Spanish as a Path to Svadhyaya

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I had a moment of triumph this morning when I finally remembered the word for stapler — ingrapadora.  This after almost a month of asking for the…what do you call it again?  Squeezing motions with my hands while I hold up the pile of papers, corners dangling, wishing to be connected by a small metal staple.

Another moment of triumph last night as I spoke with a tour guide from Esteli who was in town touring the yoga studio with one of his clients.  Even though he spoke rapidly, I was able to keep up without asking to ask him to slow down.  (One of the first phrases I learned…”mas despacio, por favor!”)

I find myself slipping into English less often.  When seated around a table of Spanish speakers and one or two English speakers, I prefer to keep the conversation en espanol not only for my own practice at the language, but in the interest of being polite and speaking a language that everybody present can understand.  (I use “understand” very loosely here when speaking of my own comprehension of the language!)

I still approach the learning of a new language as a fun and challenging game.  I am learning lots about the culture just through learning how people string their words together to make complete thoughts and sentences, perfect and exotic like the beautiful jewelry sold in the markets!

I’m finding a real appreciation for things that used to confound me, like having 3 different forms of the word “you”.  Normalmente, there are only two forms of You – Usted, the more formal You, and Tu, for when you are speaking with a friend.  However, here in Nicaragua, Voz is an even more informal form of You.  I’m still experimenting with appropriate times to use the different forms of You, and then how to make those You’s plural, when I’m addressing more than one person, but I really enjoy the subtlety that can be brought to a conversation simply by changing the way that simple word is used.  The respect shown by the use of usted, and the familiarity by the use of voz.

Another point of confusion that I’m beginning to appreciate are the different forms of the verb To Be.  Estar and Ser.  Ser is used for instances of more permanence, like when you are describing that you are a woman, what you do for a living, where you are from, what color your hair is, etc.  Por examplo, Soy Libby, soy una profesora de yoga, soy de estado unidos.  The verb Ser is used to describe things that are more or less a constant in your life.

In contrast, Estar is used when describing things that change, like emotions or locations.  Estoy feliz – I am happy.  Estoy triste – I am sad.  Estoy a la casa – I am at the house.  The yogi in my loves this acknowledgment of the transcendental nature of our emotions.  How lovely to be able to distinguish with one small word – estar – that this emotion I find myself experiencing is temporary!  Estoy desolado – I am crushed, devastated, but it’s only something that I’m feeling right now.  I know this feeling will pass, as all emotions do.  This has been a real practice for me to learn in my yoga, and I must wonder if that practice might have been made easier if my language and culture supported the knowledge that our emotions are like the clouds that pass above us in the sky.  Distorting the light for a short while, but constantly changing and constantly moving on.

I feel that so often, American culture treats emotions not only as if they are here to stay but as if they need to be treated in order to go away.  Instead of making space for ourselves to fully experience difficult emotions, thus allowing the emotion to run its course and naturally pass out of our awareness, American culture often throws cures at emotions.  Cures that might look like a night of hard drinking, or more extreme, taking prescription drugs for an extended period of time that dull us to the natural ebb and flow of happy and sad times within our bodies.  Of course, these “cures” don’t hold the space for us to feel the emotion, the cause of which is the bottling up of said emotion, than storing that emotion within the physical body.  Emotion stored upon emotion within the physical body can create stress, tension, pain, injury, even long term illness.  This is one of the reasons it’s so important in a yoga class when stretching to take note of the old memories, thoughts, and emotions rising up.  As you’re able to create the space for your yoga practice and send the breath into these emotional stores of the body, you’re given a second chance to release those old stored memories, making way for fresh prana and fresh energy to rise up, and those old emotions that were never meant to be permanent now have a doorway out, a release into the universe.

Another wonderful example of not identifying with these passing feelings is the way to express hunger, or thirst.  In espanol, you would say Tengo hambre, or tengo sed to express being hungry or thirsty.  The exact translation for these is I have hunger, or I have thirst.  Instead of fully identifying oneself with these constantly changing needs of the body, the Spanish language allows an opportunity to step back into the seat of the Observer, the Brahmin within, and note that the body is experiencing a need for food or water.  This pulling back into the seat of the observer is a doorway into the powerful practice of meditation.  This pulling back and watching, oberving, taking note, and making space is the practice of Svadhyaya, the yoga of self-inquiry, self-discovery.  As one is able to dive into the infinite space within, one learns more about the human condition and the world without.  Thus bringing a union to the inner and the outer, creating space for the divine and the human experience.

In this way, I’ve been using this space for learning and growing and exploring a new language to also learn and explore and grow my own understanding about the way that I communicate.  I’ve been re-learning the power of words and language.  How the messages we give ourselves shape our experience on an intrinsic level, one that’s simple to miss if you only skate the surface of conversations.

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