682nd Week: Meeting Surprises with Curiosity

During a recent vacation, I spent quite a bit of time snorkeling with local fish. People staying at the resort jumped as enthusiastically as I did into the custom of feeding the fish with leftover bread from meals. I enjoyed that process, along with simply floating amongst them, allowing the sea to rock me and offer a way of relaxing not readily available in my busy, urban life.

One day, a small boy apparently held his piece of bread too long and a fish jumped up and bit his finger. My first surprise…

was that I hadn’t realized that these fish even had teeth, much less that they could draw blood with them. I figured that the fish was actually after the bread and just miscalculated, landing on the boy’s finger.

A day or two later, when I again snorkeled amongst quite a large number of fish, I noticed a subtle change in their behavior. They swam up much closer to my face, coming in more directly than they had before. Later, as I stood in water up to my knees, throwing out pieces of bread, a fish somehow came up behind me and bit me in the leg. It was a big surprise for two reasons. First, there wasn’t any food back there, except for me, perhaps, and I had no expectation that biting humans was something that fish generally do—other than sharks, barracuda, and others of that predatory nature which, gratefully, were nowhere around.

What this experience got me to thinking, as I looked at the two puncture wounds and blood on my leg, was that I had participated in generating this more aggressive behavior because of all the feeding that was going on in that area. I was also somewhat amused to imagine that a cheeky fish has swum up to the back of my leg and taken a bite! What I didn’t feel was any negativity toward the fish. Instead, I got curious about how this particular kind of interaction emerged from the human/fish play that is part of everyday in this particular little bay.

For this week’s practice, I invite you to notice how you meet surprise and the quality of responses that arise when unexpected experiences spontaneously emerge. Do you automatically blame something or someone else for what has happened? Do you automatically blame yourself? Do you meet unanticipated experiences without any blame attached to your experience? So many of us were taught to find someone or something to blame for adverse experiences that it can be a new (and very liberating) experience to let go of that particular mindset and to focus on curiosity, instead. Curiosity opens an internal dialogue to a process of discovery and is useful even if there is no identifiable reason for what happens in our lives.

As with all these practices, there’s no right way to engage it. Rather, it’s yet another opportunity to notice the quality and tone of your everyday thinking. This process of noticing then allows for a moment of choice: do you want to continue with where your thoughts and feelings are going or is it a time to shift to some other focus of attention?

And, it’s also useful to remember to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise as you do this practice. Judgments are inevitable. The key choice is what power and authority you do or don’t give to them. Knowing that the brain generates judgments and that they don’t have to mean anything can be very useful when moving through these practices. Please give yourself an opportunity to play with this, if you haven’t already.

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