This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Jellyfish mass stranding

jellyfishIn places the Benguela current is like a thick soup, with swirls of orange or yellow plankton. There are patches with 5 jellyfish per square meter, just as far down as one can see from the boat. And lots of live jellyfish mean lots of dead, stranded jellyfish. Everywhere. Every day. People slip on them on the boardwalk like on banana peels.

Today, the following question harassed my mind: if a blue whale eats 4 tons of krill per day, how many shrimps is that? Our team did some quick calculations and arrived at the following answer: 40 million krill lose their lives every day so that one blue whale can get its belly full. That is more than the population of the Nordics combined. Actually, it is 8 times the population of Finland. All in 2 big feeds, if the whale is lucky.

Krill apparently live up to 10 years of age, with an average lifespan of 6 years. Say that the average age of the krill population swallowed by a whale is 4 years, corrected for any young (unfortunate) krill. That means that during one day, a single blue whale obliterates 160 million life years. That is a whole lot of life experience lost. Even if it is only the life experience of a lowly krill.

(Walvis Bay, Namibia; June 2017)


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Lunch in Stockholm

stadshusetQuick snapshot of the City Hall after a lunch with the Mayor of Stockholm. Although I must confess I did not know she was the Mayor until much later – this due to the confusing title she has in Swedish (I just thought she was a senior council member). And I sat opposite to her. Oops.

Usually I don’t make such a miss because I depend on my excellent governmental affairs colleagues who brief me before every meeting. I am terrible at trying to follow the politics of any of the Nordic countries I work in – including my own. Instead of being thankful that I live in a democracy and actively participating, I try to exclude politics from my life. How very privileged and ungrateful.

(Stockholm, Sweden; April 2017)


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Interlude: women in business

cityhallDinner and networking at the Helsinki City Council. One woman wore red, I wore blue, and the rest wore dark. Mostly men in suits. This is what it is like to be a “woman in business”.

I work mainly with men in suits older or far older than I. Yet most of the time I am the one in a power position, because of my job. It was odd at first, especially to challenge team leads in beards and gray hair when I was barely 30 years old. Today I barely think of it. And if I do, it is to use it to my advantage: a younger woman often obtains information and influence easier, because she is perceived to not be a threat. And I seldom pay for my drinks.

But I still feel uncomfortable. In particular, in the airline lounge on a Monday morning, when I am one of the handful of women in there, and usually the only one in jeans. I gave my sister a give-away elite tier card. After her first visit to the lounge alone, on a workday morning, she looked at me with huge eyes and proclaimed she had felt like she was being exhibited. This is also what it is like to be a “woman in business”. Even here in relatively gender-equal Finland.

It is not always about the pay. It mostly is about the mundane, minor things. Because these are the subconscious, left-unseen signals that give away the conditioning of our minds.

I do not aspire to become a man – quite the contrary. I was very happy I was not wearing a dark suit at that dinner party. I only hope I will never feel that I am expected to become a man in order to get along better.

(Helsinki, Finland; March 2017)


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Interlude: from the Land of Snows

wordsLama Patrul Rinpoche says many wise things. But he also says that the reader should get rid of all his/her belongings, move into a cave, and eat leaves. That warm clothes will be found, and that no saddhu has ever died of starvation. Maybe so, but this is hardly an egalitarian view, as it does not promise everybody the possibility to follow the right path in this lifetime. Otherwise we had nobody to rely on food or clothes.  Tibetan Buddhism is tough stuff.

According to Patrul Rinpoche, living a good life and striving for good deeds is not sufficient. Instead, one must actively choose (every day) to strive to leave this level of existence, not for a higher level of existence but for an exit from samsara (the cycle of life) altogether. One’s most heartfelt wish must be to check out and to fuse one’s individual soul with the world-soul. Tough stuff, indeed.

I got the Words Of My Perfect Teacher because I walked into Pilgrim’s in Kathmandu and asked for a book that would help explain why so many people are attracted to Buddhism. I was told this one was popular. I can understand why, as it is full of little pearls of wisdom. But it is also a demanding teacher. Patrul Rinpoche tells a story of an enlightened being who, without knowing it, stepped on a little bug. He went to hell in afterlife.

I am still not sure I understand why Buddhism feels right to so many. But I am not giving up yet (to be continued).

(Helsinki, Finland; January 2017)


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About breaking and healing, in Kathmandu

stupa-2Oh, the crowds! It is a Saturday picnic in the middle of Kathmandu. People sit on blankets, eating and chatting. Dogs chase each other or their tails. Children chase pigeons and each other. All the commotion is to celebrate the completion of restoration of the Boudanath stupa, after the devastating 7.8 Richter’s magnitude earthquake in April 2015. stupa-4The community celebrates because restoration was a community effort, in a country where the government is very slow in rebuilding the premises of people’s lives. stupa-3We joined the Tibetan monks in red robes in the kora, or circling of the stupa. In Nepal, every sacred Buddhist site must be circled clockwise. This means quite a lot of circumnavigations of mani stones, sacred stones with inscriptions, often sprinkled on popular trekking routes in the mountains. But this time the kora was celebratory. People spun prayer bells and walked along the shiny white wall accompanied only by their own thoughts.

In time, stupas break, and if the underlying faith they stand on still exists in the community, they are rebuilt. In time, we all break, like the Boudanath stupa: with a huge gash along the middle. But life goes on. Like it tends to do. And, even when it does not feel like it, life carries us along with it. All we need to do is remember how to breathe, and how to live together as a caring community. Different from the stupas, we can heal ourselves. But very few of us can ever completely heal when left alone. stupa-5
(Kathmandu, Nepal; November 2016)