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

Tag: Communication

On Sabbatical – Week 24: Improving Communication With My Partner and With Myself

HALLOWEEN & REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Monday of this week was Halloween. Due to my bushy, unkempt sabbatical beard, I slapped together a last-minute costume and attended our neighborhood Halloween driveway get together as the cross-country-running version of Forrest Gump. I still hadn’t done anything with the beard in the days after Halloween, which you can see proof of in this week’s featured image. 

Ever since enrolling our children in Spanish immersion childcare, pre-school, and public school, and being more exposed to aspects of Latin culture, we have grown an admiration of the traditions around Día de Muertos. We have made it a tradition to create our own ofrenda (home altar) in the entryway of our house around this time of year, to remember loved ones who are not with us any more, particularly Kristyn’s dad. She wrote a great piece about this on KristynWithAWhy.com, which I encourage you to check out. 

The Carlow Moravetz Ofrenda, 2022

(I realize I’m a white American man that’s now talking about a tradition that is not exactly of my own lineage, and of the trickiness that brings, but at the end of the day, I know how I feel, I know my intentions, and I know that the way we acknowledge the spirit of it in our house feels right to us and is done in an honorable way, so for me, that’s what counts.)

It was also quite adorable this year to observe how my children, while Trick-or-Treating around the neighborhood, cared much more about petting the animals of the homes we visited than about snatching up their candy. They would’ve stayed and pet the 9-week-old kitten all night if we’d let them. 

STRIKING A BALANCE WITH MY PARTNER

On Tuesday I had a lengthy conversation with my partner about food. In many aspects of our relationship, we find a balance that works for us. With any given task, though, a “balance that works” does not always mean we split the task 50/50. We each have our own strengths and our own chores that annoy us less than other chores. She doesn’t hate folding clothes, I don’t hate cleaning out the fridge. Over the last ten years or so, we’ve been tweaking and refining how we tackle all of the responsibilities of home ownership, adulthood, and life so that, on the whole, things feel balanced to both of us. 

Food is one of those unavoidable aspects of life. We need it to survive. But when it comes to food, there’s more to it than just cooking the food. Someone has to plan what food is going to be acquired. Someone has to get the food. Someone has to organize how the food is stored. Someone has to prepare and cook the food. Someone has to clean the dishes used to prepare and to eat the food. And, if you care about food waste (we do), someone has to monitor the aging of all the ingredients and factor in how and when the leftovers will be eaten and/or incorporated into future meal plans. It’s a job with a bunch of sub-jobs underneath it. 

On the whole, I get less stressed about food than Kristyn does. I like cooking, and I like being intentional with the ingredients used to nourish the bodies of myself and my family. I don’t want to speak too much on Kristyn’s behalf, but the short version is – years ago one of my roommates had said that he wished he could just take a pill and it would satisfy his hunger and his nutritional needs so that he didn’t need to think about food at all, and upon hearing this, my reaction was, “Oh that sounds so bland and boring, and think about all the flavors and connection to your fuel you’d miss out on,” while Kristyn’s reaction was, “YES absolutely me too.” So, the balance that works for us is that I am the primary food person in our house. 

Before I go on and get myself into a heap of trouble, I want to be clear – she does make food and does get groceries and does do many dishes. It’s just that we’ve come to an understanding that I am the primary food person. And, like with any big job that has one person shouldering a larger share of the job, it can get to be a lot. There are times where I feel “kitchened out.” In those times, a break from the kitchen would feel great. The problem is, I feel resistance to ask for help. I’m terrible at asking for help in general. When I worry that the favor I need or the assistance that would really make my day is in direct contrast to my partner’s wiring and preferences? Forget it! I know that meal planning and prep can be more stressful for her, so I tell myself this story that I’m putting an “extra burden” on her by asking her to take over making dinner for a night. 

What I learned through the course of this conversation, though, is that by not asking for help and trudging through another slog in the kitchen, I’m not actually helping the situation. I’m not resourcing myself. I’m operating from an imbalanced place. This has downstream effects, and those effects aren’t positive. 

What is especially great about not only this specific conversation but also the general state of our relationship is that we are having these conversations, we aren’t leaving things unsaid, and we are having them in a calm, constructive way which leaves both people feeling better than when we start. I’m really grateful to have Kristyn in my life to teach me and to practice with me communication and attunement to others. 

IMPROMPTU SONG-MAKING WITH MY CHILD

From 2:30pm-5pm Monday-Friday, we have our eldest child at home with us (before the younger gets picked up from Spanish pre-school). We try to mix up how this time is spent, with some togetherness as well as some independent work and play. 

On Wednesday of this week, she and I headed down to our ramshackle “music studio” in the basement to mess around with the funny sounds we can make on the microphone. She immediately requested the “robot voice” (a sound setting in Garageband). As soon as she started talking in that voice, we got the idea to make a song about a robot. Over the next fifteen minutes we created a super simple track with two verses and a bridge. We didn’t write the verses, though; she improvised them on the spot as a basic musical accompaniment played in the background! It was such a cool experience to watch as my kid’s brain came up with clever things a robot would say and sing them on key and to a beat. 

“I Am A Robot” is not quite ready for release yet, but when it does make its way to the web… you’ll know. 

WHAT IS MY DREAM? ANSWER: THAT’S TOO BIG OF A QUESTION TO ANSWER

On Thursday, I once again fed myself a prompt in my journal. The day’s prompt: What is my dream? When I give myself journal prompts like this, I try to write with a brainstorm mentality, to free the mind and the pen to write without filter or direction. Anything goes. Any thought counts. If the though enters my brain, write it down, no matter how ridiculous or (seemingly) off-topic it might be. This particular day, even with the brainstorm mindset, I was stuck. Like, majorly stuck. I couldn’t quite picture anything concrete. Then I started judging myself for not having a solid dream. “How ridiculous is that?! I don’t know what I want? What I yearn for? Even kids know what they dream of. Why are you having such a hard time with this? You don’t even have a job right now. This is all you’ve been thinking about for months and you can’t even write down one stinking dream?”

It was time for a hike (see featured image). Not only did I have exhilarating encounters with two different sets of deer partners (buck and doe) mere feet off my trail, but I unlocked an insight while thinking on the prompt “What is my dream?” and talking out loud into my Voice Memo app as I walked. This insight came after 20-30 minutes of fruitless pondering. My mind was easily distracted. It was looking for any excuse, any thought to pull me away from the discomfort of sitting answerless to this question. Every time I noticed my mind following another train of thought, I re-centered on the prompt “What is my dream?”. 

Eventually, when I finally was able to just linger in that question, really embody it, I realized that, for me, in this moment, the question was too big. It needed a time constraint. What if I broke the question into small time increments? What if I changed the prompt to “What is my dream for today?” and then expanded from there? This approach was game-changing. 

In breaking this big question down into tiny chunks, I was able to figure out the following (these are the notes as I wrote them on that day):

  • My dream for today is to simply be doing what I was already doing – hiking outside. Eating delicious food for supper with my family. Spending quality time with my family where we are making each other laugh and enjoying each other’s company. Have an easeful time putting my kids to bed where I am in lock step with their desires of what they need to have an easeful bedtime. And then connect with my partner, have some mutually incredible sex, and close the day with an effortless meditation. That is what would make today a “dream day,” and I’m already on the path of living it. 
  • So, then, how is my dream for any other longer stretch of time any different than stringing a bunch of those exact days together in a row? Wouldn’t I just repeat this day again tomorrow? And the next? In a way, yes! But also, life has certain requirements; not all minutes of all days can be play, unless you happen to have access to unlimited resources. Ok, so let’s zoom out a little.
  • I then inquired “What is my dream for the month of November?” … My mind immediately gravitated toward Thanksgiving, a holiday landmark in the month of November. I dreamt of preparing delicious, crowd-pleasing dishes and of delighting in the joy they bring to my family. And I then felt compelled to think of a prayer to offer before the meal. I went on a twenty-minute tangent writing out a Thanksgiving prayer that flowed effortlessly out of me. 
  • And finally when I returned again to my question about my dream for November, and I finally stopped the many distracting thoughts my mind was taking me in, in the split second that I finally cleared my mind and just left space for that question, the feeling rushed in that I want to be making more progress toward our move to Costa Rica next summer. It is starting to feel like time to be tackling that project more enthusiastically and prioritizing it at the tippy top of the list. This is broken into three parts: learning Spanish, completing the project of building out our property, and getting rid of our unneeded possessions. 
  • I quit the exercise here. This seemed like far enough for now. Let’s make November my dream November. And that starts right now. 

If I can live out my dream day, and my dream week, and my dream month, all I have to do is start stringing those together and I will be living my dream life. 


The Secret to Better Relationships: Tell Your Brain “No.”

There are conversations, and there are meaningful conversations. How do we have more of the latter? 

In Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, Jon Call (aka Jujimufu) was asked “what one of his new behaviors or habits has helped him most in the last five years?” His answer (paraphrased): 

Tell your brain “no” when it wants to relate a conversation you’re having with someone to a “bigger” story. Let the desire go to “one-up” someone’s story with your own. The loss of the opportunity to possibly impress someone is far outweighed by what you learn when you ask more questions. 

We’ve all had the impulse. A story one of your colleagues is telling about their Spring Break trip to Jamaica transports your mind back three years ago when your family spent a week in Ocho Rios over the holidays. And you’ve got that hilarious story about how, with the rest of the tour group watching, you and your brother just could not get your dune buggy up that hill! Is interjecting that story at your colleague’s first breath really adding the most value to the conversation? When instead you could ask your colleague to elaborate on any number of things from their experience: how was it traveling with their new spouse? What did they find most intriguing about the local culture? Did they have any noteworthy interactions with the locals?  

Think about it from a selfish standpoint. If you believe every person has value, every human has something to offer, then why wouldn’t you take every opportunity you get to learn, to expand your perspective, and to deepen your relationship with and understanding of that person? 

Let’s take a business example. You sit down to meet with someone in person for the first time. Maybe you’re in Sales and you are sitting down with a prospective client. Maybe you’re in a job interview. Maybe you’re at a networking event. In any of these business situations, you have the inevitable “ice breaker” introduction moment. Some number of seconds or minutes spent on connecting with that other person on a topic outside the real purpose behind your meeting. Current events and the weather tend to get the lion’s share of these conversational exchanges. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s delightful when, in this “ice breaker period,” you actually do make a meaningful connection of some kind. You find a few square feet of common ground; perhaps you have a mutual acquaintance, Linda. Your new contact used to work with Linda at their previous employer. You know Linda from university. So, as you stumble upon this fun fact and your new contact says, “I worked with Linda at Company Q,” you have a choice. You can either launch into explaining everything you know about Linda from three years at university, or you could ask a follow up question about their work experience at Company Q. Which of these paths is going to better serve you in developing your relationship with this new contact? Should you ask some questions like, “What was it like working with Linda? How closely did you work together? Oh, you worked on a project together, what was that dynamic like? What did other colleagues say about working with her? If I were to ask her what it was like to work with you, what would she say?” just imagine how much of a deeper understanding you’ll have about your new contact. Isn’t that worth more than getting that story about you and Linda partying hard in the tailgating lot on Homecoming Weekend off your chest?

I’m not saying storytelling is bad. It’s not; it’s essential. It’s not that you should never openly share about your own life. How is anyone supposed to learn about you otherwise? The point is to adopt a mindset of curiosity. Good conversation isn’t about having the “gift of gab” or “being able to keep the conversation going,” it’s about telling your brain “no” when it has impulses to one-up the other’s story or to jump into sharing mode when it should be seizing an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect. 

The next time you’re in a conversation with someone and a self-centered idea pops into your brain, try telling your brain “no” and instead ask a question. You might be surprised what you find out. 


 

I’d love to hear about a time you tried this; what the situation was and what you learned by telling your brain “No.” Let me know in the comments! 

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