This blue marble

– and yet it spins


Helsinki (and my mind) at its darkest

helsinkidecSomewhere along the way, months ago, Helsinki grew dark. In early December it remains dark even on a reasonably clear day. This is the time for salmon soup lunches, served hot with toasted rye bread. For mulled wine made in the Nordic way with berry juice blended in wine, with or without spirits, with raisins and sweet almonds covering the bottom of the mug. And this is also the time of frantic christmas shopping, for most people.

This year Helsinki was especially beautifully dressed. And good it was, because I belong to those (few) who do not like christmas. I used to love it: the traditions, the food, the warmth inside, the candlelight, the mulled wine, the togetherness. But for quite a while christmas has been a stark reminder of a sense of completeness now lost forever. I do not mourn the loss of childhood christmas as such, but the loss of the christmases of my twenties. There have been multiple changes in our family and connections, and the christmas dinner guest setups of the past are, indeed, of the past.

Each year I try to tell myself that this is a first-world problem: a problem of a privileged mind, mourning the loss of perfection, of “having-it-all”. I try to turn it around as a reminder of the constant change in this world and my own existence. I try to find beauty in imperfection. And I try to smile, to participate in the coziness of my family’s christmas. Because after all, it was a considerable effort on their behalf to send me postal invites to a “midwinter dinner celebration” the first years after my divorce, which was perhaps the most impactful in a row of family changes. When I was seriously considering spending each forthcoming christmas in a Jewish or Muslim country, or with a tribe who never heard of Jesus.

It does not get easier with time. But each christmas is different. This year I thought it would be easier, as we spent it in the countryside for the first time. It turned out to be more difficult than in years. Even if there was snow and candles and family and coziness. Living in the present is not an easy trick to pull off. helsinkidec-2(Helsinki, Finland; December 2018)

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lauttasaari-1Dear Lauttasaari island, you have been good to me. You have been my safe haven for years. A place to hide and to just stare at the (mostly windy) sea.

It is difficult to live in a landlocked place, away from the sea. I have done it twice and I will be doing it again. All three times have also been the three times I have lived abroad.

I have also lived in two relatively rainy, wet places: the UK and the Netherlands. Now I intend to try out another rainy (and this time windy, too) place: a little town in the middle of Denmark. For how long? For now.lauttasaari-2Dear Lauttasaari, I will miss your sea, sunshine, and the vast open space. The ships leaving for various Baltic port cities, and the sound of broken ice blocks floating on the water in spring.

But life plays out in seasons and no matter how well one plans, the beginning of the next season always comes with a twist. Growth does not take place when we feel comfortable and set in our routines. And so I intend to break my routines big time, hoping that growth will follow with equal measure.Larubynight(Helsinki, Finland; August 2018)

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Bird’s eye view

clouds-1Above the clouds, 33,000 ft up, it is easier to obtain a new perspective of things. Not because it is easier to look down on the Earth, but because I am stuck in an airplane seat for nearly 12 hours straight, en route from Singapore to Helsinki.

When I first visited Bali in 2015, I reflected on pain and how people could ever just move on. In 2016 the reflections were on the process and how many miles were still ahead before I would pull through to the other side of a disruption in my life that began as far back as 2011.

For me, travels are not only luxury me-time, but times of significant personal growth and reflection. On 2014 on Crete I stopped and stood still for the first time in 3 years. I slept more than I had in 3 years, too. So much I believed I was in severe ill-health. I was simply tired after years of pain and running.

Working with the inside and slowly turning attention outward took the best of 6 years. And this year I received a proper kick in the behind by the Universe. A year earlier I had decided that I would stay abroad during the time the apartment in Helsinki was undergoing replumbing works, along with the entire co-op building. Bathrooms torn out and apartments out of use for months.

Be careful for what you ask for, as the Universe may give it to you but not always exactly the way you imagined it. And so I return back home just to do my travel laundry, stash summer clothes away in a box, pack a suitcase with fall clothes and business wear, and head out through the door to another part of the world, to another adventure.batukaru-2(Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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About irrational fears (in a spa parlor)

cangguspa-2The spa seemed like any other new, fresh, relaxing parlor. No cracks in the walls due to past earthquakes. No broken pillars or windowpanes. And as I sat in the peaceful lounge waiting for my turn, I thought of fear.

With the ground shaking I considered leaving Bali. And then I thought of a wise woman who would say you must still your instinct to flee and stop in that space of pain, loss, grief, anger, or fear. To just be there with it, accepting it as it is.  And I thought of another wise woman who encourages to say hello to fear, have a conversation with it, hear it out, and then firmly tell it that it has been acknowledged and the decision is still to stick around.

So I sat down and said hello to Fear. It greeted me back with a bellowing HELLO. I began to prod around my body with my mind, attempting to feel where exactly did Fear live. In my upper belly, it turned out. I discovered that the feeling of Fear living there was similar to when Loss lived there for many years, not so long ago. But whereas Loss is a hard pain, a knot, Fear is a softer, slightly undulating pain. And whereas Loss likes to sit at the solar plexus, forming a knot so tight it is hard to breathe, Fear is slightly lower, coiling across the belly like a softly moving snake lying in wait.

My intention was to work on my fear of earthquakes, and the emotion of fear as a whole. But the moment I had identified Fear, greeted it, and felt around every angle, it slowly dissipated into a heightened alertness and nothing more. Just like a Boggart in Harry Potter’s magic class. Poof. What a surprise.

Before Fear of Earthquakes disappeared completely, I grabbed the tail of its coat and asked where it came from. “Your mother”, it said. How very Freudian. And yet true, it slowly dawned on me: my fear of earthquakes is one of two irrational fears that have transfered to me from my mother, in her attempts to protect me. She has never been to an earthquake danger zone and she will never go. Even Italy is scary enough for her to visit. When I travel somewhere she always asks if the destination could have a remote possibility of a quake, and she never likes it when I travel to California or Asia.

Knowing from where Fear has hitched along for a ride is good, but it does not help to blame anyone or anything for what has happened. And so it is entirely my own choice if I wish to carry Fear of Earthquakes in my upper belly, coiling like a snake – or not. I choose “not” and I choose to stay on Bali. For better or for worse. Besides, I also have a massage in five minutes.

Who were those two wise women? The first one is Pema Chödrön. The second one is Elizabeth Gilbert.
cangguspa-1(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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All the solo female travelers on Bali

balifood-2Bali is the perfect place for health food and raw food lovers. And for people who love to take pictures of everything they eat. Healthy living, spas, yoga, and surfing draw adventurers, life-lovers, and solo female travelers. The beach club waiter of yesterday found it surprising that I was here all by myself. Guess he must be new in the profession, as it is impossible to not run into loads of solo female travelers that come to Bali for yoga or in search for themselves.

If you are a single man looking for company, go to a yoga class or to an organic restaurant. I promise you will find solo traveling women. But beware that such women are here for a reason, which means they could very well have mental baggage to carry, or other thoughts weighing so heavily they seem unreliable or self-focused. Unfortunately I too have been let down by people during previous travels to Bali (and I wasn’t looking for anyone to date, just social company!). It is infuriating when someone simply cancels dinner or an activity just because they feel tired – or even worse: they simply never show up.

I arrived here from Singapore, where I slept in a capsule hotel. Two out of three nights there I heard someone in my section of the hotel cry inside their capsule. One was so loud I could not help the mean thought that she wanted someone to knock on her blind and give her attention. It sounded almost like something quite big and acute, like a loss. Unfortunately, jet-lag got the best of me in the middle of the night and I did not do the kind thing: ask a stranger how she was doing.

If I spent a longer time here I would love to arrange gatherings of solo-traveling women, perhaps through a restaurant or a yoga center. They could be called Soul Sister Nights. The word would go out via posters, on-table adverts, and Facebook. People would come for a bite to eat and to share their story; to meditate if they wished to; or to watch a movie and to get to know other solo female travelers.

Perhaps one day I will host a Soul Sister Night here on Bali. But this morning I will have a striped dragonfruit and kiwi smoothie. Just because I can.
balifood-3(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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What is the soul of a city?

NYC-1What are cities made of? What is the essence of a city? We humans are funnily egocentric: we like to anthropomorphize everything. We talk about the “beat” of a city or it’s “soul”. In a way we evoke a primeval streak of animism when we claim to sense the essence of a city as if it were inhabited by a spirit.

Well, here is a bold thought: concrete, steel, asphalt, dust, dirt, glass, electricity. This is what for example New York City is made of. Perhaps you adore it, disagree, and claim NYC is made of buzz, life, ambition, and hope for the future. That the soul of a city is the people and human life.

The problem is, human life is transient and ever-changing. Without it, New York City would be a big pile of rust, concrete, and rats (rats are life, too!). And water. Apparently there used to be over 40 streams of water running across Manhattan, and the original land colonialized by Europeans was to a large extent swampland (around a few hills).

I wandered around NYC in early May, imagining from time to time what the city would look like stripped from all neon lights, cars, electronic billboards, and human life. A few months later I was given a book to read which presents scientific conclusions on what would actually happen to it should we people all disappear. Since the City is actively fighting back water in its subway systems, flooding would be the first, immediate effect. At some point the city would combust and burn, probably several times, due to all the faulty electricity and fuel sources available. The rats would probably have a feast. Then, slowly, trout and other fish would return to the river; with great difficulty over the few first generations, owing to the leaking nuclear power plant nearby. But they would come. And so would other animals.

Nature is the entropy humanity tries to fight against. The moment we stop, Nature conquers us. It has no rush as it knows it will always win in the end. Eventually. My claim is that a city is nothing but a container, a vessel, for life. And so, would it not be fair to say that the city is actually soul-less and an anomaly in the order of things? That what we mistake as the “beat” or the “soul” of the city is, in fact, our primeval collective pulse as a human community – and the city has nothing to do with it?NYC-2(New York City, USA; May 2018)


When I grow old

france-13When I grow old I do not want to look at four walls. I do not want to become a person who is afraid to go out of the house. I do not want hospital food unless the hospital is my only option. When I grow old I do not want to endure long, dark winters. I do not care if I will remember things or not. Most likely I will not. That is fine, as that is how life goes sometimes.

When I grow old I want to live by the sea. If I can walk I would like to go for a walk along the waterline, come sun or rain or wind.

If I cannot walk I would like to just sit and stare at the sea. In a chair. Or, even better, in a swing. If I can smell the sea, I would like to smell the sea every day. If I cannot smell a thing, I want to remember what the sea smells like. They say scents are the deepest memories of our being. I hope I will remember the scent of the sea. But even if I do not, it does not matter as long as I know I can see the waves.

When I grow old I want to sit and look at the sea. Every day. If I cannot see a thing, I would like to listen to the sea. That is fine, as that is how life goes sometimes.

When I grow old I want to sit and listen to the waves rumble. Every day. If I cannot hear a thing, I would like to feel the breeze and salt spray on my skin. I want to feel the hairs on my arm stir in the breeze and my cheek cool down in the wind. That is enough, and it is fine, as that is how life goes sometimes.

(Villefranche-sur-Mer, France; April 2018)