This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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The little house in the great woods

snowhouse-3That little house in the great woods is actually a sauna. Traditionally, a sauna has always been a separate building, standing apart from the main house. Possibly due to the risk of fire. Saunas used to burn down from time to time.

The two elements of a sauna are fire and water. For thousands of years they brought babies into life and guided dying ones in their last moments of this life. A flu is still often cured in the sauna, and hearts are kept strong by alternating between hot air baths and cold winter water baths. Saunas alleviate any kind of muscle ache, even women’s own kind of deep muscle ache.

And (in contrast to many American saunas) in a Finnish sauna there are no warning signs: no doctor’s consultation needed, no advice against entering if one is old, pregnant, or if one suffers of a weak heart or low blood pressure. Because there is no need: a sauna is not a dangerous place, quite the opposite. The combination of sauna and some common sense and listening to one’s body is beneficial for everybody.

(Loviisa, Finland; December 2018)


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To the lighthouse (and then the spa)

vejlefjord-3The lighthouse at Vejle fjord was much easier to reach than the one in Virginia Woolf’s novel. I recall it took the family ten years and a death in the family to finally set sail and arrive. Whereas we simply walked across the grounds of the old sanatorium and followed the path down the beach. vejlefjord-1The Vejlefjord sanatorium was built for wealthy Danes to “take the airs and waters”, especially if they suffered from tuberculosis (or “consumption”, as it was called back then). Today there still is a rehabilitation center, but it has given way to spa now installed in the new building. Two visits later I am still too consumed by the experience to manage one single photo from the inside. But imagine this: a simple, Japanese-inspired layout with natural stone and wood, lots of natural light, a forest sauna accessible by a walk outside (even throughout the winter), a hot outdoor pool, turkish baths and aromatherapy saunas and sound baths and light baths and meditation and yoga and spa treatments and free herbal tea and a healthy buffet and to top it all off: a thalasso spa with a salt sauna. One can easily spend 6 lazy hours without having the time to try everything offered.

Hence, no photos. Maybe I will manage during my third visit?
vejlefjord-4(Vejlefjord Spa, Denmark; November 2018)


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In Japan – for just an hour

yasuragi-2Japanese green tea, a chaise longue, and a Japanese-inspired view: this is all I had time to experience at the Yasuragi Spa in the Stockholm archipelago. Not the tranquil pools, nor the hot water baths in an airy outdoors-like indoor space, nor the saunas, nor the shiatsu massage and the lovely healthy snacks. Because nobody briefed me of the meeting location until a week before, and I had already booked my flights in and out, the same day. Unlike everybody else in the team.

Oh well. It was my second visit to Yasuragi. I spent a good twenty minutes in the lovely spa shop, silently vowing to myself to come back for a weekend of bathing and dreaming I was miles away in Japan.yasuragi-1(Hässleholm, Sweden; October 2018)


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In the soak

hotsprings-2This morning a little bemo minivan took us to the nearby hot springs. After all, the silent retreat sits on the slope of a sleeping volcano, but a volcano nonetheless.

The group split into two hot pools, and I claimed the third pool to myself. As we lay soaking in hot geothermal water that slowly dyed us all carrot orange, swimwear included, I could not help but notice how loud some of the retreat guests were, now that they were allowed to speak. Our calm and firm yoga teacher was full of energy. A solitary young lady was full of loud jokes and one-liners. After easing in to the social world for an entire hour in my solo pool, I finally joined the group to participate in the conversation.

We humans are social creatures. But we often forget that “social” simply means that we need each other to thrive; it does not imply constant chatter. I am an extravert and I obtain energy from being around people who inspire me. I must remember that “being around” does not always need to equal “chatting with”. “Silence is better than unmeaning words”, said the antique Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (who by the way ran his school like a silent retreat).
hotsprings-1(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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In silence

silentretreat-1Silence comes so easily. There is no need to read while eating. Everybody seems to prefer looking out into the jungle. I am lounging on the airy top floor of the main lodge, on a beanbag on the floor. There are couches and cushions and more beanbags, and an entire library of books to read. A handful of guests are digesting their dinner with me. Nobody makes a sound, except for the tokee that just woke up in the ceiling, and the rooster that seems to prefer sunset over sunrise in announcing his presence to the world. The first frogs just started their concert.

This is the real Bali, out here in the rice fields, by the jungle. Not in Ubud, in a fancy yoga gear shop, or in Canggu in a fine-dining restaurant. This is the experience I will seek when I come back (for a fourth time!). Beaches are gorgeous, but unfortunately always overdeveloped. Inland is where I find the real Bali, every time. With the frogs and the birds and the holy men chanting in their temple at every sunrise and sunset.
silentretreat-4(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Into the flames

silentretreat-5Last night there was a New Moon ceremony: agnihotra. The entire silent retreat sat in a large circle around a ceremonial fire, thirty faces lit up by the warm glow of the flames. We chanted a verse of giving things up to the fire. Over and over again for probably an entire hour. I lost track of time as I stared into the bowl of flicking flames.

A local holy man lead us into the ceremony, asking us to approach the fire one by one, to kneel before it, and to offer it something we would like to let go of, and to watch it burn. As the group chanted, trying to overpower the rumble of the rain on the tent roof of our bale, I walked to the fire in the center, knelt, greeted it, and moving my hand from my heart into the fire offered it all the anxiety and doubt I was feeling: doubt that what I have now will stay, and anxiety that I will do something wrong.

I watched my offering, my feelings, burn in the hot, orange flames, and scooped some of the smoky air over my face. No calm or peace entered my heart right then, but I wanted to believe that if one acts as if something were true, it may turn out to be true after all, after a while.

It is nearly dark again now. The frogs are joining the choir in multitudes out in the rice paddies. The cicadas have woken up, too. The jungle must be such an exciting place at night. And I doubt animals in the jungle feel anxiety and doubt.
silentretreat-8(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Let your garden be your food

silentretreat-2I had jungle greens for lunch. Ferns and some local shoots unknown to me. They were placed out in a big, beautiful, green bouquet. One brews one’s own tea from fresh herbs stuck in pots of water. Usually the herbs are featured in a guide hanging from the wall. Sofar, only once have I been unlucky enough to brew tea out of something incredibly bitter.

This retreat aims to produce as much of its food as possible. The preferred method is permaculture: where plants are planted for their entire productive lifespan, and in layers: pineapples and herbs on the ground, underneath papaya and banana trees, with tomato and passionfruit vines clinging to the trees.

Everything not produced on-site is locally sourced. The food is vegan, save for locally sourced duck eggs. And the ducks in turn are let out to the rice fields between harvest and planting, to fertilize the soil with their manure.

Let your garden be your food would be a lovely motto to garden by. Oh, if only we had year-round summer in the Nordics.

(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)