Being Curious

Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash
Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

“Be curious, not judgmental” - Walt Whitman

The other day I listened to a podcast between Ezra Klein and Judson Brewer talking about anxiety. If you have even mild bouts of anxiety, I highly recommend it: Ezra Klein and Judson Brewer on Anxiety

The core takeaway for me was around meditation, and how a key component of that is curiosity. A ton of meditation centers around focusing on your breath, but what does it mean to focus on your breath?

I did a Vipassana around 7 years ago. The long and short is that it’s a 10-day meditation retreat, free of charge, where you meditate silently for approximately 11 hours a day (with breaks for eating/walking/napping in between sessions). It is very intense, which is what attracted me to it in the first place. While I’ve gotten a few people to do it, I get why most people are not into the idea. It sounds like work, and really, it is. Most would rather go to the beach, and that’s valid.

But for me, someone who has pretty consistently struggled to maintain a sense of inner peace, it sounded like a key to unlocking my self. And, in many ways, it has become an incredible tool in my tool belt. I always feel better after doing it. At the same time, I really fight with it. It has always felt like making myself exercise, or do something against my will. Buster Benson talks a bit about this in his post Better than Meditation.

For me, I always feel like I’m enduring meditation. That the goal is just to get to the end and then I will be free. I will have done the chore. However, doing this, I’ve noticed that I actually feel this way about a lot of things.

If I just get through this project at Lambda School, I will be done with this pain. If I can just save X amount, I can get this Y. If I can just get through the end of this week, I’ll be free this weekend. If I just get this job, this apartment, this life.

I’m not the first person to have this realization. We are all on the hedonic treadmill to some degree or another. But do I want to spend my whole life just anticipating things? When do I actually get to enjoy things?

I recently saw a bit of an interview on Twitter with Mads Mikkelson where he mentions his philosophy about life, and it struck me as the most ideal possible way to really live:

This brings us back to curiosity. In the interview, Judson talks about curiosity as being a way of subverting your natural tendency to anticipate or ruminate. By being curious about the present, you take your attention away from the past and future, which don’t actually exist. Instead of just trying to get past your current state, you develop an interest in it, even if it feels painful.

How do you stop being anxious about the future? Develop an interest in the present. What is happening presently? You are breathing, you are existing in this world, everything about your circumstances is a miracle. Daniel Kaluuya agrees.

So what’s happening right now. What is your breath like. What are the nuances of it. What does it feel like leaving your nose. What’s the quality of your breath? How hot is it? How many seconds can you maintain focus on your breath? Can you just observe? Can you witness things? How long can you be curious about the current moment?

What is the current problem you are facing in life? Can you treat it like it’s a puzzle? A fun game? Or is it something to be endured? Is life just to be struggled against until you die? Or can you see it as an incredible opportunity, something to be curious about, to enjoy?

I read this article by Richard Feynman the other day around him finding his way back to loving physics. He reframed things through curiosity and play.

I’m not sure why that podcast with Ezra Klein pulled this all together for me, but it hit me hard. Listen to it! In the meantime, I’m going to try and remain curious.

Written on May 13, 2021