The Nature of Curiosity

Welcome to the ninth post in the year-long series of Walking the Path of Heartfulness, a monthly meditation gathering. This month’s theme is The Nature of Curiositywhat has become the 4th principle of my work via Growing Our Voice. I invite you to bring a curiosity as you explore its nature through this post and guided meditation. My wish is for this brief exploration to inspire the deepening of your inner journey.

Meditation teacher, Dawn Mauricio, defines curiosity as 

an essential quality we bring to our mindfulness practice that combines kindness and interest to help us stay engaged.”

I have begun to experience curiosity as a refuge and as a mentor – it helps me remember presence, remember my inherent wholeness and worthiness, and this becomes a space of safety and rest, especially when life is difficult or the mind is experiencing turbulence.

For example, in my morning meditation my mind has been planning, quite intensely – as a way to soften the tension of planning, I bring in curiosity – ah, what does this experience feel like in the body? What is underneath this intense pull to plan? What happens when I remind myself that nothing has to happen right now and to rest back?

Let’s begin with a poem I think beautifully describes the nature of curiosity…

When Beginning the Poem by Andrea Potos

May there be a listening
rather than a making

curiosity over expectation,

lightness and ease,
no straining
toward some glut of air.

May you step aside
like a watcher at the meadow’s edge
as the doe
finds her way to the center.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, in the 17th century curiosity was defined as “desire to see or learn what is strange or unknown.” 

In many ways, this is what meditation (formal or informal) uncovers – the unknown – the conditioning that is happening outside of our awareness. 

I am currently listening to Caverly Morgan’s book The Heart of Who We Are: Realizing Freedom Together and she said, 

“What we are unconscious to, silently governs us.” 

Meditation practice, especially over time (and definitely on retreat) allows us to uncover the quiet conditioning. This is because we are curious to know ourselves, our true nature – of wholeness.

We are not our thoughts. We are not our conditioning. Curiosity encourages us to explore this.

Clinical psychologist and mindfulness and self-compassion teacher Shauna Shapiro talks about 3 Pillars of Mindfulness in her book Good Morning, I Love You.

The 3 Pillars are:

  1. Intention – Why we pay attention
    • “Intentions set the compass of our heart in the direction we want to head.”
  2. Attention – Training & Stabilizing our focus in the present
    • “Where we focus our attention becomes our life.”
    • Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, is known for saying “where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows”
  3. Attitude – HOW we pay attention
    • Shapiro states this pillar is often overlooked
      • “How we pay attention determines our ability to see clearly, to learn effectively, and to respond wisely and compassionately.”
    • AND this is where curiosity can be found!!!

There is much research out there that demonstrates that an attitude of curiosity (and kindness) [this is why I like to say “kind curiosity”] “enables learning and information-processing areas of the brain to function more effectively” (Shapiro, 2020). It taps into the reward-based part of the brain – doing things that feel good and fewer things that feel bad.

This is what is called “I-curiosity” – interest curiosity. We learn better when we are interested in something or when we uncover something we didn’t know and knowing is experienced as pleasant.

Judson Brewer, well-known addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist, shares in his book Unwinding Anxiety  two reasons why the process of being curious feels good

“First, with interest curiosity, you don’t need something outside of yourself to get a reward–the curiosity is rewarding in and of itself–and second, because of its inherent nature, it doesn’t run out.”

He talks about using the sound hmm as a mantra in your meditation:

“When you use hmm as a mantra, you bring out your childlike fascination, especially if you haven’t used it in a while. Hmm helps you drop right into your direct experience, instead of getting stuck in your head trying to do something about those pesky habit loops or to fix yourself.”

I have found this can be so useful during daily living – when engaging with someone or a task – bringing this kind curiosity – hmm what is this all about? Or hmm let me see if I can bring compassion to this conflict?

You may have heard meditation teachers encourage those familiar with meditation to bring a beginner’s mind. Sunryu Suzuki who is known for his teachings on beginner’s mind shares,  

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Possibility is a benefit of kind curiosity that we cultivate in meditation. This is the attitude of “don’t know mind.” When I was on retreat in August I saw this beautiful calligraphy painting and in the corner of it was this English quote:

This is another way to understand curiosity – hmm, what do I expect here? What if I drop it? Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway storyteller and writer, reflects this as well in his book Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations

“Teachings come from everywhere when you open yourself to them. That’s the trick of it, really. Open yourself to everything and everything opens itself to you.”

Curiosity is a welcoming, is an opening to all things – this encourages surrendering, surrender dipped in wonderment – in this way, trust in one’s self grows. Curiosity becomes a refuge where practice deepens, the conditioned mind is understood and freed, the heart gives and receives, the body is energized and at ease.

Mindfulness teacher and writer, Eowyn Ahlstrom, shares this poem Welcoming in her book Mindscapes

The ancient art of welcoming offers itself to you

like an open door.

Curious, you enter,

stepping through into its wide space.

Cautious, you pause.

With eyes wide,

ears open,

body softly poised,

a recognition emerges,

an understanding grows,

little by little, strong and slow,

unfolding as oak from acorn:


is where you always are.

We are the door and curiosity is the key.  Let’s practice….

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