For the past two weeks, I’ve been learning Spanish – or trying to, at least. For three and half hours a day, I beat my head against the wall in class trying to wrangle verbs, nouns and everything in between. Don’t even get me started on the preterite tense – there are so many irregulars that categorizing them as such seems ironic. And when it comes time to go out and actually apply what I’ve learned in real conversations, it feels like repeated kicks to the brain, amongst other places.
But Spanish isn’t really the problem. Of course it’s going to take me a while to learn it – I’m 30, haven’t studied any language since freshman year of high school, and I’m American. Not exactly the ideal ingredients to bake a queque.
The problem is that I really want to learn it. Like, really. I don’t want to speak it today, I want to speak it yesterday. I have no shortage of motivation. So every time during conversation that I futilely rack my mental grammar-dex, I feel like a total dumbass, plain and simple. I get really pissed at myself, and all the reflections of my failures around me.
Patience is a virtue, as they say. And one that I actually feel like I’ve been slowly cultivating more of since I began the practice of yoga. I can recall countless times over the past year where I’ve “exercised patience”, but to be completely honest it’s more like cultivating the ability to bite my tongue. “See, I really AM so nice,” I’ll tell myself. “Look at how well I just concealed that judgement!”
The thing is, I can’t conceal false patience with myself. There is nowhere to bury it. When I perceive personal failure at something I’m truly trying at, the vritti committee convenes for negative storytime. And then getting back to even takes a lot of work. And this, amongst infinite others, is one reason why I revere the practice of yoga – it always get me back.
The fact is that right now the challenge of being patient while learning Spanish is what I’ve been given. To quote Ram Dass: “Whatever you’re given can wake you up or put you to sleep. That’s the challenge of now. What are you going to do with what you have already – your body, your speech, your mind?”
In this sense, my lack of patience and fiery frustration put me to sleep. What wakes me up again is when I think about how the language helps me better learn culture. How fascinating it is that, to me, the Spanish language focuses much more on the past than the future. This belies the importance of telling and sharing stories, colorfully and with detail – intertwining simple preterite actions with the descriptive nuance of the imperfect. The future is of much less concern, simple and straight forward – there is no passion found in a future still untold.
In English speaking countries, as I see it, the focus is on the future, for better or worse. Don’t think about the past: get over it and on with it. The future is everything; dream of your destiny and manifest it, dammit. The inherent cultural lessons of these two language structures has been eye opening, so to speak.
But in the yogic view, both are misguided, of course. The focus is on Now. And therein lies what is waking me up most during this study of Spanish – that my frustration with not being able to speak it NOW is irrelevant. Underneath this current daily language struggle is the fundamental fact that I’m frustrated because I can’t communicate the way I want to. It’s the exact same problem I feel in every area of my life – yoga, relationships, film, photography, writing, and now Spanish – I just can’t express it the way I really, truly, deeply want to. Yet the desire to keep trying is what nudges me awake, as impatience inevitably lulls me back to effortless sleep.
Tonight, I went to the beach for sunset. It was remarkable, the kind that is well beyond words or pictures or descriptions. As the ball dropped, it occurred to me that this issue of frustration with Spanish is actually pretty funny. I laughed, literally.
Why worry about finding perfect ways to express the confusion inside me, when such perfect expressions already exist all around?