“Curiosity killed the cat” is an idiom meant to keep you solidly in a box, to limit your imagination, to keep you from asking questions and shame you from exploring options others deem trouble. Did you grow up hearing this phrase? Although I am not exactly sure who said it to me, I know I heard it. Memories abound of watching my cats and pondering the issue. I mean, they have nine lives – right? So, does that mean the can be curious at least eight times? But now that I have rediscovered my sense of curiosity, I have yet to worry about dying because of my imagination. What are the benefits to reigniting your curiosity?
ABC is one of my favorite tenets for creating an adventurous outlook: Always Be Curious. Culturally speaking, when a child asks a lot of questions, adults tend to excuse them away as being “too much.” The child learns to stop asking questions about what makes them curious. In some cases, they begin to doubt themselves and begin to fear being inquisitive. It’s never too late to start paying attention to what interests us, follow our curiosity and ask questions.
Antidote to “Languishing”
In a recent article in the New York Times, There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing, the author names the feelings that result from the pandemic of blah, joylessness, aimlessness, emptiness, stagnation as “languishing.” He offers an antidote to this feeling indifferent to indifference by stating one should consider being in the state of “flow.”
“Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.”
Scientific research and I agree that naming your feelings (awareness of what exactly it is you are feeling) is the first step to changing those downer emotions. And being ‘in flow’ is the opposite of languishing. However, getting from one state to the other isn’t as easy as he makes it seem. Being in flow usually stems from following your passions. But what if you don’t know what your passion even is, or what if you have many passions? Or are in a midlife switch from a passion to whatever the new one will be?
Instead of being overwhelmed with forcing flow, or the maddening annoyance of the pursuit of passion – why not start with a baby step? Start with the spark of something, anything, that captures your attention. In that spark, identify what interests you. Follow that using your natural born talent of being curious.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic
There’s a part of the book, Big Magic, where Ms. Gilbert discusses the magic of curiosity. While listening to her talk about it, I realized how her perspective on curiosity mirrors my view of it as a part of an adventure mindset. Like me, she sees “follow your passion” as bad advice. Ms. Gilbert writes the definition of passion is an interest you chase obsessively. It can lead to divorce, selling all your possessions, shaving your head and moving to Nepal. (Nepal! That connected to one of my big fears when I first was given advice to take myself on adventures!)
“How do you find the inspiration to work when your passion has flagged? That’s where curiosity comes in.” To Ms. Gilbert, curiosity is the secret, the truth and the way of living. You start with that spark of that one thing that grabs your attention. Allow your curiosity to look deeper at that spark. See it as a clue, and follow it to the next clue. And the next, and the one after that. Keep following this scavenger hunt of curiosity clues. It may even, eventually, lead you to discovering your passion (or it may not – and that’s part of the adventure!)
Adventure Wednesdays started when I committed to exploring my curiosity to answer the question “What do I find fun?” Each Wednesday I explored by allowing my inquisitiveness to find different things to do. I explored tarot card readings. Which led me to learning the cacao bean is my spirit animal. Which led me to learning so much more about chocolate. Fast forward, chocolate – it’s history and the current state of the industry – has become a passion! Ms. Gilbert’s example starts with the spark of wanting to have a small garden. Her scavenger hunt eventually led to her writing a historical fiction novel, The Signature of All Things, using her discovered passion for the origins of plants. Where will this kind of journey take you?
Einstein’s combinatory play
Here’s another way that being curious can help you get unstuck or guide you to discovering new solutions to your challenges. Do what Einstein did! When he was working too hard on a problem and couldn’t come up with the answer – he took a break. He played the violin or whatever else interested him beyond his work. He called this “Combinatory play.”
In other words, when you’re stuck on one thing (even a feeling such as “languish”) try something different. This allows space for a new perspective or idea to show up. Be too much and ask all those questions burning inside you. Challenge yourself to get creative in ways you haven’t before or haven’t since you were a child. Take yourself on that scavenger hunt, even if for the moment it’s following one clue.
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat
Ricky the cat defying death and following his curiosity of alternate paths up the stairs. Photo: Daffnet Salazar
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Fear did. Confronting fears and stepping out of the box using your natural born thirst for knowledge is a cornerstone for a life filled with fun and adventure. ABC – Always Be Curious. The benefits are many – learning new things, discovering what you find interesting, uncovering previously unknown passions and helping you from languishing in life.
“You may spend your whole life following your curiosity, and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have passed your entire existence in the devotion to the human virtue of inquisitiveness.
And that should be more than enough to say you have lived a rich and splendid life.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic