In the last post, Learning Your Way to Wellness: It’s Not What You Think, I wrote about the difference between a couple of types of learning (intellectual vs. Immersion/experiential). I shared how my transition from pain to wellness required deep immersion learning about myself as a mover.
The distinction between studying a movement and studying myself in movement is HUGE.
You see, I wasn’t steeping myself in the development of a skill, like a golf swing, a yoga pose, a t’ai chi set, running form, a handstand, or a paddle stroke…
What I steeped myself in was something much more fundamental. It was the study of myself as a mover ― My. Own. Movement. And more than that ― much more than that ― myself as a learner.
As I wrote in a previous post, I love learning. And one of the great gifts the Feldenkrais MethodⓇ has given me has been the “…reclaiming and embracing of the subjectivity of learning.”
One of the most beautiful qualities of being that came along with my reclaiming the joy of learning was a re-igniting of deep, unbounded curiosity. Curiosity about movement, about how we as human beings organise ourselves to move in the world ― in other words, to live.
When I started engaging in Awareness Through MovementⓇ lessons, this state of being, which was never far from the surface, but had become horribly suppressed, easily and spontaneously emerged in a way that surprised and delighted me. Still does! 😀
Don’t get me wrong ― it’s not like it’s never left or waivered, or that I don’t still impede, suppress and interfere with this wonderful state of being curious at times!
And I don’t know that anyone can ‘make’ themselves feel curious. But I do believe that we can all get better at creating the conditions in which curiosity can arise and flourish.
So what is curiosity – exactly – anyway?
One of the most recent definitions of curiosity: Curiosity is s a response to an information gap. We feel curious when there is a gap between what we know, and what there is to know. Ian Leslie writes in Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Life Depends On It, that “The crucial point…is that it’s not simply the absence of information that creates curiosity but a gap in our existing information…”
When I talk about my love of learning, I think what it is that I love is the adventure of following my curiosity. It’s a bit like the satisfaction you get from scratching an itch. No. That’s not right. It’s much better than that!
Check this out…
Scientists have discovered that when people feel curious about something, they’re stimulating a part of the brain called the caudate nucleus, a part of the brain associated with both learning and romantic love. This is a part of the brain that has a huge whack of neurones that are super rich and super-sensitive to dopamine, a chemical your brain gets bathed in when you enjoy things like sex or good food.
You see, it’s a part of the brain deeply involved in reward and pleasure. No wonders I say “I love learning!” But it’s this particular type of learning that makes all the difference. It’s the type of learning driven by the desire to satisfy your curiosity. Not just to gather facts.
How to Kill Curiosity
I hinted that there were ways to “create the conditions that invite curiosity to arise”. Well, there are also ways to kill curiosity dead in its tracks and we’ll take a look at what some of those things are.
But first, let’s look at what’ll keep curiosity from ever coming to light in the first place.
Think of things in biological evolutionary terms. Being curious and venturing forth into unknown territory is risky. Chances are, if you’re in survival mode just trying to prevent some threatening situation from ending in something real bad happening to you, you’re not going to be thinking “Hey – I wonder what will happen or what I’ll find if I just try this out?” You’ll be too damn busy simply trying to survive! Not a state that’s likely to invite curiosity.
But let’s say there’s a faint glint of curiosity on the periphery… what will kill it?
If curiosity is a response to an information gap, then one way to kill curiosity is to think that you’ve come to know everything there is to know about the topic. If you know “the answers”, and/or can do it, there will be no perceived gap…
No gap – no curiosity. As Leslie puts it in Curious, “…when people are confident they have the answers, they become blithely incurious about the alternatives”.
Or maybe you think you should know everything about the topic and to act as though you don’t reveals your lack of intelligence, smarts, skill, or worthiness as a human being. Harsh judgment or criticism also kills curiosity.
So, if you think you know yourself and how you come to do everything you do it’ll be pretty hard to feel curious about yourself and how you organise yourself for movement, for life.
And likewise, if you think you should know how to do something or should know everything about a topic, you’ll be too busy saving face to allow curiosity to flourish.
If you can recognise that nearly everything you do is organised without you being conscious of it, that in fact, you have very little self-awareness, then you set yourself up to learn a whole heap.
I’ve heard and read it many times, that what our conscious minds process is on the order of 10 bits of information a second. Meanwhile, what our non-conscious minds are processing is on the order of millions of bits of information a second!
So just maybe, there’s a little room for you to come to know just a little more about yourself and the world than you currently do. 😉
And yet, we have to be careful here because the other thing that can kill curiosity is, as Leslie puts it, “[being] intimidated by the prospect of starting to learn about something, that might, by its scale or complexity, defeat us.”
Fear and shame are enemies of curiosity!
All of this, hopefully, makes it abundantly clear that it’s important to learn to manage yourself as a learner, and to know how to create a safe learning environment so that curiosity can arise and provide the jet fuel for deep, powerful learning.
What Ignites Curiosity
So far, you can see that feeling relatively safe is a requirement for curiosity to arise.
The other biggy in terms of allowing curiosity to flourish is living in the gap between what you already know and what you don’t yet know. And it’s important to remember that you don’t want to go so far into what you don’t know that you’re overwhelmed or that you come to think you know everything there is to know on the topic.
The cool thing about learning to move better is that you’ll never actually come to know too much. This, again, brings home the point about understanding that life is a process. And as a process, there is no end to the improvement that can be made.
Puzzles vs. Mysteries
Leslie compares and contrasts “puzzles” and “mysteries”. He notes that puzzles tend to be nice and neat and have a definite answer, and end result (like in a crossword puzzle). Here there’s great certainty in attaining the answer.
Mysteries, on the other hand, demand we live in the grey between the black and white. There are no definitive answers because the answers depend on insanely complex and inter-related factors. You have to be willing to live with uncertainty.
Again from Curious:
Great scientists and inventors think in terms of mysteries rather than puzzles too; they are more interested in uncertainty that certainty. The physicist Freeman Dyson has remarked that science is not a collection of truths, but a ‘continuing exploration of mysteries’. Ray Dolby, the American inventor and audio pioneer […],”To be an inventor, you have to be willing to live with a sense uncertainty, to work in the darkness and grope toward an answer, to put up with the anxiety about whether there is an answer.”
We seem to be living in a time and a culture that values and is far more interested and comfortable with puzzles than mysteries. I agree with Leslie when he writes:
We need to resist this cultural pressure. Puzzles offer us the satisfaction of answering a question even while you’re missing the point completely. A society or an organization that thinks only in terms of puzzles is one that is too focused on the goals it has set, rather than on the possibilities it cannot yet see. A person who thinks of every problem in their life as a puzzle will feel confused and frustrated at the way some questions don’t just resolve themselves into simple answers (despite what the self-help gurus tell him). Mysteries are more challenging, but more sustaining. They inspire long term curiosity by keeping us focused on what we don’t know. They keep us feeling ‘alive and active’ even as we work in the darkness.”
You want to place yourself in the sweet spot of learning: just a wee bit beyond what you already know, or can do.
In the words of my good friend and mentor, Julie Peck (who may very well have gotten this phrase from someone else), you want to challenge yourself, without going into threat.
And, as Leslie writes, “Curiosity requires an edge of uncertainty to thrive; too much uncertainty and it freezes” [emphasis mine].
Another important factor in evoking curiosity is a reasonable sense of self-worth and love.
Studies show that children who feel insecure are less likely to explore physically or psychologically to gather new information. Children who feel loved and safe are indeed much more likely to venture forth, to discover new territory, and enrich their personal experiences of themselves and the world.
So it’s vital to grow in self-love and a spirit of generosity towards yourself. And it’s also important to surround yourself with teachers, coaches, mentors, and others who will indeed challenge you while doing so in a spirit of love, acceptance, support and genuine care for you.
Curiosity and Awareness Through MovementⓇ Lessons
Now we come back to something I expressed at the beginning of this post:
The distinction between studying a movement and studying myself in movement are HUGE.
When I’m organising my learning well in Awareness Through Movement, I’m not engaging in the process of solving a puzzle, as in learning to do a skill “right”…
Instead, I’m engaging in exploring the mystery of how it is that I move and engage with the world. And the more I learn, the more I come to know how much there is yet to learn…
It’s unending. So I don’t bother looking for an end. I keep engaging with the deep complexity and vast array of possibilities of my personal, unique moving in the world, and in particular, my moving with quality.
As I write, I recognise that when I’m functioning well, I do this off the Awareness Through Movement mat as well. As I’ve written before, thinking is just internalised movement. Is emoting so different? Life is movement. For me, exploring myself as a mover is exploring myself as a living being. Improving the way I move, I improve the way I live.
Here’s the crux of it…
If I engage with learning to move better as solving a puzzle with a certain answer, I don’t improve the quality of my movements; hence the quality of my life.
I DO improve the quality of my movements, and hence my life, when I approach it all as a never ending mystery to be explored.
What about you?
Are you at all curious about yourself as a moving, living being? Do you limit your ability to learn by killing curiosity with crushing self-doubt or criticism? Do you value solving puzzles and getting the “right” answer over engaging with the messy mystery that is you; that is life? Or maybe you tend towards being “blithely incurious”, feeling you already know? Or do you feel intimidated, worried that delving into the messy mystery, and insanely complex world of you as a mover so daunting you might fail?
If you’re like me and dare I say most people, you almost certainly kill curiosity in some way some of the time. The thing is, to notice it, and decide if doing that truly serves you or not.
I understand a little more just why I go through the struggle and challenges of writing for this blog. I’d hinted at it in a previous post where I’d written something like, “Sometimes, it takes a little more background information to make Awareness Through Movement lessons or Functional IntegrationⓇ lesson transferable to all of everyday life.”
Without some knowledge on a topic, there isn’t a “gap in knowledge” that can ignite the curiosity to learn more. I hope that these blog posts are helping to provide enough fodder for making your journey a little richer, a bit more interesting, a little more engaging by stimulating your curiosity.
The wonderful thing is that you don’t have to agree with everything I write. It just has to tickle that place in you that makes you wonder a little; that makes you want to clarify, explore, discuss, check out for yourself, try out other possibilities or alternatives…
As Albert Einstein said:
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment, or drop me a line! Answering Angie’s comment has led to 3 blog posts already, and there will more on learning to come to fill in the “details of how I made the transition from pain to wellness”. So go ahead and share your thoughts and experience 🙂