Curiosity killed the Cat (Inspired Shift, step 2)
Curiosity killed the cat.” That’s like saying hunger made me fat.
Curiosity is the magic that drives inquiry, passion and engagement. Walt Disney identified curiosity as one of the 4 conditions that make dreams come true along with courage, consistency and confidence. I don’t know of a test or assessment tool for measuring Curiosity, but I wonder if anyone else has asked the question. What’s your Curiosity Quotient? I guess maybe that’s evidence of my HIGH Curiosity.
Perhaps the real cause of death, suffering, and dis-ease is a lack of curiosity.
What is Curiosity?
Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn; an inquiry. As a noun, curiosity describes a strange or unusual object or fact. Is curiosity so rare that to be curious is a curiosity?
“The future belongs to the curious.
The one’s who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.”
Curiosity and hunger are conditions, sensory data that invite us to act based on the stimulus within our current experience. Curiosity is the condition, or the awareness of a condition, that encourages an investment of energy in feeding our mind. Like hunger is the condition that encourages us to feed our bellies (or our emotions in the case of emotional eating!) Failure to satisfy the condition, or failure to engage wisely, results not just in hunger, but the death of a unique opportunity contained within that moment.
Curiosity is described as BOTH a condition and a quality. Curiosity as a condition results from an external sense of wonder and awe. As a quality, or a personality trait, curiosity derives from an internal source, an interest in learning or an urge to move beyond comfort, even through fear! Curiosity is a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation and learning, observed in both humans and animals. Curiosity is heavily associated with all aspects of human development, in which derives learning and the desire to acquire knowledge and skill. Often curiosity isn’t about “needing” the information but rather a want, or a desire. The curious seek answers to questions for the sake of gaining knowledge and expanding possibility.
THREE Characteristics of Curiosity
American culture values curiosity and yet discourages the behaviors of inquiry. We judge those who lack motivation as “lazy” and those who are driven as “uppity”. Those unable to pay attention, we label as “neglectful” and those who pay too much attention as “nit-picky perfectionists”. We laud those with good memories as “wise” until they remind us of something we wish to forget or contradict our own sense of truth and call them “misguided”. Walt Whitman noticed this phenomenon and advised, “Be curious, not judgmental.”
Research indicates three characteristics that contribute to inquiry behavior, or the practice of Curiosity:
- Motivation & Reward
- Attention, and
- Memory and Learning
In other words, we might demonstrate our “curiosity quotient” by our motivation (what moves us), our attention (what we notice) and memory (what we retain). Motivation is just another word for Intention, or understanding the need that fuels our action. Attention, of course, is what we notice, what we see, smell, taste, touch and hear. Likewise, memory and learning derive directly from our actions and experience, our doings, non-doings, un-doings and re-doings.
Yoga & Curiosity
Life is hard. It’s essentially a never-ending process of taking in data, sorting information and making sense of it all. It’s exhausting. It can feel overwhelming. I often wonder how I survived as long as I did without yoga. Yoga helps us live better.
“If knowledge is power, than curiosity is the muscle.”
Before Yoga, I often used one of two strategies for navigating challenging life circumstances: push until I succumbed to the overwhelm (can you say anxiety?) or numb through avoidance/indulgence. Yoga invites us into INQUIRY. Instead or overwhelm or avoidance, we practice intention and attention through action. Inquiry is a strategy of asking questions to regulate or control the flow of information in order to remain attentive in the process and choose actions according to our intentions and values. Thich Nhat Hanh offered three powerful questions to help guide the inquiry practice. I use these questions every day to help navigate my path, to choose each next right step in my daily practice of living in alignment.
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
Yoga is often described as a living practice, one that is always evolving and designed to enhance life. At its core, Yoga is the intersection of experience and observation, a practice of being in the moment with awareness. As a practice of inquiry, Yoga has taught me to embrace the opportunity of shift. Inspired Shift, a strategy I developed for embracing change based on Transparent Alignment, helps me not only to accept change as an inevitable and valuable part of living vibrantly but also as a key ingredient to Inspired Living. Shift is the process of coming to terms with what is and a letting go of what isn’t. Shift is intentionally paying attention to letting go that which doesn’t or no longer serves and being with what is just as it is.
BRFWA: The Process of Curiosity
Life can feel like a roller coaster, exciting highs and devastating lows. Learning to ride the waves of life’s ups and downs is like a surfer learning to ride the waves. Knowing when to paddle, when to stand, and when to let it pass you by. This wave analogy is used in Yoga as well.
We use the same tools used to do yoga to cultivate the quality of Curiosity: body, mind, and breath. Consistent practice enhances skill development. Through the body, we engage in experience and take in data via our sense organs. By way of the mind, data is sorted, evaluated and organized. Finally, breath or energy determines the depth and degree of attention needed to notice what needs noticing!
While studying at the Kripalu Institute, I was introduced to BRFWA, an acronym to navigate the flow of sensation in practice (and life) through five distinct cyclical stages experienced on the path to enlightenment or bliss.
- B: Breathe
- R: Relax
- F: Feel
- W: Witness
- A: Allow
Allowing is the state of being at ease with what is, also known as Ananda or the bliss state identified in Patanjali’s Sutras. BRFWA teaches us to pay attention by describing the process. By noticing the process we learn to embrace the journey as well as the outcome. Learning to Shift enables me to Allow.
In addition to the three questions learned from Thich Nhat Hanh, I use two additional qualifiers to navigate inquiry and balance my tendency for All-or-Nothing thinking.
- Does this need to be done by me? Is this mine to do?
- Is NOW the time?
Curiosity in Practice
If Curiosity is the skill of paying attention, boredom is its opposite. Lacking interest in one’s surroundings, dissatisfaction or listlessness is a temporary emotional state in which one concludes there is nothing in particular to do. However, boredom is NOT the same as depression or apathy. Boredom is the result of mis-matched conditions of desire and access (or perceived access) resulting in a dull or tedius mental state.
Curiosity is often attributed to children and pets. Innocents are allowed to throw caution to the wind and explore the unknown without shame or reprocussion. In fact, the lack of curiosity is often seen as a weakness or deficiency in the young. Like wise, the aged are frequently given greater leniency in the expression of curiosity. It seems curiosity and responsibility are often at odds culturally. Although boredom is portrayed as an unpleasant mental state it is often the pre-emptive state to creativity (which is step 3 of Inspired Shift!). Ironically, curiosity is critical to innovation.
In the practice of Inspired Shift, curiosity is employed to explore BOTH the outside world (adventure!) and the internal world (introspection). In other words, curiosity is the fuel that propels the inquiry to know ourselves and to know our world. Curiosity is what facilitates expansion of interest and clarity of values, enables innovation and creative problem solving and allows for conversation and authentic connection. Without curiosity it’s impossible to fully be with ourselves or each other.
“By replacing the fear of the unknown with curiosity,
we open ourselves up to the infinte stream of possibility.
We can let fear rule our lives or we can become childlike with curiosity,
pushing our boundaries, leaping out of our comfort zones, and accepting what life puts before us.”
-Alan Watts, Follow your own weird
Curiosity is the second of 7-Cs for Inspired Shift that started with Compassion. Stay tuned to explore (3) Creativity and (4) Courage as we build (5) Confidence and (6) Competence to culminate in (7) Clarity in the practice of Inspired Living.