Curiosity Killed the Critic

phoenix in the washer“Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different from the way they are.” ~ Allan Lokos

Our cat, Phoenix, is a purring ball of black silky fur. We love her to distraction and are lenient cat parents, particularly when it comes to her getting on the kitchen table. She is an indoor cat who loves lap sitting and sun sleeping occasionally interspersed with running really really fast through the house and launching onto a window sill.

Recently, though, she’s been getting herself into some strange spots. In the past couple of weeks I’ve found her
• stuck in a box full of extension cords on a closet shelf,
• in the washing machine on top of the dirty clothes (see photo),
• on the stove,
• locked in my closet getting litter box paw prints on my dance clothes,
• under the bushes in the front yard eating a weed that she later barfed on the rug.
The saying goes that curiosity killed the cat. While I’m not saying she was ever in any actual mortal danger, Phoenix is absolutely pushing her luck.

My mind is a funny thing. Especially when I am in pain or fear, it leaps like lightening to criticism and disaster scenarios. The inside of my knee feels tight and painful and instantly I’m thinking I’ve been careless in my movement and now I’ve got a torn ligament. When I brace to tell Frank how much my speeding ticket was, I think I’m a reckless driver and I’m sure he’s really angry with me. Tight jeans? I’m fat and a mindless eater. It is going on all the time: something is happening and, quick like Phoenix onto the windowsill, I’m critically thinking it should be happening differently.

In a life practice of mindfulness, curiosity is a powerful good thing. Especially when I feel a reaction of fear or criticism or judgment, an approach of curiosity expands my thinking and my experience. Get curious and expectations, stories, assumptions, judgments and criticisms all scatter like a clowder of cats in a rainstorm. Curiosity can take me from wanting things to be different than they are to a direct experience of how they actually are.

Instead, when I feel pain in my knee, I can pause and notice the details: get curious about if it hurts only when I put weight on it or when I bend it. When I tell Frank unwelcome news, I can breathe and ask him about how he feels or what he thinks the best course of action is rather than assuming he’s angry with me and not the speed trap.

Curiosity can transform what’s scary into just what is. Curiosity is a cure for the suffering that happens when we want things to be different than they are. By approaching situations with a curious mind, I’m much more likely to pause, ask questions, wonder, and explore instead of clamping down, making up a story about what’s happening and working out how to make things the way I think they should be.

I’d rather Phoenix stayed off the back burner of the stove and out of the extension cords, but I’m doing my best to encourage curiosity in myself and others. I guess I better just double check before throwing in the laundry soap and starting the spin cycle.

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