A friend had a brain tumor. I thought that just happened on soap operas. Evidently not. She told me that it was scary (well, yeah, I said) but that the medical science of scanning her brain and doing the surgery were fascinating to her. She was curious about everything they were doing and how they were doing it. She looked at all the pictures of her gray matter and asked lots of questions. My friend was still shaken by her experience, for sure, but her curiosity shifted it from just frightening to a deeper connection. And yes, she’s fine now.
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.
Inquiry seeks truth, information, knowledge. Inquiry -> curiosity -> focused attention -> distraction-resistant mind. Undistracted minds are calm and creative. Good.
In Nia, inquire into your experience of sensation, movement. Tweak as needed to sustain and increase pleasure.
The spirit of inquiry offers space.
“In between stimulus and response is a space. In that space lies our power and freedom to choose. How we wield those choices determines our happiness.” — Viktor Frankl
Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness offers space. Highly recommended.
Does inquiry shift intense, uncomfortable situations or repetitive, familiar ones? Do tell!
As I helpfully pointed out last week, the title of this blog is “Focus Pocus: The Magic of Inquiry and Intent.” I’d love to tell you that to come up with the name, I researched and did focus groups and hired a marketing consultant. Actually, it came to me like a hiccup as I drove over the Spudnuts Bridge on the way to teach class.
Not a terribly sophisticated process, I grant you, but it’s a good name and I believe in it.
Last week, I wrote about Intent, and some of you shared your intentions (thank you for that!). Intent is the fuel for what we do. Intent is WHY we do what we do.
So what about Inquiry?
Inquiry means (among other things) a seeking or request for truth, information or knowledge. Inquiry presumes some amount of curiosity. Curiosity provides some amount of focused attention. Focused attention trains the mind to resist distraction. An undistracted mind is calm and creative. So inquiry is really about directing the energy of the mind in a calm and creative way. Worth pursuing, I must say (to quote Ed Grimley)!
Inquiry in Nia
In Nia, our inquiry is the mind’s exploration and investigation of the body’s experience. When an instructor (invoking Principle 13) says, “Everybody sense your feet,” it is an invitation to inquire into your experience of your feet. When we do a repeated movement, the invitation is to inquire into your body’s experience of that movement – and how you can tweak it to sustain and increase pleasure. When emotions come up, these too are invitations to inquire and investigate the sensations and experience (no need to analyze!).
Inquiry in Life
The practice of inquiry isn’t limited to Nia class, though. Approaching all experiences in the spirit of inquiry can offer a bit of space between ourselves and our sensations, thoughts and emotions. That space, in turn, gives us time to respond with curiosity and creativity. To simply to be present with what is happening. The truth is, that although I resist this truth, the truth really is that everything changes and mostly we don’t have to do anything but simply observe.
The Wheel of Awareness
Dan Siegel, psychiatrist, researcher, author and award-winning educator, created a practice of inquiry called The Wheel of Awareness. Dr. Siegel’s Wheel practice begins with the image of sitting at the bottom of the ocean where all is calm, quiet and peaceful. At the surface of the ocean, storms may be raging or waves crashing, but we are observing those movements from the stillness of the ocean depth. The practice is then to turn attention, shift the dial of awareness, to various experiences: the breath, physical sensation, thoughts and emotions, connections with others and even awareness itself. This curious inquiry is one that allows investigation without needing to change or fix any experience that is occurring. The wheel gives us the opportunity to “change the channel” rather than getting stuck on one experience or another. Dr. Siegel’s Wheel demonstrates we do have the ability to observe but not get tangled in what is happening. Rather than bobbing like a cork on a turbulent sea, we can sit a bit apart and watch what is happening on the surface. At the same time, The Wheel of Awareness practice can offer insights and clarity into an otherwise muddled or stormy situation.
In class and in life this week, inquire into your experience and see what you observe. Resist the temptation to change, fix, analyze or understand. Simply notice and respond with calm, curious interest. See how inquiry can shift either intense or uncomfortable situations as well as repetitive, familiar or even boring ones. As always, I love LOVE to hear about how you are using this and what you notice as you practice.
Focus Pocus, y’all!