Human beings are curious by nature. The desire to explore, find out, wonder, understand is an essential human trait. And it is the basis of discovery – scientific, technological, creative, personal. That willingness to be in the questioning, in the openness of wondering, has led to innovation & advancement and the power of curiosity is increasingly understood as a gateway to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
When did you last do something out of pure curiosity and where did it lead you? This instinct came naturally to us as children, when we had curiosity coursing through our bodies, excitedly exploring new experiences. Asking a 100 questions… Wanting to know Why?! Curiosity ruled our senses. Enthusiasm ignited our actions. We weren’t afraid of what we didn’t know – instead we thrived on the process of discovery. As we get older, however, while the thirst for knowledge does not necessarily wane, we can stop being so openly inquisitive and rather favour order, certainty, security, and a certain way of making sense of the world. Ironically, it is only once we become adults that our brains are developed enough to process new discoveries and turn them into concrete ideas and strategies.
As you slow way down and cut into the sense that something must urgently be fixed, shifted, or even ‘healed’ – and as you become more curious about your immediate experience than in your interpretations of it – a doorway appears. Just underneath the very vivid and colorful storyline is an eruption of energy, overflowing with information and resources for the way ahead….. Matt Licata
Cultivating an open curiosity about what we are experiencing or feeling can support us to find our way out of feeling lost or stuck, or out of isolation, anxiety and depression. By openly inquiring, without worrying about having the answer, we are able to observe, feel & understand the habits, emotional wounds & conditioning that cause us to react rather than respond, to contract rather than expand.
Allowing ourselves to ‘not know’ but to be open to finding out, enables us to lean into uncertainty with a positive attitude – relaxing and opening our minds to new ideas, skills, and ways of solving problems. We use our powers of observation more fully and without expectation. We feel more engaged, open to possibilities & making connections, and experiencing moments of insight and meaning. This in turn can lead to a deeper, more aware and satisfying life experience. It promotes presence, growth & resilience and opens our hearts and minds and can loosen the grip of our conditioning and belief that we know how things will work out. So often we look outside for validation, for opinions and guidance on how to be. Curiosity can unlock our own value.
According to Todd Kashdan of George Mason University, people who display high levels of curiosity report a greater sense of meaning in life, which is a better predictor of sustainable, lasting happiness. Kashdan says that “when we experience curiosity, we are willing to leave the familiar and routine and take risks, even if it makes us feel anxious and uncomfortable… Curious explorers are comfortable with the risks of taking on new challenges. Instead of trying desperately to explain and control our world, as a curious explorer we embrace uncertainty, and see our lives as an enjoyable quest to discover, learn and grow.” Curiosity naturally broadens a person’s horizons, and thus their understanding of the things around them.
Being more curious about how you respond when you come up against a ‘problem’ is like a opening the doorway from a fixed “I know myself – don’t need to dig deeper” mindset to an open-to-possibilities mindset, that helps us to get unstuck. Your curiosity will lead you down roads you would otherwise not have travelled, and allows you to challenge your assumptions. Being an interested and inquisitive person can help you to connect more deeply to others and the world around you.
So how can we cultivate curiosity?
It is like building any other new skill or habit – it takes practice. However, in the case of curiosity, if we want to connect to the joy and fulfilment, it cannot be forced. Author Elizabeth Gilbert, who writes about creativity in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear says that following our curiosity instead of our passion is the real key to an interesting and creative life….
“If you want to live a curiosity-driven life, you must commit to being vigilant about looking for what’s piquing your curiosity.”
Gilbert advises following what is interesting to you, even if that interest is faint at first. However, in order to be able to begin to notice and value what that interest is we need to learn to pay close attention to what we are thinking, feeling, noticing… observe, explore, ask questions, and be open to venturing into the unknown.
A particularly lovely way of practising this is to take a ‘medicine walk.’ There are many variations of how to do this, drawn originally from Native American Indian culture, but in its simplest form, I like to think of it as “getting lost.” The goal of the walk is to be without a goal…
Go for a walk wherever you are…. Explore the landscape, urban or rural – look around you, what do you see? Interesting trees? An unfamiliar street? A signpost you hadn’t noticed before? Let go of any worries and focus on the present moment – each moment. Take a moment to reflect on something you come across, stay with it or follow another whim. Notice the smells, sights, noises, lose yourself in the stream of the present moment. And be curious… What captures your attention, where does your glance linger, who catches your eye? Be open to noticing what piques your curiosity and follow that for as long as you can allow yourself to be in this space of exploring. In this space you can also ask yourself for answers – look for patterns, signs and connections as, in opening up to this present, joyful, exploratory space within yourself, you are able to view/feel things from a different angle & see things which you might otherwise miss or not understand as important…
And then repeat often! This can be a real walk or one in your imagination… The beautiful thing about wondering is that you never know where it’s going to lead.