This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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A mindfulness exercise

Pomegranates sustain my life force throughout the winter. I crave that juicy goodness, impossibly red even when it stains my fingertips, and the satisfyingly crunchy mouth feel. The juice is packed with vitamins, and the seeds with healthy oils. And no, I do not buy juice nor even the cleaned, pre-packed seeds – I take an entire pomegranate and clean it out by hand.

Neither do I violently whack it like Jamie Oliver seems to prefer (not only is it brutal, it is messy and still leaves lodged-in seeds to be dug out afterwards). Instead I cut off the top and bottom, slice the fruit in two along the vertical ridges (where it naturally splits with light prying), and then split both halves again. The seeds come out by turning the clusters inside out. Soaking the quarters in water before starting helps if the fruit seems dry.

Coaxing pomegranate seeds out of their shell is gentle, methodical work. The more one rushes or exerts pressure, the worse the outcome (and the mess!). Perfect mindfulness practice for winter days – and the reward is a bowlful of summer energy.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; December 2020)


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Interlude: about high-independence relationships

Lovely ones, even if I spent much time writing about creativity, introspection, and a quiet but robust sense of inspiration, just like most (all?) of you my 2020 was difficult, too. It seems that we all have gone through seismic shifts in our lives, even if many do not seem to relate to the coronavirus pandemic at all (perhaps they still do?). And so, while warming myself with a golden latte and new woolen socks, I want to share my journey.

I have spent much time this year thinking about high-independence relationships. I used to live with someone who needed much independence in order to feel free in a relationship. And if he was not feeling free, anxiety and unhappiness would slowly eat him from the inside.

The preference for high independence seems to be a millennial generation problem. Instead of getting hitched young and building up our selves in teamwork with a partner (a “cornerstone relationship” according to couples therapist Esther Perel), we first form ourselves as individuals and then, maybe in our thirties, we need to find a partner who checks all the boxes on our long list of demands. We look for someone who will maintain our individuality and help it grow (a “capstone relationship”). In our search for a life partner for whom we do not need to compromise anything, we run the risk of looking for a copy of ourselves. Yet, would a copy of ourselves keep us charmed and interested?

High-independence relationships take it a notch further. I did not even know this was a “thing” until I met someone who had all the arguments for why it was the best model: allowing each other the space to do what we liked and to grow as we liked sounded like just the right balance of teamwork and personal growth. “I do my thing and you do your thing, together” was his unspoken mantra. But when this philosophy ran into the minutiae of daily decisions, we ran into trouble. It would take us an hour to choose a movie because the only way for him was to choose a movie we both were in the mood for. Taking turns in allowing the other to indulge was not a worthwhile use of his time. Sometimes we got tired of searching and did not end up watching a movie at all. Choosing a restaurant was exhausting and 9 times out of 10 we gave up and went for sushi because it was optimal for his taste and health, and I did not mind compromising.

When we choose to live with a partner, we choose by our own free will to subject ourselves to a level of dependence. There is no way we can live with someone without depending on them. At the lowest level of functionality this means agreeing on how to share the contents of the fridge and how to stock it; and at the highest level, how to walk through life together in synergy as a loving, well-functioning team. “I do my thing and you do your thing” only works if both put the relationship first, not themselves. This is what clinical psychologist Stan Tatkin calls a “couple bubble”: a safe, loving, supportive space a couple creates and maintains around them, and which protects them from the rest of the world. It is also “an intimate environment that the partners create and sustain together and that implicitly guarantees specific promises.”

My partner and I never managed to create a couple bubble. I never truly felt I was included in his life plan. Often, I felt scared that his high independence would lead to a situation where he chose move to another city or country, and I would be given the choice to follow – or be left behind. Because it was against his values to ask me to forgo my freedom and come along, for his sake – and to say he needed me and he would support me in return, if I ever had a big ask for him. I felt afraid that he would not put our relationship first, and he felt shackled by my needs. There was much anxiety and anger. Living under the same roof was not sustainable, even with constant open communication and all the intimacy and love.

And so, just before the pandemic hit us, I moved across the country, to Copenhagen. On my own. And when the world locked down I realized that if I were to catch the virus, my partner would not have my back. I would have to create that bubble of safety, love, and support all by myself. And you know what? I found it quite easy to do because I, too, have enough independence to find my footing when the world is a windy place.

We millennials are a very individualistic generation, and along with our parents’ generation, we have in many developed countries pushed the divorce rate to fifty percent (and an increasing number of couples choose to not marry at all). And so, one year later, with better language to put my 2020 journey into words, I wonder whether it is possible to have a deep need for sovereignty and still share a household and a life with someone, in partnership? Is the need for high independence just a fear of unhealthy dependency? And what is the definition of healthy interdependence?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; December 2020)


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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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My mornings, 2020 edition

I used to travel every week for two to three days. Sometimes four. For nearly a decade. Then 2020 came around, with two job changes and coronavirus. They downside is, I am losing my elite airline status. The upside is, I have gained a new morning routine for WFH and weekend mornings. They are many, and so sticking to a routine which works best for me now is easier than ever.

Why is a custom-built morning routine so important? Because it sets the foundation for a productive and energy-balanced day. What works, then? Well, I can only share what works for me, and it is not the 6 am wakeup with bullet-proof coffee followed by meditation and a workout that is favored by many.

The key to my own morning is the understanding of how my energy qualities shift during the day: I am mentally most productive before 2 pm, prefer a physically energetic workout in the late afternoon to relax, and a meditation at night to wind down for the day. This means that I pile up all writing, powerpoint slide creation, and planning before lunch and, if possible, push meetings and video conference calls into the afternoons. In the weekends, I begin my mornings with a concentration-requiring book followed by blogging, journaling, and other writing tasks until lunch.

I support my morning productivity with a protein-heavy breakfast to establish a stable energy level throughout the day. I used to do intermittent fasting for my entire adult life (and I had no idea it was a “thing”, it just felt better to skip breakfast) until just a couple of years ago. But when lunch became my main meal and I moved my dinner earlier, striving to be done by 7 pm, I realized I needed sustenance in the mornings. The overnightly fast is now a moderate 13-14 hours.

Here is my morning routine for most of 2020, version WFH:

  1. Wake-up 7.00-7.30 am (also weekend mornings. Consistency is key.)
  2. I open a window and burn incense, the fresh Japanese little sticks, to freshen up the air. A lovely Marie Kondo habit I adopted.
  3. I make a hot tonic and leave it to cool. A big glass of hot water with the juice of a quarter organic lemon, or fresh ginger or turmeric, with a quarter teaspoon honey. During more stressful times I used to go for lemon juice with salt (calms down cortisol levels) and cayenne pepper (wakes up a lazy stomach).
  4. Office worker’s stretch: Fold forward, arms hanging, to stretch legs. Grab ankle with both arms, legs straight, and pull back, stretching the hip of the other leg. Repeat on the other side. Sit down into a deep squat and extend arms forward to maximize the lower back stretch. Go down on knees and do 12-15 slow, careful scapular push-ups to prevent mouse-arm strain. Finally, stretch shoulders by standing up, interlacing fingers, folding forward, and bringing arms over head to hang.
  5. Tonic + supplements. I take a baseline of supplements supporting a woman on a meat-free and nearly dairy-free diet, along with a few performance-optimizing supplements.
  6. Reading. Could be as short as 15 minutes, also during work mornings. I usually reserve mornings for concentration-requiring or spiritual books. Right now I am reading A path with heart by Jack Kornfield.
  7. Breakfast. Plant-protein powered smoothie, or protein-powered oatmeal. Or gluten-free protein pancakes with berries if I have the time.
  8. Start the day. By now the time is around 8.30 am, leaving me enough time to get into shape for work and video conference calls before 9 am.

(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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Any given Friday

Any given Friday one can work, or one can take the day off and check into an Oriental day spa for the entire afternoon.

I decided to do the latter – and all in. The entire shebang. With champagne, chocolate fondue, smoothies, massages (plural!), and private sauna good enough for a Finn, and a bubble bath.

Why not, as all other holidays are canceled this year?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 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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Shinrin-yoku, every day

shinrin-yoku-3Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, every day. The Japanese prefer slow mindful sauntering instead of aerobic hiking. As a form of nature therapy, shinrin-yoku means not only crossing through a wood, but bathing in it: letting it fill one’s lungs, ears, nose, and eyes. It means not talking or listening to music, but listening to the birds, the grasshoppers, and the wind in the trees. And it means wandering off the path to caress the warm, dry bark of a tree, just because it feels like the best thing to do at the moment.shinrin-yoku-1That is why forest-bathing is best done alone. And while I like to alternate between running and walking through the forests in Loviisa, I still do it every day. And I come out from the forest feeling very centered and alive.
shinrin-yoku-2(Loviisa and Kotka, Finland; June 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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In Copenhagen, confused and concerned

CPH-1Lovely ones, my new slow life has begun. In Copenhagen. For now. After two weeks in a lovely apartment in Østerbro I found myself in a furnished, bright little place in Nørrebro, with a view over the ring of lakes that divide the North half of town.

Instead of weekly travels to London and criss-cross the Nordics I now find myself on a monthly travel schedule to Belgium, plus a tour of a handful other European countries this spring (provided I can avoid coronavirus hotspots). Instead of crazy 8-9 hour workdays I find myself deeply entrenched in one project for 6-7 hours a day. Instead of dragging myself out for a run or onto the yoga mat at 5 pm I find myself running around the lakes mid-afternoon, before going back to work with more energy.

It all sounds wonderful, right? In truth this is a tough training in how to live with uncertainty: where will I live after May 1st? Where will I work next year? What if I can’t find a job if I really like? What if nobody will like me well enough to hire me? Is there a future for the relationship I’m in, now that I had to move out? What if I just can’t muster the energy to work all this out?

And the biggest question of all: I will turn 40 this year. How will I set myself up for success for the next 10 years, including healthy aging? CPH-2(Copenhagen, Denmark; January 2020)