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Curiosity Leads to Peace and Joy

Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - February 2023

Newsletter - 2.23
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“I’ve been referred to as odd … but prefer to see myself as awed.” – Richard Wagamese

Curiosity, wonder, awe. The words alone bring me to a more centered place. And there’s a reason why this is so. We’re all born into this world with natural curiosity and wonder. Through a child’s eyes, it’s all pure possibility. Curiosity is how we learn. It’s how we make sense of our world, how we figure stuff out, how we connect with others. Then, suddenly, it’s gone – replaced, it seems, by more “adult” skills, like doing, achieving, succeeding, taking life seriously … you know, “the way life really is.”

What happened? Western upbringing teaches us to greet adult life more with the evaluative mind than the curious mind (as if curious were childish, and evaluative were adult-ish). The evaluative mind is a mind of judgment; it sees good/bad, like/dislike, right/wrong, then chooses – to enjoy, to fix, to avoid. It’s a mind geared to struggle. While the curious mind pulls us into life, the evaluative mind pushes us away from life, as if we are somehow separate. Seeing with this judgment of separateness, we try to control the world outside us. We complain we don’t have peace, yet we’re unaware we’re cultivating not-peace with every step. We struggle because we created it!

Imagine for a moment you had learned to have keen awareness of all that was happening around you, but had no need to label any of it, whether … a sunrise or flat tire … the laugh of a child or unkind words of a friend … a new home or big financial issue … going out for dinner or what you hear on the news. Imagine all as opportunities to be touched, to experience, to learn. This is how the curious mind greets life. What if heavy traffic were “just cars?” (It’s the same situation either way.)

Wayne Dyer once noted: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” You see the world every day, but the way you see the world lives largely in your unconscious. (You may not know you see with judgment; you may not know there are “other” ways to see.) Yet the impact of your seeing on how your life goes is huge. While you can’t change the world, you can change the way you see the world … so getting to know this aspect of yourself holds power for change … to release judgment, to be more aware, to find peace.

What’s the point here? The peace you seek lives inside you. It comes from how you see the world, not from trying to change it. The “work” is to learn to notice what’s happening (both in your thinking and in the world) rather than judge what’s happening. You cultivate peace by nurturing the kind of thinking that creates it.

A viewpoint of curiosity brings peace as an experience. Seeing with curiosity is “neutral.” It has no preconceived notions … of right/wrong, good/bad, courage/fear. Curiosity asks you to step back, not in (as habituated thinking advises), and see things from a broader perspective. It’s in growing the ability to see without judgment, without preconceived notions, without expectation, yet with keen personal clarity, that you re-wire your consciousness to connect with the [natural] peace inside you. As judgment wanes, curiosity fills the void.

You evoke this way of seeing by practicing it. A “practice” asks you to slow down (which life says not to do), be purposeful, and simply notice how you see and think today. This helps you release the evaluative mind (which life also says not to do) and enter the realm of curiosity – non-judgmental awareness of what’s happening right now.

I’ve found it helpful to add humor to the “work” of noticing. Humor is a motivator; and helps cement new ideas. My “curiosity humor” to see everything I encounter as entertainment. I’m just watching a movie. I’m as entertained by bad driving in heavy traffic as I am by the beauty of a sunset. This doesn’t make one better or worse; no, it simply removes the question of better/worse, so I just see what’s there – without judging. That brings me peace. The more I do it, the more peaceful I feel. I no longer get triggered by all life’s “oddities.” I see “awed-ities” instead.

Exercise: What does “a life of peace” mean to you? Do you already have it? Do you want it (or more of it)? Do you know what blocks you from what you want? Think here for a moment about how these ideas play out in your life. Last month I reflected on my own recent experiences of seeking peace. Curiosity changed it all.

Many common thoughts stand in the way of peace – resentment about the past, anxiety about the future, blame and judgment from (and of) others, the perceived impossibility of it all. These ideas show up for us as thoughts we don’t notice consciously until we look, yet at the same time are obstacles to peace … because we believe them!

A daily practice of quiet self-reflection (getting to know your thoughts) not only leads to self-trust (key ingredient to lasting peace) but develops an internal “early warning system,” so you recognize what might pull you off course before it does! Seeing the journey from start to end is often elusive, but playing it in reverse shows how it works.

· If you want freedom, peace and joy, you need to live in self-trust … where your inner truth lights your path and not the unpredictability, chaos and uncertainty of what happens in the external world.

· If you want to experience self-trust, you need to be in a place of personal clarity … about yourself, others, your place in the world, what’s going around you. Here, you see “what is,” objectively and without judgment.

· If you want to enjoy personal clarity, you need to nurture it with consciousness attention and awareness … so you get to know your own thoughts, your own truth, and all that would deprive you of it. Curiosity.

· If you want to nurture attention and awareness, you need to do it purposely, with regular practice of silence. Despite common belief, “trying” changes nothing; awareness changes everything.

So as you sit quietly each day (you do that, right?) play this sequence forward – over time you allow your silence to open you to awareness, which expands personal clarity, which releases judgment and activates curiosity, which in turn evokes self-trust … perhaps the key ingredient in shifting the direction of your view from outside you (the world, others) to inside you (authentic truth, silence, meaning, joy).

Life Lessons from Nature: I’m a curious person by nature. I want to know “why” about everything. It’s gotten me in trouble more than a few times over the years (some people simply don’t like big questions: bosses, teachers, military). I asked anyway. On the balance, curiosity has helped me make sense of my world, get to know human behavior, understand myself, and keep me open to new possibility. One ritual that evokes this inside me, perhaps more than anything else, is simply being in nature. I’m not trying to convince you to hug trees (although it might help), but I don’t recall a time I’ve been immersed in nature (even a back yard) when I haven’t experienced awe – at the mystery of life, how it works, how it’s both fragile and tenacious at the same time, how we “fit” into it all. The energy this feeling creates not only offers me peace, but fuel for the journey, too – to find/experience more.

Book of the month: Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, by Dacher Keltner. He views “awe” as an emotion resulting from experiences of life’s beauty and mystery together. A sunset, a kind act, nature, music, design, epiphanies. Concepts, stories, science, examples. Awe is a way of seeing that can be cultivated, in much the same way as I’ve suggested in this month’s article. So curious I found out about this book after being most of the way done writing the article. Awe. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.


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