Tag Archives: nature

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 Taste of Life in Your Mouth

“Thinking makes you uncomfortable like walking in the rain when the wind gets stronger and it seems to rain more.”

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

On quiet Sunday mornings like this the best thing to do is to go for a walk in nature, or read poetry. I returned to my favorite poet whom I already quoted in my second ever blog post, the Portuguese Fernando Pessoa. He wrote under various heteronyms, one of which was a fictitious herdsman called Alberto Caeiro. For me Alberto Caeiro is someone who reveals in a most perceptive way how our thoughts prevent us from experiencing the reality through our senses, and how we thereby lose the chance to really live life in its totality.

Taste this poem:

The Herdsman

I’m herdsman of a flock.
The sheep are my thoughts
And my thoughts are all sensations.
I think with my eyes and my ears
And my hands and feet
And nostrils and mouth.

To think a flower is to see and smell it.
To eat a fruit is to sense its savor.

And that is why, when I feel sad,
In a day of heat, because of so much joy
And lay me down in the grass to rest
And close my sun-warmed eyes,
I feel my whole body relaxed in reality
And know the whole truth and am happy.

Translated by Edouard Roditi

P.S. The source of the first verse of the post is taken from http://alberto-caeiro.blogspot.fi
Even if you don’t understand Portuguese, go and read the original poem at Arquivo Pessoa. Just savour the words and enjoy the flow of them in your mouth.

Late Afternoon Lethargy and How to Deal with It

Do you ever nap in the afternoon? Have you ever noticed that if your nap is a bit too long or you take it a bit too late – for example after 4 pm – you will feel sad and melancholic when you get up?

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I don’t know what it is in this combination, but for me it results in a miserable mood. If the nap lasts for 15-20 minutes, it is still ok, but if I sleep for example for forty minutes late in the afternoon, I can be almost sure that I will feel sad when I wake up.

Yesterday it happened again. I woke up from a nap that had been too long and taken too late in the day.

It was a dazzling August afternoon and the whole world was smiling. But not me. I felt like I had experienced a terrible loss of some kind. I felt gloomy and lethargic. And of course I did not like the way I felt. I would have preferred to feel like that brilliant August day outside: totally happy and full of energy.

I looked at myself and my feelings. Through meditation and the practice of Zen coaching I have gained some understanding and experience of how to work with the various weather conditions of the mind from rapidly shifting moods to racing thoughts.

I know that the mind is like that – it feels and it thinks. Somehow I’m also beginning to understand, little by little, that it is actually my own resistance to my feelings that usually creates the problems.

“If you have a gloomy mood, fix it and make it bright! Escape it, go to the movies and immerse yourself in the drama on the screen! Talk to someone on the phone!” These are our usual remedies for unpleasant feelings. And as we develop these various strategies to get rid of miserable feelings, then arrives the whirlwind of thoughts. And there we are, totally lost.

So what did I then do to my late afternoon lethargy?

It was very persistent. (I think it actually was a he.) He came to the living room to sit with me on the couch. He was there even after I had a cup of coffee. He clearly had decided to stay with me.

I looked at his depressing face and said: “Ok, I see you want to stay. Let’s then spend some time together and make the most of it!”

I decided to take Lethargy for a walk with me.

We headed for a little lake that is only ten minutes walk from my home. To get there, one has to climb a small hill and then go down a road. As I climbed the hill my steps felt soo heavy, and I was out of breath when I got up. Lethargy was also huffing by my side.

When we started to descend a road towards the lake I noticed how fresh the air was. The dark green trees were casting long shadows in the late afternoon light. A solitary duckling was paddling near the shore, and a swan couple on the other side of the lake was totally lost to the world – they were busy diving for something to eat from the water.

My nose smelt the special fragrance of summer when it has reached its full maturity, just before the first cold nights. The fragrance that heralds the coming of autumn. I could hear the gravel rustle under my feet. I bent down to look closer at flower-looking mushrooms by the track. The whiteness of a birch trunk stuck out from the wood.

So I walked around the lake, sniffing smells, sights and sounds. A bit like a dog, stopping here and there, looking at this and that. My senses were completely open to the world around me.

The rest you already know. At some point during the walk I awoke to the absence of my companion. Lethargy had quietly disappeared. Maybe he had stopped to explore some interesting sight in the nature. Or then he simply had got tired of my company and had gone to look for a more interesting one.

Lesson of Late Afternoon Lethargy?

Everything changes. All the time. There is no guarantee it will last. Whatever it is, see it. Accept it. Say yes to it. Don’t think there is some other place that is better. Don’t think there is some better you you have to find. Stop trying to fix it and it will improve all by itself.

Just relax. Now.

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.

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.

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.