Easy to Advise, Hard to Do: Stay Curious
By now, you’ve pressed submit on your college applications. Or your child has. Or your friend has. Or someone you knew as a baby has. Or you’re reflecting on an upcoming big decision that is is– at this point out– of your hands (more on hands in a moment). How can you keep from dying with agony over what the results will be? Be curious.
And by “curious”, I don’t mean obsessed. And I don’t mean neurotically rehearsing possibilities. “Be curious” urges and instructs you to find in yourself an open state of friendly inquiry into the present. As in, the present. As in, the present.
I didn’t know any better back when
I’m a hypocrite. When I was waiting for my college letters, 8 million years ago when humans had just sprouted opposable thumbs, I couldn’t maintain the equanimous tenet of “Be curious” (about your experience).
No, I had the worst nightmares of my life, things I couldn’t even believe my imagination could come up with, in an other-wise generally PG-13-rated brain-scape, and content I don’t feel comfortable rehashing in this blog.
But almost 20 years later, I still remember those dreams vividly. So you can imagine how much they sucked, and how much my mind was hijacked by worry about what I could not control. This is why I can say confidently that if you can “be curious” instead of “being consumed”, your time will pass a lot more enjoyably.
An exercise in curiosity with opposable thumbs
Your opposable thumbs are going to be your ally in this moment. Check ’em out. Stick ’em up. Gaze at their tips to steady your attention. Make them kiss each other like I did as a kid. Be curious about your hands, like a baby (or a stoner, but that’s a different matter) might be. (Haven’t been around a baby in a while? I’ve got one whose diapers you can change with your opposable…).
Here are simple activities that allow you to test your opposable thumb’s usefulness— for essay writing and more. The thumb is decisively connected with our current homo-sapiens language abilities, which I found out because in the course of composing this, at 5AM, I allowed my mind to just Be Curious. And I Googled, pursuing something in this present moment that I knew would take me down a rabbithole of learning. And I found…
Sir Isaac Newton said something curious about thumbs
I had to research more on the thumb, so I could be sure this tangent would take us far, far, far away–over the hills and through the woods– from you over-focusing on your upcoming college application results (or other big landmark), and give you something really provocative to write your next personal essay on.
Doing so, I found this quote, questionably attributed to Sir Isaac Newton (whose college essay was reputed to be awesome, and all about a specific encounter with an apple): “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”
Now, can you cast doubt on a site named WhowaIsaacNewton? No, but you can be curious about their scholarly legitimacy, can’t you?
For Sir Newton, the thumb was the concrete proof of that which has no form, and so is not subject to scientific experiment. But this most under-appreciated of biological appliances took him somewhere big, because he chose to really be curious about it.
In my admittedly limited and hasty research, I also stumbled onto this summary of the evolutionary spurt that gifted us with the opposable thumb and its related asset, the capability for speech, which is a close cousin of writing, what we’re interested in on this blog. Here’s a useful treatment of their differences. If you are feeling linguistically-nerdy and the urge to be curious.
Take care of your future by choosing to be curious
Where did I start this post?
It’s too easy to fill in gaps in time that lean towards a specific future moment with worry, with anticipation (which comes in healthier and unhealthier forms), with fear fantasies or wishful thinking.
But by doing that, you tend to drain your present experience of its value. You’re not right there in it. You’re not really paying attention. So you miss the chance to learn about, of all things, yourself.
This is really a chance to get wiser, more self-aware and (you knew we’d say it) potentially a better writer. (Or, you can skip out on this part and read The Onion’s take on thumbs. We won’t fault you).
What are you like when a decision looms? What are you like, how do you behave when an outcome is no longer up to you? Really watch yourself.
A brief inquiry and a kindness
And then put a hand on your heart. (Fuller meditation here).
(Like you mean it, like there is a real, feeling heart in there no matter how rarely we might remember that.)
Take a few breaths. (Breathing tutorial here).
Be kind and caring to this person who is stuck waiting, whose awesome opposable thumbs really can’t guarantee the future. Whose desires may or may not line up with what comes to be. But no matter the outcome, this person (you, you, you) has the chance to greet it as an opportunity or a massive disappointment. And if you can be curious, whatever comes to pass tends to feel like opportunity.