Words that are in me: ‘Curiosity’

Curiosity killed the freak-aat. It’s braver than courage and more powerful than pain. What is it, I wonder?

* This post is from a series called ‘Words that are in me’ – read more here

How curiosity can help you out of a crisis

FreakCats. Laura Eades 2014

“What’s ‘wonder’?”

Asked my daughter, who’s nearly 3. “It’s: ‘oh'”, I said, making a thinking face. Though in fact she was embodying curiosity just by asking the question itself.

Curiosity is…

..questioning without impatience for an answer.

“What’s! WonDERRR!?? MAMA!??” My 3-year-old wasn’t satisfied by a facial answer.

Which shows us how the part of us that isn’t prepared to stay with the wondering, and the not-knowing, is really just our inner tantrumming toddler, wanting to crack open a chrysalis to hurry up the butterfly.

I give my girl answers I think are appropriate to her capability to comprehend.

I’d like to solve my mental, psychological, and behavioural life obstacles. But if I can’t, I can at least find out about them. Maybe my answers can only be perceived when I’m at the next ninja-level of comprehension. If you’re a Sensei reading this, my email’s at the top.

Is it possible that the curiosity itself is the answer?

Psychology is all about wondering. The brain is still a mystery, but it doesn’t stop us trying to understand it. What we’re made of – brain, emotions, heart, soul (?), body… Psychotherapy and Mindfulness both teach us to exercise our curiosity as a therapeutic tool.

Curiosity contains the word ‘cure’

It solves a lot of the unkind stuff our thoughts do.

Like, our make-it-go-away response to negative emotions. If you can be gently curious about those feelings, which doesn’t take nearly as much courage as ‘facing’ them, you step towards them, and can stay with them, being vulnerable, but not lost in them, because your curiosity is empowering you.

If you can be vulnerable, you avoid numbing, and can be alive, even in emotional pain, which is a kind of full, joyful pain. Which is better, oh so much better, than being a zombie.

It’s better than: AAargh!

If you have physical pain, you can be curious about it too, and even find names for it that are descriptive. Prickling. Tingling. Thumping. Throbbing. Pinching. Tickling. Zapping.

When I was in hospital (C section) I devoured a book by Albert Espinosa. It’s a book of wisdom called The Yellow World (a recommended full-of-light read for anyone who’s gonna spend time in recovery). It’s what he’s learned about life, and since he lost one of his legs to cancer (he’s pretty funny about the Goodbye Leg party – he invited the owner of a dog that once bit it), he has plenty of experience with pain. He writes:

Pain is a word that has no real value, it’s just like fear. They’re two words that frighten you, that provoke pain and fear. But when the word doesn’t exist, the thing that it tries to define doesn’t exist either. You have to work out what’s happening to you. You have to test it, taste it and decide what it is that you’re feeling (like I did with injections). I insist that often pain will be ‘pleasure’, pain will be enjoyable, pain will be poetic. 

Don’t identify with your negative feelings

So said Simon Parke on Twitter last year (author of One-Minute-Mindfulness), and I had no idea what he meant. But I felt curious about the statement!

Mindfulness teaches that when you are curious about something, you can have an awareness of your bad feelings that automatically separates you from your identification with them – you’re the observer of the feeling, the feeler of the feeling, the noticer of the feeling. You are not the feeling.

What does curiosity sound like?

And, like Espinosa, Mindfulness also sees the mind’s tendency to name things as a shut-down that keeps us out of touch with real, moment-by-moment experience. I particularly love a moment in a Jon Kabat-Zinn narrated meditation on sound, where he asks you to experience the sound as it hits your eardrum, without jumping to label it.

If you can do this with sounds, you can have a little sound-snooze-siesta. You can also take a different attitude to the pigeon or magpie you want to throttle when you’re insomniac.

Labels imply there’s no more to discover

If you judge yourself, it can be depressing when you deliver a ‘final’ verdict on yourself. “I’ve failed”, or “I’m just…”. But curiosity can help you find balance again. Ask yourself, “and what else? What more is there for me to see, or know about myself?”.

What would it feel like if…?: 

Curiosity solves squeamishness about sex. It’s not always straightforward to admit our desire, to own our passions, to explore our interests. You might say it needs courage to get your hands and your mind dirty. But Ev’Yan Whitney (Blogger at Sexloveliberation.com) says:

I always tell my one-to-one clients: Go with your curiosity. Allow it to guide you beyond fear and discomfort. Trust those urges to go deeper and learn more. Curiosity is where liberation thrives.

Imagine, how great (or at least varied) our sex lives would be, if we remained curious our whole lives long.

See things differently

Curiosity brings us back to awareness. It’s about seeing. You use this kind of seeing when you draw something that’s in front of you. It’s slowed down seeing. It’s not just seeing/naming/filing of what you see. It’s seeing and experiencing and wondering.

I read a quote – Andrew Marr, I think, on the Big Draw website. It amounted to (I’m paraphrasing, because I’ve lost the link): “if a day goes by and I haven’t drawn something, I feel like I haven’t really done any proper seeing”.

Curiosity fuels our friendships

It’s at the heart of good listening. It facilitates good talking. Not assuming you already know what you’re being told. Not taking the words at face value but listening to the in-betweens. Checking if you’ve really understood.

I salute, on this topic, Karl James (Say it and solve it) and await with curiosity a similarly wise book from him, or anyone who writes one first, about social conversation. But the same principles must surely apply – don’t formulate your reply while the other person is talking, for example.

I want this word

I want this word in me. I want to own it. To live it. In it is the possibility of growth, of discovery. The idea that your pain and problems might reveal to you something invaluable, or just something, that you need in the rest of your life.

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This series is absolutely open to you. If you have words that have found their way into your inner lexicon, send them to me by email and I’ll illustrate them. Or just click on the comment thread using the pale grey dot with a plus sign under this post to add your thoughts there.

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