I have always been deeply curious. Even as a young child, I would eagerly explore my world with the intention of figuring out how things worked and how the world worked. I remember thinking about the meaning of life at a very young age and trying to figure out my place in this vast universe. As I got older, this exploration expanded into trying to figure out how I worked, how my brain worked, and how my actions were perceived by others. Primarily, this self-awareness was positive – I was highly analytical, and it seemed natural to evaluate my own thoughts and actions as well as those of others; however, I hit a “rumble strip” in my late teens, when my self-awareness turned more to self-consciousness and self-doubt.
I was 17 and playing for a lacrosse team. Sitting on the sidelines, I was watching a teammate on the field, admiring his ability, and quite frankly, his form. To me, this was nothing unusual – I simply had an appreciation for the human body; but to him, I suppose my gaze seemed a little too intense, and he later asked me if I was gay. Interesting question, I thought. I am not, but it planted a weird seed in my head.
While I had never questioned my sexuality, it was a bit unnerving that someone else did. And when others started asking me the same question, it thrust me into the middle of an identity crisis. When you’re a highly analytical teenager, trying to figure things out, and then you throw anxiety, insecurity, and doubt into the equation, analysis paralysis is the result. “How could others perceive a reality that I myself could not see?” Not being able to trust my reality was intensely unsettling. While I didn’t think I was gay, I became highly concerned that others did, and I became preoccupied with how other people saw me – I was overthinking everything, from how I walked, to how I talked, to how I presented myself in general. I was a total mess.
A friend saw that I was struggling and stepped in. She listened without judgment to my concerns about who I was and who I wasn’t. It was so freeing to no longer be a prisoner of my own thoughts. She helped me ask the right questions so I could get to the right answers.
Who was I listening to and why? Why was I knocked off track when others’ perceptions didn’t fit with my own? Why was I questioning my own thoughts and gut feelings about my identity and giving so much weight to the opinions of others?
While I have practiced Curiosity in some form my entire life, this was an important moment for me. The questions that others had about me had me doubting the core of who I was; I had to be willing to ask myself some hard questions about why this was creating an identity crisis for me and how I was contributing to its perpetuation. My mind had been racing, trying to figure out what others saw and why, but in trying to analyze the thoughts and expectations of others, I had sacrificed my own truth and reality.
Once I allowed my mind to be still, I was able to process my experience with clarity and own my truth. My reality was my reality, no matter what others thought. I came out on the other end clear in who I was and what I believed about myself and the world. And once I felt grounded in my truth, in my identity, and in my processing of the experience, it immediately shifted me to a place of deep confidence and freedom.
And there is great freedom to be found in Curiosity. There is freedom in asking the questions, there is freedom in owning the answers, there is freedom in sharing your story, and there is freedom in knowing that you’re not alone in your experience.
Curiosity laid a foundation that allows me to think broadly about beliefs and people and to have empathy for our common, human experience. Coupling Curiosity with empathy, I am able to step outside of my own experience and into the experience of others to try to help them get out of their own way and take the next step, without judgment and without expectation. I have found that, sometimes, people are stuck just because they’re stuck. Helping them frame the right questions, share their stories, and externalize something that might otherwise become a psychological prison is a step toward freedom.
And, through the Practice of Curiosity, I have come to know that new understandings of personal truth always point toward a universal Truth: in effect, Curiosity has given me the gift of a connection with the Source of all that exists in our universe. Curiosity is the only way to know that there is something greater than yourself, one singular Source and Truth at the center of everything. But you have to be willing to ask the questions and then listen for the answers. When you do, it doesn’t take long before you undergo an upward spiral of understanding and connection with the Source.
Concurrently, practicing Curiosity helped me see the importance of the integration of the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. When one part is off, stress, anxiety, or suffering usually manifests itself. That stress is like a “rumble strip” on the side of the highway for me, and I pay attention to it. My intuition is trying to keep me from falling off course. Through trust in Truth, my intuition, and Curiosity, I can allow for the best possible solution to my suffering to come to me, relieving my paralysis of having to “know” the answer; then, I have the freedom to do the work to repair what is causing the suffering.
As I Practice Curiosity in my own life, and help others practice it in their lives, I move closer to understanding, enlightenment, and to the Source. In so doing, I am reassured in my actions. And as correct action leads to correct response, and correct response leads to a connection with the Source, I then have a life that is full, not in spite of its challenges, but because of them.
This is Living Hope.
Nathan Mills’ commitment to living deliberately takes him on many adventures. Through this constant pursuit of an optimized life, Nathan encourages and mentors others around him to find their higher calling. You can typically catch Nathan on a kite board in Beaufort, South Carolina or trail riding in the North Carolina mountains. Nathan is a native of Chapel Hill, where he lives with his wife, Jennifer, and they are the proud parents of Newton, their spoiled rotten puppy dog.