Children naturally tend towards curiosity. Do you remember being a kid watching ants crawling in and out of that ant hill wondering what they were up to? Such a question, filled with genuine curiosity, might have led you to watching the ants for longer than you ever would today as they carried things in and out of a little mound of dirt. Children frequently have a curiosity about themselves and their surroundings that makes them naturally mindful to the world.
We tend to lose such curiosity as we enter adulthood. When was the last time we, as adults, curiously watched the clouds to see what we might find? As we grow older, in place of curiosity, our brains lay down short-hand information for us. Instead of actually experiencing moments, we experience the idea of a moment, based on concepts and memories rather than direct contact with sensory experience. Additionally, we become increasingly invested in not paying attention to information deemed as unimportant, or neutral, as our attention turns more and more towards chasing “the good stuff” and solving perceived problems in our minds. The clouds and ants go unnoticed, along with upwards of 90% of our daily experiences. They are filtered out as irrelevant, and therefore not worth noticing.
With formal mindfulness practices, we have an opportunity to bring curiosity to our inner and outer experiences once again. We might ask ourselves, “ what does this breath feel like?”, “ what body sensations are here?” or, “what am I believing right now?” These formal practices lay the groundwork for bringing curiosity to the rest of life. Indeed, in daily life, curiosity can be the gateway to living in the present moment, with less judgement and reactivity. What does this cup of coffee actually taste like? What are the layered sounds of traffic? What bodily sensations are here when I see my child smile, hear good news, or am running late for a meeting? Being with these questions guides us directly into the present moment. Bringing curiosity to these inquiries immediately moves us out of automatic pilot and reactivity and into a conscious, awake state in which we actually experience the “little moments” of our days. And, in the wise words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” They are, in fact, the vast majority of our lives.
Over the next few months, we will be reviewing some interesting research related to mindfulness and behavior change, with a particular focus on cultivating curiosity.
Till then – stay curious!