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Thursday
Jul262012

Rooms 30-32: Reclaim Your Curiosity

"Sell your cleverness, buy bewilderment." 
Rumi

We come out of the womb and with a blink of an eye, are given one of the universe’s greatest gifts. 

The gift is curiosity, or what Anatole France called “the greatest virtue of man.” 

It’s our ability to look at the world and see everything as if we landed in another galaxy and opened our eyes for the first time. Where am I?  Who are you?  What is this? Why is this happening? 

Curiosity asks us to look at life as a question mark, a riddle to be solved, answers to seek. It asks us to join hands with life and become its partner. 

And through this curiosity we will not only meet the miraculous, but cure disease, fight poverty, make peace and create new realities. It’s also how we as individuals will choose our life’s work, fall in love, solve problems, find meaning and seek truth. 

In short, curiosity is the cornerstone of our awareness and the very engine that makes us explore other rooms. Without curiosity, and that insatiable thirst for more, we will forever remain locked in the same room. Of this I am certain. 

Of course, nobody has mastered curiosity more than a child. Give a kid a rock and some bubble wrap and their imagination will light up with possibility. From a blade of grass to their own shadow, the whole world is a child’s playground, ready to be explored, investigated and questioned. 

For a child there’s always that thirst for more, which is why toddlers don’t get bored. There’s too much to do—questions to ask, stuff to collect, forts to build, clubs to start, jobs to imagine. 

There are no limitations to what interests them, or for that matter, how long they should stay interested. If they like something, they embrace it, then quickly move on when their interest wanes. And nobody minds their short attention span. In fact, we’re endeared by it.  

Unfortunately, as we get older and busier, our curiosity narrows in on those one or two things that will get us to the “next level.” 

As the Rumi quote above suggests, we become clever—clever with our time and our productivity. We suddenly have less time for curiosity and bewilderment. Soon enough, we start believing our lack of attention is a weakness, a sign that we lack focus or the ability to persevere.  

Of course, this thinking doesn’t start all at once. It begins in stages, and usually with a well-meaning push from adults. We are told to choose a sport, select an instrument, pick a school, decide on a career, find a spouse.  And with each choice we make, a door shuts, our eyes close and our interests narrow. 

Now, I don’t want to be naive here. I understand that much of this is an understandable part of growing up. We have responsibilities. Families to raise. Careers to manage. The problem arises when that razor sharp focus begins to limit what we see, and our curiosity becomes reserved only for what’s practical.   

Today, we end such nonsense and begin the first steps toward a more inquisitive life and a bold new room.  

Rooms 30-32:  Reclaim Your Curiosity

First of all, congratulations. Most of you have already started the journey toward a more reflective life. 30 rooms in and it’s safe to say that your curiosity has been sufficiently fired up. Now, let’s continue that work in two small but powerful ways.  

1. Become an Expert in Something Trivial
By making our curiosities only purpose-driven, we put ourselves in the habit of thinking that every moment has to be productive. It’s why we ignore the frivolous and let our passing whims slip by without giving them the attention they deserve.  

Yes, that’s the reason I let my herb garden die, or you sold your magic kit, or someone else gave away their fondue set. But, don’t worry, there’s time to change that. 

This week, we’ll become an expert in something trivial. That means we’re going to learn about something that has no intrinsic value other than it interests us. It should not be job related, money related, or anything remotely related to “getting ahead.” 

Welcome back to childhood.

We need to learn how to become curious in places where it doesn’t “count,” so we can learn to be curious everywhere, all of which will hopefully bring us full circle to the realization that there isn’t really any activity that “doesn’t count,” even the trivial.

So pick an interest, any interest, as long as it’s yours. Butterflies, gemstones, fine art, wine, aromatherapy, belly dancing, Peruvian tea, Bollywood, gardenias, hurricanes, bocci ball, Irish poetry, calligraphy, woodworking, genealogy, or comic books. There’s so much to choose from…all we need to do is let curiosity be our guide. 

As for me, I’m buying myself a Karate Kid Bonsai tree. I’ve already downloaded a few tutorials off of YouTube and can hardly wait to go searching for my pruning clippers. 

Now, you may already have something in mind for yourself, but if not, start paying attention to whatever piques your interest. Once you have something, start becoming an expert at it in the same way a kid might—with reckless abandon and no regard for what anyone else thinks. 

Remember, it’s impossible to become an expert at something unless you’re generally curious, and that’s what we’re after. It also doesn’t matter if your interest lasts for a few days, a week, a month or the rest of your life. Just be like that kid who enjoys something for however long he wants, then moves on to something else. 

Follow your interest where it wants to take you, but do so with the realization that this is not  just a hobby, but the universe’s way of saying there’s something for you to look at. 

In other words, it’s a gift.  

Maybe it’s a few minutes of quiet, a needed distraction, relief from stress, a good laugh, an opportunity to use a different part of your brain, or maybe it will lead us to a person we need to meet. For all we know, it could take us to a new life, or at the very least, a new awareness. 

One thing is for sure. We won’t know unless we follow it with our unbounded curiosity. 

2. Ask Questions of Others
The next step is to extend that same curiosity to those around us. 

How much do we really know about our friends, co-workers, and neighbors, or for that matter, all the people we interact with each week? 

I’m not talking just names, facts and figures, but how well we really know them. What struggles are they facing, what challenges have they overcome; how are their kids, their health, their work? What makes them laugh, brings them joy, gives them purpose? 

We think we know a person, but I suspect, most of us never really get beyond the biography part and into the essence of who someone really is. Today, that ends. 

And we can begin by taking a more conscious interest in those around us, which happens through the long lost art of asking questions—not interrogating, prying, or being nosey, but through a genuine desire to know someone more than we did before. 

Now, this doesn’t mean we should run out and ask the mailman what brings him joy, or start grilling our boss on her deep-seeded fears. We can’t engage everybody in the same way. Talking to your uncle is not the same as talking to the barista at Starbucks. In other words, be appropriately curious. 

We also need to work our way into a conversation, and to do that, we should start small. 

We can begin this week by learning one new thing about someone we know. But, don’t stop with just one person…do it with as many different people as you can.  From there, we can discover for ourselves how everyone has a story to share and how, with a little curiosity, that story can enrich all of our lives.   

“Never lose a holy curiosity.”
Albert Einstein

Ultimately, the goal of our curiosity is to to see the entirety of our life as something that needs to be examined. It is to realize that every moment and every person we encounter in life is part of our journey toward awareness. But, none of it means a thing, or will do a bit of good, unless we decide to actively partner with those experiences, infusing it with an open heart and a curious mind that is forever seeking more.  

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