Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself? ~ Rumi
A new client recently asked me what I do for my spiritual practice. We were talking about lots of different the options for her— seated meditation, moving meditations like yoga and tai chi, prayer, reading and reflecting on sacred texts, chanting, and daily mindfulness.
My personal spirituality is fed by many paths and my practices shift and change over the years, as I grow and evolve. I do, or have done all of the above and more at one time or another. One constant for me over the decades has been a regular yoga practice and for the past several years I’ve also been devoted to Centering Prayer, which is a form of meditation created by Christian monks who were inspired by Buddhist practices. This combination feels like it honors the three traditions that feed and nurture me.
But that’s not what I talked about with my client. Because it actually doesn’t matter what practice you choose, as long as you do it regularly. Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth, show up for it no matter what, and don’t judge how it goes. Just do it and get on with your day.
What I talked to my client about was a practice that has completely revolutionized my daily life: curiosity.
Now, I’m not talking about plain old child-like wonder, ordinary inquisitiveness, or the kind that killed the cat. The dictionary definition gets a little closer with, “a strong desire to know or learn something”.
What I’m talking about here is a consistent commitment to meet absolutely every single person, event, and feeling thing that shows up in your life with a deep and abiding curiosity. To live in a state of patient and observant noticing, rather than your habitual reactivity. To strongly desire an intimacy with yourself and with life.
Curiosity means instead of snapping at someone because I’m angry, I sit with the feeling and energy of anger in my body and notice it. I notice my thoughts, the angry tirade running through my head, the desire to run and hide from the uncomfortable feelings. I just witness, without judgement, and see what I can learn about myself. I gently inquire; I’m curious.
Maybe I ask a few questions: What’s happening here? What am I supposed to learn right now? How am I being triggered and what old thing is coming up now? What if I waited, what would happen then? What would my deepest wisdom advise here? What is the most loving response I could have now?
What response will actually free me?
The way to change your reactive habits is to intervene in between the stimulus (whatever is pushing your buttons) and your reaction. Curiosity can be that intervention.
Sometimes I hold these questions in my mind for days, or even weeks or months. I keep touching back in and asking for insight, for new information, and for the deepest truth to reveal itself. That kind of fruit simply can’t ripen in an instant. I’ve had to give up the momentary satisfaction of a well-timed smart remark or having the last word, but that’s all just my ego trying to protect itself, isn’t it? That’s not the part of myself I ultimately want to esteem.
It just so happens that a daily spiritual practice, like meditation or yoga, actually trains you in curiosity. Present in the moment, you observe your thoughts and physical sensation, while anchoring your mind in something, like the physical sensation of the posture, your breath, or a mantra. This trains you to be patient, to stop reacting, and to receive all of yourself without judgement. This allows curiosity to settle in for a nice long residency.
Curiosity has been incredibly powerful in my life. It opens me to inner wisdom, calms me, and illuminates everything over time, helping me see things in new and unexpected ways. Give it a try. I guarantee that there’s nothing so urgent that it can’t wait for you to observe yourself for a bit and drop into a deeper, wiser place before responding.