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Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Self-Curiosity for the good and the bad

Focusing excessively on the negative is a common habit shared by many individuals. While it's beneficial to reflect on our negative feelings and experiences in order to learn and grow, we must also acknowledge the valuable lessons that can be derived from positive experiences and emotions.

Cultivating curiosity about our inner selves is key to personal growth and understanding. It allows us to delve into the reasons behind our behaviors and emotions, shaped by early experiences and the fabric of our psychology. Although changing these patterns can be challenging, it is not impossible. By embracing self-curiosity, we can explore the factors that have shaped us into who we are today.

Taking a step back and observing ourselves from a psychological perspective grants us better control over our actions and reactions. In my previous discussions on self-curiosity, specifically in "Curiosity Transformed the Cat Part 1 and 2," I highlighted how it can help navigate uncomfortable or negative feelings. However, the true essence of self-curiosity lies in its application to all aspects of life, both the good and the bad. This comprehensive approach helps to smooth out the emotional highs and lows we experience.

A story that resonated with me during my mindfulness course is the tale of the Chinese farmer. While there are various versions, I'll share this one for clarity.

The Story of The Chinese Farmer

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbours came around to discuss it. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is so unfortunate.”

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!”

The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to tame one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown off the horse and broke his leg. The neighbours then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”

The next day the enlistment officers came around to find people for the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbours came around and said, “Isn’t that great!”

Again, he said, “Maybe.”


Being curious about our inner selves fosters personal growth and understanding. It allows us to examine the reasons behind our actions and emotions, which are deeply rooted in our early experiences and psychological makeup. Although the interpretation of the Chinese farmer's story varies, one significant aspect for this discussion is that the meaning we attach to events determines our emotional experience of life. The farmer remains unfazed by both good and bad fortune. By cultivating self-awareness and self-curiosity, we create an emotional plateau that enables us to navigate life calmly and steadily, regardless of the circumstances we encounter.

To initiate the development of self-awareness and gain better control over ourselves and our lives, we can begin by becoming intrigued by our own actions and motivations. Mindfulness meditation encourages gentle self-curiosity in one's awareness, inspiring individuals to observe their present experiences with a sense of wonder. Whether it's pain or joy, both can be explored curiously and with intrigue.

The ultimate goal is to allow this curiosity to extend beyond meditation and become a part of our daily lives. We can learn to be curious about our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations instead of ignoring them or attempting to instantaneously change them.

The goal is to allow your curiosity to spread from the meditation practice to your day-to-day living. You can learn to become curious about your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations rather than just ignoring them, or trying to instantly change them.

Have a go in a quiet room for as long as you can manage, no need to push yourself, just begin with a little exploration or...a little curiosity!

  1. Think of a difficult experience (not the most difficult one you’ve ever had) or situation or worry. Bring it to mind.

  2. Notice the thoughts.

  3. Label the emotions if there are any (“Anger is here,” or “Anxiety is here”).

  4. Notice the bodily sensations.

  5. Now really shift the attention to any body sensations, particularly those that are strongest. What happens? Stay with these for at least 30 seconds (if you can). If necessary, and only if necessary, expand into them on an in-breath and soften on an out-breath. Perhaps even say to yourself, “It’s ok, I can feel this. I can be with this.”

  6. Now, move your attention to the sensations of breathing at the level of the belly for 30 seconds. When the attention moves somewhere else, just bring it back to the body breathing.

  7. Expand your attention to the entire body from head to toe, breathing for another 30 seconds.

  8. Now record the thoughts, emotions, body sensations you experienced during this practice and any reflections you have now after completing it.

You just practiced processing experience through the body versus thinking.

Adapted from Zindel Segal et al. (3-minute Responsive Breathing Space, 2002, 2013)

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