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.
Day 300 already! Only 65 days left. I must start pulling up my socks and really practicing curiosity. Less thinking and writing about it.
Today I actually did just that. I was browsing through Facebook and saw a post from a friend of mine asking, “Are peanut butter and mayo really as good together as everyone says?” I found myself thinking first “Who on earth says that? I’ve never heard it before” and then “Sounds gross” and then “There’s only one way to find out.”
Immediately following those thoughts came “It is my Year of Living Curiously. Maybe I should just be brave and test it.” I even had mayo in the house, which I usually don’t. (I always have peanut butter.) So in the name of curiosity, I had a piece of toast for lunch with peanut butter and mayo on it.
Was it as good as “everyone says”? I couldn’t say. I don’t know how good it is supposed to be. What I can say is that it is not as gross as it sounds. I found it kind of nondescript, the mayo kind of diluting the distinctive flavor of the peanut butter. One thing, though, the mayo, being slippery, did make the peanut butter stick less to the roof of my mouth. That’s something, I suppose.
A friend of mine is coming to dinner (it’s to celebrate her birthday, which was in April), and I am cooking a couple of dishes I have never cooked before. I know I’m not supposed to do this, but when else would I try out new recipes?
The only thing is that I do find it hard to approach cooking the with curiosity under these circumstances. After all, I want them to turn out well as it is her birthday celebration. I am wedded to a particular outcome.
Ah, well. Better job next time.
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. 😉
No doubt there are friends who are reading this and laughing, saying to themselves “I wondered when the topic of wine would come up.” I do have a certain reputation. At the same time, I have to say that wine tasting, done right, is a really good opportunity to practice curiosity. Why “done right”? Because, although most of us would rather drink good wine than bad, the tasting process is supposed to be about identifying characteristics of the wine rather than judging them and reads a little like the Five Senses Exercise.
What follows is a very basic series of steps you can go through:
- Watch as the wine is poured into the glass. Is it a bit fizzy or is it still? What color is it as it is poured?
- Look at the wine in your glass. First of all you look from above to see if the wine is clear. Then you hold it up to a white background and describe the color for yourself. Then you tilt the glass and let the wine flow back down, observing how long it takes, how much clings to the glass, and whether the edges are ragged or smooth.
- Sniff at the wine. Some people say you should sniff twice—once before you swirl and once after you swirl. In any case, you are encouraged to really put your nose into the glass and inhale deeply. Again, describe for yourself what you notice. Does it remind you of any fruit in particular? Or something other than a fruit? Is it perhaps a bit spicy? Or can you pick up a hint of vanilla? Just a few possibilities.
- Take a sip. Hold the wine in your mouth and feel it. Do you get a sense of fizziness or smoothness? How heavy is it? Does it make you salivate? Where do you feel it the most?
- Taste it. How does the taste compare with what you smelled? Do you get the same fruity or other flavors or does it taste different from what you might expect?
- Swallow it. How does it taste as it goes down? Is the finish (the kind of aftertaste) close to what you tasted before? How long does it last? Does it change over time?
- If the wine tastes good, have another sip. 😉
Why is it easy for me to practice curiosity in this context? One reason is that I really enjoy and am interested in wine. I like the challenge of trying to identify the characteristics and come to some kind of conclusion. I’m usually in a flow state when I’m tasting. And I like the worlds wine tasting opens to me. (For me, one way of getting interested in climate and geography is by trying wines from different regions.)
Another reason, I think, is that I really just taste wine for fun. If there were any pressure on “getting it right” I’m not sure how my curiosity level would hold up.
Today I had a number of chances to practice curiosity but failed to, mainly because of time pressure. “On a Saturday?” I hear you asking. Yes, on a Saturday. I invited friends to dinner this evening. Because some of them were going to the theater after, I said blithely, “Come at 5.” (I usually eat around 7 or 8 so 5 o’clock is something of a departure for me.) I was making a dish I had never made before (great opportunity to practice curiosity) and needed some slightly exotic ingredients–like safran–so on top of making something new I also needed to go to a different supermarket (another great opportunity to practice curiosity). With the exception of a brief, pleasant, and helpful consultation with a salesperson in the wine department, it was nothing but stress. I couldn’t find anything at first, not knowing the layout, and being short of time did not see it as a chance to practice but rather as an obstacle to overcome. It took me an hour to do what usually takes 20 minutes and I didn’t really enjoy any of it, didn’t enjoy feeling incompetent and didn’t enjoy watching the minutes tick away. Cooking was similarly stressful, not helped by the fact that three out of four guests arrived 15 minutes early.
The food was good, but basically this episode shows me that you can have great conditions in which to practice curiosity but if it isn’t in your mind and heart you won’t practice. And yet the great irony is that if I had been able to open up in spite of the pressure, I’m sure both the shopping and the cooking would have been more relaxed and enriching–and just fun.
This morning, as we near the end of the course and so some of the pressure is off, I really took a look at the breakfast buffet and saw all kinds of opportunities to practice curiosity–Asian choices, other fish choices, three different kinds of sausages, including vegetarian, fruit, veg, muesli, etc. You can imagine. What held me back? One specific fear of the consequences–fear of getting fat.