Monday, 13 October 2014


My curiosity is returning.  For quite a few months after my accident I was just plodding along, getting by, not thinking very much about anything new or different. But now, as my brain heals itself, I find I am beginning to look around me again, and starting to wonder about things.

It feels great! 

When I say curiosity, I mean the eagerness and desire to find out about new things. I mean inquisitiveness, an interest in strange and different experiences, a sense of excitement at finding the unexpected.  I mean asking questions that start with “Why…..?”, “What if…..?” or “I wonder whether…..?”

We are all born with a sense of curiosity. Just watch any baby or small child looking around, eager to explore and try something new.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle told us ‘All men by nature desire to know’.  Without it we would never learn anything, never develop our potential.  Albert Einstein said ‘I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious’.

And it turns out that curiosity is good for our mental health, our wellbeing. 

The American psychologist Barbara Fredrickson reminds us how important our positive emotions are, because they increase our range of thoughts and actions. Curiosity sparks the urge to explore. Joy sparks the urge to play.  Contentment sparks the urge to savour and integrate. Love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships.

Broadening our minds in these ways, through exploration, play, savouring or integrating, promotes discovery of new and creative actions, ideas and social networks. These in turn build up our personal resources and provide lasting reserves for us to draw on if life gets difficult again.  

Curiosity is effective against fear of the different, the unknown. And it’s a much healthier (though sadly less common) response to the different than prejudice.
Alexander von Humboldt was a brilliant, but very anxious 19th century German explorer.  He overcame his fear and worries by unceasing curiosity. He made discoveries in an unparalleled range of sciences from botany to geography.  He used his curiosity to break down the barriers of prejudice and increase his enjoyment of life.  He was a pioneer of global thinking, whose reward was to feel in touch with the entire earth. 

You know the old saying ‘Curiosity killed the cat’?  Well, if you look into its origins, it turns out to be just the opposite. The original saying was ‘Care killed the cat’, where the word ‘care’ means worry, sorrow or sadness. 
So we should turn this upside down, and say ‘Curiosity cured the cat’. 

I wonder what you’re wondering about just now.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A bubble of joy

Our local community centre is closed for the summer, so we’re holding our Monday evening tai chi class in my back garden.    

A dozen of us, working our way through the movements.

I’m barefoot, feeling the soft grass and firm ground beneath. The threat of rain has passed and the sun is warming my face. The wind comes up, gusting towards me through the wooden arch by the pond, resonating in the trees overhead.

A bubble of joy swells from my belly, up into my head.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Trying Easier

Most of the time, we think we really should be trying harder. If only we did a little bit more, things would work out OK. It’s all about achievement, success, doing more and doing it better. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. It’s drilled into us from an early age.  Study more. Get a promotion. Run faster. Score more goals. Be a better parent. 
But right now, for me, it’s different. After my cycling accident I’ve developed a mild traumatic brain injury. I’m easily tired, my mind often feels foggy. It’s difficult to concentrate for long.  

So the advice I’m getting now is – don’t try harder, try easier.
I need to take things easy, give my brain a rest so it has the chance to recover.  

This turns lots of things on their head.

It’s better for me to put things off until tomorrow, even though I could do them today. Procrastination is no longer the thief of time – it’s the essence of healing.

 ‘You snooze, you lose’. Not any more. Quite the opposite. My afternoon siesta is essential to keep me going throughout the day. So for me it’s now ‘You snooze, you win.’

Laziness, slacking, indolence, idleness, sloth: that is supposed to be one of the seven deadly sins, but not any more. Now it’s a cardinal virtue.

I don’t always find it easy to take it easy. Trying harder is so ingrained in me that trying easier doesn’t come naturally.  I have to remind myself, stop myself doing stuff that I really don’t need to do, or not just yet. And it’s surprising – and liberating – how many things that I was convinced were absolutely essential turn out to be a bit less important after all.  The world hasn’t quite ground to a halt because I’m not doing as much as I used to.

It’s about being, not doing.

I’m enjoying my weekly tai chi classes, and I’ve taken up meditation again, with the help of a  website called Headspace. They help me to be aware of how things are, notice my experiences and feelings, without having to worry or do anything about them.    

And I’m building up my physical fitness. I’m back on my bike – off road – and it feels great.

Trying easier is helping me heal. It is refreshing. I can feel the benefits – each week a bit more energy, a bit more headspace.

I gently recommend it!