Roma, 15 gennaio 2021
Beginner’s Mind. Are we there yet? I want to be there already. I want to know how to do it and be doing it now. Speak their language, have their rhythms, have it sealed in my heart, pulsating out my body in the way I move through the city, just like them. And while Romans can be over the top sometimes, a bit dramatic and self-involved, the smoking in your face, not looking before they cross the street assuming you’ve seen them because why wouldn’t you, everyone in their own little circuit, talking to Mamma on the phone, always on the cell phone, talk talk talk connect connect connect oblivious to the world around them, there is that elegance that envelops them that I believe comes less from their curated closets and more from their sense of belonging to this ancient city. Like Rome, who sits unperturbed through the ages, anchored in her history, so do they move through their city, through their days, taking their time, all the time they need, taking their space, in slow and voluptuous movements, like the train of a velvet gown trailing through an archway.
Beginner’s Mind. My yoga teacher would repeat this over and over as she lead the class through movements that placed our bodies into different shapes, inviting us to remain curious as we explored these new landscapes, places our bodies and minds had never been to before. Though at times it was frustrating being a beginner yogi it was also refreshing, so freeing, because I felt no pressure to do anything but learn. As a beginner, everything was new, everything fresh, and like seeing things through the eyes of a child I was on neutral territory where there was no right or wrong, everything was just new, information, inputs, and experiences. Over time, and with practice and dedication, I moved up in the yoga levels, not that it matters, but I had built the flexibility, endurance and focus, to sustain longer and more challenging classes and to incorporate my learning on the mat into other areas of my life. I even learned how to teach yoga, eventually completing a 200-hour training program.
And then I moved to Rome and forgot all of it. Between moving into new housing, starting a new job, navigating a new city, and learning a new language, all of the yoga went out the window. I got stressed, I got frustrated, and I got lost. I actually got really lost because driving in the Eternal City isn’t particularly easy. Everything was entirely new and fresh to me but instead of remaining in a place of curiosity and flexibility, of being in the moment, or remembering to just take a centering breath at each challenge, all things I had learned to do in yoga, I became disheartened. I forgot how to be a beginner.
Learning a new language at fifty is not easy. Throw in some variable hormones and stress and it can take several months to remember that one new word you always fumble when paying your bills at the corner tabacchi, not to mention trying to conjugate the conjunctive, that form of the verb reserved for doubt or uncertainty. How appropriate. It’s not easy being a beginner when you think you are above the challenge (I actually thought my Italian was decent before I moved here) or when you are really intent on having what you want (think working wi-fi), or when you simply don’t want to embarrass yourself, again. It’s not easy sounding like a baby when you open your mouth to speak, to resort to pointing at items on the shelves at stores because you don’t know what they are called in Italian, maybe leaving the store with the wrong thing because you gave up pointing and the line of people waiting behind you was long. There are days when I’ve been too impatient to cultivate beginner’s mind, days when I want to speak the language, know the history, and understand everything, all of the things, yesterday! To already know all the shoulds, the hows, the formalities, the jokes, the phrases, the prayers, the swear words, to speak in the cadence of the Roman accent, their walk, and their style. I want to sway and swerve through traffic on a motorino with ease, like a wave, that ondulation, smooth, weaving in and out of traffic on a motorbike. I want a Mamma who calls me constantly and a Nonna who makes lasagna for me to take to my office party, I want to know how many etti of that precise cheese for that specific recipe for that particular festa, gathering, birthday party to get at the market. Italian journalist Silvio Negro’s book title speaks truth: Roma, non basta una vita. It will take a lifetime to scratch the surface of Roman life. I was not born into it. But I can learn. Beginner’s Mind.
Sometimes I am close. Today, driving home, as a bus skimmed my mirror I didn’t even notice, I was focused on the oncoming Smart car five cars down the lane, waiting for my opportunity to snuggle alongside it as it passed me in order to unjam myself from the trail of double-parking on Via Nemorense. My car gently rocked in the bus’ wake and as I wove into the oncoming traffic I realized that it felt totally normal, seemed totally normal to be driving in the wrong lane, to be facing oncoming cars, everyone moving at the pace required by the moment, like the wave formed by fans in a stadium, as soon as the person next to you stands up arms rising you do the same, and that fraction of a moment in between their movement and yours and the person next to you and so on that gentle wave of roaring fans is formed, there is that quiet in those moments as you are rising and the others are sitting, like being underwater, that’s what driving can be like here, you aren’t in charge, you aren’t getting ahead, you aren’t beating the traffic, you are just weaving your way through the landscape, here a big delivery truck boxes sitting in the street the driver having a smoke, belly exposed under his shirt, the gentleman crossing the street with his cane and caregiver in hand, the trash tumbling out of the bin and onto the street, the barista carrying a tray of coffee to a negozio a couple of spots up the way, the original take-out model, there is always something happening, it’s over-stimulating but also fascinating. It’s in these moments of awe and wonder that we most learn. That is the source, the kernel, of Beginner’s Mind. I am still cultivating it, remembering to remain curious, every moment anew.