Curiosity is a helpful tool for engaging with our embodied experience, including emotions like sadness, anxiety, or any other unpleasant emotion. Explore this simple exercise to help you shift your attitude toward what you’re feeling.
Over the years, as I’ve studied how habits work in the brain and ways in which mindfulness can help, I’ve found that curiosity is a simple tool that can help us, regardless of language, culture and background. It can help us drop directly into our embodied experience. Curiosity helps us tap into our natural capacity for wonder and interest, putting us right in that sweet spot of openness and engagement, even with difficult emotions. From this state of mind, we’re more empowered to help ourselves break out of these old habit loops and build new habits of kindness and curiosity.
A Mindfulness Practice to Investigate Tough Emotions
- Find a quiet, comfortable place. You can be sitting, lying down or even standing up. You just need to be able to concentrate without being distracted.
- Recall a recent time when you experienced a difficult emotion. You might even be feeling it right now. It could be anxiety. It could be feeling down or sad. See if you can remember the scene, maybe even relive the experience, focusing on what you felt right at that time.
- Check in with your body. What sensations can you feel most strongly right now? Is it tightness, pressure, contraction? Restlessness or burning? Tension, clenching, or heat? Maybe a pit in your stomach or a buzzing or vibration? Simply feel it and get curious. What is most predominant right now?
- Notice where the sensation is in your body. Is it more on the right side or the left side? Is it more in the front, the middle, or the back of your body? Where do you feel it most strongly?
- Explore what else you can feel in your body right now. If the sensation is still there, see if you can get curious and notice what else is there as well. Are there other sensations you’re feeling? What happens when you get curious about those? Do they change? What happens when you really get curious about what they feel like?
- Simply follow this procedure over the next couple of minutes. See what’s most predominant in your experience. What are the sensations? Don’t try to do anything about them. Simply observe them. Do they change when you observe them? What happens when you bring a really solid attitude of curiosity?
- It’s often helpful to check in with your attitude, to see if you’re truly being curious or trying to be curious. I find it helpful to simply check to see if my mind is going hmm. What’s happening in my body right now? as compared to trying to force myself to be curious. So whether it’s out loud or just an inner hmm, you can check from time to time to see if your mind is truly being curious or if it’s trying to be curious or thinking too much.
- If you notice that you’re trying or you’re thinking, you can simply get curious about that. Hmm. There’s a thought. Hmm. What does trying feel like in my body? Just continue this noticing for the next couple of minutes. And as you practice, whatever the challenging emotion is, simply get curious. Where do I feel it? Do the sensations change over time? Where do I feel the most strongly in my body?
As we finish up, I hope this short exercise has helped you get a taste of curiosity as a way to support your natural capacity to be aware of what’s happening in your body right now. Even with challenging emotions, we can bring this attitude of kindness and curiosity to our experience, moment to moment. What do I feel? Where do I feel it? What does it feel like? Hmm. And each time, we’re naturally bringing in that curiosity.
If you’ve noticed that by being curious, you’ve gained even a microsecond of being aware of those thoughts, those emotions, those body sensations, and that you can actually be with these rather than running away from them, you’ve taken a huge step forward. Thank yourself for taking this time to take care of yourself, and notice what that feels like as well.
As you move into the rest of your day, see if you can bring some of this curiosity with you as you go. Each moment, maybe even just taking a moment to notice when you’re caught up in an emotion or when you’re resisting something. And maybe drop in a little hmm. What does this feel like? And see what happens next. Onward!
By allowing ourselves to experience where tough emotions are present in the body, and opening up to them with love, we can cultivate a sense of peace and acceptance toward the imperfect nature of life.
Sometimes we need to drop into our body to discern what we need in this moment. The four questions in this practice allow us to self-regulate by attending to what our difficult emotions or physical sensations may be telling us.