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Dr. Dan Allender
psychotherapist, author, and teacher
For our pilgrim practitioner and guide feature for the sixth Pilgrim Principle, “A Pilgrim Carries Themselves with Curiosity,” we’re highlighting Dr. Dan Allender, a psychotherapist, author, and teacher at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, which he co-founded in 1997. Learn more about his work and participate in his offerings and trainings at theallendercenter.org.
What does it mean to practice curiosity?
It is more than just being open to the complexity of the world; in many ways, I believe it begins with the premise that we’re all beginners. It’s an honor to get to know another human being, and so you “take your shoes off.” It always has to begin with a sense of holiness—that there’s something in the world, in a person, that I will never get to know. If I were with them for decades, I could never fully know them, and yet, there’s something to be known, and therefore I want to make that risk of investment. So, holiness and humility—the humility of being a learner. When you combine humility with holiness and open up the possibility that that person’s willing to stumble, willing to take risks and fail in the process, then I think you have a curiosity that actually will create transcendence and a kind of connection to a world that can’t be fully known, but it’s meant to be known.
How can curiosity impact our personal stories and spiritual journeys?
I think part of the issue is you’re probably only going to be as curious as the people who you are in relationship with, so in that a sense there have to be communities of curiosity where we explore what we don’t know together. That doesn’t mean that we don’t know some things, but in that convention of commitment to knowing, with the humility and holiness to know that we don’t know, then your own intrigue in a world creates a new intrigue for me. So I think the more we invest in other people who are curious, what we’ll find is we end up going places we could not have imagined. And in that coming to that place, I wouldn’t have gotten there without you, but what we see together you might not have seen without me. So investment together with curious people—essentially I think that’s what a marriage is meant to be. Communities and relationships that create that curiosity end up sharing and taking you places you could not have gone.
As we seek to carry ourselves with curiosity, where’s the best place to begin?
I think some of the best ways to begin are the books that have captured you. I don’t think of a book of having as much value as it could without what I’ve written. And so oftentimes, if I’m needing to go back to texts I’ve read many times before then I’m also going back to the comments that I’ve made, and oftentimes different pens because of different readings. And so in that sense, I think any kind of writing where you’re engaging with another person’s writing or thoughts is a really lovely place, because you become the scribe of the person that you’re actually learning from. So I find that if I’m reading a novel or a book, if I find a sentence that has captured me, writing it out verbatim—not trying to do any gloss on it—just having the privilege of writing words that another person wrote that move me, I think it’s a wonderful place to begin to ask that question of, “Why am I moved by that? What is it that I’m captured by in your words that now I’m prompted to begin to write on that?” And I may never write a sentence quite like the one that I was captured by, but now it becomes an exploration as to what has moved my heart. I think too many people have their hearts moved but don’t ponder it, and therefore lose that initial beginning as to what it could mean for them.