Cultivating Curiosity.

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I’ve been thinking of the saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” lately. I recently read a book that I added to my Goodreads “To read” list nearly nine years ago! Apparently, I wasn’t ready to learn its lessons until now. The book is called Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. It’s written by Todd Kashdan, a psychologist who argues that (as the subtitle suggests) it’s not “happiness” that we should seek, but rather focus on cultivating our curiosity and inviting novelty into our lives, in order to find fulfillment.

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A couple years ago, I wrote this post about my discovery that curiosity and embracing the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen in life actually makes life more fun and interesting. I’ve recently been digging deeper into the idea of novelty. I realized the other day: there are many activities that I never consider doing. My life is fairly routine and I find myself struggling to even do familiar activities in a time or place that deviate from my routine. One night I thought, “I’ll write a blog post after the kids go to bed.” But, then it felt too odd, because I typically read in bed or watch TV with Dennis once the kids are asleep. Why couldn’t I decide to write instead?!

This insight from Curious? really hit home for me:

It is easy to stick with structure and order because routines make us feel safe and secure in an uncertain world. But, we can open our eyes to the fact that novelty and enticing things that can grab our attention are everywhere. We can change our habits, change the way we act, and change the way we see the world anytime, anyplace. Appreciate and search for more than what you already know, already assume, and already expect to happen. I am talking about a mindset of expecting there to be things you don’t know and realizing that this does not mean you are vulnerable or unintelligent because you can’t predict what is going to happen. Rather, it means there are opportunities for learning, discovering, and growing.

I have found this to be so true! Spontaneity is fun and exciting for this exact reason. When an idea suddenly occurs to me (or to one of my family members) and we decide to act on it – go to the pool, go for a hike, go out for dinner, etc. – there’s a surge of energy and good feeling as we embrace the moment. It can be something smaller too. Like, when one of my kids is frustrated or upset and I say or do something silly that cheers them up.  Being spontaneous in our responses requires that space between catalyst and response, where we can choose our reaction.  This means, we have to be present. Thinking “outside the box” and not just falling into the same patterns and reactions takes real intention.

When I learned about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), I loved how curiosity wove throughout the mindfulness practices. In ACT, the goal is to let go of unhelpful thoughts so you can experience the moment with openness and curiosity. When we accept what is, instead of trying to force thoughts and feelings to be under our control, we are able to be curious about this moment and what will happen next.

I’m in a book club at my office. We recently read Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD. Turns out, Dr. David’s book is based on the principles of ACT – what fun! It was really cool to see ACT broken down and presented in this very accessible way. She also describes the benefits of having a curious mindset: “When we decide to curiously explore the world inside us and outside, we can make other decisions more flexibly. We can intentionally breathe space into our reactions and make choices based on what matters to us and what we hope to be.”

Are there areas of your life that have become too routine? Are you stuck in thought patterns that aren’t helping you? How would things change if you were curious and sought out something novel and new in your experience?

“He Hugged Me”

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Yesterday morning, we were doing our typically Sunday morning getting ready sprint before leaving for the 8:00 a.m. divine service.  I’d spent several minutes in Teo’s room with him, trying to figure out what he wanted to wear.  Finally, I reached my breaking point, as he objected to every suggestion I made.  Rather than scold or yell, I just walked to my bedroom and said, “Okay, Mom has to get ready too, Teo.”  I heard him cry and protest: “But, I need you, Mom!”

His tears persisted for a few minutes.  Then, I heard Dennis come back from taking our dog Claira for a quick walk.  He was ready for church, so I hoped he’d be able to step in to help Teo rally.  I heard the beginning of their conversation in low murmurs, but then it was quiet.  When I emerged from my bedroom a few minutes later, Dennis was carrying Teo toward the bathroom and he was fully dressed.  Good job, Dad!

Dennis and Teo

As the coffee was brewing, I asked Dennis, “What did you do to get Teo to calm down and cooperate this morning?”

“I did what you always suggest.  I hugged him,” he replied.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I just held him for awhile and then he was fine,” he said with smile.

I loved hearing this so much, and I felt like this was an important tender, teaching moment for all of us. I went over to Teo who was sitting in the living room and crouched down next to him.

“Hey, Lovie.  What did daddy do this morning to help you calm down?”

“He hugged me,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Oh, my heart!  I said, “That’s wonderful.  Sometimes that’s just what we need, isn’t it?  Love, you help Mom and Dad to remember, when you get upset, by asking us for a hug.  You could say, ‘Can I just have a hug?'”  He nodded and smiled at me.

Both of my children are highly emotional, and I know they come by that honestly!  We’re all constantly learning how to manage and deal with our feelings in helpful and effective ways.  I want Mateo to know that he can ask for what he needs specifically, but first we have to identify what those needs are.  Clearly, he’s looking for connection with his parents, even though it comes out like he’s resisting our direction.

We recently attended a truly remarkable parenting seminar at the kids’ new school.  The material was based on the teachings of Paul Tripp.  In the section entitled “Getting to the Heart of Parenting” he calls the family “God’s primary learning community.”   He explains that family is where kids learn what’s fundamental to being human and know what to do and how to be the way we’re designed to be.

In my notes, I summarized the main ideas as: “Family is where we teach children to love and live in the awe of God.  This allows them to receive His wisdom, interpret life through Him, and worship Him (instead of themselves). They will see their parents’ example of love and also recognized that they cannot fulfill God’s law on their own.  This realization of our shared sinfulness drives us to Christ for forgiveness and grace.  We live and practice this process of sin and redemption in the family daily – that’s what it means to be a learning community.”

So often, moments of tenderness and connection come out of conflict.  As a family, we must not shy away from conflict, but always be quick to forgive and reconnect in loving ways.