"Have you ever wondered, for example, about beauty? What it is, why it impresses us so, and whether it is only in the eye of the beholder? There are art historians who labor for years to understand a single painting. They may come to know everything there is to be known about it and yet still not be able to explain the impact of its beauty.

"In the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, hang the seven tapestries known as The Hunt of the Unicorn, woven at the end of the fifteenth century in Brussels. They are considered the most remarkable and beautiful tapestries in existence, though their meaning remains largely uncertain.

"The curator of the Cloisters, Timothy Husband, has looked at these tapestries almost every day for thirty-five years, 'Sometimes,' he said in an interview for The New Yorker, 'I come in here and try to pretend I have never read anything about them. But it's not easy to shed that baggage. And my other reaction, sometimes, is just to say, "To hell with it, someday someone will figure them out." And then I find a solace in their beauty, and I can stare at them in pure amazement.'

"Standing amazed like the curator — standing before any ordinary moment awake and receptive without preconceptions — is rather like sneezing, or yawning. In those seconds when our mouth is wide open without words coming out of it, we are defenseless. We are just there in our native simplicity, with none of our learned ways of presenting ourselves to the world. We are tender and open. We are who we are.

"One of the times that I have known such a pleasure is when I first looked up at a retreat center in Michigan and came eye to eye with Maria. I had no name for the sensation, other than, perhaps, dumbstruck. When we are wordless — which is probably a condition for falling in love — and especially when our jaw is dropped, another kind of aliveness can swoop in and scatter all our preconceptions and carefully laid plans.

"One invitation to such aliveness is an attitude of curiosity. Curiosity causes us to wonder. Wonder causes us to gape. We can no longer keep such a tight hold on life when, just as in yawning, our mouth is wide open. The more I have come to realize how little I know of this life, the more curious I have grown. If we are curious, we at least know that our heart is still beating. Curiosity opens doors and connects us to the larger life of the world. It is a key as much to this moment as to some grand project that can last a lifetime. It allows us to follow our nose, and there's pleasure in that. We wonder what lies around the corner or over the hill; we wonder what the empty canvas, the unhewn block of stone, conceal that our imagination may reveal. We wonder about that man, or that woman, we saw on the subway.”