As already mentioned, curiosity, as I see it, is a state of experiencing a situation, with any or all of one’s senses, with openness and a desire to see what happens and without feeling the need to influence the outcome.
With the Five Senses exercise posted yesterday the question came up: What is the difference between curiosity and mindfulness? This post will be a first stab at distinguishing between these two states.
First of all, I should perhaps mention that I see curiosity as a part of mindfulness and mindfulness as a part of curiosity. How can that be??? Maybe looking at a few recognized definitions of mindfulness will help.
Mindfulness is almost universally defined as being fully aware and in the present moment. Two scientists who have spent most of their careers researching mindfulness each add an important aspect to this point. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, emphasizes what an important role non-judgmental attention plays in this. Ellen Langer; Harvard professor of psychology, also offers a simple and concise recommendation with a focus on a different aspect: Notice new things.
It seems clear that what mindfulness and curiosity share is attention to what is, without judgment. I experience curiosity, however, as more active, somehow, and perhaps more applied. There is an element of taking in openly, also for future reference, what is going on that seems quite different from the present moment focus of mindfulness.
In certain situations, like in the Five Senses exercise, it is difficult for me to imagine curiosity without mindfulness. Without giving my attention to what is going on around me, I have nothing to explore. In other situations, though, like my curiosity about and desire to explore ideas I am not always mindful. I may be, and very often am, in a state of flow, but that is something else altogether and material for another post.
On the other hand, because I have made openness a part of my definition of curiosity, it is impossible for me to imagine mindfulness without curiosity. When I do the body scan developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, for example, I need to be curious about how my body feels. If I’m not, two things are likely to happen: my attention will wander because the task is boring and / or I will judge a sensation as good or bad, pulling myself out of the state of mindfulness.
A start, at least.
For more information on mindfulness see:
Ellen Langer (about five minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlRJo51JWME
Jon Kabat-Zinn (also about five minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmEo6RI4Wvs