The Shades of Our Experience
Curiosity is a word that has been on my mind for months. I try and let it guide both my life and my work with clients. I try and encourage clients to be curious about their lives. I also try and encourage clients to be curious about their assumptions about themselves or their explanations for their behavior.
The one thing that can be really exciting about counselling is having someone ask you to explain further what you mean or how you have come to a certain conclusion. Our conclusions about ourselves and life in general can feel so self evident from our perspective that we do not even question them. When someone asks us to explain further, we stumble and sometimes explain in circles. For example I might say, “it’s fun!” and then someone asks “what does fun mean to you?”, to which I reply, “I don’t know, it’s fun.” I’ve never thought about what fun means to me before. Now as I am forced to, my world opens up.
We are also used to hearing all sorts of explanations for our behavior, whether it be from news, self help books, religion, or anywhere in culture. We go through an experience and have some feelings that confuse us. We quickly look to the previous said areas for understanding and grab the first one that make sense. This is all understandable. But what can happen in some, usually many, instances, is that we do not slow down long enough to really explore our individual experience. We do not really listen to our own feelings. We are not curious enough. There is not one explanation for all people who have reactions to a similar experience. People are individual meaning-making machines. Our responses and reactions to the world can often be very unique to our past and present experiences.
What happens when we are not curious enough is we miss the nuance. When we are not curious we tend to over generalize. Again, this is an area of counselling that is refreshing because we are asked to get a little more curious about our assumptions. We are asked to explore the general statement we just made. When we start to explore a general statement we realize how much more complex it really is. We also realize how much it matters to explore our individual experience. We miss ourselves all the time by explaining away our experience based on broad cultural or ideological references. Sometimes those explanations still apply, but the shading of YOUR particular experience is different. Human experience is not just had in the primary colors, for example, but exists in a multitude of varying shades.
If we are to more fully understand the exact color of our experience, we must be more curious and spend a bit more time with it. Exercising curiosity about your life and your reactions will open you up. It broadens your level of experience instead of narrowing it with simple, over generalized answers. You realize that your life is bigger and deeper and broader and much more colorful.
It also helps us to align what we believe and how we live. These can often be different which can also lead us to a disconnect and a confusing existence. When we are asked to give examples of our assumptions about ourselves in real life, our beliefs become challenged. We might have a hard time producing any evidence for our belief. For example, a client might tell me that they struggle with intimacy. First we need to explore what they mean by intimacy. Then we need to explore what that has looked like in their life. Their statement about their struggle with intimacy may or may not be true. It most likely, in the least, is much more individualized than just “fear of intimacy.” Sometimes when I explore these kinds of assumptions clients have about themselves, nothing they describe sounds like their assumption. The person who tells me they have a fear of intimacy might have very intimate relationships but it is more of a shading of their individual experience with intimate relationships that needs attention. Not JUST intimacy, but something within their experience of intimacy. And sometimes the person comes to realize through exploration that they don’t really have an issue with intimacy, they have just believed it to be so.
So get curious. Allow yourself to explore the nuances of your personal experience in the world and not just accept general consensus. Do not accept other people’s explanations for your experience. You can set aside their explanations for further exploration but do not just take it all as a complete description/explanation. Don’t even take all of your own explanations. Curiosity will allow you to be in wonderment which means that you do not know but are excited to find out. This can be scary but it is also very freeing to come into more authentic contact with our own individual experience.