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February 19th, 2019
A good way to think about the process of curiosity is to think of stepping stones. Each step is a place from which we take in our surrounding situation and then formulate a question. It is this question, if crafted well enough, if intriguing enough, and perhaps down right annoying enough that propels us from where we are into some unknown direction. A direction we hypothesize might hold the answer.
But answers turn out to be elusive creatures. Sure we might find some kind of short-term answer that technically fulfills our original question, but it often comes with the strange baggage of a new context. Most often, when our old question is reconsidered in this new context, something is much different: the satisfaction of the answer found is not long lasting. The new context is akin to a new room with more doors to explore. Often finding an answer is simply just a short reprieve before another question takes us in a new direction.
Another way to phrase this entire process is to think of the questions that arise as the problems of life that arise. A bleaker way of looking at the process of living can appear to look like an endless stream of problems we need to solve.
We hear such parlance all the time. “What’s the problem now?”
Such questions are said as though there will actually be a time when no problems exist.
This turn for the cynical is only to highlight the former.
Those who enjoy life the most have either mastered a way of relating to life on a moment-to-moment basis as in someone who has mastered mindfulness, or life is composed of a series of interesting questions that engage a sense of wonder and curiosity, and such a person is constantly propelled forward towards a new and ever-growing context.
We might for a moment remind ourselves of children who carry around verbal machine guns fully locked and loaded with magazines full of questions.
The difference between life as a series of annoying problems and life as a string of interesting questions is essentially a difference of perspective and attention. And perspective is a function of attention. More than time, attention forms our one core resource. How we curate, steer, zoom and relax our attention not only determines to a high degree our success in the eyes of others, but it dictates whether we enjoy our time alive or not – no matter what life we are living or circumstance in which we currently find ourselves.
An annoying problem can become interesting if we pay it more attention and familiarize ourselves with the details. It’s not that the problem was more interesting than we initially thought, it’s that we became more interested in the subject than we initially predicted.
We can pause at this moment and think about all the people around the planet who will be so glad to get to bed, to escape from the day for some reprieve, from the onslaught and from the exhaustion.
What exactly are all such people really wanting? Aside from the occasional uncontrolled dream, sleep presents no substantial vacation. If anything the experience is more like time-travelling forward to the next day without so much as a wink. And the onslaught and the exhaustion begins once more.
Or does it?
There are people who wake up excited, ready to move forward and get into the day once more. We imagine such people having thrilling creative work, but regardless of how exciting someone’s profession is, everyone’s experience of the day can fit into one of the two paradigms: either it’s a series of problems to solve or questions from which to jump forward.
Those who can’t wait to get started often bemoan the need to sleep in the first place. Why? Because there’s a question lingering. A new context yet explored.
Like a good movie that cuts short in a power outage, such a person is left wondering what’s next as they try to keep their eyes shut.
If life seems dreary, long and bothersome, we might wonder what kinds of questions we are missing out on.
Can I ask myself a better question?
This is the only real tool we have in life, and we can use it to carve into our lives, sculpting it into something we find beautiful and fulfilling. That work is never ending, and when the day comes to an end, our practice with such a tool should leave us in a fresh context, one that evokes wonder and inspires another question.
A hanging thread that we leave for the person we will be tomorrow. A place to start, something to use to pull ourselves out of bed and towards the future.
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