Being Curious in the Face of Uncertain Times

POSTED September 10, 2023 IN
Curious bears

Image source: US Dept of Agriculture ©Hyder_bear7cub

In a recent talk I gave this past summer in San Francisco, I spoke on the Four Keys for Thriving in Chaotic Times. You may hear the talk in its entirety on our free broadcast airing the week of December 10-16, 2014.

After checking into the mid-term election results I’m especially having to practice the second key: Stay Curious — curiosity is an antidote to fear.

When I think of curiosity, I think of the first time Michael and I met the Dalai Lama and did an interview with him at a conference called “Seeking the True Meaning of Peace” in Costa Rica. Incidentally, it was at this conference that, for the first time, the Dalai Lama was officially welcomed into a country by a head of state. He had been to the United States, but he would come in through the back door, so to speak. However, in 1987, Oscar Arias, who was then the president of Costa Rica, welcomed him for the first time as a head of state.

It was a marvelous conference. For the concluding session we were gathered in a magnificent opera house located in the central square in San Jose, Costa Rica. The Dalai Lama gave a speech followed by some questions from the audience.

HH The Dalai LamaOne person made this comment, “Your holiness, you go around so happy all the time. I don’t understand it. Your country of Tibet is being devastated and overtaken by the Chinese and genocide is occurring, monasteries are decimated, and you’ll most likely never get to Tibet again. I don’t understand why you go around so happy all the time?” His Holiness said two things that truly punched me in the gut and changed my life. He said, “I go around happy because it makes me feel better.” As you can imagine, this created a lot of laughter in the crowd. That I feel better when I am happy is so deceptively obvious that it defies even being pointed out.

The other thing he said, was, “I do the work that I do not because I have any knowledge of how it’s going to turn out – but I do it because it’s the right and good thing for me to do.”

I realized that up until this point in my life I was only putting my energies towards the sure thing. I was only backing up winners. I wasn’t considering what my heart was telling me to do. Up until then I thought the Dalai Lama somehow had the ability to know the future, to know the outcome of his efforts. I then realized that he was holding the future loosely and continuing to do what is right and good for him to do. These thoughts have also been reflected by others such as Nelson Mandela, and Vaclav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia. Havel has put it this way: “None of us know all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population, or all the ways in which that population can surprise us when there is the right interplay of events”.

It seems to me that these great men make a practice of staying curious about the future. And they give their gifts to the world despite not knowing how it will turn out.

Jennifer LoudenAnd, I encourage us to be curious earlier, to go to curiosity as a first response rather than what may be our normal reactive, judgmental response. Jennifer Louden a life coach and life organizer says: “When we are curious, we drop our judgments and preconceptions. Being curious reminds us we can always evolve, adapt, soften and change. It reminds us that nothing is fixed in this amazing universe. It becomes a flexible prayer, bending with what life brings.” I love what Jennifer says about remaining curious. And I love the word soften. Soften — reminds me of flow and then it takes me back to the butterfly and how the caterpillar actually has to liquefy in the cocoon in order to become the butterfly. It has to let go of its physical form so the new can appear. Flowing can be described as being soft and yielding. Yet, like a river, it’s persistent, strong, and unrelenting. I love that idea of flow.

Also, curiosity is like the in-breath. Curiosity has a lightness to it. It lets in the light. The in-breath oxygenates the blood. It brings oxygen to the brain. It helps us to think better, to be more imaginative which helps us to be pilgrims of possibilities.

So I encourage you to join the “I don’t know” team whose motto is: I don’t know, but I’m curious to find out. And I’m willing to give my gifts toward the highest good without knowing the outcome.

— Justine Willis Toms
November 2014

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