There are three reasons I went to Finland for the first time in my life this year.
One was because I had the intuition that my mother, now in her 80’s, needed to go to the land of her first language and that this would not only be healing for her, it would allow me to be introduced to my own (unknown) heritage by the woman who had given it to me.
Secondly, the powerful dream/journey I had after this intuition told me most directly that I needed to go to the land of my ancestors and search out the ancient, healing roots of ‘my people’. I had no conception of having a ‘people’, or even what that really meant and the dream showed me there was much healing available to me and my family if I took flight for no other reason than an intuition and a dream.
Finding the healing traditions of a land that has quickly forgotten its ancient roots would have been like finding a needle in a haystack if Who or Whatever had sent me the dream hadn’t orchestrated the events like a maestro of the biggest symphony. I never could have pulled it off myself, and had no idea that the connections would roll out like a red carpet when, in reality, prior to booking the flight we had no friends in Finland. The only contact we had was an 84-year old cousin of my mothers. They had sent Christmas cards once a year to each other for 60 years, and this year, no card had arrived, leaving us to wonder if she was still alive.
In the end, not only was she alive, we met relatives we never knew we had. We learned about my grandfather the ‘healer’ – where our gifts of the Body come from. I saw pictures of my great grandmother whose name or face I never knew. We have Family, and that was only the beginning of who ‘our people’ are.
We stayed in an art museum in a remarkable part of Helsinki via new friends, such as Virpi and Paavo, who showed up before we left Toronto. We weren’t asking for connections, they just kept being gracefully showered down upon us.
We became very close with the Centre for Finno-Ugric Shamanism, spearheaded and lovingly tended by Susanna Aarnio where we joined in a shamanic drum making workshop. This opportunity also arrived before we even booked our flight and it’s not easy to find centres of this caliber in Finland – in fact this is the only one, so we were very ‘lucky’ to know about it before we even left Canada.
- Susanna Aarnio; Founder of the Centre for Finno-Ugric Shamanism
We were offered a home there and with Susanna’s apprentice, now a dear friend – Dalva Lamminmaki, and her wonderfully open hearted partner Laura Tolonen.
We were gifted a remarkable session of Sauna traditions and healing by the talented Maaria Alen. There’s a big blog coming up on that soon…
In short, we got the high-speed tour of Finnish healing traditions, good cheer, and serious endeavours mixed with delightful mirth.
Thirdly, and very personally, I went to Finland because I wanted to understand this intense seriousness, seeming lack of humour and loss of joy and gratitude that I have witnessed in (some of) the family I know in Canada. The Finns are known for their seriousness, and the relationship with my mother over the years has been frustrated with my demand that she react to things differently. I wanted to understand the culture, and therefore myself, that much more.
This is a blog on healing, and not just my healing. I wish to share insights through me but not ‘of me’ as an indulgence. The wounded nature of a people is a reflection of us all, and the Finns have much in common with Native Americans in their shamanic traditions, high rate of alcoholism and suicide, as well as the ceaseless slaughter of their heritage along with their flesh and bones. We are all one people, and the sadness the Finns carry – this melancholy they paint and write and quietly live by – is but one mirror of our own stoic stories.
I will start with the Wounded Angel.
The Wounded Angel is a painting by Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg. It is one of the most recognizable of Simberg’s works, and was voted Finland’s “national painting” in a vote held by the Ateneum art museum in 2006.
Let me repeat that; This is Finland’s National and most loved painting.
Beautiful, yes. Intense, absolutely. Poetic, to be sure and it sums up, for me, the exact emotions I feel that underlie many of the things I went to Finland to understand.
Some first lines of the poem ‘The Wounded Angel’, inspired by the painting and penned by British poet Rg Gregory read:
‘Those who bear the wounded angel
are they honoured or destroyed?
Far beyond their comprehension
are the warfares of the void”
The warfares of the void. Before I even had the inkling to go to Finland I was speaking with a friend who, like me, is half Finnish. She had been to Finland before, whereas I had not, and we were discussing the sadness that is almost palpable in the Finnish spirit, that they refer to as melancholy. It feels poetic to them. They take pride in it and I am just beginning to understand it a bit more.
“It seems to me”, I reflected, “that when I feel into the bodies and souls of the Finns as a people, it seems that something horrible happened to them. Some warfare deep in the past they may have forgotten, something that feels stolen so completely from them that it cuts to the core and has lived throughout many generations. It feels like it may not even be remembered, it just lives inside of them like its own entity.”
Maybe it is the 1000 years of slaughter I later learned they endured at the hands of both the Russians and the Swedes. Maybe it was the decimation of their shamanic heritage where healers were beaten, rocks and ropes tied around their ankles to be thrown to an icy death into holes cut into the winter lakes, century after century. Their drums were rounded up and burned in large bonfires. Only around 70 of this heritage of shamanic drums were retained and put into a museum years later, one that then burned to the ground, abetting the destruction of the soul of a people and their ways.
It is forgotten now, in daily life, but not the recent ownership of their land by the Russians in an area known as Karelia, in 1940. This is the most current memory that leave the Finns still bereft that their land and heritage has been taken from them.
The wounded angel, with its bloodied wing, or pictures such as this one, also in the National Museum, sum up the essence of sadness I am talking about.
And yet, there is also this….
Don’t get me wrong, especially if you are one of my family or new Finnish friends! The Finns are not all down in the mouth at all. In fact, once you get to know them they are incredibly fun, gracious, and get on with things due to an indomitable spirit that is so strong it has its own name. This ability to never give up to the point of world record status – kind of a cross between determination, balls, character and strength – is known as ‘Sisu’, and I’m proud to have that in my blood, and present in my life.
They are also some of the most honest people I have ever met, which explains to me why I hold honesty as one of the most prevalent requirements in my life and relationships of all kinds. Their free media, for instance, is paid for by the populace at the request of the government who make this a taxed requirement!! What?!
It turns out that the government want the media to keep the truth out there, and Laura, our hostess and journalist extraordinaire explained it to me this way; If the media do not keep tabs on the government and the government do not keep tabs on the media, how is the populace supposed to know what’s really going on?
‘Well exactly’, I said, ‘and why would your government want the populace to understand what’s going on’? This seemed a complete 180 from what was going on in the world I know in America.
“Because’, Laura explained, “The government need to know that when they have hard decisions to make, the public is aware of what’s been going on so they have the backing of the majority even when things are bad’.
Wow. Now that’s a concept!
Moreover, when a Finn trusts you it is solid. They will do anything for you. If you break that trust, you will likely never be forgiven, for hell hath no fury like a Finn’s refusal to speak to you if you piss them off.
They are quiet and use few words. ‘Please’ is not a word in Finnish, but it assumed by the ending of a word, usually at the beginning of a sentence. This messed me up trying to pull a request out of my mouth that felt like it was hanging in the air at the end, waiting for something nice to add.
Their language is brief and to the point, kind of like ‘Hammer in closet’, or ‘Excuse me, may I just disturb you for a moment”? being translated as “Hei’, pronounced ‘Hey’.
There is a story that one of Finland’s Presidents was sitting next to an American journalist who said, “I have taken on a bet that I can encourage you to say more than a few words’. After a long silence he looked at her and said ‘You lose’.
There is also the story, or really, the understanding, that they are the People of the Deer. They have lived with and survived by the Reindeer. They are forest and lake dwellers who live in Silence and they trust Nature more than any other thing on the planet, even if She has taken her toll. There is a respect for the natural cycles of life that is still heard in the vast expanse of open space this country affords.
Here I will encourage you to take a beautiful two minute journey into the mind of the Deer People:
They have a million clear and healthy lakes and yet use only the water from deep in the ground for all the sinks, toilets and showers around the whole country. The water from the tap is the cleanest I have EVER tasted. Education is FREE. All of it. So is healthcare. This, just the tip of the iceberg of this wonderful country that has more trees and open land than I have ever seen in all my travels.
It is interesting to note that the first things I have learned in Finnish in my short time there were not numbers, they were herbs and trees. I don’t even know how that happened, but the breadth of my vocabulary is based in knowing how to say things like ‘It is a Birch forest’, something almost as ubiquitous as my need to know how to say ‘I would like a cup of tea with honey’.
I learned that most names in Finland are nature based. I announced this to my mother one day as my new discovery of how related the Finns are to the natural world around them, and she said, ‘Yes, just like our name, Jarvinen’’. I was surprised to learn that ‘Jarvi’ means River, and I bet I never would have known this, and many other things, if I hadn’t taken this trip with her.
This nature-name-revelation came sometime around the morning I walked into the kitchen finding my mother bent over a dictionary in laughter. She speaks fluent Finnish and sounds just like a Finn but her vocabulary is limited, having only spoken it for the first years of childhood and adolescence.
“What’s up”? I asked, ambling to the teapot in a kitchen that was as bright at 3 a.m as it was at high noon in this land of the 24 hour sun.
“I just looked up how to say ‘how does that suit you’, you know, if you want to ask if someone agrees with something, and the translation in Finnish is; ‘the suits me like a fist in the eye’”!
I’m not sure if this is an intentional part of the dry humour Finns are actually known for, amidst the seriousness, but I am still learning.
What inspired me about the Finnish world also sometimes made me sad. Like learning to ‘undo’ my more California-esqe compulsion to look at strangers and smile. A direct look in the eyes of someone you don’t know is an almost aggressive act, and I found this very hard to get used to. I was more than disappointed I had to wipe a welcome look off my face to strangers in my otherwise friendly, silent vernacular, and I struggled between fitting in and causing a scene born of misconstrued kindness. It was true that my initial attempts at smiling bore surprising results, some of which I defined as ‘Invasion of the BodySnatchers’ stares in return. I wish I had a picture of some of those….
A beautiful young woman with such defiance and mistrust in her passing face gave me the idea that the external world is distrustful until proven otherwise. I was actually heartbroken by the stare, and stopped to watch her disappear into the crowd.
I think I hit my ceiling on the day that I was alone in a supermarket when an older man whizzed around the corner and hit me with his shopping cart. I looked at him, shocked. He stared only at my leg where I and his shopping cart intersected, not moving, waiting for something to change. When I did not react right away, I suppose from surprise, he looked up at me with a frown and waited another moment for me to move. Without a word spoken, or a glance of kindness, he grunted and whizzed away into another isle of unsuspecting victims.
While this may seem rude to me, there are other things we do in the North American culture I was raised in that the Finns – rightfully – consider to be very rude. For instance, in North America we continually interrupt each other as if using the others sentences only to spark a new one of our own. We never let each other finish a thought. The Finns never do this and consider it extremely poor manners. They may be quiet, but they are very respectful. They do not jaywalk and think following the rules are actually not something to rebel against but to respect so that everyone is taken care of. And you can never be late with a Finn. They are always on time. They are always where they say they will be and they always offer you whatever they have. They do what they say they will do, and this, in itself, is reason for a global trophy – if one were offered – for an honest people who work hard to create a society that works for everyone. And it does seem to work. Finland has recently been polled as one of the best places to live on the planet.
I bring back with me many treasures from my time there. I try to be more on time. I take pride in my ability to work with such dedication to the crafts and skills offered to me in this life instead of worrying I am just obsessive compulsive. I take my reflective, sometimes brooding nature that requires solitude the thing that allows my art, one that is entitled to some space rather than a need for overt apologies to friends who do not understand my need for isolation.
I also never realised that I am usually carrying on two conversations in my head with many I know in my life. One is the conversation I’m having at hand, and the other is hearing their inner thoughts as if one can never be sure what the other thinks. I didn’t notice this until I realized that in Finland I never heard quiet whispers beneath their thoughts. They think about what is in front of them and they deal with what is at hand. If they have something to say, they say it, and if they don’t, they’re not really keeping you guessing. That made me feel very, very comfortable.
I bring back with me the connection with trees and lakes and the calmness of the land that is imbued in my heart already, from birth. I can see why so many Finns live in Northern Ontario where I grew up as the same kind of peace is found in the same trees and waters.
I learned that my grandfather was one of seven children. That he was not only a healer who gave massages and offered healing in the sauna for clients, but that he was also a herbalist. I learned that he had one brother who looked so much like my handsome grandfather I thought they were twins. This is a picture of that Uncle I never met. His name, I learned, was Nestori, and this picture would have been one of the last taken before his early death.
My grandfather watched this brother die at the age of 18 by repeated rifle butts crushing his skull inflicted by Russian soldiers. This had something to do with a scar on my grandfathers left shoulder he carried all his life, a close miss to the heart, and that’s all I will ever know about how that happened.
I was taught that saying “I love you’ over and over is not a compliment, it betrays a lack of trust as if one continually needs assurance of the way things are. If a Finn tells you they love you once, it really means forever, and there is no need to reinforce it, unless you break the bond yourself.
They show it in their actions while they keep words to themselves. They offer you their heart even if they show a neutral face. They avoid embarrassing displays of affection that only the needy require. They offer their reflections in their acts, their art, and their poetry, seeing the beautiful and the simple to be one and the same. And when they have had enough of the world, they retreat to the forest, where all they need to know is found in its Silences, where all wounds are healed.
“Mi munassa ruskieta, ( All that is brown in the egg)
se päiväkse paistamaha (shall shine as the sun)
Mi munassa valkijeta ( All that is white in the egg)
se kuukse kumottamaha ( shall glow as the moon)
Murskaha muna muruikse (Crush the egg into crumbs)
taivosella tähtysikse.” ( to shine as stars in the sky)