Lessons in listening: An opportunity for transition

A common question on Fridays in my office is “what are your plans for the weekend.” As Ellie’s mama my answer always includes a lineup of activities, be it an Irish dance competition, a music recital, a lacrosse game, and not one, but two parades for my little trumpeter. With the final arrival of spring, my answer of late also includes the litany of this particular seasonal change: mowing the lawn, stringing the peas, planting the flowers in the window boxes and the vegetables in the back garden, tuning up the bikes, changing out the black and gray wool skirts in my closet for bright sundresses, and on it goes. Not surprisingly, my coworkers’ replies to my reciprocal question have a similar ring, as seasonal transitions require attention, time and work.
The change of season provides a distinct and communal opportunity for us to acknowledge the hard work of transition. There is a certainty and familiarly experienced, as Vermonters know that spring will eventually show up, possibly waterlogged, but it will come. We may groan a bit, but in actuality, we welcome the change as we chose this life of cyclical movement.
In my coaching sessions recently, it is the unexpected transitions of life that have played a central focus for many of my clients. Their long-term goals were often set on a day when life appeared predictable and the path clearly envisioned. Their parents and children were healthy, their jobs and relationships secure, and their bodies were withstanding their chosen level of activity. Often the change feels negative, but even positive change can be derailing. Have any of you fallen in love recently? It can be intoxicatingly all consuming, leaving little room for healthcare goals!
As a health coach, one of my responsibilities is to help people create alternative routes to meet their self-care goals, even in the face of change and transition. How do you continue your exercise routine when someone busts your truck window and steals your gym bag? How do you continue to do your morning walk in the face of exhaustion due to worry related insomnia? Adapting to these inevitable unexpected changes requires both fortitude and flexibility. Here are some strategies that my clients and I employ in these moments, as our relationship to the change is what matters most as we move forward.
Before you can pick a new path, you need to recognize where you actually are. This may be as simple as just saying to yourself, “I am in a really hard spot right now” or “this really hurts.” It is essential that we locate the ground beneath us when we are in transition. This helps us manage the often unsettled and frenetic energy of change. For me, this means a hand on my heart and the words above.
Acknowledging the transition and change does not mean you like it, it simple means that you accept that it is your present reality. When we do this, we are able to create the opportunity for distance from the narrative and respond to our lives instead of reacting. When we respond from a grounded and wise place, what felt like a dead end can actually open to many different paths. I meet with a client who is experiencing the loss of a relationship, and for her the path forward includes creating ritual in her daily life. It also includes taking an intentional hiatus from alcohol consumption.
Opening up
Hands down, when I ask clients what helps them in times of change and transition, it is connection and community. This requires that we show up and let our people truly see us. For one patient, this means reaching out to a friend and letting her know not only what is going on but how she is feeling about it. In this open and unguarded space, the magic and love of friendship is strengthened. I, as many in my tribe, have felt the acute and raw loss of a young member of our community recently. I know what has helped me most: telling my people that I love them. It can honestly be that simple. Embracing our humanness together can make all the difference in our evolving and changing path.
See you along this journey. And if you need a hug or an “I love you,” I got your back.
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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