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How To Hold A Cockroach And A Spider... And Everything

"Be curious, not judgmental." (perhaps falsely attributed to Walt Whitman, poet; endorsed by Ted Lasso, me, and my compassion circle)

Last night was the regular weekly Zoom meeting of our compassion circle. The topic lately has been curiosity.

Why curiosity?

Curiosity is a powerful anti-dote to what my husband calls being stuck in his cortisol place. The place where judgment, hate, and fear run rampant within him, within most of us.

Clearly, being stuck in our cortisol place does not feel good, is not good for us physically nor psychologically, and is a big block to compassion and a happy life.

The good thing about curiosity, one person pointed out, is that human beings are naturally curious. We can tap into and leverage that innate curiosity.

A book that has helped me be more curious and compassionate is a little book (supposedly for kids, but really for adults), How to Hold a Cockroach by Matthew Maxwell.

The book starts with a boy noticing a big, brown, disgusting cockroach crawl onto his dinner table. He hates how the cockroach makes him feel... anxious and grossed out. It repulses him. It makes him sick. He wants to smash it.

Then the boy begins to wonder what makes him hate cockroaches so much. He has heard that in some places cockroaches are delighted in. Are snacks. Signs of good luck.

An experience in very young childhood bubbles up to the boy's memory. His mother had shrieked when she saw a cockroach. In that moment he began to believe that cockroaches were dangerous, gross, scary.

Afterwards that disgusted belief became reinforced as he looked around for more evidence of its truth. Seemed to him like everyone in his circle agreed. Cockroaches were horrible.

As the boy reflected on this situation, “a little miracle happened.” The boy started to question, to become curious about the cockroach.

“What are you, really?” he wondered. As he looked at the cockroach with curiosity, the way he would have looked at it as a tiny boy, before his mother screamed, he began to feel compassion.

Back to the compassion circle. I have been sharing parts of this cockroach book with them. One of our other members chimed in with a spider story and a few pictures.

She has always had a distaste for spiders. Not a full-blown phobia, but a distinct discomfort, she would call it a "fear." She offered an example. If she saw a spider in the shower, she would go to the kitchen, boil some water, bring it back, and pour it on the spider. (She felt this was instant and humane for the spider and allowed her to keep her distance.)

Now here comes the interesting part. As she’s been a part of the compassion circle, it occurred to her that she could use some of the same ideas of curiosity, interest, and understanding to help her be less distressed by spiders.

She's started taking pictures of them. She shared several. She’s been able to get close to them, observe them, even appreciate them.

Last night she told our group that she was able to pick one up by the leg and throw it outside on the ground.

Here’s the next shift.

Chapter two of the book is about the boy looking at himself in the mirror. He’s disgusted by his own looks. He sees himself as big and awkward. “I’m all messed up.”

I was interested in this because I know of many, I have felt it myself, who look in the mirror and are distressed and disgusted at our own reflections.

The boy then considers that there are people who hold themselves tenderly with care which he has difficulty imagining.

An early memory bubbles up again. His parent shrieking, “Go away, boy.” He began to think of himself as unwanted, bad, disliked. He collected evidence to back up that belief.

He was miserable and ashamed.

Then, again, a little miracle happens. His curiosity kicks in.

When was it that he started to think of himself this way? He questions if his beliefs about himself are true.

The boy looks at himself with curiosity and asks, “What are you, really?” Just as he had the cockroach.

The rest of the book is the boy’s journey into looking at others, at his past, at his future, at death, at life, at emotions, at everything more intentionally. He acknowledges his present experience (often hatred, disgust, fear), questions it, and moves into deeper curiosity, understanding, appreciation, compassion, freedom and joy.

As our compassion circle reflected on the boy's journey, we could see how the very tools we were using to become more compassionate, like curiosity and understanding, had a wide range of applications. Even toward being able to hold a cockroach, co-exist with spiders! (I'm going to try it on mice.) Not to mention our friends, neighbors, our enemies, and even ourselves.

So that’s the bottom line…curiosity frees us from judgment and opens the door to compassion and living into the good life.

And if you want to nail the idea in, watch a little 4 minute video clip from Ted Lasso.

(In case, you have no idea who Ted Lasso is, it’s a show about an American football coach who is hired by the ex-wife of a soccer team owner to coach the team she now owns. The show is really about being human together. There are some words that some may find offensive)

How might it be to practice more curiosity and enjoy our journey together toward the good life?

(if you are interested in being part of a compassion circle, let me know. Also if you have good stories around letting go of judgment and embracing curiosity, I would love to hear them, June)


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