Documenting The Journey Of A Man On A Quest For Mindfulness, Peace, and Joy

Month: June 2022

On Sabbatical – Week 5: A Week In Costa Rica, Seven Years In The Making

In order to properly write about this week of my life, I need to take us back. Back to the year 2015. But before that, I need to take us back five weeks, to the start of my sabbatical.

GOALS ARE MY WEAPON TO INFLUENCE THE FUTURE

When I left Corporate America in May 2022, one manager told me, in a farewell email, “your super power of breaking down goals and achieving them is beyond impressive.” It’s funny, the power it can have when someone tells you something about yourself. As I reflect on it now, I am someone that has set goals for myself throughout life, but I didn’t particularly consider myself a “goal-oriented person.” Yet, when I look at my track record, I have had the tendency to set up and knock out goals for a good 20 years. I really wanted to go to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Got in. When graduating, I had the goal of going into business for myself. Did it. One lofty business idea I had was creating a large-scale event, from scratch — a free university welcome event to kick off the school year, paid for by sponsors. We estimated 5,000 students would attend. 15,000 students showed up, and our profit margin on the event was about 65%. Later in life, I knew I had the personal life goal of starting a family. Made that happen. During the pandemic I set the goal of running a marathon. Completed it. Each year in my career in sales, I had corporate quotas and personal sales goals. Most years, I either met them or smashed them. I know what SMART Goals are and try to use that framework when writing down lists of goals in my journal. But until the note in that last email from my former manager, it hadn’t really clicked for me as a label, as a trait of mine.

I had never considered myself among the class of people I admire, the “true” goal-oriented legends you read books about, visionary businesspeople or world class athletes who set lofty goals and stop at nothing until those goals are achieved. I read about people who have had success in their pursuits: the ultra marathoner who ran a marathon in every country in the world, the musician who locked himself in his home studio and didn’t come out until the song was fully produced and mastered, the young businessman who turned his tiny magazine into a global media enterprise, the athlete who set their sights on Olympic gold and won it — and I think to myself, “Wow, those people are impressive. They know how to set goals and achieve them, and it’s taken them to incredible heights. I’m just a normal person. I’m not like them.” And while it’s true, I’m not destined for Olympic gold, I now believe I am like them, insofar as I have an ability to set a goal and complete it. This is one of my super powers. How can I be putting this skill to its best use? I guess we will all have to stay tuned as the magic unfolds!

And if that farewell email wasn’t enough, it became evident on our recent visit to Costa Rica that this goal-completing ability really is one of my super powers. And with that, we go back seven years, to the year 2015.

ALL GREATNESS STEMS FROM A VISION

Kristyn and I were discussing the topic of children: whether or not to have them, ideal time, ideal age gap between siblings, and so on. We agreed that one idea we both liked was, at some point down the road, to live, with kids, in a different country. It would help them gain a more global perspective on life, and it would be one heck of an adventure for us all. The details were foggy, but the overall mission was clear — at some point, live with our kids in a different country. Over the next year or two, we had our first child, and then, two years later, our second, and we continued the conversation of where and when we might want to live outside of the United States. A Spanish-speaking destination made the most sense, since Kristyn already spoke decent Spanish, so from the get-go we had our kids in Spanish immersion pre-school. Kristyn had visited Costa Rica with her family as a teenager, and she got her second visit to the country with my family on a Christmas vacation in 2015. We had a most excellent time. So, from our positive experiences in the past, we looked to Costa Rica first as a possible destination for our eventual journey abroad. As I clocked hours of online research about the country, I was not turned off by anything I read and, to the contrary, was only lured in more.

Two people
Together in Costa Rica – December 2015

So, in 2018, we took a reconnaissance trip to Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region, where we visited multiple locations, met with realtors, and toured schools. We rented an AirBnB in a developing area that, from what we could tell on the internet, seemed like it might be a good location for us. But this was our first recon trip. There was no expectation of making any sort of big decisions. The loose idea was that, in the following months, we’d return to Costa Rica, but in a different region, to compare and contrast it with Guanacaste. Or perhaps we would do this recon trip to Guanacaste, realize it wasn’t for us, and plan our next info-gathering excursion to Mexico, Honduras, Spain, or elsewhere.

It was our last day of Guanacaste recon, and some other-worldly intuition, some knowing came over Kristyn, like the ocean washing up on the shore. Inevitable. Confident certainty. Which is particularly odd, since she has been, and still is, the less decisive person in our partnership; when we come to life’s many little crossroads, like what meals we should make for the week or should we wear the blue or the green to our friend’s wedding, I am usually the one to speak up with a quicker decision. But this time, the decisiveness was all Kristyn. She felt a deep sense of clarity. Further recon was futile. This was the place. The time was now.

Guanacaste Recon Trip – December 2018

Over the next four years, two of which were COVID-19 pandemic years, we worked toward the details of where exactly we would live. A plan was coming together, but due to pandemic travel restrictions, we could not return to the country, and even once restrictions were lifted, with vaccines not being approved for children under five (which just changed last week), we weren’t able to go actually see the location where we hope to live in 2023.

And then, in Week 5 of my sabbatical, we saw it. It was everything.

FORESIGHT 20/20

It hit me on the initial walkthrough of the house, not as much on the interior, but outside, on a covered deck, gazing out at a tiny distant sliver of visible Pacific Ocean, with a lush jungly hillside to my right and a rushing river flowing through the tropical forest behind. I felt an onrush of emotion.

Being a man that’s grown up in a patriarchal society, I have a deficiency in emotional intelligence. Feelings are hard. Society did not equip me with the tools, behaviors, and skills to talk about and express my feelings freely. It’s one of the areas of life I have the biggest room to grow. And so, even feeling and being aware of and being able to name “an onrush of emotion” is a starting point. But I’ve practiced some, and in that moment I was able to sit with the emotion, not panic but sit in it enough to allow space. Space for actual tears to form and roll down my cheeks, and space to be able to search the true feeling and name it. And the feeling was… relief. Relief that now the uncertain future is a little more certain. I had less fear of the unknown. This is where we will be living. This is where I will be drinking my daily mug of delicious, Costa Rica-grown coffee. This is the mountainside we’ll wake to every day. This is how the neighborhood howler monkeys sound. Up until then, the steps we had been taking to get closer to moving to Costa Rica all felt a bit like an upside-down, pandemic-infused dream, but in that moment, it all transformed from dream into reality.

So it was this feeling of relief from the ambiguity and fear of an unknown future, and also, after that, a feeling for which I didn’t have a word. So I sat with that, too. And it dawned on me – I was feeling happy, proud of my past self, proud of my past decisions, satisfied with the judgments and vision of the younger me. And it made me think of this phrase – Foresight 20/20.

You know how they say, “Hindsight is 20/20,” meaning that it’s easier to have complete knowledge and understanding about an event after it’s happened? Well, this feeling felt like our Foresight was 20/20, like the younger version of me was smack in the middle of the bullseye of knowing what future me would want. It was an extraordinarily rewarding sensation to have. I want to cultivate more 20/20 foresight.

Along the way, we’ve had moments of doubts. Many. “This is crazy.” “Are we really doing this?” “Are we robbing our children of some ‘better’ education or opportunities?” “How will we know if we still want this 4-5 years from now?” Countless questions more. Doubt. Uncertainty. Fear. Wicked cousins of emotion. I believe the ideal way to handle these feelings is not to avoid them but to go toward them. Stare them in the face. Learn from them what you will. And have the courage to push through them and press onward.

And through faith in those around us, a hint of that courage, more than our fair share of privilege, and a bit of luck, we got to see the result of the vision we’d had seven years ago, in living color. It was an affirmation that the old versions of ourselves could see our future. Something deep within us felt right about this spot, this plan, despite all the reasons why it might not work out. It’s validating and relieving that our old vision has not only come to fruition, but also feels so perfectly in alignment with the four-year-older version of me. To be happy with your past self is one of life’s best feelings, and I now aspire to impress my future self when making decisions. When at a decision crossroad, I ask myself, “Will this make my future self proud? Happy? Satisfied?” My intuition can take it from there.

Together Again in Costa Rica – June 2022

THOUGHTS FROM A WEEK IN COSTA RICA

A FRESH TAKE ON EDUCATION

We took a tour of the kids’ future school. We had already toured this school once on our 2018 recon trip, but now we could take the tour with our school-aged kids so they could see it and understand it for themselves. The school is one of our biggest draws to the area. It’s a bilingual school with half of the students being local Tico’s and the other half being international students from 30 different countries. Classroom sizes are capped at 20-22. They use project-based learning. The school year operates on trimesters with three different breaks throughout the year, rather than one big long break which can cause a mental “summer slide” in the developing mind of a child.

They put on a weekly “Feria” (market) every Wednesday for local merchants and students to sell their goods. We enjoyed being there to experience the Feria; we even had a First Grader give us his sales pitch for the homemade jewelry he had crafted.

Many nearby parents teach at the school. If you are a parent and aren’t a full-time teacher at the school, you are still required to contribute a minimum of 18 hours to the school’s activities throughout the year — a requirement I’m happy to abide.

Oh, and the school has gardens. And chickens. Many chickens! The curriculum includes an annual anchor project, which varies by grade. These anchor projects tend to model sustainability and self-sufficiency, and many anchor projects revolve around the chickens. Fifth Graders learn about and manage the compost at the school as their anchor project. The compost is used in the gardens, which is the Seventh Grade anchor project. The Sixth Graders are in charge of maintaining the chicken coops and feeding the chickens, while the First Graders are in charge of egg collection. Other grades work on recycling, water, and so on.

Everything about this school promotes a more communal integration with the community and with the school’s natural surroundings. This is what school should be. Everywhere.

WHEN DID SOCIETY AGREE EXTRA CLOTHING WAS A GOOD THING?

When we were in Costa Rica, and we were at a private house, with thick trees all around, not another human in sight, with tropical temps — we were naked. A lot. The kids mostly, but us grown-ups too. We saw how happy the little ones were to be free of their soggy bottoms. We wanted that same happiness. And why not? Because it’s not the norm? What’s not natural is putting clothes on when it’s 90 degrees and you have your own pool. It’s sad all the “rules” we think we have to live by. When was the last time the sun kissed your bare bottom? Answer: too long ago.

EMBARRASSING TRAVEL HICCUPS CAN HAVE SILVER LININGS

In our family, I am the planner, especially when it comes to travel. Even though it takes a lot of hours, I enjoy it. I enjoy the tradeoff of doing the work so I can arrange for the travel that I most want. This was a complicated trip, since we not only had international travel with children, but we also had life planning to attend. Meetings to set up. Tours to take. And while 99% of my planning was executed flawlessly, I had one small hiccup. When we finally arrived to the rental car lot (roughly 12 hours and two flights after waking up at 2:30am), I realized I had left my driver’s license at home. My license, which always stays in my wallet, had been removed from my wallet. By me. The day before we left. So that I could bring it to the nearby community beach as ID for our annual summer membership. I knew exactly where it was, sitting in a board short pocket in my bedroom hamper. That information was not especially useful at the current juncture. Kristyn was going to have to be our driver.

I dreaded breaking this news to her. I don’t think it’s most people’s idea of a good time to figure out driving in a foreign country. I felt bad to be burdening her with this responsibility. But it turned out to have the best silver lining ever, because there was actually something more stressful than driving around potholes and helmet-less cyclists biking on shoulder-less roads — handling the simultaneous navigation of those roads with spotty 2G cellular data and the management of two tired, hungry, hot, and curious children. Now that was some sweaty work!

Kristyn has already called “dibs” on driving next time.

WRITING REQUIRES PERIODS OF LIVING LIFE

I thought I would be writing nonstop while we were in Costa Rica this week. Writing down notes about the location and school. Journaling until my hand cramped up from all the inspiration I was feeling. Freewriting incessantly from my creative synapses firing. Instead, I barely wrote anything. I lived. I swam. I cooked. I laughed. If you don’t spend part of your life just living it, you have nothing to write about.

My Sabbatical – Week 4 – Prioritizing Pursuits And Accepting The Truth Of My Actions

A sabbatical is glorious in many ways, and it also has its challenges. With the stripping away of a more rigid daily and weekly structure, with a reduction of commitments and obligations, which grants me additional free time to allocate as I choose, comes a challenge. A challenge of variety, of options, of opportunities, of… open-endedness. There are many endeavors I wish to pursue, and all of them require minutes of the day (although some, such as living more mindfully, can be practiced throughout the day). How to prioritize? I have many goals I want to tackle all at once. I want everything to happen now. I want to be fluent in Spanish. I want to have five songs written and produced. I want five boxes to fill themselves of the stuff we don’t need and donate themselves to places and people that will use them. I want this blog to write itself. There are ten different website updates I want to make to this very site, not to mention the three other websites I want to be building, but each little change takes me ages since everything is a first, and firsts have a steep learning curve. And I know this kind of sounds impossible and “woe is me,” but even though I don’t have a day job right now, even with all those extra hours in the week, it’s still hard to make time for all of these things. Or even half of them! What things make the cut and which get left for later? This is the mental battle of my early sabbatical. 

I’ve noticed, though, that I am making time for certain things. I am preparing (and happily eating) home-cooked food daily. I’ve set up an exercise space in the basement and am getting out on the sand volleyball courts regularly. I am saying “yes” to my kids almost whenever they ask to play with me. Perhaps it turns out that the actions I’m making time for are my top priorities. We are what we do. 

Impromptu scooter ride midday on a weekday, because on sabbatical, Dad says, “Yes!”

One of the goals or tasks I keep writing down on my various lists is the project of purging. I’ve been wanting to purge, purge, purge. Strip things down. Declutter our house. Declutter my mind. But with planning for international travel coming up next week and trying to live slowly and not be too “busy,” I haven’t been making room for big purge projects. However, one thing I have been doing is playing with my kids and being present with them. Maybe that’s a fair trade-off? Maybe that’s what this week of sabbatical is supposed to be about. If I had been on a decluttering spree and grinding away at my laundry list of hobbies, I would have missed the following interaction with my kid.

With a delightfully tactful and simply-stating-an-observation tone, I had commented, loud enough for my kid to hear, on how hard it is to see any portion of the actual wood floor in our playroom. Any parent can relate. The kid stopped, eyed the playroom up and down, and turned their head to me and replied, “Daddy, I think we have too many toys.” Oh, I agree, young one. I agree. And so, without any further prodding or encouragement needed, we purged. Now, it was not the poetic, total toyroom overhaul that it could have been, but together, we picked up stuff and agreed whether it should be shelved or binned. 

And so, by letting go of the perceived need to be self-improving and making progress doing my long list of goals, and simply being a present father with my child, I not only got some decluttering done, but I also had a positive, bonding moment with my child. 

Letting go is getting me where I want to go. 

 

TANGENTIAL PARENTING HACK: If your 4-7 year old kid doesn’t enjoy “picking up” the play room or bedroom, suggest “neating” instead. Our kids all out sprint the other way when we mention picking up a room, but if we neat it, carefully replacing items to their homes ever so delicately and neatly like a member of the royal family might, oh, neating is so much fun! 

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SILENCE

Sunday, June 12, 2022

I messed up earlier today. I intervened when I should have done nothing. Or rather, I spoke instead of silence. Silence is tragically underrated. Silence is where magic happens. A silent lake at night divulges a loon’s call from miles away. Silent, tantric stares with your partner can unlock an unknown depth of intimacy. Silence is where you learn. 

My co-parent and our kids were having a calm, strategic bedtime negotiation around the remaining screen time of the night, and since it was a “Mommy Night” (we trade bedtime nights), I was doing my job, which at that point was to stare out the window and do nothing. Be a fly on the wall. Let what happens, happen. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t doing my job. During a pause in the mildly tense but perfectly under control negotiation, I commented that, “this conversation is sure taking a long time,” attempting and failing to imply the logic of, “think of all the minutes of screen time we could have gotten by now had we simply agreed on something and started watching.” I just couldn’t help myself from intervening and trying to help the situation. The thing is, the intent of offering assistance doesn’t make all actions right. And the discomfort I felt in that moment is a me problem. 

Upon conversation with my partner and further reflection, many of my missteps in life stem from an underlying tendency toward perfectionism. A sense of editing and revision to live every moment with maximum efficiency, maximum rightness. Why is that instinct there, to always be improving, always be optimizing, maximizing, even if it doesn’t matter? I have a few ideas, and I’m also jotting it down as a future journal prompt for further unpacking. 

Ultimately, I need to trust my partner to live their own parenting journey. And I need to trust my children to have their own journey. From every stumble, at least I can always learn. 

 

REFLECTION FROM A HAMMOCK: BEING OUTDOORS IS BLISS

Sunday, June 12, 2022 continued…

I had been on such a high to come out in the gazebo tonight and write. I got what felt like a huge breakthrough earlier tonight by taking “one teaspoon more” as I embarked on nighttime cleanup duty, which started out with picking up the front yard while it was still light out. 

When it’s a Mommy Night for bedtime, it’s a Daddy Night for cleanup. I ventured out to pick up the day’s toys, chairs, and miscellanea. I left the camping hammock suspended between our two Eastern White Pines for last. It was a gorgeous Minnesota summer night, and the sun was just about to set over the neighbor’s house to the west. But I had cleanup chores to do and a long list of personal hobbies to pursue after that, so I briskly unclipped the hammock from its straps and had it half packed into its stuff-sack when I froze. I looked up and the pink and orange setting sun and thought to myself, “What the heck are you doing right now? You love sunsets and this weather is lush.” And so rather than charge ahead on my task list, I slowed down, reattached the hammock, and sank in to a reflective meditation by sunset. And laying there, ever so gently rocking back and forth, gazing up at the canopy overhead and the drifting clouds above, I had the following epiphany. 

You can sum up one of my truest pleasures in life in two words: being outdoors.

These are phrases transcribed from the 4:22 Voice Memo I captured on my phone while in that hammock meditation: 

  • “I find myself realizing that being outdoors does bring me joy. It’s as simple as those two words. Being outdoors. … Every time. Every time I’m connecting with nature, it brings this overwhelming sense of peace, where I feel like I can actually… touch my soul, feel my soul.”
  • “It feels… indulgent. Like I’m somehow not deserving of just sitting outside and enjoying the sunset, like I should be doing other, more productive, things. For my family. For myself. But… this is nourishing myself. Just, chillin’ horizontally, on a hammock, with my weight suspended, with a gorgeous sunset, underneath a forest canopy, is… one of the best things there is in life! And I just need to remember that in my day to day. When I’m outdoors, my bucket is getting full.”
  •  (Tangential commentary on the benefits of hammocks): “There’s something about the way a hammock works on your body… because you’re horizontal, because your hips are relieved of any pressure, the opposite of when you’re sitting… because you have this anti-gravity posture, it feels like you’re… cheating, like you’ve found the loophole of physics to allow your body to relax. It’s like the same tranquility of floating in water, but without all the work of paddling and holding your breath, not to mention the needing-to-find-a-spot-to-swim bit.”

I can’t get over how cool it is to be experiencing the recurring theme that slowing down and doing less results in more clarity, more joy, and, paradoxically, more progress

 

MUSIC IS MY MUSE

Sunday, June 12, 2022 concluded…

Eventually, the sun did set, and duty called. It was time to put away the dishes away, so I headed inside and popped in my AirPods. I’m washing, listening to this “Wondewall” remix on SoundCloud, and I’m dancing, quite well I might say, and it’s hitting me, that dancing may be a “tier two” passion of mine. If I’m being honest, I’m no Michael Jackson, but I do have rhythm. I started playing piano at 6 and played until middle/high school, where I transitioned to saxophone. I also played drums in the church youth band. I played a few small-town gigs in a jazz combo. I went on to play in Jazz Band at the University of Minnesota. I’m constantly tapping out percussive beats and improvising goofy song lyrics with my kids. And yeah, when it’s dishes time, I drop in the AirPods and get my dance on. Is there any better way to get the dishes done than to dance with them?

It’s good to acknowledge your strengths. I believe there is huge benefit to leaning into one’s strengths. And as vulnerable as I feel writing this, that I will come across as arrogant, I believe that it’s OK to be proud of my skills and that there is power in naming things, and so I will name that I have a skill of shared rhythm with my kids. Shared rhythm is one of the many concepts I’ve learned from Kristyn, and I believe that it’s an area that I often excel in, and I’m connecting just now that it may be in part because I’m a naturally rhythmic person. Shared rhythm is not necessarily percussive, of course; having a back and forth conversation or going for a walk together are also shared rhythm. But in the literal sense, I can feel things click with the young ones. For example, when my kids ask me to do “Run-Unders” with them, they are referring to me dribbling an extra large yoga ball, in our basement, as high as I can without ricocheting back off the ceiling, in a consistent, steady beat, so they can time out a sprint underneath without getting tagged by the ball. It’s wicked fun, and in the game we share the rhythm of the bouncing ball. (Of course, the huge yoga ball does eventually crash into them, but only when they choose the rhythm of silliness and stopping mid-sprint to let it crash into them, at which point I let go of the old game and pivot to align with the rhythm of silliness.) 

Then it was time to do the dishes for real, not just dance to a remix of Oasis’ crowd-pleasing masterpiece from the 90’s, and I switched over to Spotify. Spotify is one of the few apps I happily pay for every month. It’s a rare subscription bill I look at and am 100% at peace with paying. I absolutely love having the world’s music at my fingertips. Of its many delightful features, Spotify’s algorithm customizes a set of six “Daily Mix” playlists tailored to your listening habits and grouped by an overall “feel,” with “Daily Mix 1” typically being more of your frequently played, go-to songs, with Daily Mix 6 being the collection of the 10 random songs of that one obscure genre you secretly like and rarely, but every so often, listen to. I hadn’t used this feature in a while, and today, Spotify curated the most serendipitously customized “Daily Mix 1” to not only my specific, eclectic taste in music, but did so in a series of 8 or 9 songs in a row that perfectly fit the mold of the mood I wanted to be in. First with a couple blood pumping, foot-stomping jams like “LIGHT” by Parcels and Jungle’s “Smile,” then into a more relaxed, but still toe-tappin bass line of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up – Pt. 1”, and then slower still with a brand new release from Jacob Collier featuring Lizzy McAlpine and John Mayer, “Never Gonna Be Alone”… and as I’m writing this about music, it is really hitting me that music, rhythm, dance… these also are things that make my soul shine through.

Being outdoors, music, good food, family… what more does a man need?

And yet, even as I’m dancing away, synchronizing my dish scrubs and rinses with the beat of some of my favorite tunes by my favorite artists, allowing the rhythms and melodies to take over my body, in my own house… I’m noticing that it’s hard to truly, truly let go, to truly be the wacky, shirtless dish dancer that my soul wants to be. I think up more outrageous dance moves than I actually allow my body to do, even when no one is watching. It’s like there is this deeply rooted fear of judgment of others, fear of doing things someone might judge me for doing, fear of doing something other than what society expects me to do. 

Above all else, I need to allow me to be myself.

 

FINAL THOUGHT 

Writing is hard. I’ve had different pieces of this post written for a while. Procrastination gets the best of me. Steven Pressfield’s “Resistance” is real. It’s easy to find excuses to do anything but simply opening up a blank page and starting to write. Self-judgment. Perfectionism. Resistance takes many forms, and they all get in the way of doing the work. I suppose I am grateful to have made the first step, which is acknowledging their presence and typing this paragraph anyway.

OK, enough yammering, onward to Week 5 – a week in Costa Rica!

 

My Sabbatical – Weeks 2 and 3: Alone in the Woods, Mini Retirement Happy Hour, and Conversations With Partners

It’s astonishing how difficult it is to slow the speed of life down. Just as a train in motion cannot stop at a moment’s notice, a “normal busy American suburban life” has a lot of inertia behind it. Not only are there tangible, logistical things that “need” doing, like taking the kids where they need to go, mowing the lawn, and managing bills, but there is also the internal learned behavior of busyness, that being in a state of doing is good, productive, what one is supposed to do. And it took my venturing deep into the woods along the North Shore of Minnesota to realize just how deep that learned behavior runs within me. 

A FEW NIGHTS ALONE IN THE WOODS: REFLECTIONS ON FUEL, COMFORT, AND THE INERTIA OF LIFE

On Friday, May 27, 2022, I drove four hours north to George H. Crosby Manitou State Park for a three-night solo camping trip. It was my first-ever attempt at using a hike-in campsite, where my vehicle would be parked over a mile away my camp.

Overflowing backpack

I may have overpacked…

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park Entrance

Hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail at the entrance of George Crosby Manitou State Park

It wasn’t until I was a few hundred feet above the forest canopy, at a gorgeous scenic lookout point I did not even know I was hiking to, that I finally allowed myself to stop. I had been go-go-go, wanting to see all the coolest parts of the trails and check off as many boxes as I could, and when I reached this beautiful, peaceful lookout, a little voiced whispered in my head the phrase, “One teaspoon more.”

This is a notion I learned from Kristyn during our couple’s retreat this past winter; it’s the concept of allowing yourself the time and mustering the mindfulness to enjoy one more morsel of whatever you are experiencing that is bringing you joy. Perhaps you’re at the park with your kids and it’s time to go, but your kid is loving being pushed on the swings, or maybe you are giving a loved one a hug and it feels really good but it’s already been a few seconds and you’re approaching the time where it feels like you’re “supposed to” disengage, or perhaps you are quite literally cooking a delicious meal that calls for a tasty ingredient – whatever the case may be, you mindfully acknowledge that what you want is One Teaspoon More, believe that you deserve One Teaspoon More, and so you take the action and enjoy One Teaspoon More.

As I sat above the trees, on a perfect perch with a flat rock as a seat and another perfectly positioned boulder behind as a backrest, overlooking the forest with no one around but the birds circling in front of me, resting in the most beautiful spot I had seen in over three days in the woods, I found myself compelled not to take pictures, not to meditate, not to sit and soak it in, but to leave! I had been sitting for maybe two whole minutes and then stood up to walk away. Why? My brain was telling me, “OK, this was cool, onto the next thing. There’s probably other great stuff out there that you’re missing by just sitting here. Stop wasting time you lazy fool!” I had stood up and taken two steps away from the perch when Kristyn’s voice whispered in my head, “One Teaspoon More,” which was exactly what I needed to hear. I sat back down and breathed in nature’s beauty for another 10-15 minutes. I did nothing. It was glorious. And it served as a smack-in-the-face lesson for me that slowing down and taking One Teaspoon More is not easy. It takes practice. It takes mindfulness. And it is so worth it.  

Enjoying one teaspoon more of this tranquil view above Tettegouche State Park

 

Two other big themes emerged from my time in natural solitude: Fuel and Comfort.

Fuel. We need fuel to survive. Fuel is a critical component of any survival situation, and we ought to be more mindful of the fuel we use to propel and nourish our lives. The notion struck me while I was gathering firewood on night one of my outing; the skies were clear and many downed branches lay in and around my site. I did not bring a saw or hatchet with me, so I was relegated to using whatever fire fuel I could scrounge up with my bare hands. After a period of gathering, I looked at my stick pile and thought, “OK, this is the amount of fuel I have for the fire, and it will have to be enough.” Once I had gathered the firewood, I washed up and started boiling water over a very small backpacking stove. This stove uses a fuel canister to burn. The act of needing to gather my own firewood and noticing that I had to pack a fuel canister with me in order to cook made me more conscious of just how important fuel is to living things. 

One obvious form of fuel is food; as mammals, we need to fuel our bodies with calories, vitamins, and other nutrition to give our bodies energy. How one obtains, prepares, preserves, and consumes fuel has an enormous impact on one’s health and well-being. Am I in right relationship with the sources of my food fuel? How much fuel do I waste on a weekly basis? What steps could I take to plan ahead and prepare batches of fuel in advance, minimizing wasted time and fuel? 

But we also fuel ourselves in other ways. Consider mental fuel. Educating ourselves is fuel for our minds. As children, our brains are hungry to learn, hungry for mental fuel.  We can’t get enough of it. As we get older, do we get complacent? Am I giving my brain the fuel it needs to stay sharp and to learn new things every day? If I watch television or play a video game, what am I fueling my mind with? 

How about emotional and spiritual fuel? What activities, people, conversations, and meditations fill me with the emotions I enjoy and the spiritual sustenance I need? What practices can I put into place to mindfully keep my emotional and spiritual fuel tanks full? 

 

Comfort. When you’re out in the woods with only a backpack, your resources are limited. Resources is another word for comfort. If you have the resource of a couch, you have more comfort. If you are rich with food resources, you have the comfort of not needing to obtain food. Even more comfort if the food is prepared for you. If you have financial resources, then you have the comfort of not needing to put every penny to its absolute most critical use. Climate-controlled houses, grab-and-go food, smart refrigerators that tell you when you’re out of eggs – many of us live with way, way more comfort than we need to live a happy and healthy life. 

“How much comfort do I need?” “How does that compare to how much comfort I have?” Exploring these questions may provide some keen personal insights. But there’s an even more interesting question, which is, “How much comfort do I actually want?” For example, do I actually want to pay someone to maintain my yard, which on the surface provides me the comfort of not needing to do that task, but also puts me out of connection with the land I live on? Do I really want to buy a cheeseburger from the drive-thru, which will satisfy my immediate hunger, but will also unnecessarily contribute to global warming by eating beef (which generates more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food produced, by far, than any other type of food) and generate extra trash for a landfill, when I could just drive the extra five minutes to get home and eat some trail mix and a salad made from the planter boxes in my backyard? 

 

AN ANTI-CLIMACTIC CORPORATE SEND-OFF… WITH A SURPRISE TWIST!

On May 19, 2022, I quit my job in advertising sales. In a hybrid work environment with many varied team members working remotely on any given day, a last day at a job can be a little underwhelming. Over two thirds of my coworkers were working from home on my final afternoon on the job. I had worked on this team for the majority of my 30’s, put in hundreds of hard-working weeks, consistently surpassed sales quotas, collaborated on scores of commercial video productions, and closed some of the biggest deals the TV station had ever seen, and the final fanfare on the day of departure amounted to a pair of fist bumps from the managers who were the in-office managers that day. This would not do. 

So I concocted a plan, and on Thursday, June 2, I had a going away happy hour at a restaurant patio near the station, to which I invited over 50 current and former coworkers. People I had worked with closely over the years: fellow sellers, support staff, and managers. I received some enthusiastic affirmatives, as well as some declines, which is to be expected for any event. These people had other obligations, their kid was sick, they had another event they were going to, and so on. No sweat former work compadre, live your life! There were a good number of people, though, that either said they were going to come and, for one reason or another, did not, or they did not reply to the invitation. These are people that I considered some of my closest professional relationships, people whose company I genuinely enjoyed and wanted more of. And we’re talking about more than a handful of people here. This brought to light for me two things.

One is that it made me sad. Sad for our system, our society. People are overworked and are stretching themselves too thin, and it’s not entirely their fault. Yes, we make choices on how full we fill our plates, and many of us could stand to rethink how full of activity our lives are, but we don’t always get to choose everything. With the huge ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the workforce, as so many people are making career changes, more is being asked of loyal employees. If someone leaves a company, the people remaining have to pick up the slack until a new hire is found, which can take weeks or months. Bandwidth is a real issue affecting organizations everywhere. 

I do believe that there are a group of my former coworkers that truly did want to come join in the gathering, but their lives are just so busy that they prioritized or were obligated to something else above saying farewell to me. Now, I freely acknowledge I’ve said no to or avoided many social activities when I was working, with an excuse about having little kids and this or that other obligation or that I’m just so busy I don’t have time for this. But I realize now, when you are the person that is hosting the get together, when you are going to be a center of attention, when you are the one hoping to see someone, and those someones don’t show, it doesn’t feel great. It means a lot to someone to show up to their thing. And so in the future, if I care about someone and I’m invited to their thing, I’m showing up. 

The second thing it makes me realize is just how fickle a professional relationship can be. Perhaps other people are better at transforming a professional relationship into a true, real life friendship friendship than I. I thought I considered many of my former coworkers my friends. And I expected them to show up like a group of my friends from college would show up to a backyard barbecue, but that’s not what happened. Perhaps I could have done more when we worked together, giving more emotionally to those relationships while I was working to make those bonds more concrete after leaving work. That’s a lesson I’m going to take with me in whatever future work I do, in whatever future organizations I am a part of – that if there are coworkers I really enjoy as people, beyond the bounds of the work, I will put extra energy into making sure those relationships are strong enough to survive either one of our organizational exits.

As with many things in life, though, there was a silver lining. One of my former coworkers who did show up, Andrew, was heading straight from our restaurant to downtown Minneapolis for the Purple Block Party – a Prince tribute event celebrating the completion of a 100-foot Prince mural near the iconic music venue First Avenue. I seized the opportunity and joined him for an impromptu night of music and fun. Live music always brings joy to my soul. So while it wasn’t the night I was expecting, I think I actually enjoyed myself more than had things gone according to plan. Plans are overrated! 

Prince Mural Block Party

Coworker Holly gifted me the hat for future travels!

 

CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR PARTNER

Before the happy hour get together, I took the kids to school and then went for a walk to the lake with Kristyn, which turned into an impromptu conversation about our relationship, last two entire impromptu hours!

We were going to make breakfast, we had just made a pot of coffee, and we were starting to sip our coffee when Kristyn asked me if I wanted to watch some more of an online lesson video about this philosophy called Quantum Energetics. I had watched the first 20 minutes of this hour-long video with her the day before, and it was interesting but also not life-changing to me, so I replied by telling her I didn’t want to watch any more of it and that she could just watch it herself. This spurred a long conversation about how our dynamic will work in this new normal, the new normal of our mutual unemployment/self-employment. A mode where both of us are exploring new territories, learning new things and wanting to share those learnings and insights with the other person, but that other person has their own interests and learnings to be absorbing, and even without a day job, there’s only so much mental bandwidth one has and only so many hours in the day. How do we make space for it all?

It was one of the many conversations we’ve had over the last few months that I don’t think we would’ve had even just a year or two ago, at least not in as healthy a way that we did. It was an uncomfortable conversation. We both had opinions and feelings and, for me, those kinds of conversations can be hard to navigate. You know, ones with feelings involved. That’s scary stuff for many of us men! It can be hard to do the balancing act of expressing your own thoughts and feelings accurately, truly hearing what the other person is saying, letting what they say sink in, and work toward some mutual resolution/conclusion/next steps.

I explained how I love it when Kristyn teaches me things, but I only have so much bandwidth to learn about her favorite topics in addition to pursuing my own areas of interest, so we ended up coming up with the idea of having a weekly “Kristyn Class,” where over the course of the week I will have one assigned reading or lesson to watch and then we’ll make some time to discuss and debrief. It should be a great way to help Kristyn prioritize the things she wants to share with me most, which will also be a motivator for me to dive right in and know that it’s a manageable amount of content. 

I’m very grateful that we are at a point in our relationship where we can have these conversations and grow together from it. Looking forward to studying up in future sessions of Kristyn Class! 

Next up is preparing for a family trek to Costa Rica. More on that in the next sabbatical post! 

 

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