The Stories of The Old Basket Chair

Does this basket chair tempt you to come and sit on it?

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I can see it from where I am just now writing.

The day is sunny, bright and cool. The window is open and I can hear the wind that is unusually strong today. It rocks the aspens in the garden, and the sound it creates resembles the hum of sea somewhere in the distance.

I haven’t written anything for a couple of weeks. I’ve been on holidays like everyone in Finland in July. I actually thought I wouldn’t write at all this month, but then I got inspired by that old basket chair. First I took photos of it, and then it asked me to write. It’s right there in front of the window. When I sit on it I can see what happens inside and outside the house, and inside and outside myself. During the weeks of summer holidays it is my watchtower, my nest for incubating ideas, my place for just sitting and staring.

Today my basket chair made me think of one particular aspect of life which I consider important: beauty.

I have adored beauty in its various forms throughout my whole life – in nature, in all forms of art. Treasuring beauty has been so important to me that I became a semi-professional painter, with the seriousness of a professional.

I even went to study aesthetics (see the definition at the end of the post) at the university. But I soon came to realize that my reverence of beauty was ultimately not of intellectual nature, and I did not bother to finish my studies.

I want to sense beauty. I want to feel it. And to me beauty does not only mean the sweet, pretty and lovely. There is beauty also in the raw and rugged. There is beauty in honesty that reveals the edginess and imperfection of reality.

My confession of faith could be: “I believe in God, the Ultimate Beauty.” Because beauty, as I see it, contains all the aspects that support and further life: harmony, peace, love, joy, courage, truth etc. In their purest forms all these qualities are simply – beautiful!

But let’s get back to the basket chair – on which, by the way, my late mother-in-law used to sit waiting for us when we came for a visit. As I was sitting on it yesterday I thought about blogging. I looked back to the end of January when I started. I even checked whether what I wrote on my About page still holds true.

I started to blog with the intention of giving myself a voice, of showing something new about myself. I guess this is the aim of many bloggers. I also wanted to challenge myself and decided to write in English. I wanted to share what life has shown to me. I felt that writing might help me to recreate myself after returning to Finland. Coming back “home” after years in other countries forced me again to ask the very universal and the very personal question: “Who am I?” – Asking this question is, of course, an exploration that continues until the end of life.

Right now I feel that I have reached many of the goals I set myself. But in the process of blogging something else has also emerged. Something that was not present in my original list of intentions. Something extra. Something that has been lost for years.

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

It is the joy of writing, the pleasure of using the amazing instrument of language. Being carried by words.

I look at again the old basket chair. The sun has moved on in the sky, and the chair now remains in the shade. It actually could be an image of me: An aging lady curiously looking into the outside world and curiously exploring the inner worlds.

* * *

aesthetics |iːsˈθɛtɪks, ɛs-|(US also esthetics ) a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty.• the branch of philosophy which deals with questions of beauty and artistic taste.

The Flight of A Bird – Travelling through Lapland to The Arctic Ocean

Tenon laakso, tietä, Kari

There are landscapes that are carved into one’s soul. The landscape of my soul is Lapland, the northernmost part of Finland with its hills, and the river Teno that stretches from Finland to the Arctic Ocean in the North of Norway. In this landscape I used to spend my summer holidays when I was a child.

The photos you see here were taken during the trip that we just made to the North of Finland and Norway.

Tunturipuro

… The fragrance of the tundra vegetation in the summer, the vast skies and the infinite horizon of the arctic hills connect me to the deepest essence of myself. This landscape soothes my soul, it silences the endless babble of my mind, and it brings me into direct contact with fresh, untamed nature. In this landscape I am one with the soaring eagle on the sky, I become a mountain avens on a hill, and I change to a gurgle of limpid water in a brook. In this landscape I dissolve into the unfathomable beauty of the earth.

Soutumatka joella

Merestä nouseva kallioKissankellojaSuovilla

Hilloja

Vene ja merta

“The spirit of man is nomad, his blood Bedouin, and love is the aboriginal tracker on the spoor of his lost self; and so I come to live my life not by conscious plan or prearranged design but as someone following the flight of a bird.”

 Sir Laurens van der Post

Days that restore

This blog post reminds of such an important aspect of life that I want to reblog it on my site.

Mindfulbalance

File:Holzöster See Frühjahr2010.JPG

Sabbath honors the necessary wisdom of dormancy. If certain plant species, for example, do not lie dormant for winter, they will not bear fruit in the spring. If this continues for more than a season, the plant begins to die. If dormancy continues to be prevented, the entire species will die. A period of rest – in which nutrition and fertility most reality coalesce – is not simply a human psychological convenience; it is a spiritual and biological necessity.

Wayne MullerSabbath

photo werner100359

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Happiness And Wild Raspberries

kukkia ja puita Maxmossa

This is the time of year when I become poetic.

It is midsummer, and I am staying again in a little red house that is almost one hundred years old. It always welcomes us so warmly when we arrive here after the winter – the old furniture with its stories, the light that lingers in quiet rooms, the squeaky steps that lead upstairs.

I leave behind me the dirt and restlessness of the city life when I come here. The ubiquitous green surrounds me. The wind rustles in the aspen leaves. The age-old, faithful apple tree is still blooming. And I enjoy walking barefoot on the grass.

Nothing much happens.

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I sit on the doorstep and watch life flow by: a rabbit on its morning walk; the neighbor’s cat chasing a mouse; a young woman from a nearby farm riding a brown horse; a tiny grey lizard resting motionless on a warm rock in front of the sauna.

The days are a continuous stream of light with no clear beginning or end. Time slows down.

In the evenings I go to sleep satiated with life.

Perhaps by August I am ready to write another poem in the spirit of Zen, like I did last year:

Definition of happiness?
Don’t go further
than the nearest forest.
On a crispy
August morning
pick yourself those flawless
wild raspberries.

Put all you are into the smallest thing you do

To be great, be whole;
Exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that is not you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
So, in each lake, the moon shines with splendor
Because it blooms up above.

Fernando Pessoa

So Hard To Find The Words

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I was in Sweden for a week, participating again in one module of my on-going training in Zen coaching.

Since coming back home it has been difficult to return to writing.

“Don’t touch me with your words, don’t reduce me to your concepts”, a voice inside me has been saying.

And yet, I have a need to say, an urge to share. So I’ll try to write. After all, I have in my use this limited, yet rich variety of symbols and metaphors, the words to convey my thoughts and feelings, ideas and experiences.

What is it then that is so hard to put into words?

… It’s all about life… it’s all about allowing myself to be vulnerable and showing my vulnerability.

… Looking back from where I am now – which is already one full life – I can see how there has been one big passion guiding me and my choices. I have wanted to dig deeper, to look beyond the apparent. I have yearned to see that I am part of something larger than just my small personal life. I have travelled all kinds of roads to explore my questions. Some of the roads I have walked have also turned out to be attempts to escape rather than find and face my personal truth.

There was theology. There was a ten-year odyssey exploring the world through journalism. Some twenty-year long journey of art and painting. Explorations of Buddhism and Raja yoga. An intense period of time devoted to working on my psychological wounds and scars.

And now there is something new dawning on me. A new connection, a fresh link between areas that I have considered separate until now.

I realize how deeply meaningful my journey has been! How wonderful has been the hidden intelligence that has been at play in everything.

Here are some of the insights that have been close to my heart during the past  weeks:

  • I understand that religions are not the answer. They may be useful because they refer to something important, but they can’t replace your own inner authority that you have to find, in the end, in yourself, and in and through your own experience.
  • I have also understood that you can’t use religion – or, for that matter, any spiritual or ideological approach – to escape the work that you have to do with your own psychological conditioning. You can’t skip the pain of exploring those hard shields, those clever masks under which you had to hide yourself as you grew up, to survive in the world you were thrown into when you were born.
  • The wonderful human body! It is the place where I can look at my feelings and really FEEL everything. It is the body through which I am in contact with the world and with myself. It is only through the fragile body that I can experience the present moment. I can lie to myself, but the body doesn’t lie.
  • Our definitions of ourselves are often too small, just as our definitions of “God” are too small. My inner level of Being – or, if you like, my Authentic Self, my Essence, my Supreme Self, my buddhanature – is a relevant, true dimension that is common to all human beings.
  • The gate into a larger or deeper understanding of life is not outside myself – it is inside me. There is no external authority to say how I should explore that  field of experience. Therefore, I am free to use any means and walk any paths that I like, to get into contact with my inner Being. The important thing  to remember is this: You can’t get there without having to face your personal pain.
  • To describe our inner level of Being we have to use metaphors and symbolic language. Therefore, mystics and poets touch these dimensions of our being better than official dogmas of organized religions, or scientific language of psychology.
  • It is only through contact to our Being, to our Authentic Self, that we can be free, and we can accept our fate and life as it is, with compassion and love. We no longer need to defend ourselves, because there is nothing to defend; we see our “personality” with its emotions and feelings as waves or ripples on the surface of life; whether as our inner Being – that transcends our psychological history – is characterized by unshakable peace, love and joy.

*

I’ll finish with a poem that speaks about a mystic experience, described in words that refer to earthly love. The writer is Spanish St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Crux) who lived in the 16th century.

On a dark night,
Anxious, by love inflamed,
– O joyous chance! –
I left not seen or discovered,
My house at last completely quiet.

In the darkness, with light,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
– O joyous chance! –
I left in the darkness, covered,
My house at last completely quiet.

On that joyous night,
In secret, seen by no one,
Nor with anything in sight,
I had no other light or mark,
Than the one burning in my heart.

This light guided me
More directly than the midday sun,
Where waiting for me
Was the One I knew so well, my delight,
In a place with no one in sight.

O night! O guide!
O night more loving than the dawn!
O night that joined
Lover with beloved,
Beloved in the lover transformed!

Upon my flowering breasts,
Which I had saved for him alone,
There he slept,
While I caressed his hair,
And the cedars’ breeze gave us air.

As I spread his tresses,
The fresh wind from the turret,
Wounds me in the neck as it presses
With its serene hand,
Suspending all my senses with its caresses.

I lose myself and remain,
With my face on the Beloved inclined;
All has come to rest,
I abandon all my cares
There, among the lilies, to die.

Truth Is A Pathless Land

“A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do it, it becomes dead, crystalized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This weekend I want to share with you a text that has had a deep impact on me. It is one of those texts that I read over and over again. It describes in a magnificent way what happens when we try to create an organization around a belief. The text is part of a talk given by Jiddu Krishnamurti in 1929. Krishnamurti was an Indian speaker and writer on philosophical and spiritual subjects. In his early life he was groomed to be the new World Teacher, but he later rejected this mantle and disbanded the organization. Here is part of the talk that he gave on that occasion.

“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do it, it becomes dead, crystalized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down; rather, the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountaintop to the valley. If you would attain to the mountaintop you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices. You must climb toward the Truth, it cannot be ‘stepped down’ or organized for you. Interest in ideas is mainly sustained by organizations, but organizations only awaken interest from without. Interest, which is not born out of love for Truth for its own sake, but aroused by an organization, is of no value. The organization becomes a framework into which its members can conveniently fit. They no longer strive after Truth or the mountaintop, but rather carve for themselves a convenient niche in which they put themselves, or let the organization place them, and consider that the organization will thereby lead them to Truth.”

The whole talk can be found here.

Krishnamurti talks about religious or spiritual organizations. I think, however, that the idea he presents can be used to understand some other phenomena, too. Let’s imagine a bit: Somewhere, someone has a fresh, original idea. To advocate and support that idea an organization is created. As time passes and the organization expands, the original, fresh idea gets diluted or withers away, and the sustenance of the organization becomes the main goal of the organization. Can you see any examples of this if you look around?

Krishnamurti’s biography, Krishnamurti 100 years by Evelyne Blau is probably the most fascinating life story that I have ever read. Another interesting book: Total Freedom; The Essential Krishnamurti, by J. Krishnamurti.

How We Are Conditioned by Culture

Our family lived five years in Vietnam during the past decade. Our home was in a block of flats near the center of Hanoi. When we entered the building from the street, we first came to a spacious lobby, and then walked past the reception, where usually a young Vietnamese man or woman was standing. We would exchange greetings with the receptionist, often several times a day.

A shrine on a rocky hill in Vietnam. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

A shrine on a rocky hill in Vietnam. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Once I walked again past the reception with my then teenage daughter. We smiled and greeted the smiling receptionist, and continued walking towards the lifts. Inside the lift we noticed how our grinning faces were looking back at us from the opposite mirror. My daughter glanced at me, and we burst out laughing. “Mom, if we continue smiling like this when we return to Finland, they will punch us in the face”, she said.

We are conditioned by culture. My daughter’s words capture something of the Finnish culture and social environment. It’s not appropriate to look too happy here. Too much smiling can be considered a sign of 1) that you are an idiot or crazy or, 2) that you think the other person is an idiot or crazy, and therefore you are laughing at them. – I am of course exaggerating a bit, but only to make the point clearer. This is a serious country, particularly in the wintertime. Try living one winter in Finland so you know what I mean.

Sitting alone in the bus

At this point I want to I emphasize – particularly to my countrymen who may be reading this and feel that I’m mocking my own country and culture – that I fully acknowledge the fact that I am writing from my very personal, unscientific, biased, and limited point of view. I also acknowledge that there are a lot of good aspects about our country, though just now I’m looking at points that are not so flattering.

Banana flowers are being sold on a street in Hanoi. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Banana flowers are being sold on a street in Hanoi. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Another story. One day my foreign friend living presently in Helsinki was asked to tell one thing that surprised her most when she first time came to our country.

She said: “It was the way people behave in buses, trams, and metro. Everyone avoids sitting next to another passenger as much as possible. So when you get on a bus, you may see a row of single persons sitting on window seats with empty seats next to them. It is only after all window seats are taken that people begin to sit beside someone else. In my country it is the opposite. Even if there is only one passenger traveling in the bus, you go and sit next to that person.”

This story demonstrates how we Finns show a lot of respect to the other person’s space. Everyone has their territory. Do not invade it if it is not really necessary.

Collective and personal tragedies

Most of us acknowledge that our childhood family plays a significant role in the development of our personality. However, what we often tend to forget is that we have not only been surrounded by a certain family, but also by a certain culture that has similarly shaped us, both in good and bad. Its influence is often subtler and harder to detect because it envelops us on every side, and its impact may also overlap with that of our psychological history.

Women on a motorbike near Hanoi. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Women on a motorbike near Hanoi. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I give you an example. I was once complaining about an unfair treatment I felt I had received in some bureau. My daughter interrupted me, saying: “Here we hear again the voice of the oppressed and shunned Sami people.” – I could not but laugh. She was right. Her humorous comment helped me to look deeper into those traces that my mother’s personal and cultural tragedy had left on my own behaviour and attitudes.

It was like my mother’s voice was speaking through my mouth. Not only her personal voice, but indeed the voice of a whole generation of Sami people who desperately had tried to integrate and assimilate – because they were not given other choice – into the Finnish society. The cost they paid was of course a lost contact to their own unique cultural heritage and roots. “You’re never really part of the pack, no matter how much you howl.” That was my mother’s story. Perhaps it is mine, too. (And by the way, that may actually explain why I write in English and not in Finnish, my first language!)

Dysfunctional strategies

In the above examples I have tried to look at cultural differences and their impact on people mainly from their humorous and relatively harmless point of view. Cultural diversity is a huge richness and a source of inspiration. But cultural practices, beliefs and attitudes can also be very limiting and downright harmful to individuals, and even to whole population groups. One needs but think of the position of women in many male-dominated cultures of the world.

I don’t pretend to be a cultural anthropologist, but perhaps you still allow me to make my own interpretations of culture’s influences on an individual, based on the observations that I have made during the fourteen years that I have lived in Africa and Asia.

I am inclined to think that some cultural practices and attitudes – like e.g. those towards women – are perhaps some kind of failed or not-very-functional attempts to fulfill the needs of societies or some population groups.

Morning exercise in Hanoi. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Morning exercise in Hanoi. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Our deeper needs

Let me explain what I mean by this: As I see it, on a very deep level we are all searching for similar things. We all share the same needs or longings that grow out from the depth of our hearts. We all have for example inside of us an idea of peace, love, harmony, and beauty. We all want to be accepted and respected as we are. We all want to be authentic human beings with integrity. We all have dreams and goals.

Within the framework of a certain culture, we then develop collective means to achieve and fulfill those needs. And as it can happen in the case of an individual, the solutions on a collective level may turn out to be very dysfunctional strategies.

Translated into the example of women’s position in many cultures, this might mean that certain cultural customs and practices have grown for example out of men’s need to protect the physically weaker sex. But unfortunately the intention that may have been good produces a practice that actually imprisons and humiliates women as autonomous human beings.

You may disagree with me on how I understand the deeper needs that are common to all human beings – our longings for peace, freedom, love etc. However, I think that it is more constructive and also more practical – for example from the point of conflict solution – to look at human beings through a definition that connects rather than divides us. I prefer not to see human beings within the paradigm of “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. It is our actions, our strategies – that we create to fulfill our needs or deeper longings – that sometimes fail or do not function.

*

The following books have given inspiration to my writing:
– A.H. Almaas, Elements of the Real in Man
– Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life

The Great Clock of Time

The winter is finally gone. In my country everything comes back to life again after winter – nature and people. And me. Not that I don’t live in the wintertime, but I hibernate. I don’t want to go out much. I need more sleep. I have less energy. I spend more time looking at things in the inner world – and at least for me that is the best state of mind for writing.

Joutsenet

Winter is my survival camp. It starts around November… then comes the dark December… the cold January… and February, when everything is still covered by snow. It feels like I’m making an arduous climb over a high mountain – until I reach the top, the beginning of March, and I begin to see again the sunlit landscapes on the other side of the mountain: the long days, lingering evenings, and in the end the Midsummer’s endless white nights.

Apple tree

There is magic in this great cycle of nature, in this grand clock of time: There is a time for closing the doors and windows, and a time of opening them; there is a time for exploring the darkness, and a time for embracing the light.

Puita, valkovuokkoja

Seasons change people, just as they change the nature – at least here near the Arctic Circle. The spring has taken me away from my computer to the company of other people, to working in the garden in our summer place, to some projects that have been waiting for the energy of summer.

I haven’t been able to write recently as much as before. I will continue, but there may be some breaks. So please be patient.

See you again next weekend.

P.S. I show you some photos that I’ve taken on my daily walks – a swan couple on the lake, an old apple tree with a polypore on its trunk, wood anemones basking in the bright sunlight. Just snapshots taken by my iPhone, to give you an idea of how the nature here looks like just now, after all the snow is gone.

Reflections on Being And Transformation

There are some books, poems, and quotes that have traveled a long way with me. Today I want to share with you some of the words that have touched me, along with a few of my paintings. They are all called “Secret Writing”, and I made them when living in Mozambique.

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“Self-knowing is wisdom. You may be ignorant of all the books in the world (and I hope you are), of all the latest theories, but that is not ignorance. Not knowing oneself deeply, profoundly, is ignorance; and you cannot know yourself if you cannot look at yourself, see yourself as you are, without distortion, without any wish to change. Then what you see is transformed because the distance between the observer and the observed is removed and hence there is no conflict.”
Krishnamurti

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an expression of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about, and that’s what these clues help us to find within ourselves.”
Joseph Campbell

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”
Krishnamurti

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“You need not do anything. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, just wait. You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary. And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked. It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Franz Kafka

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Jung

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation… and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.” Hermann Hesse

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”
Thomas Merton

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“Don’t stand by my grave and weep,
for I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond’s glint on the snow,
I am sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
Don’t stand by my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.”
Unknown Native American