What New Language Are You Learning?

Since finishing the triathlon–and receiving those super lovelyprofessional race photos in my inbox (I especially love the one, taken seconds after I hauled myself out of the pool, of me pulling my shorts up while simultaneously pulling my bra-tank down, all while running toward my bike–how’s that for transition efficiency?)–I have been counting Weight Watcher’s points and trying to be more conscious of what I eat, when I eat, and why I eat.  I have decided that if I’m going to eat “treats,” they need to be really good treats that are worth the calories, sugar, and fat.

The other day I was craving chocolate and decided to stop at Weaver Street Market, a cooperative grocery store that specializes in gourmet and specialty foods, to buy an organic brownie with walnuts from their bakery.  (We are talking about a seriously good brownie–good enough that I was able to stop after only two bites and save the rest for a later craving.  Totally worth the hit my “diet” took!) 

Before I found my way to the bakery section, however, my eyes landed on an endcap featuring progressive and alternative magazines.  The first one I saw was Yes! Magazine whose tagline is Supporting you in building a just and sustainable world.  This magazine focuses on positive stories surrounding some of the world’s most challenging issues–climate change, globalization, health, social and racial justice, peace–and I was psyched because I hadn’t seen a copy of it on a newsstand since I left Seattle six years ago.  The cover headline read, “The New Economy Starts Here: why this crisis might be our best chance.”  My hands grabbed the last copy of the magazine without waiting for my brain’s permission.  (You can get your own free, trial copy here!)

Before I could flip through the magazine’s pages, however, my eyes landed on another magazine I’d never seen before: EnlightenNext: the magazine for Evolutionaries.  The word Evolutionaries was in red.  I was intrigued.  What was an evolutionary? The cover text read, “Envisioning the Future: what today’s brightest minds have to say about the road ahead.”  Again, the magazine was immediately in my hands.  I scanned the bottom of the magazine cover, a green bar that listed the articles inside and their authors and recognized a few of the names, Ray Kurzweil, Jean Houston, Duane Elgin.  My left brain forced my eyes over to the right corner where the price was listed–a steep $7.50–before my right brain overrode it and decided both magazines were going home with me, despite the cost.

I started reading EnlightenNext first, but I haven’t read far.  I’ve been savoring it, determined to read it from cover to cover, even taking time to study the ads to get a feel for who this magazine’s readers are.  On the inside of the front cover I was already confronted with a phrase I hadn’t heard before, “integral theory.”  My brain began to tingle.  A few pages later, in the magazine’s mission statement printed on the masthead, I found mention of “the emerging field of integral and evolutionary spirituality.”  Now, my whole body was tingling!  I was holding a portal into an “emerging field” that used language I did not know.  How exciting!

It has been a long time since I felt the thrill of being slightly over my head in a piece of writing, when I felt that I was on the brink of a whole new way of thinking, when a whole new language was about to open up to me.  That’s why the desire to savor it, to let the words unfold slowly, to let the mystery linger as long as possible.  I love new things, but I especially love totally new things and I had clearly stumbled upon a treasure.

For most of my time in public school, I felt like I was simply relearning things I had already learned before.  The first time I really felt over my head was in a freshman honors seminar at the University of Michigan titled “Imagination.”  A handful of us sat around a big wooden table for an entire semester discussing how humans create the world in which we live using our imaginations, both individually and collectively, and the mechanisms by which we “change the world” through shifts in our collective thinking.  For most of the class, I felt I was running at full speed to catch up, unable on most occasions to put together a single coherent sentence to contribute to the discussion, trying desperately to create a nice, sane, neat understanding of what was a complex, unwieldy subject.   It was totally delicious!

The next such class occurred in my senior year, a class taught in the engineering department by a professor who had a knack for turning students away from engineering, Dr. Henryk Skolimowski.  It was called “Ecophilosophy.”  We discussed the nature of life on earth and the relationship between humans and nature.  We read Teilhard de Chardin’s  The Phenomenon of Man–a book that stood my world on its head–and I was asked to summarize it in two sentences for the class.  (Skolimowski pounded it into our heads that you only have two sentences to get your point across, people won’t listen longer than that, and he had us practice summarizing our ideas in this manner throughout the semester.)  I was fabulously immersed in a new world, a new way of thinking and being, and I was in love with the entire experience.

I have encountered few things so completely new to me since my years at Michigan; nothing that has forced me to change the language I use, and therefore my world view, to such an immense degree. 

And, even as I savor EnlightenNext, hoping it will upend my experience of the world in some dramatic way, I already have seen beacons in its pages pointing me back toward familiar terrain.  For example, on page 20, I found the name Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in bold type.  What 21st century magazine has the name of a Jesuit priest who’s been dead for more than fifty years printed in it?? (Well, apparently two: this one and a recent issue of the scientific magazine Discover.)  So, this magazine may not send me into completely new territory as I had hoped, but may instead deepen my exploration of spiritual and philosophical ideas I first joyfully encountered twenty years ago–and that’s an exciting prospect in itself.  There are new words to learn, new concepts to wrap my brain around, new voices with whom to acquaint myself.  New challenges to face as I ask myself if I am living up to my ideals and according to my moral compass.

When was the last time you immersed yourself in something completely new?  Are you learning new words and new ways of experiencing the world as frequently as you’d like?  Is your life, as mine all too frequently is, already so full of other busy-ness that you close yourself off to new possibilities?  What about old passions? When was the last time you abandoned your schedule and let yourself sink into something you absolutely love but don’t often indulge in?

The next time you get a craving for a bite of chocolate, follow it.  You never know what serendipitous portals it might lead you through!