Lessons in listening: Approaching life with a beginner’s mind

Tomorrow I leave for Maine Fiddle Camp in Liberty, Maine. It is an old style sort of camp, rustic, with kids age 5 to 99 playing tunes and gathering to eat by the sound of the bell. My daughter and I will spend the week there camping and playing tunes, mostly of the Quebecois genre. She plays ukulele and I play fiddle. All day long. We will go to bed with sore fingers and wake with music in our souls.
When acquaintances learn of our vacation plans, they often reply with, “You play fiddle? I didn’t know that!” My rote answer has been, “well … not really, I’m just learning. I’m not really good; I’m just practicing and trying. I mean … the cats still run when I play.” Just recently, I have been reflecting on how differently my 10-year-old answers the same question. Her reply is definitive. “Yes, I play the ukulele.”  Her reply embodies a quality of living that comes naturally when we are young. It is an attitude that allows us to be open to new ideas and let go of expectations. In my 45 years of growth, I realize that this attitude has become a bit rusty for me. My interest and curiosity has not waned, yet my comfort with not being “good” has diminished.
As people with more years under our belts, we are accustomed to being not only proficient, but also often experts in our realms of living. Although this can be gratifying after spending years developing and studying a particular area of focus, I find that it can also be limiting in the approach to the acquisition of new skills and passions. I am grateful that my daughter’s unabashed comfort with being a beginner provides me the opportunity to reflect on my own journey and how I want to experience my life. It also brings to mind the advice of two friends that I will carry with me this week.
1. Stop practicing this life and start playing.
A friend once called me out on my above statements, like only a true friend can. She said, “Laura, stop talking about practicing the fiddle and start playing.” Touché. Practicing and playing sure do have a different feeling, eh? Playing is living in the moment, being right there with the sweetness of a note well played as well as with the out of tune squeak. It is relishing in all that exists, without judgment. I know that is where I want to live my life, whether I am playing the fiddle or connecting with a friend. I do not want to be rehearsing or getting ready for the performance. This moment is the performance of your life. Right here. Right now.
2. Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better.
Chris Prickitt, my local fiddle teacher, quoted this to me during the winter when I was bemoaning my frustration regarding a playing plateau. I don’t believe he knew it, but the quote is actually attributable to Samuel Beckett, an Irish playwright and poet that Pema Chodron, a beloved Buddhist teacher, then quoted in a commencement speech she gave at Naropa University. Regardless of the proper acknowledgement, the wisdom of the quote prevails: Mistakes and failures are the portal to discovery, creativity, and learning something new. This thing we call life is a process, not a product. The product? That’s just our epitaph. The process is the beautiful mess that we make along the way, with all those notes articulated with perfect intonation, as well as all those sounds that have the cats running for the hills. I am certain to play both of these this coming week at camp. One thing is for sure, though, I will be enjoying the adventure as I play. Because, yes, I play the fiddle.

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