Compassionate CuriosityNov 09, 2021
When I was young, I asked my mom, quite earnestly “if you lifted up the earth, would there be bugs underneath?” She tried to explain that you can’t lift up the earth. “I know that you can’t” I said, “but if God lifted up the earth, would there be bugs under it?” I’m not sure what is more compelling to me about this story—my misunderstanding of the size of the earth (and my miscalculation of how big those bugs would be), my assumption that like everything else, the Earth rests upon something, or my quite literal belief in an “almighty” God. I really wish I could remember what prompted this question, but its origins are lost.
But beyond this need to know whether slimy, creepy little creatures were lodged in the darkness beneath the earth, I don’t remember being a particularly curious child. I tended to believe whatever adults told me, and most of the time I believed the things my peers told me without question as well. I was more likely to have wild fantasies and stories in my head, than questions about how things worked, why, and toward what end. I was imaginative, but not particularly curious.
Coaching, however, has taught me to be curious in two really important ways. First, in coaching, you learn to ask why, not as a confrontation, but as a sincere quest for deeper understanding of the beliefs that lurk (like bugs under a rock) beneath the surface of our thoughts and actions, and then to gently question those beliefs as well. I recently posted about my limiting belief that since I can’t ever stick with my goals to exercise regularly and get up early enough to not be rushed, I must be inherently lazy. When I question this belief, I ask myself, what evidence do I have that I’m not lazy, what other reasons might exist for my struggles in this area, and why is this goal important to me in the first place? Each of these questions yields information that is far more useful to me than trying to berate myself into self-discipline.
Second, after I unpack the critical self-talk and the beliefs beneath it, curiosity then helps me view it all with self-compassion. “Huh, would you look at that?” is my refrain. “What fascinating creatures we humans are!” Maybe there is more to be learned, or maybe it just is what it is. Maybe I determine I’ll try a new approach, or maybe I just decide to be at choice with the motivations and habits I’ve uncovered. Curiosity need not lead us into the land of “shoulds” and “musts.” Curiosity couples quite nicely with self-compassion.
What about you?
If you look underneath your critical self-talk, what creepy-crawler beliefs are living in the dark, damp space of your subconscious? How can you get curious about these beliefs, and how can your curiosity be an expression of self-compassion (not judgement)?
What is one of the best questions you’ve ever been asked? What did you love about that question?
What question might you offer to someone you love so as to create space for their self-discovery?
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