I have no special talents.
I am only passionately curious.
The thing I'm proudest of
is that I have stayed curious.
~ Jane Fonda
Despite the saying that "curiosity killed the cat," curiosity is a primary motivating factor for self-awareness, growth and change! Transformation and innovation are fueled by curiosity about how things work and why, inside and out, micro and macro.
Babies and young children are constantly curious and interested in their surroundings and in how things work, experimenting in a multitude of ways, constantly exploring their environment. Everything is new and fascinating. Young children are famous for driving their parents to distraction by constantly asking "why?"
Over time, curiosity often wanes, as life becomes more familiar and routine, and a sense of wonder often dissipates. Many people become jaded and blinded to their surroundings and to their inner world. Yet it doesn't have to be this way! The cultural interest in mindfulness is a healthy "fad" as it encourages a moment by moment awareness of what is. This awareness is, in a sense, curiosity, or at least arises from curiosity.
In over 20 years as a therapist, I find that clients who are curious or become curious during the process of our work together, are most able to utilize therapy, getting to know themselves in a deeper way, facilitating change and transformation. This curiosity about their lives, inside and out, how they got to be who they are and how they got to be where they are, allows them to get to know themselves better and have more choice in their lives.
There is so much to be curious about in life, so many things to learn about in the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual realms as well as in science, the arts, technology,politics, history, literature etc. Curiosity keeps us vital and engaged in life and gives our lives direction and meaning.
Life can only be understood backwards,
but it must be lived forward
- Soren Kierkegaard
One of the great paradoxes of life is that we live our lives the best we can and yet only when we are further along in life and we look back, can we see our life clearly: the roads not taken ( and those taken), the choices that took us in one direction rather than another. Whether we live our life in a spontaneous manner or a more planned,directed one, it still really can't be understood until we are older and have some perspective. Then we can see our life, as though from an aerial view, its theme, its meaning, its trajectory.
Yet as Kierkegaard says, all we can do is live our lives forward, the best we can, with the information we have at the time, imperfectly pursuing our dreams, desires, and passions in spite of our limitations and fears, and the impact of our health, family history, race, gender, and social class.
What does it mean to live your life forward? How do you do this? How do you decide what's important to you? What is it you seek as you live your life forward? Is it financial and career success and/or satisfaction, happiness (and what does this mean to you?) a partner and/or family, good health, good friendships, social or political activism, travel?
There are so many possibilities that each person chooses or works toward in their own unique way. The infinite permutations of all these possibilities make each life one of a kind!
And how do you deal with getting or in some cases not, all the things you desire? As much as you may try to control your life and life in general, you do not really have complete a say in what happens. Illness, natural disasters,(in)fertility, love appearing or not, staying or not, job(in) security, etc etc. There are so many pieces to the puzzle of life that don't form a coherent narrative, until time has passed and there is space for perspective to look backward and see what your life has been.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley