Today was a holiday in Austria, and my dog and I went on a relatively long hike (a bit over 12 kms). What was special today was that it is in a part of town we almost never go to, an hour away from home. I also only briefly consulted the map at home and then followed the trail markers, which certainly at the beginning of the trail only showed up when we had to change direction. It was a little like practicing River or existential curiosity. We walked along without trying to control every step of the way, only responding to signposts as they turned up. A little practice, at least.
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.
… to existential curiosity.
Originally I entitled this post “Giving up on … existential curiosity”. I had a moment where I didn’t see how I could build a business and live like a river flows at the same time. Then I remembered what someone else wrote and I re-posted about marketing effectively. If that isn’t a form of existential curiosity, what is?
Something good came out of my initial post, though. I have found a new kind of curiosity. (This will save the world for sure. ;-)) It’s a kind of existential curiosity lite–enjoy-the-journey curiosity–and I have already written about it several times, for example, here, here, and here. I wouldn’t mind improving that skill either.
Existential curiosity is in some ways the hardest for me to practice. I can’t help being aware of the fact that John O’Donohue (the author of the river quotation) was a priest. His job was to put his life in the hands of God and follow, and the Catholic church presumably made sure he didn’t go hungry. I have a different role. But I have nonetheless been practicing a certain level of existential or river curiosity. I have been working a piece at a time on what I wish to offer professionally, letting ideas come and also go. It’s not easy, because I would like to have some answers and a direction to start moving in, but it seems to be working and it seems to be delivering worthwhile results. So I continue to sit in my boat on the river, not the river itself but letting myself be carried along by the currents as its course unfolds.
This is part of my hypothesis–that curiosity provides the path to growth AND the way to enjoy the journey.
It was almost two years ago now that my mother, my brother, and I went off on a Family Road Trip to Our Roots, which involved driving through parts of Germany where two of us had never been and none of us had ever driven before. The traveling was pretty stressful along roads we didn’t know, in fast-moving heavy traffic, in a rental car we didn’t know either. No matter how often I reminded myself, in the words of Michel de Montaigne, “It is the journey not the arrival that matters” I couldn’t enjoy the journey. I was completely wrapped up in getting safely where we were going. (Truth is, I’m not sure any of us enjoyed the journey, not even my usually curiosity-gifted brother.)
I may never achieve the perfect River or existential sort of curiosity, but I do think that if I could enjoy the journey more, well, I would at least enjoy the journey. To do that, though, takes a big dose of curiosity, a kind of keeping the eyes simply open without too clear a target, a welcoming attitude to what comes as an experience.
Something for me to keep in mind as I progress through this week and beyond.
Yesterday in the night it snowed again so that even the paths that had been cleared were covered up again. This made walking a slower and more strenuous activity than usual. Ordinarily, this would frustrate me. I like to get where I’m going and feel as if I’m making progress. (Yes, I know, that is the antithesis of existential curiosity). Well, the snow slowed me down, and when getting frustrated didn’t help I tried getting curious. Suddenly I found myself appreciating aspects that I normally overlook on this walk I take every day.
Yet another point for curiosity. 🙂
I can’t decide if setting New Year’s resolutions—instead of just seeing what comes—is anti-curiosity. Or is it all right if I set resolutions that have to do with expanding my curiosity practice? I suppose I tend to see it the latter way, so here goes: I resolve to keep up (although not necessarily expand) my curiosity practice, entering into that endeavor itself with curiosity and being gentle with myself when I fail.
Happy New Year, everyone!