“Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known into the unknown.” ~unknown
I was nervous to return to Sicily this December. When I visited in August, speaking Italian with my boyfriend’s family was very difficult. Though I had purchased several books and studied on my own, my knowledge was basic at best and hardly contributed to my ability to converse. After a week of speaking the same rudimentary phrases and understanding little in return, I became frustrated by my limitations and vowed to really learn Italian.
Upon my return to the States, I immediately sought out Italian classes. I began my education with twice-weekly lessons at the nearby consulate with the goal of conversing fluently during my Christmas visit. With the exuberance of a beginner, I seemed to be making huge strides at first but eventually, as I tried to pull the various lessons together, I wondered if I was making any progress at all. At times, I regretted telling anyone that I was learning for fear of disappointing them with my lack of progress.
It wasn’t until I returned that I realized just how much I’d actually learned. Though I’m by no means fluent – indeed it takes years to learn a language – I can speak and understand much better since this summer. And the support and encouragement I’ve received has made risking sounding like an idiot so much more appealing.
Like so many things, learning Italian proved to require patience, humility, and consistent practice. In fact, it has been a lot like practicing meditation with which change is difficult to measure from one day to the next. There are rare moments of clarity, insight, and spaciousness. But most of the time, practice is uneventful and progress is slow (or seemingly nonexistent). It isn’t until a “test” of sorts arises (a lost wallet while traveling, an extremely stressful move-in day, 24 hours of non-stop travel) that I can appreciate just how much had indeed changed. Anchored by my meditation instructor and the sangha at the Shambhala center, I continue to have faith in the process, which allows me to practice day to day, moment to moment.