This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Always a beginner

My pretty pink yoga mat had spent most of this year rolled up, propped up against the wardrobe wall. Save for post-work yin on Fridays, I had not touched it. The last time I did a sun salutation was in November 2020. What happened?

Life happened. And when life happens too much, too fast, and too painfully, I am overcome by the urge to run. And so I ran. Every other day (because every other day I forced myself to just walk). In fact, I ran so much I hurt my knee again in January 2020. This time, no surgery was required. Just spending most of my home-office hours with my leg stretched out on a chair. After all these years, I still find it impossible to roll out the mat when I need yoga the most: when I need to just spend the time to mindfully pay attention to my body and breath.

In August, I started a new job. The life change and pressure to do my best caused my back to stiffen up like a slab of concrete. “Not good”, my Thai masseuse tutted on my monthly visits as I groaned underneath her hands and elbows.

And so, one weekend in November, I finally grabbed my pretty pink mat, rolled it out on the bedroom floor, said the ashtanga opening chant, and folded forward into a first sun salutation. A very stiff one. I wavered like a toppling tree in the leg lifts. My hips refused to comply in the warrior poses. Like a beginner, I went no further than the standing poses, followed by the second half of the finishing sequence (and sore shoulders for three days thanks to the chaturangas). But the second time I went into the first seated poses. And the fourth time I completed the entire finishing sequence except for the headstand. This is a new beginning – and truly a beginning, once again.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Around Damhussøen

Saturday sun felt like the first bright day in a month. What a nice day to saunter around the lake in Vanløse with a friend. There were swans, dog-walkers, and yellow leaves on the gravel road. And there was much head-shaking between the two of us, about how this year turned our lives upside down in such profound ways.

In the bleak but welcome November afternoon sun, we concluded that life still tasted good. So did the tea, cake, and waffles.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Just sitting

“Just sit, every day. Doesn’t matter if you can concentrate or not. Just sit down and be present for a while.”

This was the most practical meditation advice I got, from the late Michael Stone. And I went on to discover it really is as simple as that. He also defined mindfulness as simply coming back to the present: refocusing when the mind has wandered. Over and over again. Because the mind will wander, and it’s okay.

When I sit, I do not try to accomplish a meditation. Sure, I have analyzed my meditation with Muse a few times, noticing what it’s “supposed to feel like” when I heard bird song, which is the app telling me I am in a deep, calm, meditate brainwave state. I know I can get there within five minutes, sitting on a bar stool in the middle of a busy conference exhibition hall, like I did the first time I tried Muse. But I also know it is not my goal. Sometimes, the best meditation is simply to sit for fifteen minutes and observe the cramp in my foot after a long day and too little hydration. I used to think anything less than twenty minutes is not useful, but I also used to skip sessions because I did not feel like meditating for a full twenty minutes. So I cut it to fifteen. Because the main goal is to just sit, every day.

Through the tumultuous 2020 I did not feel a need to sit down until I changed jobs. With that major change addded on top of other major life changes, I felt the need to get back to just sitting. Two months later, after just fifteen minutes a night, at least six days a week, I am so glad I re-established this little daily reset routine. And no, I do not have that short legs – I just spare my knee by sitting on a higher zafu (try it if you have a runner’s knee!).

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Quiet week

It has been a silent week. Unlike Belgium, France, and Spain, Denmark is not yet in lockdown, but we have been given further restrictions, and my employer issued a stricter recommendation to work from home.

With the clocks turned back, running in a Danish park after dark resembles moving around an African village: little streams of light from lanterns barely light up the path in front of my feet between pools of darkness, while my head is constantly enveloped in the black night. All around me I hear talk and human noises. And as I cannot see around me, walking or jogging after dark is a strange meditation on the importance of light and sight.

Low lighting of parks must be some kind of climate action, but it surprises me that even here in the capital people are not encouraged to stay active after dark. Forget about footpaths and bike paths in Brande or Vejle after dark – they are not lit at all. After-work joggers pound the pavement for four months each year. In Finland this would be unthinkable, both because people are encouraged to go out even in the darkest time of the year, as well as for personal security after dark.

Under the lamp, after dinner, I have been busy bringing order back to the life of my weeping fig bonsai, which I brought over this summer. It looked like a big green wig after growing untouched for the most of 3 years. Lacking sufficiently thick wire for the thickest unruly branches, I tied them to a trunk until I could find the supplies I need. According to the rules of grooming I should probably have cut off the low branch crossing the trunk, but given how bare the tree is now, I left it for the time being. We all need a break in this strange new world order.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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Last breaths of summer

It has been a long summer: from a June heatwave through unreliable July weather to pleasant August days, and finally stretching into persistent summer temperatures all the way to the last days of September. But the leaves in the trees, while green, look worn out at the edges. Like the wings of an aged butterfly. The flowers are all done for the season, withered stalks haggardly waving in the first winds of fall. The swanlings in the Faelledparken pond look identical to their parents, save for the soft gray color of their feathers.

It has been a long day and Nature is tired. Time to cast off the party dress and go to sleep. And for me, time to light a candle, bring in daily meditation into my routine, and remember to go to bed early – because the only way to tackle dark mornings is to feel rested.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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Back to just sitting

Some weeks ago I sat down on this one, for the first time in well over a year. The last time I meditated was last year’s December, at a vipassana retreat in England. When life gets stormy and I would need meditation the most, it is always the first good habit that slips away. I wonder why – and I wonder how its disappearance goes unnoticed, until it is way past late?

This past summer I had so much time on hand that I did not need more meditation than simply going out for runs or walks in the countryside and forest. But when August came around, along with a new job at a new company, I had to build a new daily routine. After letting the swells of newness and exhaustion sweep over me the first two weeks, I pulled out the pouf, set the Insight Timer app, and sat down. Just for fifteen minutes.

How could I have forgotten the physical sense of relief and relaxation that comes when I just am, for a while?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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What a 2020 highlight looks like

Throughout history, there were many predictions for the year 2020 and beyond: moves like Blade Runner, steampunk Japanese anime, The Matrix, and of course much of Jules Verne’s imagination. So what happened?

Well, the Earth is not quite yet a scorching fireball, or a post-apocalyptic smoky mess. Cities are huge and growing, but green areas are more important than ever, such as for example in Singaporean city planning. Countries like Denmark are  pushing a climate-fronted agenda, including my current employer. Air travel has become common and cheap, but we are still waiting for the rocket fun ride to the moon and back. And the colonies on Mars.

The most unexpected “new normal highlight” of 2020 is a night out with a small group of friends. Just a handful. Outdoors, socially distanced, tapas picked up with serving spoons instead of individual forks, and with a bottle of hand sanitizer on the table. Because one can never know which friend might be seriously ill with a new virus raging. Indeed, this is a highlight – because not only were all restaurants closed for months on end, meeting people inherently carries a risk in the year 2020. Fortunately, smartphones with video calls and social media are one of those crazy futuristic predictions that became an abundant reality. Most of my 2020 is made up of social isolation, either at home or in Finland, with my family at their home.

By the way, a hundred years ago, this artist below envisioned video calls in the future – spot on! Although fortunately one does not need to smoke anymore to be cool. Now where’s my milkshake and personal aircraft?

20-future(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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Corona walks, volume twenty-eleven

Corona walks, alone or with friends, have become a favorite pastime of mine. This crisp September Saturday I strolled Østre Anlæg and Kastellet, my two favorite central Copenhagen parks, for 4 hours with a friend. We talked about living a creative life, hormonal hair loss and what ovulating feels like, how women’s proper dress is and is not described in the Quran (veils are not mentioned, by the way), and where to get good ice cream. Sometimes I want to run a mile when such topics are being brought forward, but today they felt necessary. Especially the ice cream.

(Kastellet, Copenhagen; September 2020)


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A stilleben of pears, and a list of life principles

Observing the pretty stack of fresh Danish pears in a dish in my kitchen, I realized that I never knew pears ripen as late as September. I knew plums do, but while I work on improving favoring seasonal, locally produced food, I conclude I have much to learn still. Also, Danish organic pears are much smaller and fresher than the mass-produced Conference pears that are flown in from where ever in the world the season happens to be. These Danish ones are less sweet, and less overwhelmingly pear-y.

So how does this link to life principles, the real topic of today? Well, building life principles requires paying attention: not only to what one eats (if a life principle involves food), but being observant enough about what is going on, in order to create tangible principles that improve one’s quality of life. Such as favoring Danish organic pears when in season, if one lives in Denmark.

Last year I read Ray Dalio’s famous guide to life and business, called “Principles”. Inspired by it, I made my own list of life principles. Then I forgot about it, in the tornado that once again shook me loose from the life I knew. Recently, I rediscovered it: all the conscious and subconscious rules I play by, neatly on two pages of a notebook. Some of these have traveled through life with me for more than twenty years, while others are just a couple of years old. Hopefully some of them will inspire and help you, as they have me, in living better – intentionally.

  1. Search for a quiet inner joy, not happiness.
    Happiness brings an equal measure of grief. Happiness comes from outside; joy from the inside.
  2. Live each day by your highest sense of right.
    Choose how you live each day, consciously. Do you do the right things? Do you do things right? Live today. Do not merely exist.
  3. Recognize that the essence of fear is nothing more but an inborn will to stay alive. 
    Use fear to find out your priorities as well as your weaknesses.
  4. Stand up straight. 
    Physically as well as mentally. For yourself and for others.
  5. Make a life plan. Revise it at least every two years.
    Get it down to “next 10 years”, “next 5 years”, “next year”, and “this year”. Do not treat your life plan like a New Year’s resolution.
  6. Prioritize sleep like you prioritize work. You get paid in life currency.
    Do not underestimate the impact of years of brain-fog on your life – especially on the last third of it.
  7. Use food as fuel. 
    That said, also use food as enjoyment.
  8. Practice yoga, every day.
    If not asana (yoga on the mat), then meditation, mindfulness, or compassion for yourself and others.
  9. Never stop learning.
    Include constant education in your life plan.
  10. Never stop exploring.
    Travel, try, learn, take a chance, bend your mind.
  11. Pick your battles.
    Let the other ones go, like water off a bird’s back.
  12. When confronting an irritated or frustrated person, calm yourself with compassion for their struggle.
    It may not be obvious or even justifiable, but the person is reacting to something causing them pain and upset. Remembering this helps to steer clear from participating in their drama and getting the outcome you want, even if it is just to walk away, with calm.
  13. Remember to say you’re sorry. 
    If you don’t, your children will need to learn this all on their own, and much too late.
  14. Quoting Ray Dalio: struggle well.
    Struggling takes effort. Don’t waste that effort. Learn from your mistakes.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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The end of slow life, still in Copenhagen

Lovely ones, I survived my first week at the new job! What a major adjustment to have to go to the office at least 4 days a week, for the first time in nearly 10 years.

And what better way to treat oneself than to have brunch in the old town of Copenhagen with a friend who came all the way from Sweden to see me.

Biking to the office every day, and having brunch in Copenhagen on a Saturday: ten years ago when I was married in Finland and had just left my science career, I would never had imagined this to be a normal week in my life at the age of forty. But I guess “unpredictable” is also the very definition of life.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; August 2020)