What IS this? Becoming Curious About Experience

Nobody likes being stressed or being in pain. Our natural response is to push the stress or the pain away, either consciously or unconsciously. This can be helpful in the short term but it’s not a long term solution. 

Mindfulness practice invites us to pause and pay attention to what is happening in the present moment. There are basically only two components of the present moment: The experience and our reaction to that experience. Mindfulness lets us observe what is happening, but mindfulness in itself is not enough. There is another quality that is almost equal in importance, namely curiosity. 

Usually we are not curious about our experience and definitely not about our reactions. We can observe something in our experience and be filled with judgment and hostility. We just want the experience to be different as we believe that this would take care of the reaction, too. If my kid would stop throwing a tantrum, if my colleague would stop being so negative, if I could get rid of that headache…

So what would happen if you would instead get curious about your reaction about the experience? If you would ask yourself instead: “What IS this?” and to do so with an open mind, not knowing the answer and not needing the answer to be a certain way. 

Curiosity in mindfulness practice is not about coming up with ideas and thoughts and theories. Curiosity in this context, is happening in a different way. More like a field scientist gathering data. You start to see more clearly: When this happens, it leads to that. For example, when my kid starts screaming and throws herself on the floor then tightness arises in my chest, there is anxiety, and helplessness and frustration. Out of that, the urge to raise my voice, to do something to get this to stop is increasing. How interesting! If I am able to actually be aware of this process mindfully and with curiosity then the miracle of choice opens up. I can choose the response that is the most in alignment with my values, for example to not yell at my kids. Victor Frankl is quoted to have said that between the stimulus and the response there is a space. And in that space lies our freedom to choose. It can free us from the habit loop, from reacting on autopilot. 

Curiosity propels us out of autopilot and the judging mind and opens the field for new discovery and learning. The next time your find yourself not liking what’s going on in the present moment consider becoming curious about it and let the question “What IS this?” change your world. 

Christiane Wolf
Senior Teacher, Teacher Council