The Power of Curiosity to Build Resilience
I picked up Peter Russell’s new book “Letting go of nothing” because it promised to be “a practical and empowering approach to the age-old quest to let go of the thoughts and feelings that block happiness, impede change and hinder self acceptance.“
Sounds good right? But HOW to let go?!?!?!
Russell writes that to let go of something, a feeling, an emotion, a thought pattern, you first need to let it in. Ugh! How do I let in that uncomfortable, painful even, sensation that I often feel in my solar plexus or as a constriction in my chest and throat, that suddenly appears after a stressful thought pops into my head? A thought like, “I shouldn’t have said that…now they hate me” or some other thought that feels equally catastrophic in the moment. (Am I the only one here?)
The answer to the how is to be curious. I find that curiosity helps me to get out of fear. The instant I feel an uncomfortable physical sensation my knee jerk reaction is to be afraid of it and push it away. I think to myself, “something must be very wrong if I’m having this physical reaction. I should do something to make this feeling go away.” This is subtle but if you get curious you might notice something similar in your experience.
But if I can consciously get curious about a sensation it often loses its scary charge. Getting curious means taking the time to notice details such as, where is it in my body? How big is it? Even questions like does it have a color? Texture? Does it move or is it stable? When I do this, I can tolerate the uncomfortable sensations much better.
When we are curious, our thinking shifts out of our Left-brain amygdala where fear and anxiety live to our Right-brain amygdala where the seat of consciousness, creativity, connection to all, and perception of expansiveness resides.
The next step to letting go is to let it be. Russell encourages us to “make friends” with the sensation. What if we talk to it like it is a dear friend? What would we say to a friend? Maybe something like, “wow that must hurt. I’m so sorry you are going through that. I’m here for you.” And then just stay there feeling the sensation without needing to change it in any way like you would when listening to a friend sharing their own hurt.
You may be asking yourself, “Why would I want to sit around being curious about and focusing on uncomfortable bodily sensations when I could be distracting myself with Netflix, chocolate or incessantly checking email?” Well because letting in and letting be is the path to the letting go part. And if we can be with our uncomfortable sensations with an attitude of curiosity and friendliness instead of fear and resistance, we are building resilience knowing that we can be ok no matter what we are thinking and feeling. And that feels very powerful indeed!
Here's a summary on how to let go of an uncomfortable thought or feeling that is no longer serving you.
1. Let in the uncomfortable feeling or sensation by being curious about it – Where is it in the body? How big is it? Does it have a color? Texture? Does it move or is it stable?
2. Let it be – makes friends with the sensation without needing to change it in any way.
3. Do steps 1 and 2 for as long as is easy for you – maybe just a few seconds at first and then go ahead and indulge in your usual distracting habits. With practice it will get easier.
Does anything come up for you when you try this? I’m CURIOUS about your experience. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it!