Practicing Curiosity

March 31, 2016

 

 

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.” 

- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

I would like to confess, right from the start - I have miserably bad hand/eye coordination. This impacts me most when I attempt to play a sport where I have to hit or catch a ball; though this insight may give you pause if you were considering throwing something to me. You could infer from this I am not sporty, and you would be right. I did not play sports when I was a kid any more than was expected of me for gym class at school. Why am I so bad at catching stuff?

 

Now here is where I could sing you a sad song about how I am simply untalented in this area – that I lack the skill. The truth is that I do lack the skill, though it shouldn’t be inferred that I’m incapable of it. To do so would be making a judgment on an activity I’ve scarcely done.

 

Or I could say that the demands of my ballet training left me no time to indulge in the quintessential childhood activity of playing catch or competing in sports, and how this has left me unable to hit or catch a ball. And it would be closer to the truth, though to say I am now ‘unable’ would be to judge that I missed the window of opportunity to learn something like this.

 

The truth is that I am bad at hand/eye coordination because I don’t engage in activities that would practice this skill. What’s even more true is that to say I’m ‘bad’ at it is another judgment. The most accurate statement would be to say I am unpracticed. I have no reason to believe I couldn’t improve my hand/eye coordination if I practiced throwing and catching things. And so why don’t I?

 

“Becoming ‘awake’ involves seeing our confusion more clearly.” -- Rumi

 

Well, it’s a little embarrassment, and a lot ego. I think it’s a universally human trait to like things we do well and avoid things we don’t. But if we boil down the embarrassment and ego, I think what we end up with is self-judgment.

 

Judgment, whether directed at self or others, seems to end up negative, or at least limiting. And yet we make judgments on things all the time – another universally human trait. Even mundane, trivial, tiny things are not immune to our judgment of whether they are right or wrong, good or bad, etc. It helps us understand the world. It makes us feel like we know stuff.

 

I have a theory and it goes like this – we judge things because we are uncomfortable with confusion. Confusion is unclear, and unclear is unsettling. Unsettling is upsetting. And so on. So we make judgments on things, which looks a little like sorting through a pile of blocks and organizing them into boxes based on arbitrary criteria such as shape, color, size, etc. There. That’s orderly and organized. Feels better already, doesn’t it?

 

The problem is, in my experience, life has a way of pulling that rug out from under you, and suddenly the stuff you thought you had figured out is maybe not as permanent and true as you judged it to be.

 

For instance - what if you organized the blocks by color, and then someone, say an authority figure like a teacher, came along and said, “No, you did that wrong. You don’t sort them by color; you should group them by shape. Obviously.” Now you were just judged and told you were wrong. The proverbial rug was yanked out from under you. But the funny thing is that you’re only ‘wrong’ if you believe the judgment that blocks should only and always be grouped by shape. We know that’s not the only option. Why is it the only ‘right’ one? Because Instructor Judge-y McJudgerton said so.

 

Going back to my hand/eye coordination dilemma, the judgment is self-inflicted. Even though there is no mystery as to why I’m not good at throwing and catching, I judge myself harshly when I can’t just do it well immediately, and get embarrassed because I’m afraid you’re judging me harshly too. Unrealistic, right? But to get past my judgment I would have to be willing to be in confusion about how to do it better. And as we’ve established, confusion is uncomfortable.

 

So what’s the solution?

 

“Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn new things.” – S.C. Lourie

 

My hypothesis is this: the cure for judgment is confusion, and the cure for confusion is curiosity.

 

If judgment is black and white, curiosity is every color EVER. Every amazing we’ve learned, discovered, or created as a human race has come from somebody getting curious about something. They looked at a thing, suspended the need to get judge-y, and instead said, “Huh. What’s that about?” And then the amazing human capacity for curiosity kicked in and they were off to the races, coming up with every kind of potential concept and conclusion.

 

This entire line of thought came about as I was formulating the upcoming workshop, Doing the Hard Stuff. This workshop came about because as I work with more and more teachers and students of other teachers, the more I hear that there are certain (often predictable) exercises that get purposely omitted. They are omitted not because of a contraindication like injury. They are omitted because they are disliked. This confused me. … Well, to be honest, first I got judge-y. I was like, “What do you mean you don’t teach/do that? It’s an essential part of the Method!” But then I recognized I was being Judge-y McJudgerton, and I checked myself. THEN I got confused. Why are these exercises disliked? The answer, when I went looking for it, inevitably was ‘because I’m not good at it.’ Oh sweet, familiar judgment. So rather than acknowledging confusion and getting curious, they slapped a judgment on it and banished it to the ‘land of unpracticed things because I’m not immediately good at it’, where it keeps company with my throwing/catching situation .

 

And so I created this workshop. I am purposefully creating a situation where we look at the stuff that is hard, the stuff we avoid, and allowing for confusion.  Once we’ve all fessed up to that and realized we survived, we can begin to entertain the curiosity that creeps in when you gaze on something and get interested in the possibilities. Rather than a lesson in ‘how to do it right’ (JUDGMENT!) we’ll instead create a space to look more deeply, see the component pieces, and explore how other parts of the Method can assist us in learning this challenging thing. There WILL be more than one way. There will be many ways, and all of them will be possible. Judge-y McJudgerton will not be invited. We will organize our stack of blocks all kinds of different ways – and perhaps I’ll summon the courage to have you toss me a few.

 

“Be curious, not judgmental.” – Walt Whitman

 

 

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