‘I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.’

Albert Einstein

Some of the best mindfulness teachers are young children – with their open, fresh approach to life, their ability to become deeply absorbed in what they’re doing, the way they seem to live mostly in the present moment. One of the most distinctive qualities of young children, which can drive their caregivers slightly insane, is their insatiable curiosity. A UK survey of 1000 mothers of children aged 2 – 10 years found that four year old girls ask about 390 questions a day – that’s one question every 2 minutes and 36 seconds, or a remarkable 105 120 questions a year.

It would probably be a little odd if, as adults, we continued to ask questions every 2 minutes and 36 seconds. On the other hand, we can often go to the other extreme, becoming surprisingly incurious about other people, strange symptoms in our bodies, what our government is up to, our emotional state, and what plants are flowering in our street right now. We might not even be aware which birds regularly visit our garden, that our colleague looks distracted and a little upset today, that we’re once again feeling irritable, or that we’re speaking in a breathless and anxious voice.

A common meditation instruction is to ask ourselves – what is actually happening right now? To simply be attentive to what’s going on, without immediately going into ‘fix-it’ or condemning or denial or ‘I want more of this, please’ mode. During a body scan, we might tune into different parts of our bodies, such as our toes, and simply be curious about any sensations there – are they feeling warm or cold, are there any tingling sensations, can we notice the contact with socks or the floor? As we practise this non-judgmental, accepting and curious state of mind, we can then also apply it to other areas of our lives, which will be the topic of next week’s reflection.

Weekly practice idea:

Be curious about the change of season, whether it’s spring or autumn in your part of the world, and notice its effect on the plants in your neighbourhood, the behaviour of animals, the length of daylight or quality of light. Also, notice the effect on your mood – do you like this time of the year, or dread it in some way?

Anja Tanhane

The sparrow and the baby lions


A few years ago, I took the three-year-old daughter of our neighbours to the zoo for a few hours. It was a sunny autumn day, just a gentle breeze, and we were both looking forward to the afternoon. As soon as we’d gone through the gate, little Emily became enthralled by a scrawny sparrow hopping about on the path, and clapped her hands in delight.

‘No, Emily,’ I told her, ‘don’t worry about the sparrow. Look at the baby lions over there!’

As soon as I said it I knew I was wrong. Why shouldn’t Emily be just as interested in the sparrow as in the recently-born baby lions? Admittedly we hadn’t just paid a lot of money to look at sparrows, which we could have seen for free on the other side of the fence. And I was certainly keen to see the baby lions, and both Emily and I loved watching them tumble about at play a few minutes later. But in this case, Emily was my teacher – to be interested in whatever we came across, regardless of whether it was common or rare. Continue reading “The sparrow and the baby lions” »


Stone in creek

‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. By the time!
  2. Surely man is in loss,
  3. Except those who believe and do good, and      exhort one another to Truth, and exhort one another to patience.’

This beautiful line, from the Quran (103, Surah Al-‘Asr), really struck a chord with me when I heard it presented by one of the Muslim ladies at an interfaith friendship meeting. To consciously encourage each other to be patient – we have become such an impatient society. Patience used to be more highly regarded – remember the saying ‘patience is a virtue’ – but now it’s often seen as being old-fashioned, an obstacle perhaps to instant and magnificent success. If we are patient, we might miss out on something! People might take advantage, and walk all over us! We might only get through 98% of our to-do list today instead of all of it plus a bit extra!

Continue reading “Patience” »

Jumping to conclusions


Bottle brush


You are walking along a sunny path, and suddenly see a snake centimetres away from your shoes. You leap in the air, yell, your heart is thumping, and when the snake doesn’t move you have another look. Now you can see the ‘snake’ is actually a stick, and perhaps you have a little laugh, call yourself silly, feel relieved. Yet there is no way to avoid the first, instinctive fear response. We are biologically hard-wired to make up our minds about any situation in split-seconds, jump to a conclusion, and, if we sense danger, act before we are even sure what’s happening. On a holiday earlier this year, I was walking towards a pond in a forest when suddenly a snake was coming right at me with its head raised, ready to attack. Of course I jumped out of the way, and luckily the snake went past, but what I remember from this incident is that I had no time at all to think about what was happening. I’d already moved before any thoughts came into my conscious awareness. In the case of inadvertently disturbing a snake and being attacked by it, this instinctive response can help to save our lives. I’m sure we can all think of times, however, where quickly jumping to conclusions about a situation was anything but helpful! Continue reading “Jumping to conclusions” »