Lessons in listening: Loosen your grip on life


LAURA WILKINSON IS a Nurse Practitioner and Integrative Health Coach at Middlebury College. Learn more about her and her coaching at middlebury.edu/middleburyintegratedhealthcoach.

This past weekend marked my family’s annual pilgrimage to Oak Hill, N.Y., for one of the best kept secrets in the Northeast — Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. This is the weekend when we join a community of 7,000 on the Walsh family farm hilltop and set up an encampment overlooking multiple music stages featuring iconic old-timers such as Del McCoury, as well as up and coming bluegrass talents from around the world such as We Banjo 3, an Irish double brothers quartet. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will.

Like many bluegrass-loving folk, the anticipation that precedes this event rivals nothing less than that of Christmas. On Jan. 3, the “early bird” tickets went on sale. On Valentine’s Day, the initial line-up was announced. By mid-June the stage schedule was released and the buzz increased. During this time, I am also receiving the countdown texts from one friend or another, with just the number of days until the festival begins: 67, 48, 27… Two weeks before the official hoedown, the frequency of our friends’ banter-filled emails and texts rev up as the details of the camping, packing, and food procurement are finalized.

As expected, the third Thursday in July arrives right on time, and the revelry begins. The easy ups rise, the outdoor rugs go down, the mandolins, guitars and ukuleles come out, and we play and let our souls receive the gift of live music. No matter the heat advisory or the sudden opening of the heavens as soon as we settle on our blankets, this weekend never disappoints.

As I write this, I can’t help but question myself: it never disappoints? Really? The emotion of disappointment is no stranger to me, so what is different about this experience and how might this serve as a learning opportunity?

In reflection, here are a few fundamental elements that contribute to my post-festival bliss.

Expectation of self-care. This year, our group of 15 ranged from age three to 52, and as you might imagine, there are varied needs and desires among our tribe. The key is that we accept that we are nourished in different ways and we allow each other the room to care for ourselves. Self-care for me means going to morning meditation each day. Musicians and fans alike settle in on the wooden dance floor and start our days with intention and attention. My other means of self-care is dancing like a wild woman at least a few times during the four days. For the youngest ones, care means naps and silly shows in the children’s tent. It also means a few glow sticks for the late shows. For my partner this means connecting with old friends and sharing laughter. For each of us, we bring intention regarding our needs as well as a willingness to communicate those needs. Self-care rarely happens in isolation, and therefore communication and negotiation are necessary.

When I think of the clients, I have coached over the last few years, those who are most successful in achieving their goals and actualizing a life of wellbeing know what they need and communicate it to their people. If they want to establish and maintain a morning meditation practice, they tell their husband, wife, partner, or child — I’m meditating at said time and they share why it’s important to them. I recently coached one client who went on her yearly summer vacation in Maine. She wanted to relax and enjoy herself, and she also wanted to continue her momentum of weight loss, as she has worked hard to lose 13 pounds. She chose to share her plan with her husband: 1) walk each morning and 2) order a kid-size ice cream instead of her usual small or medium.

Non-attachment. My festival troupe has expectations and hopes for the weekend, and yet they can hold these expectations lightly. This year the heat was oppressive and, frankly, dangerous. This required a shift in plans. High energy dance tent was off the table while lounging in a stream and playing Yahtzee in the shade became viable options.

Approaching life with openness and flexibility allows an opportunity to experience a new adventure. The adventure may be pleasing, and it might not. The water sure cooled us off, yet the Nurse Practitioner in me is crossing my fingers that none of the kiddos swallowed the overly human-populated water. We often don’t get to fully choose our life circumstances, but we do get to choose our response. My moments this past weekend taught me that life is much more enjoyable when I loosen my grip and look wide.

Lastly, I am certain that an essential part of the wellbeing I experienced at Grey Fox was directly related to witnessing and being part of live music. The communal experience of playing, singing and dancing together can truly transcend the parts of life that make us feel isolated and disconnected. This year that happened for me as one of my favorite bands broke into a banjo heavy version of the Beatles “All You Need is Love.” I could hear the older gentlemen to the left of me singing along. I looked right and saw my daughter and all her teenager friends singing loud too. This shared human connection reminded me that for even just that moment, all was right in the world.

Laura Wilkinson is a Nurse Practitioner and Integrative Health Coach at Middlebury College. Learn more about her and her coaching at middlebury.edu/middleburyintegratedhealthcoach.

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