This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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About intentional living

Minimalism, essentialism, simple living – is it all the same? For me, these are leaves on the same tree, sharing the same root. Essentialism means focusing most of your resources on what moves the needle most for you, in the direction that matters most. However, it does not mean you should own only fifty items. That would be extreme minimalism.

Also, a minimalist may own only what is necessary and enough for a good life – which may well mean a private library.

Finally, simple living is a merger of the two: trying to live with less frills and fuss, focusing on what is most meaningful.

In my head, all three boil down into intentional living: where each decision is consciously directed towards a way of life or a life goal one values. This is not my own invention – google it and you will discover a whole host of definitions and wise words about how to practice intentional living. For some, it has a personal wealth ring. For others, it appeals because it resonates with Buddhist philosophy. In all cases, intentional living is about shaving off random busywork, meaningless consumption without a positive outcome, and focusing time and energy on intentional decisions and actions supporting a future one envisions.

For me, this funky COVID-2020 we are all wading through has been a great practice in intentional living. I have a life plan, which I update once a year. It requires a good financial basis, and to get there means deprioritizing things that I don’t really need. And so, thanks to coronavirus, I have practiced deprioritizing the following:

  1. Owning a car. I have never owned a car of my own, although I have almost bought one more than once. Again, in my new life in Copenhagen, I conclude that even during this pandemic, the only times I really need a car are when I am in Finland, going between Helsinki and the house of my parents – which requires another solution than a car of my own.
  2. Eating out. I used to eat out a lot, both because of social reasons and the 1-3 days of weekly international travel my previous employer required. And, when I lived in Helsinki, I loved a Saturday shopping break at a ramen or pho restaurant, or hot soup or gluhwine in the Kämp library bar in the winter, all by myself, with a good book. Now, in 2020, I do not eat out by myself, and I always think twice whether it makes more sense to convert a lunch or dinner with a friend to a walk followed by takeaway tea on a park bench.
  3. Buying clothes. Since I KonMari’d my apartment in 2016 I stopped buying clothes, unless they replace item types I already own and which I cannot use anymore. Basically, the one-in-one-out rule. I still own too many clothes, because I had to buy new items when I arrived to Denmark with two suitcases. It took time to transfer clothes over during various trips to Finland, and when I finally shipped the remainder over I discovered I now have way too many summer clothes and sweatpants. Time to wear them out before buying anything new (and getting into a crowded clothing store).
  4. Buying expensive clothes, unless it is an essential long-term item (like a great overcoat). I used to gravitate towards more value for fairly pricey clothes. The quality is often better, and I used to think that if I pick them with care, I can use them for a long time and thus generate value. Then I remembered L.L. Bean. And discovered Uniqlo and Muji, and Clarks and Ecco for shoes. While these are probably not the most ethical or sustainable brands, they do the job of replacing what I have with a new item that will last a long time, which in itself decreases any footprint on this planet. And sometimes I splurge, because I still have not found better suit pants than Ralph Lauren’s, or a better fall/spring overcoat material than real Harris tweed.
  5. Buying makeup I do not really need. This became so easy with 1) less space for items; and 2) knowing my seasonal color palette (which also helps reduce the number of clothes I buy). If it isn’t Soft Summer coloring and I don’t need it to replace something I already have, I’ll leave it. Besides, Sephora during COVID-times is NOT a pleasant experience. Also, I need to find an exact color match by trying it against the palette the first time I buy the product, so online shopping only works for repeated purchases.
  6. Using taxis. I used taxis a lot in my previous travel-heavy job. In Helsinki, I often noticed I was late for something and had to uber. Now, I use the bike and even avoid public transport if I can, to avoid being in confined spaces with other people.
  7. Staying in pricey hotels. Because of my job the past 9 years, I have stayed in so many sleek, pricey hotels I crave  a more original experience when I go on vacation. And now I can’t really go anywhere for the moment.
  8. Unnecessary home decorations. Again, non-COVID-related, except for that it reduces the amount of time spent in busy interior decor stores just because I feel like “I have to have something new.” Ever since Mari Kondo’s teachings found a place in my life.
  9. An expensive rental apartment. Non-COVID-related, but after living in rental apartments for the past 2 years I still feel my heart bleeds a little every month when I look at the money I waste. Some is compensated for renting out my own apartment in Helsinki, but I bleed hundreds of euros down the drain every month if I count the mortgage I have. This is the price I pay for flexibility. The balance of finding a home that is nice enough to make me feel calm and at ease, and a rental price that is not more than I get in rental income from Finland, is an impossible equation right now.

I’d be curious to know if there are things you deprioritize and which you think I could add to the list. Naturally, I also have a list of the things I actually value and prioritize – which cascade down into a life plan – but that is for another time. (Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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Books of wisdom, part II

What would be a good topic for a 30-something person to delve into, I wondered, one and a half years ago. I har just finished my 106 Books of Pretention project after 10 years of reading. More classics? Books on naturalism? Meditation? Biographies? Or just some freaking great modern novels? 

I decided to go for books that weigh heavy on wisdom, but are still readable and captivating even on work days, when my head is busy with so many things. I googled. And I found three excellent lists, shared here. Out of those 48 books I have now read 39. The wisdom in a book really only unfolds when the reader resonates with the writer’s language and style – there are shared elements of thinking, visualizing, and speaking. A writer may surprise with uncommon ways of expression, but only if they play a string within us do we truly feel the message.

And so, some of the books from the compiled Books of Wisdom list ended up on my own list. All these lovely things have shaken my world for the better. Some have forced me to add a building block. Others, to tear down what I thought I was going to make, and rebuild it as something else. But most of them have been subversive: a quiet, but relentless and constant whisper that has stayed with me long since I put the book down. As I go on discovering new works of wisdom, I will share them in my (Reading) Lists section of this blog.

Philosophy & meditation

  1. Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
  2. Epictetus – Manual for living
  3. Shunryu Suzuki – Zen mind beginners mind
  4. Ryan Holiday – Ego is the enemy
  5. Jon Kabat-Zinn – Where ever you go, there you are

Mastering the body and mind

  1. Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner – Think like a freak
  2. Jordan B. Peterson – 12 rules for life
  3. Ryan Holiday – The obstacle is the way
  4. Malcolm Gladwell – Blink
  5. Pema Chödrön – When things fall apart
  6. Matthew Walker – Why we sleep
  7. Patterson et al. – Crucial confrontations: Tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior 

Business & personal finance

  1. Harvard Business Review – 10 must reads on managing yourself
  2. Ray Dalio – Principles
  3. Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Fooled by randomness
  4. Wallace D. Wattles – The science of getting rich
  5. Yvonne Chouinard – Let my people go surfing
  6. Ramit Sethi – I will teach you to be rich
  7. Michael Watkins – The first 90 days

Happiness psychology & creativity

  1. Sonja Lyubomirsky – The how of happiness
  2. Brene Brown – The gifts of imperfection
  3. Marie Kondo – The life-changing magic of tidying
  4. Elizabeth Gilbert – Big magic

History, science, society

  1. Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens: A brief history of humankind
  2. Jared Diamond – Guns, germs, and steel
  3. Jared Diamond – Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
  4. Sunstein & Thaler – Nudge
  5. Peter Wohlleben – The hidden life of trees

Novels

  1. Richard Bach – Jonathan Livingston Seagull
  2. Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist
  3. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – The little prince

(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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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)


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About inspired living

Some years ago I made a vision board. For months I hunted for inspiring images and tore them out of magazines. Finally, I tacked them all onto a cork board, added a few handwritten words to define exactly what I was calling forth, and my vision board was done.

Then I discovered that I had systematically left out the most wonderful images of them all: images of strong, creative women in the most amazing places or moments. I had been so focused on selecting those pictures that illustrated the goals I wanted to envision, and these women just… were, themselves. Most often, the image size was too large: a full A4 magazine page. These women did not fit in – rather, they stood out. So I stored them neatly in a plastic folder, in my sideboard. I forgot about them.

Years later, while unpacking my boxes here in Denmark, I encountered the folder again. I spread out the women on the floor. Together, they were still magical: strong, purposeful, creative, doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. Even if in reality most of the photos were staged for a fashion shoot (the center photo is actually an ad for Zalando), the impression they give off makes my heart sing.

There, on the floor, the women just…fit. I made a collage, easily a meter tall, and took a photo. This time I won’t forget. I won’t forget what I aspire for. And I will hunt for another cork board or cardboard, big enough to accommodate these women, because I now have the perfect place for them inside my walk-in closet. This is where I will greet them, first thing every morning.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; August 2020)


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Living among boxes

One sunny evening in August, a van arrived outside of my door. There were boxes, lots of boxes. Some furniture, and paintings. I had not taken a look at them in two years. And all had to be carried up and unwrapped.

I am living among boxes again. It has been nine years since last time around, and back then I spent the best of three years with at least a handful of boxes stacked somewhere in my apartment. For quite a while, two boxes even served as a sofa table. There was just too much life to unpack, back then. The last few only disappeared when my mother firmly took me shopping for a sideboard, which ate up my office and creativity items.

That sideboard is now here in Copenhagen. Somewhere along the way, its door got torn out by the hinges. Life batters us all up along the way. Some things are repairable, others remain broken but functional. I am still waiting for news from the manufacturer whether this sideboard will ever bear a door again, or whether the now-visible chipboard inside needs to be patched up with a piece of pretty wallpaper.

I am still patching up my own self. Sometimes it feels like a lifelong procedure, and if it is, it will be okay. Perhaps that is how it is for all of us, and we just do not speak about it much.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; August 2020)


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New space

strandBeach, book, bike ride, and ice cream. All I need on a day off.

I lay down behind the tufts of grass, sheltered by the freezing spring wind blowing from the sea, and savored reading a book about journeys and being in constant motion by Olga Tokarczuk. This spring I have been more still than any other time the past twenty years – geographically. The constant motion within my head has been relentless, bubbling and prattling on like water in a brook. It has been a balance of raging frustrations and inspiring whispers.

And yet it has not been chaos, but the creation of something new. I belong to that half of people who discovered in the pandemic a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fill the time saved from no commutes and work trips with life planning, learning something new, and working on a creative project. Once social media filled up with protests of people who, instead of discovering the same as I ran into chaos, fear, and despair, I stopped gushing to people about all the things I could now fit into my day. But I made a daily schedule, and stuck to it – most days. The remaining few ones were reserved for beaches, books, bike rides, and ice creams.

(Amager strand, Copenhagen, Denmark; April 2020)


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Older, but better

booksLovely ones, it’s been a different spring and summer for all of us. All my sabbatical year plans flew out through the window: going back to San Sebastián to study Spanish in January, visiting friends in the US midwest in February, and finally walking underneath cherry trees in Kyoto in April.

Instead, in February I dove into a new work project. In March I freaked out about the job market post-coronavirus, and doubled down on career planning and job searching.

And in late March I turned forty. Forty years old. It certainly felt historic, considering the circumstances. When I think back of my 30th birthday, never in a million years would I have imagined celebrating it in a global pandemic lockdown, and in Denmark of all places.

That day I closed the door on an unexpected and difficult decade, which threw the components of my life in the air more than once. I find myself collecting books about aging, and planning a 360-health check at a private clinic once travel is possible: metabolism, hormones, epigenetics and biological age; and the whole nine yards. Oddly, floating in the middle of global and personal uncertainty it feels like a new start.

Also, there were gorgeous flowers, and a fantastic flødebolle-picnic by the lakes. I’m lucky.
bday(Copenhagen, Denmark; March 2020)


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About plants, and survival

bonsai2012Some plants become lifelong friends. Like the weeping fig I grew from a cutting from my mother’s tree when I was 17, wrapped around a rock, and grew into a bonsai tree. It has moved to Holland and back with me, and it made it to Denmark a year after I did. It looks a bit funky today as its apex is missing: half of the tree died when I spent a year in the UK. A big love was shattered during that year, too. Both it and I survived, but we are not the same anymore. The photo was taken a year after our crash-and-burn. I was doing about the same.bonsai2020Then there is the jade plant, which originates from a cutting I snatched from the botanical gardens in Helsinki at the age of 19. When I intended to bring it over here to Denmark I discovered it had been forgotten for so long that the parched soil had shrunk from the pot edges, the wire holding the roots down had corroded and snapped, and the plant had capsized, lying sideways with its roots in the air. I apologized profusely, stuffed it into a bag and flew it to Copenhagen with me. Today it looks shaven on the sides because many leaves cracked off during the transport, and overgrown because I have focused on nursing it back to life before repotting and pruning. Life mangles us all up from time to time.

Recently I caved and bought an “it-plant”. Although I suppose the fiddle leaf fig was an it-plant five years ago, and should now be considered your garden variety hipster millennial living room species. They’re supposed to be high maintenance, and they’re supposed to wither and die with too much light, too little light, too much water, too little water, too hot, too cold, too anything.

Right now my baby fiddle leaf is pushing out new leaves two at a time. I whispered a secret to her: she will not end up in a bonsai pot, wired into shape. She will get special treatment and only the room ceiling is the limit for her. I hope we will remain friends for a long time. lyrata(Copenhagen, Denmark; March 2020)