This morning, with my to-do list more or less done, I took a closer look at the signs I’ve been seeing all week. They’re for The 5th Annual Conference of Nitrification and Related Processes (link below). My natural curiosity, freed from the tyranny of my to-do list, inspired me to look into that a bit.
I found out that nitrification is “the biological oxidation of ammonia or ammonium to nitrite followed by the oxidation of the nitrite to nitrate” and that it is not to be confused with nitration (thank you, Wikipedia).
Upon checking the conference website, I was amused to see an improbably beautiful photo of the Belvedere (the Belvedere is beautiful but not THAT beautiful) with the disclaimer “Not the conference venue.” I was further interested to see that the program listed names and university affiliations, but I couldn’t find the titles of the presentations.
It’s nice to know that my curiosity can recover so quickly.
It’s a small thing, but as I was looking up into the tree to see what kind of bird was singing I thought, “This, too, is curiosity” and it’s a form I practice quite often.
This evening I went to a panel discussion on the EU called something like “What if Europe succeeded”. It was a fairly cerebral event, and if anyone in the audience felt the EU is a bad thing, they didn’t feel free to say it. So we were all in our bubbles with people who thought the same as we do. Plenty of opportunity to practice desire-to-learn curiosity. Less opportunity to practice interpersonal curiosity, trying genuinely to understand different points of view.
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 couldn’t resist telling that anti-curiosity joke yesterday, but then I started wondering why I connected it with curiosity, or rather an absence of curiosity. Quite quickly I realized that learning a new language, while perhaps not requiring curiosity, is greatly helped by curiosity, partly because when you learn a new language you are opening yourself up to a new world.
I was just trying to help two Italian tourists understand why the Votivkirche in Vienna was built, and came up against my limitations in that language. (They didn’t speak English or German.) How do you say “emperor” in Italian? And “kill”? (Oddly enough–or perhaps not so given my operatic background–I know how to say “die” but not “kill”.) My (unsuccessful) gyrations reminded me of a joke about speaking foreign languages.
A man was hiking in the Austrian alps. He came across a couple of old guys sunning themselves at an alpine hut. The hiker needed directions so he asked, “Do you speak English?” The old mountain men shook their heads. “Parlez vous français?” Shake. “Parla italiano?” Shake. “Habla español?” Shake. In desperation the hiker made one last attempt. “Nihongo-o dekimasuka?” Shake. Dispirited, the hiker moved on. One of the old guys said (in German), “Maybe we should learn a foreign language after all” whereupon the other replied (also in German), “Why? It didn’t help him any.” 😉
I may have underestimated the opportunities to practice curiosity at the wine-tasting last night. Of course, one can–and should–practice mindful curiosity in the tasting process, but I also had the opportunity to practice desire-to-learn curiosity very actively.
I and two colleagues were at a table for four and were joined by a someone we didn’t know. She turned out to be fascinating–a graphic designer who tries to work according to the 26 principles of biomimicry, in which people designing solutions turn to nature to be inspired. (She gave me an amazing example of a German company that has created glass that birds do not fly into and therefore do not break their necks on. It emulates spider webs which, it turns out, have an ultraviolet color that humans cannot see but birds can. After all, birds don’t fly through spider webs.) From there we got into a discussion of how cultural groups relate to nature (by dominating, living in harmony, or giving in to) and learned a lot from each other.
The wine was good, too. 😉