“So what do you think of Finland so far?”
“I like it. It’s really peaceful. Everything’s quiet and reserved,” I said and took another bite of my boiled potatoes.
“Just like you!”
It was a gradient of the truth. The months leading up to my trip, I was not so quiet and reserved. I had been a provocateur trying new things and testing new methodologies for my life, and it was a great challenge to articulate my own process whenever anyone asked what I was up to. Building the boat as you row it can look an awful lot like drowning. But I know how to swim — stay calm and reserved, setting aside your
oxygen inspiration for a specific purpose. When you can balance the thought-provoking with the freedom of disturbance, the things you build become buoyant. Ideas begin to float.
Finland left me breathless the moment I arrived. My oxygen had been set aside somewhere I couldn’t find, for I couldn’t even see the exhale in front of my face, as you can in any cold weather. It was as if I wasn’t breathing, and was instead sustained by something magically more pure. I had become cold-blooded, with my insides matching the temperature of the air around me. I had assimilated into the environment, cloaked in a calming freshness that validated more than it inspired. It was exactly how I imagined it. Yeah, this is how it should be, I thought. Everything here makes sense.
I had returned to the surface of things: accepting things as they are, how they existed to be. Because of this, I wasn’t impressed by Helsinki. There was nothing that moved me. There was nothing that stirred my spirit. Even prior to arriving, I wasn’t giddy with excitement on the plane, and I didn’t turn into a child once I stepped off. The anticipation of being in a foreign land for the first time was diminished by its stark familiarity, brought on by occasions of deja vu at the corner for some hieroglyphic street name with yellow buildings and wonderful architecture. I remained an adult every time I opened my eyes, without wonder and with bags under them. It was the absence of stress that I appreciated the most, a result of Finland being able to speak for itself — its food, design, architecture, fashion, education — it just worked. Especially the heated bathroom floors and waterfall showers. Everything had a specific purpose, and it was designed so well that there was no need to study its existence, only to accept its harmony. It was poetry, really; the rhythm of stress and absence. Here I was, a stressor, in a city completely vacant of any emphasis. A beat by design.
The vodka was the only thing heart pounding about the city. Everything else emitted a low vibration – the cool blue sky, the crisp air, refreshing spring water, the dim city lights strung high above the streets, the snow falling peacefully. I had returned to my default state of being quiet and reserved. I looked like my usual self, only now camouflaged in the persona of Helsinki, where everything need not be explained. I felt at home here in my disappearance. There was no need to ask questions or provoke conversations. I wasn’t even interested in healthy conflict, open debate and worthwhile resolution. It was a complete surrender of my current affairs.
But the absence of my provocateur tendencies created a void that no one else filled. Imagine, the surprise and disappointment of being neither questioned nor provoked in return. Suddenly, I had become disengaged in a beautiful city. But it wasn’t Helsinki, it was the realization that I had lost my voice when I surrendered my curiosity for how things worked; finally satisfied for the way they did. When you’re in love, you don’t ask any questions. It’s all so great.
And like all great lovers that mirror your heart’s content, Finland revealed something peculiar in my reflection. It showed up in the most unlikely of places, a WOPI test that measures the psychology of motivation, thinking and attitudes. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being Much Self-Reflection and 10 being Less Self-Reflection, I scored an 8 — indicating that I hardly reflect at all. This seems reasonable: I had given up my main method of self-reflection three months ago when I became a potter with clay feet and stopped writing. I had been struggling to communicate my story as I was living it and opted for improv instead. The facilitator of our WOPI discussion said that self-reflection is our ability to contemplation our sins, a competency that directly impacts our decision-making. Let’s just say I didn’t entirely believe this word association. I don’t write to make peace with my sins. But when phrased a different way, it’s hard to dispute:
It is a sin if you don’t share your story, be it on paper or in person.
It is quite odd to notice the absence of your own presence. When you don’t ask questions, when you aren’t curious, you aren’t engaged. It’s near impossible to connect with people. My trip to Finland was a game-changer. It’s true, I fell in love with the world around me. It was a gift so perfect in design and purpose, one that marries the form and function of a hand-crafted experience. In my absence from everything else, Finland asked the only thing that ever really matters:
Won’t you share your story?