I went to a proefles (trial lesson) for a Dutch-language Zen Buddhist meditation class yesterday, thinking that I could kill two birds with one stone. Admittedly, this was a terrible start.

Killing two birds with one stone is a violent image that relies on either preternatural aim and good fortune or the cold-blooded ability to throw a stone, murder an innocent bird with it, and then picking up that blood-soaked rock and doing it all over again.

So let me instead say that I thought I would be able to accomplish two things with one action – that is to achieve more mental stillness and improve awareness and happiness (due to the zen part) and brush up on my Dutch (by doing the whole thing in Dutch).

Again, a poor choice of words. ‘Brushing up’ suggests that my Dutch is already at a high level and I merely need to give myself an opportunity to remember what I may have forgotten. However the facts are otherwise: I need to improve at Dutch. Full stop.

Driven to distraction
What I discovered is that I am not yet ready for the using of Dutch in practical circumstances. While I understood some of the words – gedacht, hoofd, stilte, and could guess at the meanings of some others, aanzicht, for example (means insight), I was still quite far from being at the point where registering for a course in Dutch Zen would offer me enough benefit to justify it.

With my tendency to be easily and almost constantly distracted, meditation will already be quite the big challenge for me. Understanding, ie a true appreciation of the benefits, techniques and what it’s all about might be even further away. Then add in the possibility to do it in a language of which I understand precious little and it turns out to be a non-starter. But it was worth a try.

For example, after being greeted all of us who had signed up for the free lesson were ushered into an inner sanctum, where we all sat on small circular cushions resting on larger square black mats, all lined up around the perimeter.

The session leader, dressed all in black, spoke at length (in Dutch) about what Zen is. I didn’t understand much of it (again partially due to the confounding nature of Zen and its Koans eg. “To speak about Zen is not Zen”, and partially due to it being in Dutch). And yet it was pleasant nonetheless. Plus, I felt pretty proud of myself for rising at 9am on a Sunday morning to got to a meditation class.

A drawing board
But I won’t be going back. As what I learned, aside from the fact that it will require some real practice to get my mind to stop its ceaseless chattering, is that my Dutch is unfortunately still below a useful level. Which sadly relegates it to something closer to useless.

Would I go back if it were in English? Perhaps. But for the moment I will focus on meditation at home. Three times a week is what I’m looking at. And for something extra-curricular in Dutch, well, I’ll need to get involved in something that is more visual or otherwise easier to understand. Like tetherball, boatbuilding or fingerpainting.

And if the using my Dutch in a practical setting doesn’t work, I can always go back to killing one bird with one stone, and take some more Dutch classes.