As we grow older, the tendency is to order our worlds, to create comfortable patterns and predictability. We stop at the coffee shop and order the same coffee drink each morning, tailored to our personal taste – a certain number of shots, foam or no-foam, milk or soy, flavored or unflavored. Sometimes, we feel apprehensive when faced with a new baristo – will he make the drink the same? Will it taste good? For many, our meals follow the same pattern, repeating the same dishes week after week, month after month, year after year, with little variation. Perhaps, we stay tethered to a person or a job that might offer stability or predictability, but ultimately shackles us to a life of “quiet desperation”. Sometimes it’s easier that way, isn’t it?
I’ve spent the past 11 years raising my son, teaching him to seek out new experiences, new food, new activities, new friends. From a very young age, when he resisted trying a new food, I would offer the challenge, “Are you afraid of a taste?” He would screw up his little mouth in total consternation over the unfair accusation. “NO!” he would say, defiantly. Almost without fail, he would appreciate something about the food he tasted, even if it was the happy knowledge that he would never have to taste it again, if he so chose. Either way, his world would open a little more.
NASA recently launched the newest Mars Rover, nicknamed Curiosity, which will reach Mars in August of 2012 with a whole new set of data-collecting instruments. In reading the NASA Fact Sheet about Curiosity, I am in awe of this machine. In part:
“The spacecraft has been designed to steer itself during descent through Mars’ atmosphere with a series of S-curve maneuvers similar to those used by astronauts piloting NASA space shuttles. During the three minutes before touchdown, the spacecraft slows its descent with a parachute, then uses retro rockets mounted around the rim of an upper stage. In the final seconds, the upper stage acts as a sky crane, lowering the upright rover on a tether to the surface.”
Engineers have devised a precision landing for Curiosity, something never before possible. Curiosity’s payload is ten times that of former Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The goal of Curiosity is to identify conditions in which life, as we know it, could exist.
Isn’t that what curiosity is to us? Curiosity offers a glimpse into what life could be, where life could exist – a lifelong assignment to discovering possibilities, seeking out experiences. Curiosity is search for life. Why, then, are we so tempted to stifle curiosity by seeking out sameness and predictability? Are we so fearful that whatever we discover might shake up the patterns we’ve established in our lives? Is it possible to devise a precision-landing into our own curiosity – within our ordered worlds, to craft a space for our own curiosity Rover to land, that balances our comfort with predictability with our passion for what we don’t yet know?
I think about the 1950s sci-fi B-reels in which swarms of scary martians invade Earth to enslave humanity, threatening its very existence – colonies, homes, businesses and families all torn apart, upturned. Aliens annihilated predictability, the world as we knew it. We were taught to fear anything new, foreign, alien. Aren’t we already enslaved by our mundane lives, though? Which is worse – to be inherently fearful of new experiences or to be willingly enslaved by our self-imposed limitations within our prosaic lives?
Think of life as an experiment, in which we posit a theory, collect data, and determine results from data about the meaning of life. If we collect only a small amount of data (experiences) within our experiment (life), our results (meaning) will surely be skewed. What if, within the small data set we’ve collected, an extraordinarily high percentage are flawed results, as can happen in life? The smaller the sample of total data, the larger the percentage each individual experience holds within the whole. It would be tragic to have so few experiences that our lives would hold little to no meaning by the end; that the difficult experiences would comprise a devastatingly large percentage of the sum of our lives.
In the immortal words of physicist, Richard Feynman, “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.” When we live our lives thinking we already know enough, we sit complacently waiting to die. Personally, I love the words of Aristotle and Peter Pan: “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” When I leave this life, I want life to have been one big curious adventure to the end. I want to have traveled all the side roads, to have visited the roadside taverns to see who lurks within, to have gotten my hands dirty, to have unturned every rock and leaf, to have gazed deeper into the space within the Universe and the space within myself, and to have tried all the sample platters and explored every new taste. I like to think that when my ashes return to star dust someday, and they commingle with those of Feynman and Sagan, that curiosity will have been the guiding star in my life, and that I would rarely have been afraid of a taste. Curiosity lends a sweetness to life that infuses every new experience with wonder and possibility.
Ask yourself, “Am I afraid of a taste?” and then see what experiences await you in 2012.
© 2011, Christine A. Handel. The author retains all permanent copyrights. Rights for single publication on Web site, Satiama.com granted by copyright holder, Christine A. Handel. No other rights are transferred.
About The Author: Christine is a freelance writer living in Denver, Colo. A graduate of Kenyon College, Christine has worked professionally as a journalist and artist for two decades. Christine lives by the philosophy that a quiet mind, and a quiet tongue can create beautiful art. She deeply believes that hope and presence are the liberators of dreams.For more information, visit: www.chrishandel.com and www.facebook.com/chrishandelconsultant.