Owls, Caves, Curiosity and Delight

Parque Nacional Del Este

The trail is two miles in, starting from the ocean. It’s a mix of limestone and old coral reef under foot with dense, dry coastal forest crowding in. It’s our first day exploring Parque Nacional Del Este in the Dominican Republic.

We reach the hole in the ground that marks Cueva Del Puente (cave of the bridge). We’re the only people we’ve seen so far in the park and it’s just us and the darkness in the cave. It’s bigger than either of us think it was going to be, and rooms open up into larger rooms until we hit the end of the line – a large room with enormous trees growing up from the cave floor and down from the forest floor above, bright sunlight and birdsong mixing with the cool, quiet cave.

We see a movement come from a dark corner and then an ashy-faced owl lands on one of the tree branches in the cave. For the next 20 minutes we sit watching each other, its curiosity and our delight meeting each other, moving me deeply.

Curiosity, delight. No curiosity, no delight.

Who doesn’t want delight? And who doesn’t love curiosity? Delight + curiosity = play.

Our old lizard brain, the amygdala, doesn’t want curiosity. It wants certainty. Certainty allows for decisive action. When faced with immediate physical threats, it helps to not be too curious and take action instead. Does the saber-tooth tiger want to be friends or eat me?

The problem is that the amygdala can’t discern between literal and emotional threats. So, that nasty email you just received triggers your amygdala the same way a car heading straight at you in an intersection triggers it. Both move you away from curiosity and into certainty. Certainty is where modern political discourse lives, where comments on online articles live – delight-free wastelands.

But if we want to connect, to be thrilled and delighted, curiosity is the path. If we want to connect to our work, to our co-workers, to our loved ones, if we want to experience delight, first we calm the amygdala – pause, breath, appreciate something – and allow for the unknown.

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