The year of living curiously

Happy New Year Hope Street friends. We hope that the holiday season was kind and peaceful to you all.

January somehow brings with it time for reflection on the year that was. And for me, 2017 was to be the year of living curiously. It wasn’t particularly easy, but I did learn a few things.

Firstly, a curious approach possibly helped with what could have been an unsettling year. In 2017 I changed workplaces and jobs twice, I went from project-based work back to intensive clinical practice and I haven’t had a permanent work desk in over 6 months. In the past, these sorts of conditions could have sent my anxiety spiralling. But instead I went all wonder inquisitive-like. Less “how will I possibly cope?” and more “I wonder where I will get to sit today and if I will have a computer?”. It was sort of like making each day at work a football game and not knowing whether your team is going to win or not. The tension was good tension – uncertain, interesting and even a bit fun.

Secondly, I found out heaps of really wonderful things about all these wonderful people. Curiosity helped me make new friends. Hallelujah! And it helped me to discover new things about old friends.

I’ve never really had a problem finding people interesting, but being more curious helped relationships grow and blossom. It is far easier to form and maintain satisfying, significant relationships when we demonstrate an attitude of openness, curiosity and genuine interest. I really stopped worrying about what questions I asked people, if I was interested, I just asked. I gave up the notion of the ‘silly’ question. I tried not to care if my questions seemed obvious. I learnt so much from the people around me and maybe, just maybe, our relationships improved as a result.

I think I became more focused. This is a bit difficult to really say for certain, but after a year of curious living I feel that I’m more committed to what I choose to devote my attention to. Earlier in the piece, I was a complacent information receiver. I’d stick to the shallow end and learn new things superficially. Like skim reading the career highlights of Izzy from Neighbours off Wikipedia and then promptly forgetting. Whereas now, if I am interested in something I’ll invest my energy in reading a long article, watching a documentary and deepening my understanding of the taxidermy practices of the early 20th century (fascinating).

I read a bucketload of books. 55 in total. I kept a tally, because I was curious as to how many books (fiction and non-fiction) I could read in a year.

As a result of the content and consumption of books I read, I realised that despite believing I was a feminist, I was actually probably not a proper feminist. I have since started becoming a proper feminist.  

I did things I probably wouldn’t have done before. But more importantly, things that I did regularly didn’t feel so dull. I am a big believer in a solid routine, like really solid. But yes, it can get dull. Over time and with practice, curiosity managed to transform some (definitely not the majority) into interesting and enjoyable experiences.

But most importantly, curiosity helped me to find out more about myself. And it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it helped me be kinder to myself.

When we think about curiosity we might think about it as being anything but kind. We might imagine it to be intrusive or mean-spirited, as a demand to know. We might think of curiosity as seeking information with which we can judge – a means to measure ourselves. Maybe we imagine we will use what we discover as a means to feel superior or celebrate someone else’s misfortune. But I found it all to be quite the opposite.

We are born with this open-hearted curiosity. When a baby explores her life, the first thing she does is explore herself. What are these things attached to my hand? What is this shape that I will later call a finger? Can I put it my mouth? Can I waive it around?

A baby explores with open delight, with softness, with gentleness towards herself, with kindness. She does not push away what she discovers. She receives it - all of it, the comfortable and the painful, the joyful and the distressing. She explores and she discovers worlds within worlds. Nothing in her discoveries will be shut out. Nothing she does as she explores herself will be unkind.

As we grow to be adults we begin to curtail our curiosity of our self. We learn to stop looking, or look only on a very selective basis. We learn to judge. To compete and to be in a hurry. We jump ahead in our minds to later, to tomorrow, to next week, to next year. We don’t remember how to be open to what we can discover beyond the surface. We begin to use self-talk like should and have to and can’t. We learn to push ourselves away. We learn to be unkind.

So this year, when I would automatically ignore myself or began to judge my words or actions or imagine catastrophic events in the future, I’d instead try to practice curiosity. ‘I wonder why I said that to David in accounts? What a funny thing to say? It must have come from that interaction I had had with Jenny in HR the day before. Interesting. Perhaps I’m not such an idiot.’ With time it comes more naturally. I find out interesting things about how I work. And I begin to be less automatically harsh on myself.

Happy 2018 my friends. May you begin the year with some curiosity and discover some gifts in your own life today and always.

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