Becoming More Curious and Less Critical

Meditation practice isn’t about transformation. It’s about learning how to get to know our lives more intimately and compassionately.

I’m Frank Ostaseski, and I’m very glad to be with you today and to be part of Mindful30. These days, I speak of mindfulness as a practice of intimacy. We can’t know ourselves or each other, or life and death, from a distance. This is personal, up-close work. 

A lot of times we use language like enlightenment or liberation or awakening. These terms feel far off and distant to me like we’re trying to achieve something supernatural or transformative in our lives. I think meditation practice is about learning to become intimate—intimate with ourselves, with every aspect of life. Then we can bring the healing power of loving awareness to what scares us, what’s sad for us, what feels raw for us. I prefer the word intimacy because it expresses a wish to come closer—to know that we already belong, that we’re not separate. 

To me, intimacy expresses what liberation actually feels like: relaxed, easeful, ordinary, in a way. Liberation isn’t found someplace else. It’s found right here. That’s why one teaching says the path is right beneath your feet. When we look into the mind’s conditioning, in a close and personal way, we begin to understand the ways that we cause ourselves suffering—and that’s the real freedom of meditation. It isn’t about helping us to transcend or get out of our experience. It’s about learning to know our experience intimately. 

Let Curiosity Lead the Way

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Becoming More Curious and Less Critical

  • 8:36

What’s the right effort of intimacy? I think it’s curiosity. And in a way, our whole practice is the cultivation of intimacy. The challenge is to tolerate the experience of intimacy. We can’t say, I want to know the truth, but leave me out of it. 

I remember a patient at our hospice, her name was Stella. While she was staying with us she began to get interested in spiritual things, and she said to me one day, “Frank, some people come in the room and they tell me I should just let go. And other people come in the room and they tell me I should just love. What should I do first, let go or love? 

Can your curiosity be greater than your criticality?

To love the past is simply a memory, and to love the future is just a fantasy. The only place we can love, the only place we can really be aware, is right here, in this present moment. Intimacy connects us with each other with a deep sense of belonging. And with this belonging we know that we’re not separate anymore. And this helps us to move beyond our small story of a limited sense of self. 

Meditation, like love, is intimate, and this intimacy is the condition of deepest learning. Mindfulness and compassion are the least expensive, most available, most appropriate tool we can use in just about every situation in our lives. But sadly, often they’re viewed as inappropriate or even shelved for some other time. And I think as a result, a lot of us live and work in a great deal of fear and distress. And I think we can do something about that. 

So I’d like to offer a very simple practice. I’ll guide, and you follow, but feel free to go at your own pace. 

Follow the Practice:

  1. Let’s begin really simply: Just pause. A pause is an opportunity not to be swept away by the habit of our lives. A pause is an opportunity to remember who we actually are. A pause is a way of bringing our mind, heart and body, collecting it all into the present moment. So let’s just pause. No hurry. 
  2. Now, relax. See how little effort is required just to hear the sound of my voice. Relaxing body, heart and mind—mindfulness emerges much more easily in a relaxed mind, heart and body. So, pause. And relax.
  3. Now, open. Characteristic of an open mind is spaciousness infused with interest. Open. You’ll be open for just a moment, liberating yourself from any limiting ideas about who you are and what you think is possible. Can your curiosity be greater than your criticality? Open. So, again and again: Pause. Relax. Open. 
  4. And now, allow. Allowing takes us beyond accepting and rejecting altogether—beyond hope and fear. Just rest in a moment of allowing. There’s no one special to be, nothing special to do, no place special to go. It’s resting in allowing, again and again: Pause. Relax. Open. And allow.
  5. And now, become intimate. This is a kind of communion with your experience, or willingness to enter the immediacy of your life. It’s a kind of fearless receptivity—a willingness to welcome everything and push away nothing—nothing between you and your experience: no subject and object; no I and other. Just intimacy. So, again and again: Pause. Relax. Open. Allow. Become intimate. 
  6. Pause. Relax. Open. Allow. Become intimate

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About the author

Frank Ostaseski

Frank Ostaseski is a meditation teacher who cofounded the Zen Hospice Project. In 2004, he went on to create the Metta Institute to provide innovative educational programs and professional training to foster compassionate, mindfulness-based care.

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