When I was a senior in high school, I spent a month in Spain as part of an exchange program. Aside from having fun, making new friends, and being exposed to an amazing culture, I can honestly say that my Spanish improved more during those 4 weeks than it had during the previous 4 years of taking classes.
I went from barely being able to squeak through a basic vocab quiz to the point where I could carry on a decent conversation in Spanish. Within a few weeks in the country I even began to dream primarily in Spanish!
What was the reason for my rapid improvement?
Was it because I got a better teacher? No, I was traveling with the same teacher I’d had all year back in the States.
Was it because I finally buckled down and got serious about my studies? Hardly! I was, after all, 17 years old — and far more interested in going to night clubs with my motorcycle-riding friends than spending my nights poring over Spanish-grammar textbooks.
Was it because I utilized some cutting-edge brainwave technology? No, this was 1989 — years before I got internet…and started seeing those near-ubiquitous pop-up ads about super fast language-learning programs (which, according to the ads, teachers invariably HATE!).
So how come it took me only a few weeks to transform from so-so student to almost-fluent conversationalist? What was my “secret”? As you’ve probably guessed, it’s no secret at all — something super basic that I can summarize in a single word:
During that month, I went from dabbling in the language to surrounding myself with it. Everything I read was in Spanish — from school books to menus and traffic signs. Everything I heard was in Spanish — from my host family, on the TV and radio, and in every class (not just period-3 Intermediate Spanish for 39 minutes).
(Well, not quite everything was in Spanish, since I was still traveling with my fellow American students who, much to our teacher’s chagrin, still spoke primarily in English to one another. Granted, we probably would have improved even faster if we’d spent 100% of the time with native Spanish speakers — but, after all, we were 17, and time with friends was given higher priority than Spanish fluency.)
But what about the rest of life?
OK, so the immersion approach seemed to work for learning Spanish, but what about the rest of life?
Yes, I’ve been able to learn other things very quickly when I’ve immersed myself in them. (For instance, I once learned one side of a two-person t’ai chi form [san shou] at a weekend retreat; learning the other side of the same form took me almost 6 months of weekly classes!)
But immersion isn’t just about becoming hyper-efficient or developing new skills at record-breaking speed. I’ve always been more of a “slow-and-steady” kind of guy, so this wouldn’t appeal to me anyway.
The area where immersion does appeal to me, however, is LIFESTYLE.
I want (and make a conscious effort) to immerse myself as much as possible in a life that nourishes me — to live in an environment that supports me, surround myself with people who value and respect me, and immerse myself in activities that feed my soul.
It’s almost like dipping myself in a yummy “sauce” — I want to “marinate” in goodness!
But what about BALANCE?
Perhaps the idea (and practice) of immersion appeals to you, but maybe it seems at odds with one of the most highly touted ideals of personal growth and spirituality: balance.
After all, isn’t that what we’re all supposed to be striving for — balance of work/life, yin/yang, mind/body/spirit? (It’s certainly one of the guiding principles of t’ai chi — including the form I learned at that weekend workshop!)
Well, yes and no. On the one hand, balance can be essential to your health — getting enough…but not too much: food, sleep, physical activity, etc. In many areas, moderation is the key to health and happiness — but, as the saying goes, “Everything in moderation…including moderation!”
In the area of emotions, for instance, I don’t believe that if you’re feeling exceptionally happy that you should intentionally focus on something negative…just to balance out your emotions. I don’t believe that you need to intentionally invite mean people into your life…just to balance out all the nice ones. And I don’t believe that if you’ve been immersed in your favorite soul-nourishing activities that you should do something you hate…just to restore some balance to your life!
Immersing in Joy
Just like learning Spanish or t’ai chi, one of the best ways to soak up positive emotions is to immerse yourself as much as possible in a positive environment!
This is one of the reasons why I’m super excited to be part of the Soulful Life Sanctuary (which just opened — more on that in a minute) — because I get to IMMERSE myself in joy!
As the Soul Guide of the Gratitude & Joy group, I get to spend as much time as I want basking in the writing, videos, activities, people, conversations, ideas, and practices that bring me joy. And I get to share that joy with others — to feed off of one another’s joy and gratitude, nurturing that positivity in all of us.
My job, quite literally, is to be joyful — and to share that joy! (How amazing is that?)
But even if it’s not literally YOUR job, you can still consciously immerse yourself as much as possible in the areas that you want to soak up — the activities that feed you, the skills that you want to learn and master, the places that inspire you, and the people who love you.
Yes, balance is an important part of life — but life generally creates it for you. (For instance, even if you’re immersed in work that you love, eventually you’re going to get hungry — which means you’ll have to eat, which means you’ll have to cook, clean, shop, interact with others, and do other non-work activities, which naturally creates a work/life balance!)
But as you’re creating (or striving to create) a balanced life, don’t be afraid to let some areas get out of balance — especially if they’re the areas that are so wonderful that you simply can’t get enough of them: such as joy, happiness, gratitude, fun, and love!
What parts of life would you like to immerse yourself in more fully? Is there an activity that you’d like to dive into — or an emotion that you’d like to fill yourself with? How can you immerse yourself more in what brings you joy?
P.S. As I mentioned above, the doors have just opened to the Soulful Life Sanctuary — a brand new community created by my wife, Jodi Chapman, to provide a loving space to go to relax, recharge, rejuvenate, and plug back into our connection with ourselves, others, and this beautiful universe that we are a part of. It’s a supportive community, a virtual classroom/retreat center, and a set of tools/resources to help you live your most radiant, authentic, soulful life!
I would love for you to check it out and join us there! Click here to learn more about it — including the earlybird discount and bonus gifts available this month only!
(swimmer photo by Irena Belousa)