Just One Thing – Be Curious

Just One Thing – Be Curious

A couple years ago, my father and I were driving to the ocean, near where I live north of San Francisco. Born on a ranch in North Dakota in 1918, he’s a retired zoologist who loves birds, and I wanted to show him some wetlands.

The twisting road was carved from the side of coastal hills plunging to the sea. After a while we paused at a pullout for a pit stop. Returning from the bushes, I found my dad scrutinizing dried, scraggly grasses sticking out from the mini-cliff next to our car. “Look, Rick,” he said excitedly, “see how the layers of dirt are different, so the plants growing in them are different, too!” He sounded like a little kid who’d discovered an elephant in his backyard.

But that’s my dad: endlessly curious, never bored. I and ten thousand other drivers had sped around that turn seeing nothing but another meaningless road cut. But he had not taken the commonplace for granted. He wondered about what he saw and looked for connections, explanations. For him, the world wears a question mark.

This attitude of wonder, interest, and investigation brings many rewards. For example, engaging your mind actively as you age helps preserve the functioning of your brain. Use it or lose it!

Plus you gather lots of useful information—about yourself, other people, the world—by looking around. You also see the larger context, and thus become less affected by any single thing itself: not so driven to get more of what you like, and not so stressed and unsettled by what you don’t like.

As our daughter once pointed out, curious people are typically not self-centered. Sure, they are interested in the inner workings of their own psyche—curiosity is a great asset for healing, growth, and awakening—but they’re also very engaged with the world and others. Maybe that’s why we usually like curious people.


To begin with, curiosity requires a willingness to see whatever is under the rocks you turn over. Usually it’s neutral or positive. But occasionally you find something that looks creepy or smells bad. Then you need courage, to face an uncomfortable aspect of yourself, other people, or the world. In this case, it helps to observe it from a distance, and try not to identify with it. Surround it with spaciousness, knowing that whatever you’ve found is just one part of a larger whole and (usually) a passing phenomenon.

With that willingness, curiosity expresses itself in action, through looking deeper and wider—and then looking again.

Much of what we’re curious about is really neat, such as the development of children, the doings of friends, or the workings of a new computer. And sometimes it pays to be curious about some sort of issue. As an illustration, let’s say you’ve been feeling irritable about a situation. (You also can apply the practices below to different aspects of your mind, or to other people or to situations in the world.)

Looking deeper means being interested in what’s under the surface. For example, what previous situations does it remind you of—particularly ones when you were young and most affected by things?

Looking wider means broadening your view:

• What are other aspects of the situation, such as the good intentions of others, or your own responsibility for events?

• What factors could be at work in your mind? For example, have you worked too much lately, or felt underappreciated, or not eaten or slept well? Did you appraise the situation as a lot worse, or a lot more threatening, than it actually was? Did you take it personally?

Looking again means being active in your investigating. You keep unraveling the knot of whatever you’re curious about, teasing apart the threads, opening them up and seeing what’s what. You don’t take the first explanation as the final one. There’s an underlying attitude of wonder and fearlessness. Like a child, a cat, a scientist, a saint, or a poet, you see the world anew.


And again.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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