Tag Archives: Lapland

The Beauty of Northern Lights

Photo: Pekka Sammallahti

Photo: Pekka Sammallahti

This photo was taken yesterday by Pekka. The place is in Lapland near the border of Norway.

I want to share the photo with you because it captures the beauty and the power of northern nature in winter. It is in nature that our small “selves” often give way to something bigger, and we get a chance to change our limited perspectives to something wider and larger.

Beauty is one of soul’s values, and it needs to be nourished. Look at the photo and let the words of the Navajo poem carry you to a place of beauty inside yourself:

IN BEAUTY MAY I WALK

In beauty
may I walk
All day long
may I walk
Through the returning seasons
may I walk
Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully birds
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen
may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet
may I walk
With dew about my feet
may I walk
With beauty may I walk
With beauty before me
may I walk
With beauty behind me
may I walk
With beauty above me
may I walk
With beauty all around me
may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of
beauty, lively,
may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of
beauty, living again,
may I walk
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

The Journey of A Smile

A boxful of old photographs almost fell into my lap from a closet where I have been keeping them – a surge of memories, moments from the past, frozen by camera. Instants fixed on paper, remnants of times when images still had a material form and feel against the hand. All shoved into a brown cartoon box, sealed with thick packing tape.

Nicaragua uusin

I spread the pictures on the floor and sit down amidst them. There is so much of everything – places, people, events, experiences, and feelings. Episodes that had already disappeared and gotten lost into the labyrinth of my memory.

In one of the photos there is a serious-looking girl of six or seven years old. She catches my attention, and I begin to follow how she changes in the photos.

In the first photo – which is black-and-white – the girl’s posture is slightly stooped and she is tilting her head to the left. There is an air of sadness around her. She is standing in front of a Sami style tepee somewhere in Lapland, with a group of people, one of who is dressed in a traditional Sami costume. Her father is not there, but her mother and elder teenage sister are present. Everyone is looking straight into the camera. Only the two dogs in the front have turned their backs to the photographer. It is summer and the sunlight is bright.  The shadows on the ground are sharp, and everyone is squinting their eyes.

The next photo is taken a few years later. In a class photo the same girl is wearing her first eyeglasses, and that makes her look what she already was at that time – a bookworm. She has created a private world of her own, a place where she feels safe. The early signs of adolescence are visible in her greasy, straight hair, and the coat that she is wearing looks a bit too big for her.

More photos. The girl is growing and changing. Trips with schoolmates. Moments with friends during the years at the university. One photo is taken on her first trip abroad: three young women, the inseparable threesome, are standing in front of a cathedral in Florence.

In one of the photos she is floating in the water in the Dead Sea in Israel. It is a field trip of her theology class of the university. She has raised her arms up and her feet are sticking out of the water. She is demonstrating how well the salty water carries her.

Then there are a couple of photos of a mysterious Janus-faced young woman. She is already married. She is sitting on a basket chair, wearing hexagonal glasses and a classy dress. She has a plain short haircut. Her head is slightly turned to the side, but her eyes are looking straight into the camera. The look on her face is veiled, inscrutable, and her closed mouth looks like it is holding words inside. Is anger her shield, her protection against the world?

And then another photo, on the same basket chair, completely different. Again the young woman’s head is turned to her right side, but she is also looking up, past the camera. On her face she has a bright smile that reveals her teeth. Her glasses are reflecting the light that comes from the opposite direction. A careful inspection reveals a reflection of the photographer on her glasses.

In the next photo she is 23 years old, and she is standing at a railway station. A railcar and people are standing right behind her. Her old father is next to her, looking down. He is wearing a leather hat with a brim, and a brown winter coat. The coat is slightly open and reveals a striped tie. The young woman is keeping her hands in her pockets.  Her head is covered with a green woven cap that does not quite match with her winter coat. Her shoulders are slouched, and her eyes are down. She looks sad and depressed. There is snow on the ground, and the afternoon shadows behind the father and the daughter are long and distinct, like the seventeen years that have elapsed since their previous encounter.

Kodan edessä - uusin

Next photo. She is already a mother expecting her first child. She is sitting on a bed in a light blue night-dress. She has had her hair permed to get herself curls that nature did not give her. She is leaning against a bed head, and a pillow is supporting her back. Her tummy is big and heavy-looking. Her arms are resting on the sides of her tummy, both hands meeting in front of it. She is pursing her lips and tilting her head forward. She does not look into the camera. What is she thinking, that serious young mother, behind the thin curtains through which the light filters into a quiet bedroom?

Next photo. The turbulent years of divorce are behind, but there is still a shadow of sadness in the woman’s eyes. She is on her first trip to Africa, under the  brilliant sunshine, on the shore of Lake Nakuru in Kenya. Right behind her back there is a huge flock of birds, hundreds of pink flamingos. On the  left side of the woman stands a man with blonde curly hair, tangled by the wind. They both have a very straight posture, as if they had decided to defy whatever life throws at them.

Then there is a very different photo. The woman has come to Nicaragua to pick coffee. In the photo she is laughing with her mouth wide open, and tilting her body backwards. It looks like the laughter is coming out of her whole being. She is standing on a dirt road with another woman – and a guerrilla. A machine gun is hanging from the guerrilla’s neck, and he is holding his arms on both women’s shoulders. It has just stopped raining.

… And so the stream of the photos goes on, and over the years the images begin to disappear into the hard drive of the computer, and they become more ethereal and intangible. The sadness of the little girl in the first black-and-white photos gradually begins to fade in later photos, and the veil in front of the eyes of a young woman disappears, for most of the time. There are more and more photos with a smile and laughter on her face, but even in the later photos, that are now stored on the computer, there are still moments when she does not look into the camera, but into a quiet place inside herself.

*

Äiti ja minä

There I sit on the floor looking at the story of my life unfolding in the old photos. It comes into my mind that in everyone’s photos there are those fleeting moments when the camera has captured the instant of a sad child peeking through the armour of an adult person.

I sit and think that actually my story is not so unique, that we all share the same story; the story in which a defenseless and helpless child faces something overwhelming, something that she cannot deal with. It is the same story for everyone, experienced in myriad versions and in varied quantities. The story in which we all experience our bigger or smaller share of human suffering.

And as I look at my old photos I think of the lesson that I’ve been studying during the past years. It is the lesson of acceptance, compassion and love, not only for other people, but above all else, for myself. For me it has meant meeting the little girl inside, feeling her feelings – and then embracing her with all my love and warmth. She is part of me, part of my life and my history.

Cease cherishing opinions

“The Great Way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences.”

The Great way is not difficult for those who do not have a greater liking for one alternative over another.

The quote seems a bit contradictory to the fact that I’m here starting a blog, doesn’t it? Blogs are supposed to make some sorts of statements. I express my opinion on some matter. I stand up for or against something.

Surely some opinions are better than others? Then why am I using a quote like this right in the beginning of my first blog?

I answer my question by making a detour. I won’t go into elaborating the quote that I’ve taken from a venerable Chinese Zen patriarch who died in early 600.

(Those who want to read the whole text of the patriarch can find it in http://www.mendosa.com/way.html) Instead I will make a jump to the earlier years of my own life, to the sixties, when I was still a little girl…

ruska,uusin versio

My roots are in Lapland, in the very North of Finland. When I was a child I used to spend my summers with my mother in those northernmost corners of my country, in the valley of the river Teno. That’s where my Sami mother, who was a teacher, came from. Every summer, after the school year ended, we would pack our luggage and travel hours on end by bus along the winding gravel roads of Lapland, to arrive at Utsjoki.

Crossing the border

The last leg of the trip was done on my uncle’s long and slim riverboat. At our destination we were greeted by my grandfather’s log house, which he had built on the riverbank for his retirement. Through its windows I could easily see the softly undulating hills of Norway on the other side of the river.

As a little girl standing there on the banks of the river, between the hills, it never occurred to me that we were spending our summers almost literally on the border of two countries. In reality, the border of Finland and Norway was merely a concept that did not separate anything. People would freely cross the border, that is, cross the river from one country to another, as they had done for ages, and as they still do.

So I spent my childhood summers on a border that wasn’t really a border. It did not separate anything. Also the scenes in front of my eyes were boundless. The river just kept on running without beginning nor end. I had a vague idea that somewhere it would join the Arctic Ocean. And my grandfather’s log house that in the eyes of a little girl was very big, turned out to be the size of a matchbox, when we climbed up the hill and looked at it down from there.

Boundless nature

The nature knows no such thing as boundary. Boundaries are a product of human mind, result of conceptualization. They arise from our need to name, to classify. This need we express by drawing lines between everything, by separating and polarizing phenomena.

The situation in nature is different. A solitary reindeer wandering on the hills probably does not think it is lonely or isolated from its environment, contrary to a poor tourist who has gone astray on the same hills. The reindeer doesn’t think it has lost contact to its herd.

Human thinking happens by making divisions. However, there is a trap hidden in this tendency. I could illustrate like this: You may not notice that number six looks number nine from the opposite angle. Or you may ignore that the other side of a rounded surface is concave. Or that the line you draw on paper not only separates, but also joins both sides of the line.

The divisions and borders work as concepts and on paper, but the reality is fluid and limitless.

The trap of identification

What is the connection between the beginning of my writing and what I’m saying now? Why would it be wise to avoid becoming attached to one’s preferences and opinions? What is so great about being free like that?

Let me try to answer. Firstly, by passionately defending my opinion I draw a mental line around it myself. I identify strongly with what I think and with what I say. My opinion becomes a part of me. It separates me from other people who may have a different opinion.

After that I start to fight for my opinion, namely, if someone dares to threaten it by disagreeing with me. And by defending my opinion I also defend that which I consider to be “me”.

When this is taken far enough, the result is war.

Surely the world needs opinions, statements, beliefs and ideologies. And surely there are situations when it is quite correct and relevant to defend one’s opinion. But isn’t it also true that we could avoid many useless conflicts if we were not so attached to our own ideas and opinions, and if we did not defend them so vehemently by attacking others?

Relativity of opinions

Would life on this planet be happier and more fulfilling for all of us, if we were a little more willing to give up our preferences? Would it be possible for us to see how interrelated and interconnected we all are, instead of seeing everything that separates us from each other?

What if the Great Way would mean to see the relativity of our opinions? Seeing “from a hilltop or mountaintop”, our opinion or preference might shrink to the size of a matchbox. Would that be so scary?

Perhaps the Great Way is also about having a heart that is big enough to embrace others in their wholeness, others upon their Way?

It looks like the boundless landscape of my childhood summers has left a lasting imprint on me. I don’t quite believe in rigid divisions. If I believe in anything, ever more than before, I can say that I believe in all those aspects that connect us as human beings to each other and to the nature.

I’d like to seek a bigger and broader perspective, and help build a world where the unity of opposites would become possible.

P.S. The photo of the Teno valley in its autumn splendor was taken by Pekka Sammallahti.

P.P.S. Have a look at my About page, too.

I will publish a post every last Sunday of the month.