Adapting to a major change process is a challenge, especially when it comes to having to deal with a foreign language. I have recently re-located to Germany for an indefinite period, and have had to deal with many administrative processes that require not only knowing how the system works, but also having to understand a foreign language and all of its subtleties.
As I encounter those around me, it feels like I am enveloped in a sea of ‘gibberish’. Nothing makes sense. There are no anchors to hold onto, no cues to connect with. It makes one feel powerless.
My work as a therapist is all about language, stories and the creation of meaning. My struggle with not being able to ‘converse’ effectively with others was therefore acutely heightened. I was having first-hand experience of the power of ‘not having language’.
As I thought more about my situation, the image of a one-year-old responding to his(her) environment came to the fore. This image offered me ‘an attitudinal approach’ to how I should respond to the major change that had occurred. Four ideas were activated by the image, which helped align me to a clearer philosophy and methodology going forward.
‘In time’ suggested that I need not rush or panic about the new unfolding process. I needed to be patient with myself. With consistent practice, it would only be a matter of time, before I would be acquiring new knowledge and the necessary language skills. This realisation helped to settle me.
A beginner’s mind is an inquiring mind that engages the environment in a non-judgemental way. It is also a responsive mind that acts spontaneously. Unlike the mind of a one-year-old which does not have any previously ingrained knowledge and language codes, I was filled with an old established pattern of language. I now needed to let go of the ‘old’ and embrace the new input in order to acquire a new set of codes and meanings.
Being present and playful
To be effective in any learning situation, you need to be fully present and focused in the unfolding moment. In helping babies perform on television commercials I have always been amazed at how concentrated and focused a baby is when playing and exploring. As I thought about this, I realised that I needed to lighten up and become more playful in the process. I had become too intense. I needed to laugh more and not take myself so seriously.
Joy and appreciation are linked. Without appreciation, there can be no joy. As I thought deeper about the challenge of learning a new language, a part of me started to feel excited. The situation was offering me a gift to expand myself and to encounter the true diversity of life.
On a general level, internal resistance is activated initially, when encountering any change. The greater the change, the stronger the resistance. In dealing with change, however, adjustment is required. Adjustment and resistance are inversely related: the more the resistance (the more the rigidity), thus reducing the ability to relax, which in turn, impacts on one’s ability to adjust.
Letting go of resistance, and aligning yourself with the attitude and playfulness of a one-year-old allows you to embrace change in a flexible way. Opportunities to learn more about yourself occur and new knowledge and skills can be acquired more effortlessly.
On a therapeutic level, dealing with the change has offered me insights into the intra- and interpersonal complexities of what it feels like to be an ‘outsider’, due to the inability to access and utilise the vehicle of connection, which is predominantly language (for adults).