Amidst an ongoing struggle to protect myself from poisonous news in a world gone insane, I accidentally stumbled on the calming effects of learning Japanese.
I had no desire to learn Japanese. Although it could come in handy since my son and daughter-in-law are fluent in it, when I had tried to learn it in the past I’d found it tedious, frustrating and too hard. So I gave up and decided it wasn’t for me.
Then I was asked my opinion about a new, free language learning system called JalupNext. I became curious. Then I became hooked.
After three weeks of learning Japanese with this system I’ve become so addicted to it that I have to set the timer on my phone to make make sure I don’t study too much and neglect the rest of my life. 30 minutes a day seems right for me, but after 30, or 40, or 60 minutes, I have to drag myself away from it and step reluctantly back into the English world.
How did this happen?
The Japanese writing system is so different from the English and French I know, it feels like I’m making art when I’m doing it. It reminds me of the thrill I had when I taught myself Hebrew as an adult. When those incomprehensible squiggles began to make sound and sense it felt like pure magic.
After one of my Japanese study sessions, I walked into the office of a co-worker and asked him what he was doing on his break. He held up his pad with a smile. “Teaching myself how to read music,” he said.
“Oh,” I laughed. “I was just learning Japanese. We’re both learning a new language.”
There’s something uniquely captivating about learning a new writing system like Japanese or musical notation. It puts you in that state of mind that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. You lose the thread of time. Worry, stress, the past, the future — all of that melts away. You’re grounded in the present moment. It’s a delicious, tranquil excitement.
It’s why I loved skiing. When you’re gliding down that mountain your senses take in only what’s directly in front of you. The cold air whooshes over your face and into your lungs. It makes you feel one with the snow, air, and mountain.
Besides the pleasure of absolute absorption in Japanese, I have a great feeling of accomplishment. Reading it aloud makes me feel like I’m casting spells at Hogwarts. I’m thrilled with my daily progress. I’m already texting my son in the Japanese Hiragana, and he’s texting me back. (Mostly just to say hi, goodnight, congratulations.) It was easy to put the Japanese keyboard app on my computer and smartphone.
Why don’t I feel like I’m wasting time? After all, I don’t need to learn Japanese.
I could justify it as a brain exercise, because it is. But I could do any other brain exercise, like reteach myself piano, spend more time writing my novels, or refresh my French. (I wish I had time to do all of them.)
I could also justify learning Japanese as a therapy for stress. It feels like an active meditation practice. It’s definitely a vacation from chaos.
The other morning I had to wait in an automotive shop for over an hour. I felt irritated at being there so early in the morning, before breakfast. The place stank of rubber and oil and made me nauseous. The owner had put on a TV that was blasting the news. When I asked him to turn down the volume, he grudgingly did, but not completely. I felt angry.
Then I moved to another chair, picked up my smartphone, put in my ear buds, and started using the Japanese learning system. I usually use it at home on my computer, but it works great on my phone too.
The noxious odors disappeared. The TV sounds vanished. That hour and 15 minutes was like a warm, tranquil bath.
At the end of my Japanese study session I had a car with new tires and a knowledge of 80 hiragana. (Only 152 more Kana to go!)
The truth is, I’m not doing this because of brain exercise, or stress relief, even though it is both. I’m doing it because it’s fun!
Fun is vital. If our lives aren’t fun, then what does it all mean?
What do you do to soothe yourself and make the world feel right again?