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 all the time–there seems hardly 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.
Today, belatedly, I realized that curiosity is an essential ingredient in doing experiments, and experiments are a perfect opportunity to practice curiosity. The very attitude we have when running an experiment–will this work or not, what outcome will we get–fits at least my definition of curiosity. A true experiment is trying something and waiting to see what comes out.
It’s possible to do some things like trying out a new recipe, which some people might describe as “an experiment”, without really experimenting, that is, while still being wedded to a certain outcome (and creating a certain amount of stress for oneself).
This morning I got into the streetcar and sat down before I realized why my favorite seat was still free. There was a man in the next row ranting, I never did really find out why. I was about to change seats and then I remembered something my first Tai Chi teacher told me–that the energy of being centered can calm people down around you. He cited an example from his own life about an argument in his office where he succeeded at calming the people down without saying a word, simply by sinking into the basic centered Tai Chi position. I thought I’d like to try that and started a breathing exercise to center myself. In the course of the breathing and centering, I realized that I was truly experimenting. If it didn’t work, it was no skin off my nose. I wanted to see what it was like to try and what might come out of it.
I did a pretty good but not great job of centering myself. I can’t say it affected the man in the next row, though, and he got off after about five minutes so it was a rather short experiment. But it was interesting. And it was curiosity lived.
I don’t know what happened when I went out this afternoon with my dog–partly, I think, there just wasn’t that much going on in the park and on the street–but I relaxed and walked along with open eyes and an open mind. And, lo and behold, that state of mind (close to what I am calling curiosity):
- Reduced my stress
- Set me up to be more responsive and therefore more effective
- Helped me build better connections to the people I passed
- Contributed to my enjoyment of life
Just as I hypothesized so long ago. Hallelujah! 🙂