practicing a lot of this kind of curiosity this week. With only two participants–and two participants who do not want to work in a pair but rather want my input and attention all the time–there hardly seems to be another way. But they are pleasant and willing and experienced so at least what I’m listening to is teaching me something.
Listening with interest is also a form of curiosity, and it is one I practiced intensively today. I tend to forget that it should count as curiosity practice because I have been doing it most of my life.
The course I’m teaching this week is being visited by members of the human resources department. That is not an entirely stress-free proposition, and I wasn’t sure what to make of the decision on the side of the project sponsor. I’m proud of myself that I remained open, didn’t jump to any conclusions, and I feel that helped me be constructive. It also helps that they themselves are constructive participants, but I’m still proud of myself.