The taste of impermanence

Everybody knows Notre-Dame, the cathedral at the foundation of the Parisian cultural heritage, the place where Victor Hugo imagined the plot of the novel The HunchBack of Notre-Dame.

Yesterday, the unexpected fire destroyed the loved monument. Shock and disbelief. The fire stirred the memories of millions of people who ever stepped inside and smelled the air of sanctity imbued in the old walls. It crushed the dreams of those who were about to visit.

Nothing lasts forever. We trust in transformation and hope in reconstruction. But where would Quasimodo live now?   

 

When you can’t see through another’s eyes, when you can’t listen with the ears of another, when you can’t feel with the heart of another – Ask Mr Froggy

On the occasion of the World StoryTelling Day, at the event organised by the Nordic Culture Point on March 21st, I wrote and told an empathy story for an audience of 8th grade children in Helsinki. Here I share it. In case you like it, you are welcome to read it to your kids. 

mrfroggy

When the other is a boy named Alam

Once upon a time, there was a place in West Asia, a land called Iran. Somewhere over there, in Tehran to be more precise, Alam was born. One year ago, his family moved to Helsinki. Alam is 7. Today is his first day of school.

He’s so nervous that he wouldn’t have any breakfast. He’s clumsy talking the language of Finns. Other than his baby sister and Mr Froggy, he doesn’t have any other friends. Who is going to want to be his friend?

As if his mother read his thoughts, she suggested. “Would you like to take Mr Froggy in your backpack?”

His face brightened up. He dashed to his bedroom where Mr Froggy was lying under his pajamas. It was the gift on Alam’s 5th anniversary from his grandmother and uncle. What for others was just another soft toy, for Alam, Mr Froggy was a reminder of the affection his grandmother would put into preparing his favourite sour-berry tea.

Whenever Alam would ask his father why they moved to Finland, his father would reply, “We are here so you can have a better life.”

“Here, your sister can live a life of freedom.” the mother would add.

“But it’s just the four of us here.” Alam would think to himself.

Back in Iran, the whole family used to get together almost every week, sometimes twice a week and every time there was a gathering, there was music, dance and poetry. And there are 30 or 40 people and lots of food and children running around. Alam missed running around those people.

Mostly, he missed playing the seven stones game. He would be more in the losing than winning team but he didn’t mind that. He liked the excitement of the game when he was chased with a ball by his uncle, the most playful family member.

Meeting Minttu and Emilia

This day of August, Alam and his mother were approaching school, when they heard a cry. They looked in the direction of the sound to see a girl and her father standing next to a tree, looking upwards. He gazed up with curiosity to see a cat sitting on a branch.

“If you can help someone in need, just do it.” was the morale of the stories that his uncle used to tell him.

Alam let go off his mom’s hand and ran next to the girl. “What’s the cat’s name?” he asked.

“Minttu.” The girl answered sobbingly.

Without further ado, Alam started climbing up the tree. The girl stopped crying. The father looked puzzled.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” his mom asked.

Alam couldn’t even hear her. He was getting closer to the cat and all he could think of was that this was his moment to put in practice all the training on calling cats that he’d done with his uncle.

When he was 5, Alam was fond of feeding animals. His uncle taught him how to call the neighbor’s cat to their yard to feed it treats. Alam was curious, “How fat a cat can become?”

This cat was not as fat as the neighbor’s cat. “Obviously, they don’t feed you well.” Alam said. Raising his voice, he called the cat to him, “Minttu!”

Minttu pricked its ears.

“Onko nälkä?” he asked while realising he actually talked in Finnish. “I’m good at cat Finnish.” and he felt proud of himself.

He gently took his rucksack off his back and fumbled for the pencil box, gently pushing Mr. Froggy out of his way. He took out one pen and tapped it against the plastic cover of the box. The tapping made a clicking noise which draw Minttu’s curiosity. The cat walked close enough towards him that he could grab it in his arms. He started singing in a high pitch voice – which he thought was similar to Minttu’s voice – some of the food he used to give to the neighbors’ cat: ham, minced meat, eggs.

When they got off the tree, the girl gave a strong hug to both Alam and Minttu.

“I’ll take this adventurous cat from you.” the girl’s father said.

“Emilia.” said the girl, stretching her hand. “Thank you.”

Getting introduced to the new school environment

They waited for Emilia’s father to bring Minttu back into their flat and they walked together the short remaining distance to the school yard.

The teacher was waiting for all the kids and parents to gather around her. She shook hands with everyone, including Alam and his mom. The group of 1st graders would get a walk-through the school.

Alam waved goodbye, “See you in 3 hours, mom.” while finding it hard to hold his tears.

The school walls seemed empty compared to the walls of the daycare he used to attend back in his home-country. His daycare teacher used to adorn the classroom walls with the kids’ drawings. Alam liked to see his drawings on the wall. It made him feel at home. “Maybe the new teacher will do the same as soon as we make some drawings.” he thought.

In the first recess, while in the school yard, one of the bigger kids kicked Alam from behind. Emilia saw that. She approached Alam, took his hand and said, “Violence is not allowed here. You can let the teacher know about it.”

“Would you want to meet my best friend, Mr Froggy?” Alam asked. “He’s wise, let’s hear from him, what to do when someone hits you out of a blue?”

What would Mr. Froggy advice?

 

 

 

The Awakening of Meaning

The fundamental drive in life is the pursuit of meaning, writes Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. Through a combination of external and internal circumstances, meaning will come to the surface of conscious awareness.

Through a grace of God or lucky coincidence, two people intersect. Their souls get swiftly entangled and magnetised. A vibrant energy shakes up their inner lives with the fullness of being. They now see that meaning is life. The meaning of exploring oneself through perceptions, senses, intuitions, interests, play and acts of courage.  

 

The Beauty of Being Human

Each human interaction has a flavour
Some flavours are the perfect match for the heart,
enriching it.
The rest are opening the mind to other realities.
We meet a new person.
We feel what she might feel in the moment.
We start talking, we get a glimpse into her experiences.
Beyond feelings and perspectives,
We feel an energy that is specific to that person.
I don’t know how a psychologist would call this energy.
I call it the transcendent soul.

Why Entrepreneurial Parents Need Frequent Breaks from Their Work

In Helsinki, Summer days are numbered. I can’t help it but sharing some of the insights I collected during the Summer holidays. This reading is mostly useful for parents of preschoolers who want to dedicate time to their kids and at the same time, have a passion and commitment to their work.  

Introduction

When the Summer vacation started, I felt anxious and overwhelmed. I was obsessed with all the ideas about how to move on forward with my projects. For each project, plenty of research to do, social media presence, etc. Countless reasons and scenarios of why and how to continue the entrepreneurial work.

Meanwhile, my kids had started their vacation. Husband and grandparents busy. To whom could I shift the responsibility of taking care of them, throughout July?  

We packed and travelled to my hometown where we spent the entire month of July. After the first week of tormenting and conflicting feelings between the identity of the work-self and that of the mother-self, I made up my mind:

  • I’ll focus my attention on my kids for four weeks.  
  • I’ll not touch my laptop.

The vacation broken down in weeks

In the first week, I kept staring at my laptop. “Should I open it? Maybe it is a bad idea to focus on my kids entirely.” At some point, I made a compromise with myself. “Fine. I’ll open the laptop to read articles for pure pleasure and personal interest. Nothing related to the professional pursuits.”  

By the end of the second week, play ideas were popping into my head. Occasionally, I would feel the fear of missing out on the latest news and ideas conjured up by peers who were still working hard and long days.

By the end of the third week, I could observe the worlds of family members and close friends. Learning to be compassionate with their thoughts and emotions. Offering emotional support.

Now and then, the fear about the uncertainty of my entrepreneurial work would bother me like the noise of a mosquito in the silence of the bedroom, at night. The fear would distract me from what was going on around.  

By the end of the fourth week, I was relaxed! I stopped feeling guilty for admiring the nature, in my parents’ garden, many times a day.

What I found out

  • Switching off the work related thoughts can’t be done completely but it’s worth to try.
  • Your kids will be happy to see you present, both physically and emotionally.
  • At the end of the four weeks vacation, I laughed at myself and at the work ideas I had in the beginning of the month.
  • The higher quality work-ideas need time to breathe and work themselves out in the subconscious mind.
  • The more you get fixated with an idea and push it towards implementation when you are highly anxious, the more likely you’ll get to a poor outcome.
  • When you have conflicting personal and professional values, just take a break. You’ll understand better what’s important to you and how to act accordingly, in a given circumstance.     

Conclusions

When you hear yourself thinking, “I can’t afford to take a vacation now.”, that is the moment to look for a travel companion, pack up and leave town. Maybe you don’t need to go away for one month, the way I did. One weekend might be good enough, as long as you turn the attention towards the people around you and put on hold your desires and ideas.  

 

The alternative to feeling like a failure

As a child, I used to look up to my parents and other adult relatives because they seemed to have figured out who they are and how they wanted to live.

Now when I am an adult, I realise we, adults don’t really know what we are doing. Moreover, we feel like a failure because we should be knowing what we are doing.

Harsh criticism. Tit for tat attitudes. Peer expectations. Social pressure. These are things that disturb the mind.

And then, we can do one simple thing well – we can breathe.

Breathe now

Breathe in life

Breathe out gratitude

Observe the breath

Get curious about the new possibilities to deeper awareness.   

 

 

How to tame the negative-self talk

Self-compassion is the ability to be kind with the stream of negative thoughts and emotions that we experience. Most of us have thoughts like, “I’m not good enough.”, “I am a failure.”, “I am a bad person”, which lead to feeling tensed, irritated, defensive and stressed.

If you are like me, you may want to be grounded in a relaxed and joyful state of being. But how can we make the transition from a “stressed most of the time” state to a “relaxed and enthusiastic” state? Self-compassion can create the bridge between these two states.

How could self-compassion become a habit of the mind? 

I have practiced short self-compassion meditations on and off, for 2 years now. For me, being self-compassionate is about allowing myself to feel bad when things seem to fall apart. How do I do that?

1. By accepting that my ego wants me to survive and succeed. As a result, it doesn’t like it when there is some evidence pointing in the direction of failure.
2. By reminding myself that my ego is like a little child that needs patience until the day when it grows old enough to understand that the way it perceives the experiences does not reflect the ultimate truth.

Take this example: you are working on a project you care about. At one point, your boss or a colleague gives you negative feedback about your work. Self-compassion comes in to soothe the “I feel like a failure” thinking. By paying close attention to how the negative thoughts are taking form in your mind, you can learn to reformulate them so that you create a shift from negative thinking to constructive thinking.

Instead of thinking, “I feel like a failure now.”, you can overwrite that thought with “Now I can see the work I have done from my boss’s perspective.” This is the tipping point when we can take some distance from the bad feelings, from taking personally the perceived critique to “There are different opinions on my work.”

Everyone has an ego who wants them to succeed and an unique way of perceiving. Let’s be compassionate with all the suffering that results when 2 or more perceptions seem to collide.

 

 

 

Thoughts on the Meaning of Being Together

One month after father’s physical death, I had a strong impulse to write down some thoughts on what it means to be together. The words are failing me, but I still wanted to give myself a chance to express how I feel about the continuation of strong bonds beyond physical death.

Last December, I was in the office of one of father’s oncologists. I wanted to hear about advanced cancer treatments. At one point, the doctor stopped for few seconds, looked at me sternly and said, “You need to cut the ropes”.

Despite the sting in the heart, I understood the doctor meant well. In her world, cutting the ropes was the best thing for me to do.

But in my world, how could I conceive of cutting the ropes? How could I stop trying to help the man with whom I’ve had a strong bond ever since I’ve known myself. Metastasised colon cancer does not give much room for hope for survival. But I wanted to hope we can find a treatment to extend my father’s life.

Cutting the ropes was not something I was ready to do.

A few weeks later, my father’s illness advanced. I took a break from everything I do in order to be by his side. In one of his lasts days, I whispered in his ear, “We are together. I am with you.”

Ever since, the words, “We are together”, have been on my mind. It’s been four weeks since my father passed away. Would there be another way of being together?

I am now stepping in the territory of metaphysical assumptions about bonds between people who are living and people who pass away.

So, here I go. When you love someone so much, it’s not possible that the love stops when the other person passes away or when you yourself stop existing from the physical world.

Father and I can’t communicate the way we have been used, in this physical reality. We can’t talk on the phone, every day. We can’t have dinner at the same table, in my childhood home. We can’t spend holidays together, the way we used to. And yet, somewhere at another dimension of reality, the pure love must continue and connect us.

Cutting the ropes is not what I want. Instead, I choose to have a better understanding on how our connection can live on. In the last four weeks, I’ve had more dreams about father than ever before. Most of those dreams seem so real.

Maybe dreams hold the key to understanding that being together doesn’t mean, exclusively, two persons in the same physical space. Maybe there is some other unconscious part of ourselves that travels at night and experiences, in a similar way the conscious self experiences when we are awake.

Most certainly, father will live in my memories and the memories of those who love him. Other than that, could meditation and imagination nurture the love between father and myself? In my imagination, I want to believe that a part of myself keeps company to him in whatever reality he is now living.

Physical death can’t be the end.

 

What I’ve learned from living in Finland about adapting to the local culture

Allow yourself to be changed by a new culture. Work with yourself even in the most vulnerable moments. The most beneficial change happens when you find a way to combine the old with the new.  

According to UN, there are about 244 billion people – 3.3% of the global population – who live in another country than the country where they were born. Some of these global trotters move in search of better economic and social opportunities. Others are forced to live their native places to save their lives.

I moved to another country for the sake of the relationship I was in. Soon after that, the professional life became the reason for living in Finland. Years passed and now, the main reason for being here is my bicultural family.

It’s been an emotionally sinuous journey that shook me up to my core. The reward for the bumps on the road are the lessons, which make me say wholeheartedly that I love my life.

Learn to be flexible

Human beings are made out of habits. We absorb behaviours from the people around us. Each culture has preferred habits. What are the preferred habits of the people in the local culture? Which ones can you see yourself adapting to? Which ones can you influence? Which are the ones you can’t influence but you can accept?

Flexibility is a valuable skill if we want to adapt, love and contribute with something greater than us to the local society.

Start something new

Keep your heart open to new friendships. Keep your mind open to new education. Indulge yourself in new hobbies, etc. Gradually, we build new habits around the activities and people we meet.

There is untapped potential in each one of us, i.e., interests, passions, talents. All we need is a supporting environment. Back in the home country, we may have missed some opportunities that could make us understand how far we can go. Maybe in your home country, you didn’t have snow and have never had the chance to try out your inclination for cross-country skiing. Give it a try in the long days of Winter in Finland. You may like it. If you don’t, what other opportunities would you like to try?

Be open to new experiences. You may not like it when you feel stretched, you may feel tempted to quit. If you persevere, you may be rewarded with a sense of being truly alive. If you persevere and fail, look for a new experience.

Avoid cultural stereotyping

Feeling irritated with the behaviour of the locals is a normal stage of cultural shock. It can be healthy to let some steam off with some friends who are emotionally close to you. Yet, try not to make too big of a deal out of the negative interactions with the locals. In the end, everyone is entitled to an opinion and acts to the best of their judgement. Instead, focus on developing relationships with the locals and other intercultural people who respect and appreciate you.

Stay grounded

Embrace the core home cultural values that are beneficial to you. Revisit sweet memories. The people back in your country of origin who love you and guided you are your safe haven whenever you may feel confused about your living abroad.

Exert Kindness Across Borders

Think good thoughts, for the greater good of humankind. Seek for the good in others. We all feel the need to belong to a place and to someone. Above all, we all belong the the human race.

When you can’t think good thoughts, imagine how it is to be the other one.

I’d love to hear how the living abroad has changed you.

 

How and Why to Develop Your Everyday Creativity

A recent study shows that engaging in something creative, on a weekly basis improves our general well-being, by experiencing increased positive emotions. Moreover, this study encourages everyone, no matter the personality types, to tap into their creative energy and find ways to express your creative self.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what creativity is and what it actually means to experience life more creatively.

What is creativity?

 

We grow up with favourite figures of writers, musicians, painters, etc that enrich our emotional life. Who hasn’t heard of Dostoyevsky, Queen and Picasso? To normal people, great minds set an unreachable standard of what it means to be creative and gifted. Ever since childhood, my understanding of creativity has been that of a personality trait with which only genius people are blessed with. I only dreamed of writing fiction but didn’t dare to try it out because I knew I was not one of those blessed with the talent of creative writing.

It wasn’t until one fortunate event about 10 years ago, when I got an invitation to join an amateur theatre group and I hesitantly accepted. I started experimenting with playscript writing. Impassioned by developing the stories, my life got a whole new meaning. Ideas were blossoming in my mind like the Spring flowers under the first warm days of sun. Who was this person originating those ideas?

I became more observant of my inner and external life. As a result, I was coming up with new ideas to incorporate into the scripts. Overall, I experienced more joy, although I was very much aware that my scripts would not be brought to life on the stage of the Finnish National Theatre or Svenska Teatern. I was happy not taking myself seriously but at the same time, diligently challenging my writing potential.

Like me, there are others longing after expressing themselves in a creative way but don’t dare to because they believe, without further investigations, that creativity is a personality trait of geniuses.

Geniuses make the world a more beautiful and comfortable place with new books, new songs and new inventions. To this kind of creativity, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as the big C creativity. The big C creativity requires originality, usefulness and a surprising element.  

We can’t deny that some people are more creative than others. The less creative ones enjoy the outcome of the work done by the big C creativity individuals. The more creative people are skilled at both solving and finding problems. Most likely, you have bought, at least once, some goods from Amazon, the online store. Behind the successful business story of Amazon, there is one of the more creative minds, with expertise in the field of computers.

Computer engineer, Jeff Bezos, had been observing for a while how the internet is used as an insider’s tool in the USA government and the academic circles, when he had the vision to extend the use of this tool to ordinary people. Jeff came up with another way for people to buy goods. I don’t know about you, but I buy most of my books from Amazon.

The fact that some people are more creative than others in terms of the big C creativity, this does not mean that ordinary people cannot be creative. Neuroscience research suggests that the normal brains have a creative functioning that can be activated and amplified with conscious effort and a little practice.

We are all wired to create in the realm of our personal and work lives. We can all bring in some originality, usefulness and surprising element in the way we dress, we work, we behave and we manage ourselves, day in, day out. This is our small c creativity, which may not result in national and international fame, but can help us feel we live a full life and can have a positive message for the others around us.

 

Why well-being and small c creativity?

 

Researchers from different fields analyze different dimensions of well-being: emotional, physical, social, economic, psychological, engaging activities and work, and life satisfaction.

The common aspect of all these dimensions of well-being is the presence of positive emotions, transformation of negative emotions, and fulfilment.

People who engage in small c creativity – like daydreaming, playing guitar in their free time, or findings ways to pleasantly surprise their close ones – report to have a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to others less engaged in everyday creative activities.

Small c creativity is about looking at your life circumstances and finding ways to express yourself. The basic human need is to be seen and to be heard. Being creative about how you allow yourself to be seen and heard is a fun and daring way to live.

 

What does it mean to make a habit out of creativity?


One of my dear friends is a good example of what it means to express yourself in a creative way. Journalist as a profession, he dedicated hours of his time to playing and singing in a band, to directing and acting in theatre plays. The music is his way to express his joys and yearnings. Theatre is his ways to connect with others.

Another example of creative living is an important person for me who has been a long-life entrepreneur. Now when he is at pension, instead of taking it easy, his mind continues to come up with visions about how to improve different aspects of the society.

Once you find your creative way of living, it is harder to let it go. But how can you start? Here are 3 things to consider when embarking on the creative self-realization.

 

Playful attitude

Have you happened to notice, what is your tendency when you get involved in a new project? Do you take yourself seriously to make everything perfect or do you have a more playful attitude of experimenting with ideas and feelings?

When we learn new skills and make habitual changes, the brain is working harder in order to hardwire these new skills and habits. Therefore, we need to put in more cognitive effort, which may be frustrating at times. But keeping a playful attitude of exploration can keep the motivation up.

Choose your interest

What is the area in your life where you want to be more creative? Is it your morning rituals, finding an engaging activity to boost your energy, your home design, the way you manage your emotions, your love relationship, or your relationship with your child, etc?

Whatever area you choose, find your problem and think how you want to feel when you solve the problem. Then start with the first small solution.

For example, you may want to find an engaging activity to make you experience more positive emotions but you think you are not passionate about anything in particular. Start thinking about few things you are interested in, choose one and try to get curious about what you can do about this interest. It can be playing an instrument, cooking, gardening, building a house, poetry, politics, etc.

Let’s say you choose gardening. It can be that you realize you want to subscribe to a gardening magazine. Or, if you are more of an extrovert, you may go to the flowers shop in your neighbourhood and start a small-talk with the seller about the season flowers.

 

Find the time and space for curiosity

When we start doing something new and we want to make it a habit, it’s preferable to choose a favourable time of the day and a place where it’s more likely we don’t get interrupted or distracted for the duration we are engaged in this new activity. This means that we may want to pay closer attention to what activities we do daily and make some changes to make room for the new activity.

Continuing with the previous example on developing curiosity for gardening, we may want to dedicate 30 minutes to reading more about it, every Sunday evening, when the house is quiet.

Don’t beat yourself if you fall asleep over the gardening magazine. If your curiosity is not awaken, move on to another field of interest. Explore until you feel the spark of curiosity. This is a good sign that you are in a spot where you have high chances of finding out how to express your creative self.

Music is the first love of my friend I was talking about earlier. This Summer, while driving around the picturesque roads of the French countryside, he got in touch with a stream of consciousness which aroused his interest to get back to his second love: writing. “I need to learn more about developing plots, though. ”, he mused.

The retired entrepreneur could enjoy sleeping late in the mornings. However, his visions, implementation ideas and the perceived obstacles make him continue with a disciplined lifestyle. He wakes up at 5 am to have brainstorming sessions on his own. He frequently goes to the gym and takes walks in the nature.

As for myself, I am exploring my creative potential, as a parent, by making up bedtime stories weekly.

Once you tap into your creative energy and find ways to express it in your life, you become one with your creative potential, you grow with it and you allow it guide you to the next chapter in the adventure of your life.