Curiouser and Curiouser

In my last blog post (called “On Anger”)”I talked about the experience of going off the rails in the course of an otherwise perfectly lovely day. More specifically, the experience of going from a sort of “bless you” state of mind to an f…well…you know state of mind. I proposed that there is, in fact, a gift within that off-the-rails-what-just-happened-rage feeling that can sometimes and without warning take one over in traffic or at home or wherever. Getting to that gift, however, is sometimes easier said than done and certainly not instinctive. So, let me offer a path that works for me.

First up, and in case you don’t read another word, feel. I have never nor will I ever propose to anyone, anywhere that you not feel what you’re feeling. Ever. You must feel your life. More often than not it is our efforts to not feel into the life that is actually happening that cause us to wake up to a life we wish wasn’t actually happening as it is. So for sure, feel. Feelings are important. Even, and perhaps especially, the uncomfortable ones. They provide contrast e.g., “I do NOT want to be feeling this.” And in so doing they provide information. In so many ways, our feelings are the compass we come hardwired with. However, they are only useful if we dig into them consciously. This is easier and more fun than you might think. Stick with me.

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A few years back I was looking for something to read and randomly grabbed The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander off a shelf in my father’s office. This book rocked my world. One reason is a passage (which I’m obviously paraphrasing wildly) in which Mr. Zander talks about something he would do with his students at the New England Conservatory of Music - an extremely prestigious institution. His goal was to help his students become true artists. His challenge is that such elite musicians have undergone years of disciplined, regimented training. So, one of the first things he would ask of them was very specific and crazy powerful. He asked that as they are playing a piece of music and they feel like they just made a mistake, they stop, put their bow on their stand, smile big, put their arms in the air(as in “Wow!) and declare out loud “How fascinating!” I. So. Freaking. Love. This. I have lost count of the number of times I have shared it and - for sure - lost count of the number of times I have used it. How fascinating! You see, one of the biggest keys and gaps separating the student from artistry is a willingness to grow, is regimented self-judgement. 

Perfection, or rather its constant pursuit, is the enemy of artistry and innovation. Curiosity on the other hand is its best friend. 

This, by the way, is not some broad macro level lesson. This is super specific. Bringing curiosity - “How fascinating!” - to any so called mistake or discomfort creates the space to willingly, even joyfully drill down on whatever behavior or thought caused you to get to that mistake. Then within the same space created by curiosity there’s room to look for contrast. In other words, there’s room to recalibrate where you really DO want to go and how to get there. Heck, your curiosity may have just revealed a new direction, an even better one. All in the midst of a “mistake.” How fascinating!

So, back to me (or you) on my way somewhere, perfectly on time listening to something I love and all is well until I round the bend and BOOM construction traffic allowing only one lane at a time causing a huge delay and I’m off the rails. Back to the child in my head (or yours) confronted with this and melting down completely. Again, I get to take a breath and internally say to that childish voice, “Okay, okay. I’m right here. Use your wards. What’s going on? What just happened? What do you need?” Because in that moment I think what’s happening is that my inner voice - my inner child if you like - is telling me something it desires deeply and something it feels threatens the fulfillment of that need. This is amazing information. 

The shortest path to that information involves first allowing myself to feel into the anger. I mean it, scream your lungs out, punch pillows, put in some earbuds with some angry-ass music and swamp it out until you’ve danced yourself to the floor. Whatever works. Just feel it. Then stop. Put your “bow” on your music stand. Smile big. Put your hands in the air and declare out loud (and more than once), “How fascinating! How fascinating!” Be curious. Be curiouser and curiouser. And curiouser more. Within that curiosity in the midst of your feelings - whether uncomfortable ones like anger, or the fun ones like joy - lies the compass heading that your highest life, your longed for experience of yourself starting right now, is awaiting. 

It’ll take practice, sure, but it’s worth practicing. Be compassionate with yourself as you do. And each time may yield new and deeper gifts. And all that’s needed is to be willing to be curious. You’re worth a bit of curiosity don’t you think?

Be good to you.

Curiously yours,

Brian

Brian Perry