This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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From loving-to-hate to hating-to-love

wheel_yogablogaDo you also have something you used to love to hate, and then one day you woke up and noticed it had turned into a thing you hated to love? And then slowly, slowly, the hate subsided and you found yourself at least ambivalent, if not slightly attached to the challenge? Did you ask yourself what changed? Was it persistence? Ignorance? Motivation? Or something else?

They say yoga happens when you connect your experience on the mat to your life off the mat. One of the walls I ran into on the mat early on was Wheel Pose. You know the backbend we all easily lifted into as kids, standing on our straightened arms and legs, hanging our heads upside down. Easy-peasy, yes? Since we did it as a kid we can naturally kick into it 15 years later, yes?

No. That pose we all kicked ourselves into as kids seemed impossible to me. I could not budge the crown of my head off the floor. “It is not about arm strength but leg strength”, my teacher said. “It is not about strength at all as much as stacking your bones right”, my sister said. I felt like Neo in the Matrix, trying to understand that it was not my body that was supposed to bend but my mind.

I clearly recall the shock of one of my first led ashtanga yoga classes, where the teacher asked us to go into the pose. I was still working on a Bridge pose variation, where the shoulders and head stay on the floor while the back arches up. Suddenly, there were strange figures lifting up all around me and as I lay on the floor it looked like the shala was invaded by Orwellian, long-legged Martian war machines. Hell’s bells, I thought, these must all have been doing wheel poses straight through their twenties into their thirties. I thought I was the only one in the world whose body forgot how to do it.

And then suddenly one day I mis-aligned my hands, too far from the head. Without noticing what happened I was up, looking at the world upside down. It really was all about forgetting strength and just stacking the bones as they felt most comfortable. It was bending the mind more than bending the body. The next few weeks I worked the pose into something I hated to love, until the one day when I straightened my arms and felt the luxurious stretch in my abs and hips and decided to increase my repetition count from two to four just because it felt so good.

Where did the transformation happen? We never catch the actual “click” as we only pay attention to the effect. The magician snapped his fingers and was gone before we knew it. The end result is all we have, and it can be a marvel. And so here is a challenge: next time I will try to catch the magician in the act. I will try to catch his hem to understand what changed, and why. Perhaps, just perhaps I will be able to understand how to bend the mind after all?

Nepalflowers(Helsinki, Finland; January 2015)

(top image courtesy of Bottom image from Kathmandu, Nepal.)

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A message from a lost world

There it is, standing nonchalantly on my kitchen counter. Disregarding the clutter and the snow outside, this Cycas revoluta proudly stands as a messenger from 250 millions years ago. Yes, before the dinosaurs. What a joke, then, that I bought it at Ikea, that paragon for modernity and human everyday life, instead of a specialty garden shop offering a more worthy handling.

People go gaga for cycads. Some feel the presence of dinosaurs, others a cosmic connection, and many are fascinated by its botanical secrets. And then there are those who make money in cycad trafficking.

Yes, cycad trafficking. Indeed. Just like tortoise trafficking, or ivory trafficking.  There are those who go to great lengths to smuggle rare, CITES-protected cycads, in order to cash in thousands per plant. Not only botanists collect cycads, but also celebrities wishing to build a world-traveled, connoisseur image of themselves.

Even some botanists have faced jailtime. “Botanists in jail?!” you may ask. Indeed, botanists are usually not associated with rogue behavior. But there is something about the cycads. Is it persistence from the Permian age, regardless of herbivorous dinosaurs, ice age, and pollution? Is it in the palm-resembling looks of a plant that is closer related to the spruces and pines of our time? For me, cycads have been magical ever since the age of five when I went gaga over dinosaurs and the Jurassic age. The fascination was reinforced when I read Cycad Island by Oliver Sacks in my early twenties.

And so I carefully place my little cycad on my windowsill, sending it a silent thought to produce at least that one expected leaf per year. Perhaps it will befriend my bonsai trees and decide it, too, is here to stay.

(Helsinki, Finland; December 2014)

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Deconstructed memories and the flavor of saudade

seashellsIreland, California, Cornwall, and Skye. Posing outside of the frame are Kenya and Amazon. One beach per jar. One memory of a distant shore forever locked up behind glass. I wish we could store memories like Dumbledore: pull them out of heads with a magic wand, and store the wispy silver strings just to be able to dive back in at any time.

Yet the memory itself is only half of the experience. What is as important as the actual place and time is the way we felt there. How fleeting and subtle it envelops us while present in the moment, and how strongly it makes itself present when that moment is long gone. Skye in a jar for me is sheep bleating on green grassy hills, and bouldery shores covered in slippery seaweed with treasures of sea glass and shells lodged in-between the stones. It is the soft warmth of a Scottish July on a rare blue-skied day, and the feeling that we are by the edge of the world and it is going to be alright.

The last component of a memory is the nostalgic imprint of what once was. Portuguese has a word for it, too: “saudade”. Saudade is the afterglow of love that remains for something that was and may never come back again.

Perhaps my glass jars cannot store memories. Yet, locked inside is a different flavor of distilled saudade. And it is not necessary to open a jar to let the saudade take a quick spin past my heart.

(Helsinki, Finland; December 2014)

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This experience junkie

goodbyeSo much to see on this blue marble, and so little time in a lifetime. I once owned a book called “501 must-visit islands”, a beautiful little thing that used to give me equal amounts of inspiration as anxiety. You see, in a dark hour I calculated that even if I visited two islands every year I would need to live for 250 years to see them all. And then there would be the 501 must-visit cities and then the 501 landscapes and sacred places and beaches…. Human time is too short even for a full-time explorer.

As it happened, that book wandered out through the door together with my previous life. And so here below is a compilation of things this experience junkie has had the time to see, feel, touch, and hear. Perhaps it is soon complete – perhaps it is just the beginning.

1. Ate cow’s stomach, jellyfish soup, snake, and reindeer heart (I’m actually vegetarian)
2. Stood on top of the Christo Redentor, the Eiffel tower, the Empire State building, the Sagrada  Familia church, the Kuala Lumpur Tower, and the observatories on La Palma.
3. Fished piranhas and ate aquarium fish
4. Stood on the roof above a mosque in a holy city listening to the prayer call
5. Swam with wild pink dolphins in the Amazon
6. Got bitten by a fish and a seagull and petted baby manatees
7. Climbed a volcano
8. Snow shoed in the Rockies
9. Visited micro countries: the Vatican, San Marino, and Liechtenstein
10. Went to two former “ends of the world”: Sagres, Portugal; and El Hierro, the Canary islands
11. Wandered in catacombs
12. Got pick-pocketed in Barcelona
13. Rode a camel in the Sahara and horseback in Hollywood hills
14. Drove around the mountains in the world’s most unsafe car with failing brakes (Tata Indica), steered a Tunisian horse cart, and rode in a gondola
15. Met a locally famous Sami (Lappish) rap artist and talked about reindeer farming
16. Danced ceilidh in Scotland and samba in Rio
17. Saw the Pink Floyd ballet at La Scala in Milan
18. Went to three gold-rush time saloons in California, one which had the ceiling pinned full with dollar bills
19. Saw the Stonehenge, Callanish, the Temple of Heaven, St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Vatican, and Bhaktapur holy city in Nepal
20. Practised ashtanga yoga at sunrise on Crete
21. Slept in a cave full of bats and in a floating house above huge caymans
22. Stood on a hilltop with India in one horizon and Tibet in the opposite horizon
23. Tracked dolphins deep in the Amazon and in the Indian Ocean.

Live today.


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Winter solstice

Cold cold cold on Christmas Day. This is how high the sun is in Southern Finland at 2 pm, 4 days after winter solstice. I am happy we do see the sun once in a while, even if it usually happens on bitterly cold days. Because further up north, Day took a vacation until later in 2015.

(Loviisa, Finland; December 2014)