Today, after the bear sighting yesterday, I noticed that I walked outside the house in a completely different mode than usual. I wasn’t afraid, but I was alert and simply paying attention, openly and without trying to influence the outcome. It struck me this was pretty close to my definition of curiosity.
In the early days of this blog, on Day 058, I wrote about stopping for a moment to honor one’s achievements. This is perhaps less about curiosity and more about simply paying attention, but then my last post was also more about noticing things than about being actively curious.
Several people this week have made it clear that they think I need to stop more often and pay attention to what I have just accomplished, rather than rushing on to the next thing on the to-do list. My favorite reminder so far has been “Shall I open the bottle of champagne?” said by a friend who on principle keeps a bottle of sparkling wine on hand for special occasions.
On 12 August 2016 the following Word for the Day, a quotation from Simone Weil, appeared on the site gratefulness.org:
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.
It was accompanied by this photo:
What does this have to do with curiosity? Simone Weil may have died in 1943, but I can’t help feeling that what she said is only more important in the digital age with all its distractions. And I think being curious in general, but also about specific topics or people, makes paying attention easier. Who knows? Maybe paying attention also makes it easier to be curious, as we can get pulled into what the person is telling.
One of the wonderful things about writing this blog is that friends and family members contribute ideas and sometimes even whole books. A dear cousin sent me a copy of one of his favorite books, Tracker, in the hope that it might help in my curiosity quest. (By the way, I love his expression “curiosity quest”.)
It’s a fascinating story I probably would not have come across otherwise about a man, Tom Brown, Jr., who started his training to be a tracker with an old Apache when he was a boy of eight and now has his own world-famous tracking school. I was hooked in the first chapter when he described, over two pages, in detail, going out just after a moderate snowfall to buy some milk, finding the tracks of a Junco [kind of bird] and following the tracks around the neighborhood only to land back at his own birdfeeder where he “sat down to watch him [the bird] pecking-watching-pecking-watchingpeckingwatching-pecking-watching, until someone finally came out of the house and asked me where the milk was.”
Curiosity in all its glory and with some of its pitfalls!
My day yesterday started off with a series of errands to run and somehow I got lost in this small city where my parents have lived for almost 25 years and I (sort of) lived many decades ago for four years. I not only got completely turned around. I lost all sense of curiosity. I didn’t care what I was seeing or experiencing. I closed down entirely and, stressed out, just wanted to get where I was going. (Ironically, if I had paid more attention the last time I was in that part of town, I would have had landmarks and would have found my way much more quickly and without stopping to ask directions. Another story.)
I was so frustrated by my total relapse into tension and tunnel vision, that I decided I would counteract it by doing my imagine-what’s-coming exercise when I went to drawing class this evening. It did slow me down (in a good way) as I walked to class and made me more aware of the surroundings. One immediate benefit was that I did not hurt our teacher who for some reason was standing right behind the door to the building as I opened it. I sensed his presence very quickly and was able to stop. One point for paying more attention and being more curious. 🙂
In class itself we were working on drawing boxes (as our teacher described it), an exercise in perspective. This is practically pure curiosity at this stage because if you don’t really look and get the angles and other points right, you do not end up with a recognizable box on your paper. Two hours of “Which direction is that line going in and how long is it?” Result: A couple of boxes that almost look like boxes. 😉
A short post because it has been a long day. Today I was walking in the woods with my dog and I heard a strange noise coming from a tree. It was almost like something hacking away, like a cross between an ax and a woodpecker. I stopped and listened, simply trying to figure out what it was–no agenda, no need to jump in and rescue or change something. I listened for a minute or two yet wasn’t able to figure it out. Still, I was pleased to realize as I continued my walk that I had just practiced curiosity (and could check that item off my to-do list ;-)). Sometimes it is that simple.
Is the drawing class really helping me practice curiosity, as I wanted it to? Yes, in two ways. First of all, I usually know very little about what we will be doing–today I knew we would be working on organic, and therefore asymmetrical, shapes (which didn’t tell me much)–and so, perforce go in in a state of curiosity. Secondly, the drawing itself–trying to find out, for example, what shapes “live” in objects–requires me to look closely with curiosity and really notice. In fact, our teacher was demonstrating something this evening and suddenly started erasing some lines he had drawn. “No autopilot,” he said. “If I had really looked at that I would have seen it is straight there, not rounded.” And as he said later, looking–thank heavens–at someone else’s drawing, “You got a couple of lines wrong and then the whole thing looks funny.”