March, 2010

Mar 10

A few photos

Just a few photos of where we’ve been for the last few weeks…

Il Duomo


The Car

Bean on Board

Our lovely host Vanessa made this sign for us! The name is spreading… oh dear.


3rd anniversary dinner in “our” little apartment (B & B apartment)

Mar 10

This is your brain on…italian?!

To say that the last few weeks have flown by would be an exaggeration and an understatement at the same time. An exaggeration because at times I have been so tired that time seemed to creep by, dragging along just to mock my exhaustion. An understatement because here I am, writing this from the kitchen table in our temporary apartment here in Chiavenna, our new home.

Learning a new language is about the hardest work one can do, and it’s a job which does funny things to the mind. They say that when you learn a new language the brain compartmentalizes it so as to maintain two completely different ways of expressing itself verbally. This concept is wonderful on paper, “Oh sweet, I won’t loose english when I learn italian.”; but in reality, the initial stages of learning said new language are so exhausting for my feeble brain that each evening I am rendered completely useless in either language. My brain has just plain given up on doing the switch – usually stuck in the airlock between the two compartments – and I’m left with the ability to remember only a few small details of each days lessons in italian (a depressing realization to have to replay each evening) and none of the things that I wanted to do with my life in english (also a tad depressing).

During the day isn’t much better. Basic information becomes nearly impossible to maintain: Names of new friends, places where we eat, how to get back to Vanessa’s house, where we’re staying, on the bus, the simple schedule of our lives at the moment. All the little things that your brain handles behind the scenes for you on a day to day basis have become bits of paper swirling around in the wind.

But each day becomes a little easier, each conversation goes a little smoother. I may not remember learning about the differences between imperfect and present perfect but I am sure using them both quite a lot more now. At least some of the information pouring forth from the fire-hose must be landing in the small tupperware box in my brain that’s labeled italian. There is hope.

Mar 10

Iniziato di Nuovo

My knee feels like it’s on fire, but I know we’re not supposed to move for at least another 40 minutes. My eyes are closed so I can’t see my watch to check. My back is aching from holding me upright and still for so long. And now I’m so busy panicking about the pain (which incidentally is getting worse…) that I can’t concentrate an ounce of my attention on the meditation technique. Eh, whose idea was this??

Matthew, my big brother. He has done a few of these Vipassana meditation courses over the years and recommended it to us. Fortunately, by the end of the course we were thanking him. Ten days: Rising at 4 am, retiring at 9.30pm, with 10.5 hours of meditation each day, sitting still with eyes closed. No talking or communication of any kind allowed, including eye contact. Men and women are kept totally separate. You are to feel alone with your thoughts and sensations. At one of my weaker moments of meditation I was calculating the percentage of the day spent with eyes closed. The number escapes me now…

The idea of this technique of meditation is to learn to become more aware of the sensations in your body as they occur, moment to moment. With an emphasis on the fact that everything in this world is impermanent, everything will change sooner or later, for better or for worse. With this, one can learn to reduce (or ultimately eliminate) their reaction to their sensations. The belief is that it is our exaggerated reactions to our sensations that cause us sadness or distress not the actual stimulus. A simple example: Someone treats you badly causing a negative sensation in your body. You react with anger or sadness, which multiplies and prolongs the negative sensation inside of you. The person who initially hurt you may have gone but you continue to stew and multiply the negative feelings inside. With this technique you can learn to become aware of these sensations as they arise and how to control your response to them. To observe the sensation objectively without reaction. To understand that like everything in the world this sensation too will change, sooner or later. If you let it.

By our last few days we had both learnt to remain still for at least an hour in meditation. In my experience, pain and discomfort still arose but if I succeeded in merely observing it objectively, like a scientist or researcher of sorts, instead of reacting to it, the pain would run it’s course, fade and often disappear. It was amazing to experience, on a very personal level, the mind:body interaction. Concepts which I have been teaching my patients for the past few years, I was now experiencing in real-time high definition. As the days passed I continued my personal science experiment, each day discovering a little more about the power of the mind.

At times I definitely felt like I was going crazy and it seemed like one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but I can already notice the sweet haze of retrospection covering over the darker moments in my mind. Ultimately, it was a very special and unique experience for us. One which we each explored alone, as individuals, in our own personal way. A bizarre way to start our move to a new country but I think a necessary one.

And now here we are in Milano trying to put into practise some of what we learnt while we make our way through language school and living through a foreign language. We have been greeted with open arms and real Italian warmth and generosity by many, but especially by our new friend (and host!) Vanessa, the Pradella family and of course Marina and Gianca our old friends from Blacksburg, who are “neighbours” to us again but now on this side of the ocean.

Grazie 🙂

La vita è bella.