I had a bizarre experience several years ago; bizarre perhaps because it happened in the most ordinary of moments. I was going through my typical routine to prepare to go to work:
- Eat breakfast? Check.
- Teeth brushed? Check.
- Hair in order? Check.
- Socks match? Yikes…glad I checked.
What was different on this particular morning was that I happened to glance down at the swirling pattern of my fingerprint on my left index finger. It occurred to me that I hadn’t looked this closely at my finger since I was 5 or 6 years old, if not younger. I was struck by the complexity of the pattern and astounded by how unfamiliar it looked to me. I wondered, “How on earth have I been bearing these marks on my fingers for all of this time and yet failed to notice them, literally, for decades?”
If this was true about the pattern of my fingertip, how much more is it true regarding the complexity of the whole of who I am? I have an idea of self, but how closely have I looked at what is really there? Is it possible that there are parts of my self that, like my fingerprints, exist beneath the surface of my awareness? I became aware that my understanding of myself and of others is likely incomplete and certainly not fully accurate. Initially, this was unsettling since I had constructed a life on the foundation of who I knew myself to be.
We often define what we believe to be possible in our lives based on what has happened in the past. We tend to lack curiosity because we have a sense that we already know what to expect from ourselves, from others, and from the world around us. Unfortunately, this knowing often becomes a foregone conclusion, which vastly limits the realm of possibility. We miss so much because of how much we know.
Over time – and through The Seattle School – I have learned the value of being willing to engage what I know with a sense of curiosity. As a therapist I have found this to be enormously helpful with my clients. Often, clients are most stuck in the areas that they are most familiar with and least curious about. It could be a job, a relationship, an addiction, or even just their way of being in and making sense of their world. It is common that the places clients feel most hopeless in their lives are the very places in which they claim to know themselves the best. Familiarity breeds comfort even in misery. How many people do you know who seem unhappy with their life, but do absolutely nothing to change it? It is easy for people to become comfortably miserable. This type of comfort lends itself to a false sense of safety, which is insidious in relation to hope and desire because its primary ingredients are a mixture of complacency and a fear of the unknown.
It is the hope of psychotherapy that the client will gain a growing sense of curiosity about themselves and about their relationships outside the therapeutic environment; that over time they will gain the courage to risk engaging what they know with curiosity about what else may be dancing just beneath the surface of their awareness. Where there is curiosity there is room for possibility. Where there is room for possibility there is room for hope and change.