Climbing Mt. Kailash...One Tibetan Letter at a Time February 10, 2020 18:53
"To learn is an act of deep work." Cal Newport (associate professor of Computer Science, Georgetown University)
Some of the best opportunities that have occurred in my life were not the result of calculated planning, but out of being open, curious, and willing to explore the unknown.
Five years ago, I fell into designing malas and then building a small business (Middle Moon Malas) through this creative interest and a love of japa practice.
Two years ago, I discovered The Feldenkrais Method as well as other alternative movement modalities, and my physical, emotional, and spiritual health flourished as a result.
Two weeks ago, I landed, unexpectedly, in a small class that my dharma teacher is leading between his weekly dharma talks and prayer sessions on Sundays. I'm one of a handful of students studying Tibetan.
Learning a new language in my mid-fifties is much more challenging (and enriching) than when I was studying French in junior high school. The Tibetan alphabet is totally different from English, and several of the sounds are very similar, with subtle, nuanced distinctions. Therefore, the learning requires more time, deliberate care, practice, and patience.
It turns out, there are several benefits to learning a language later in life. It can improve problem-solving, critical thinking, listening, decision-making, and concentration skills. Learning a new language can also stave off dementia, mental aging, and cognitive decline. It also fosters deeper connections and appreciation of other cultures.
I found out about this class a few weeks in, so I'm a little behind and scrambling to catch up. I gave myself a week to learn the Tibetan alphabet--30 consonants, 4 vowels. That doesn't seem too demanding, right?
Turns out, I needed the full week. I spent about an hour each day learning and reciting the sounds of each new letter, tracing unfamiliar curves, arcs, and loops onto graph paper. I flipped through flash cards again and again, and I watched several YouTube tutorials in order to recognize, memorize, speak, and write these beautiful new letters that are like keys to a mysterious puzzle.
I barely deciphered the Tibetan alphabet in time for the following week's class. We're moving on to numbers and combining letters into words, which is an even deeper mystery for me.
I feel like I'm climbing Mt. Kailash, one Tibetan letter at a time. Thankfully, I'm not alone on this journey. I have a knowledgeable leader, a team of peers, and additional resources to guide me along the way. Most importantly, I'm enjoying the process. It's definitely challenging, but I'm benefiting from it a great deal.
I'm learning much more than a new language. I'm learning the value of maintaining Beginner's Mind. I'm learning the importance of being gentle and patient with myself (and others) as I navigate this new adventure. I'm learning the importance of moving slowly, deliberately, and without force. I'm learning that this new endeavor is intricately connected to my movement, meditation, and japa practices. Most importantly, though, I'm rediscovering that...
"Learning should be a pleasant, marvelous experience." Moshé Feldenkrais