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’m not practicing much curiosity at the moment, as I think I have made clear over the last few days. 😉 This morning, though, I did manage—at least for a bit—to intentionally open up, pull myself out of my head, and pay attention to what was happening on our morning walk without judging or thinking too much. At least that is a little bit of success.
A meeting with my financial advisor and a coaching session on building my business have left me feeling overwhelmed. To tell the truth, I woke up feeling as if someone had hit me over the head (the sudden heat, perhaps?) and never really got to feeling better in the course of the day.
All this is not conducive to practicing curiosity although consciously introducing a bit of mindful curiosity into my activities did briefly help me feel better.
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. 😉
One idea that came out of my recent analysis of seven posts was: Consciously engage all five senses.
I have been trying that out to see if it helps me move through my day with greater curiosity. For my own benefit here is my definition of curiosity again: A state of experiencing a situation … with openness and a desire to see what happens and without feeling the need to influence the outcome. (It’s so easy for me to lose sight of that.)
What I have discovered so far:
- After sight, hearing is, hands down, the sense I use most frequently. That is easy. In this case I try to do “wraparound listening” (as described here) to get a wider sense of what is out there.
- In this context my sense of smell is next in frequency. That is also easy for me to do.
- I could more consciously check in on how I’m feeling, inside and out. Test the air, so to speak, which does still have a hint of winter in it.
- I could also more consciously check in on taste. As I have mentioned before, that is the biggest challenge for me. It is the least awake of my senses unless I am actually eating or drinking something.
- Spring is a good time to work on this aspect of curiosity because there are so many tempting things, especially to hear and smell—birds singing ecstatically and grass, flowers, and trees coming out.
- Having something so concrete to focus on (ironically, perhaps) does help me be curious. It also helps, I suspect, that sounds, smells, and weather are things I wouldn’t expect to have any influence over. 😉
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 but not necessarily judging 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.
One thing I would like to do again is get back to doing exercises that involve curiosity.
Today I realized I hadn’t done the Exploring Feelings exercise for a long time, so I tried it again.
- Am I feeling a positive or negative feeling right now? Answer: A little negative.
- On a scale of -10 to +10 where would I put my feeling? (-10 is “Couldn’t feel worse” and +10 “Couldn’t feel better”) Answer: It’s a -1.
- What name would I give this feeling? Answer: Slightly overwhelmed
- How do I know that is what I am feeling? Answer: Adrenalin buzz and trouble concentrating.
- Recapitulation, and with it a kind of acknowledgement, of the feelings involved. Recap: negative, -1, slightly overwhelmed, adrenalin buzz and trouble concentrating. OK. Let’s get on with life.