On Curiosity

The theme this month at the Unitarian Church (a non-doctrinal, inter-faith community with a long history) I go to is curiosity. I like this: curiosity sounds like such a positive, life-affirming, even playful state of being to me. It’s also essential to learning. Curiosity demands that we arrive with openness, with presence, and that we leave what we think we already know aside and be prepared for something new, maybe even something unexpected. Maybe even something wondrous. Curiosity demands that we be engaged in the moment, attending to whatever presents itself.

This type of curiosity is akin to listening, and I think true listening is something that we can never do too much of. When a friend visits and I ask how she is, I am being curious in a good way: I want to know her more deeply. I am ready to listen. I do my best to leave aside what I might think I already know about her to be truly open to her story.

Alice in Wonderland

Yesterday I brought a book to the two appointments I had at two different hospitals: Joan Halifax’s Being with Dying, which had been recommended to me by a couple of people. I always appreciate Buddhist teachings, and in these days of uncertain future I need especially to hone my practice of being in the moment. In her introduction, Halifax writes of “not-knowing.” This tenet, she says, “invites us to give up fixed ideas about others and ourselves and to open the spontaneous mind of the beginner.” This sounds a lot like the state of curiosity to me. Halifax notes that

Our attitude of openness and inclusiveness is essential as a basis for working with the dying, death, caring, and grieving. The only way to develop openness to situations as they are is by practicing the partners of presence and acceptance. We give our best to experience everything as totally as we can, not withdrawing from the vividness of any experience, no matter how scary it seems initially.

Openness, presence, acceptance. These are what we need to live fully in the moment. We can bring this sort of curiosity to our everyday lives. We can also bring it to our contemplation of death.

curious cat cartoon

In my last post I wrote about the role of imagination in confronting our mortality. While curiosity seems like another good strategy against the avoidance and fear of death, it might, as my new assistant Lauren (who is also my son’s very smart and lovely girlfriend) suggests, actually be a first step towards imagining. She notes that “we’re all curious about death (to varying degrees, of course), so we’re already partway there. I guess it’s about not letting the fear get in the way of exploring that curiosity.”

So which aspects of death are you perhaps already curious about? And which are uncomfortable for you? Would it be possible to let yourself be curious about those instead?

Maybe it’s time to let your morbid curiosity loose!

About susanbriscoe

English teacher, writer
This entry was posted in On Dying and Living and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to On Curiosity

  1. susanbriscoe says:

    Je regrette, mais je ne traduis pas mes postes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. curioussteph says:

    I’m a big fan of curiosity myself (hence my blog title), and I find bringing curiosity makes things more interesting and less intimidating or scary in general. I love your use of morbid curiosity!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. janfalls says:

    Curiosity, listening, openness, presence, acceptance – I think you’ve covered all the bases Susan. I like your curiosity levels a lot!! 🙂 Keep sharing these ideas with us, so much to learn from you. with appreciation, Janice

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marilyn clulow says:

    Having trained as a nurse and having worked as a volunteer in a hospice, and caring for my mother, father and sister when they were dying I have no fear of death even for myself. I enjoy my life at 82,to the fullest but do know for a fact that the day I feel I am no longer enjoying life and am unable to do all the things I enjoy now and am beginning to lose my independence , I will inform friends and family and very quietly slip away with no fuss or bother. I am not religious but deeply spiritual and I know what awaits on the other side and it is pretty mind blowing and glorious, so no fear here. I live each day with deep gratitude learning more and more how to live from a place of love and emanating that love to the best of my ability as I go about my day. Thank you Susan for all that you share, about how to die with such grace. You give more than you can imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cate says:

    As you note, “curiosity” is a wise guiding principle for living as well as dying. And I Iove the cat cartoon! Thank you.


  6. Pingback: Sunday, 4/22/18 – Terry L. Dutton

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