Since the battery died on my fitness tracker last week, I’ve mostly felt a sense of freedom of not being tied to a step count goal.
I’ve also noticed my desire to know how many steps I’ve walked.
This morning, I took a long walk and run in Panama City, and found myself yearning to know how many miles I had covered. The Casco Viejo district has running paths marked with mile-markers (technically kilometer markers), so I could get a rough idea.
During my meditation sit, I felt the physical discomfort of not knowing: a tightening in my chest and belly, a constriction in the throat.
This is the practice of being in the mystery: to sit with the discomfort and notice where it shows up in the body.
The Distraction of Curiosity
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an insatiable curiosity. This is generally a positive trait. Curiosity feeds creativity, it is a portal to learning and to engagement with others and with the world itself.
Thanks to technology, we can know more things than ever before, faster than ever. Every fleeting question and curiosity that arises in our minds can be abated instantly with a quick tap, a pull to refresh, or a Google search.
It’s easy to blame our devices, apps, social media, and internet browsers for pulling us away from our point of focus. But the trigger to our distraction is always internal. The mind’s endless questions and curiosities are the biggest source of our distractions.
Each time I stop to scratch the itch of curiosity — to refresh the step count, to investigate the random questions that pop into my mind, to seek out that piece of information I think I need in the moment — I pull myself away from the present moment.
There’s a cost of time and energy whenever we divert our attention in this way. And the bits of information we accumulate in the process clog up the brain, taking up space that could be occupied by something more important or relevant.
As important as it is to cultivate curiosity, it’s equally important to practice not feeding the curiosity.
Noticing the “urge to know” arise within myself is an invitation to investigate the curiosity before I feed it:
- Why do you want to know?
- Other than satisfying the itch, how will this information improve your life or your task in this moment?
- Is this information truly relevant to what you’re doing in this moment?
- Is this information necessary to achieving your outcome?
What I was really seeking in my workout today wasn’t available in an app. The relevant information was whether I had pushed myself hard enough to make progress in my fitness. That answer came from within my body.
Leaving the Curiosity Unabated
Sometimes the best practice is to not research the answer, not pull to refresh, and be with the discomfort of not knowing.
This is embracing the mystery. It’s why I’m here.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve had many opportunities to practice this. Limited cell service connection and wifi have meant that the answer has not always been a Google search away.
I’ve often had no choice but to allow the curiosity to remain unabated.
This is where the practice of meditation helps. It gives me tools to investigate my curiosity and embrace being in the mystery.
As for the desire to know — eventually, it fades.
It turns out, most of those things we want to know in the moment just aren’t important or relevant to the task at hand.