The Curious Canyon


I am not a curious person by nature. I want to know things, to have the knowledge ready; I feel most confident when I know what to do, feel most helpful when I can give effective counsel. This need to know, and its equally bold cousin, the need to show I know, rubs in the opposite direction of the coaching fabric, whose natural wale is woven through listening, inquiry, and contemplative dialogue formed by the rising of others’ thinking with the settling of the coach’s. It is the most difficult part of holding the coach’s stance for me, easier when I am in a formal ‘coaching conversation,’ less natural when I am being myself, making dinner with my spouse, chatting with friends. To settle into the curious canyons between the peaks of knowing is a disposition I continue to work towards.

The metaphor of a canyon is especially helpful for me to feel less vulnerable in that space, more open to what I might find. Born a Capricorn, I have long identified with mountains and arduous journeys upward, into the sunlight of knowing, the broad vistas overlooking the valleys spread out below me, breathing in a sense of accomplishment, empowerment, and pride. Canyons feel dangerous and dark by comparison, mysteriously shaded and hidden. Things fall into a canyon, get lost in such claustrophobic spaces.

Yet canyons are so full of life, so bustling with activity, even and especially when they seem most quiet or still. Living in southern California now for over twenty years has helped transform my notion of canyons, from dark crevices between destinations to magical, mystical places to be roamed and explored, learned and loved. Canyons are creative and nurturing spaces. I think about the amazing music and musical community that’s come out of Laurel Canyon, the beautiful sweeps of red siltstone like Slot Canyon in San Diego where Wiley E. Coyote relentlessly pursued the Road Runner, even the densely green Fern Canyon which nestles not between rocks or land masses but whose walls are the towering redwoods of Northern California and set the perfect backdrop for Jurassic Park. California canyons form the landscape of art, though I don’t have to tell Ansel Adams or Edward Abbey this at all.

Slot Canyon

So my curious canyon is a place my mind can settle and soak it all in, where my mind’s eye can wander and investigate without agenda, where my ear’s drum can be played by the smallest hint of movement in the dragonfly’s wings. In my curious canyon, I don’t seek answers, don’t need to know, I just want to sit, be, and be present with all the life that is around me. In my curious canyon, I want to meditate on all that is and may be. It is a place of wonder.

I’d like to make a better habit of lurking in the curious canyon space when I am ‘just hanging out’ with friends and family. One method I have is to take a mindful minute before I convene with others to visualize myself in one of these beautiful canyons. To visualize myself just looking around, taking it all in with all my senses—my eyes, ears, nose and touch—to feel immersed in this space with no desire to climb out of it, to engage with the minutia, to get lost in the detail. I’m not visualizing the canyon so much as how I am within in, what I look like and sound like when I am immersed in inquiry. I am not rushed. I am not speaking. I am not seeking answers. I am feeling around, cautiously so as not to disturb, slowly taking inventory of my surroundings. In the canyon, I may be seen, but I don’t feel watched, I may be monitored but not judged. I just am. 

At dinner the other night, I was sharing with friends some challenges I’m facing in my work. I found myself rambling a bit, unable to clarify my thinking, jumping from thought to thought. I started feeling vulnerable and unintelligent, which made me talk more to mask my insecurity. My friend asked me what I was going to do about the challenge I was describing, a beautiful offering from him to inhabit the curious canyon space, yet I completely missed it on my ego-driven journey of showing that I know what to do even and especially when I don’t. Lying in bed later that night, I heard his question again, and saw within it the chance to explore options, ideas, possibilities. It was a reminder that coaching moments are all around me all of the time, if only I stay open to them and their potential. In setting aside my drive to have answers, I can learn so much more about myself and others. By lurking in my curious canyon, it turns out I can see so much more of my world.

What might be an image that works for you to remind yourself to listen and wonder without seeking answers?