Mindfulness is about learning to work skilfully with our present-moment experience so that we can flourish and lead a fulfilling, meaningful, and healthy life. Curiosity is an important one of these skills that motivates us to notice, gain insight, learn about, and explore the world around us, as well as the subtle, rich complexity of our inner experience.
The word derives from the Latin “curiosus”, meaning to be careful, inquiring, and diligent. Curiosity is closely linked to the mindfulness skill of beginner’s mind. This is about seeing the world with a fresh openness as if through a child’s eyes, seeing something for the first time. Using curiosity, we can reveal what lies behind the assumptions we apply to reality that may otherwise remain hidden and filtered out of our awareness.
This type of curiosity is not about problem-solving and analysing with the mind; it’s about using our attention and awareness to really explore what we experience. The practice of mindfulness is like being a pioneering explorer, setting out from our own front door to discover the world and our place within it. This includes our thoughts, emotions, feelings, impulses, behaviour, tastes, sounds, or sensations in the body. Curiosity is a useful tool for moving beyond what our mind ‘knows’, to a more connected and vivid experience of how things really are in the present.
Mindful curiosity can shine a light on our habit patterns, held beliefs, opinions, assumptions, expectations, biases, and judgements that no longer serve us or other people. We can also use curiosity to notice our impulse to resist, avoid or change what we’re experiencing. When we’re curious, we’re also practising accepting and allowing things to be as they already are.
One practical example is using curiosity to relieve pain. Imagine that you have a slight headache, for instance; rather than ruminating about how awful it is, try approaching the discomfort with curiosity. You can explore the actual physical sensations by asking yourself, “Does it feel warm or cold?”, “How far does the area extend?”, and “What does the pain actually feel like?”. Using curiosity in this way begins to change the nature of your relationship with your experience, so may well change the way you feel about it. Interestingly, there’s a growing body of evidence that practising mindfulness can help relieve physical pain.
Curiosity means asking questions and challenging assumptions about our experience, for instance:
- Noticing that one moment you were aware and the next moment you’re drifting off in thought. Where did your attention go? How did this happen? And why did you not notice the transition?
- Using curiosity, the next time you feel a strong emotion like anger. Instead of acting on it, or entertaining angry thoughts, use curiosity to acknowledge the emotion, noticing feelings and physical sensations, where it resonates in your body, observing thoughts that arise, and then allowing it to take its natural course and see what happens.
- Tasting a fruit, like a peach, with awareness, curiosity and beginner’s mind to explore whether this changes your assumptions or expectations.
- Being curious during meditation practice, for example, noticing what happens when you observe a thought without entering into the full meaning of it. Was the thought a sound, an image, or something else?
Playful exploration, discovery, insight, and learning are all involved when we practise curiosity. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious”. By being curious we’re more engaged with the world around us, which brings a sense of meaning and connection. Cultivating curiosity enriches our experience, breaks through our self-imposed blind spots, and helps us to become the best possible version of ourselves.
Suggested weekly practice
- Bringing curiosity into your daily experience, like noticing sights and sounds around you with a sharper focus as you are walking outside.
- Being curious about your beliefs, opinions, and habits that no longer serve you or others. For instance, how long have you had this habit? What do people who are close to you say about it? Are you open to changing it? If not, what makes you hold onto it?
- Noticing what you are curious about, where you naturally want to expand your knowledge. This could be at work, or in creative activities like music, art, or writing.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware. There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore your experience with curiosity, expand your awareness and discover insights.