The Finnish Line, part 1

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The two weeks of travel and competition are drawing to a close; tomorrow I leave Finland and head back to Canada to a normal life, or at least to a more routine one. Just now I’m sitting on a ferry on my day to Tallinn, Estonia for the day and I have a couple of hours in which to reflect on what I’ve learned and how the journey differed from my expectations.

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Finland was more beautiful than I anticipated and the people were warm and quite friendly one the surface was broken. For someone who loves the outdoors, this place would be a paradise and to someone in search of a life that is harmonious and balanced, the Finns have much to teach. Everyone is calmer here. People work hard, are polite, do their part and endeavour to get along. Drivers are not aggressive and obey the speed limits. People seem to plan to be on time (punctuality is important here) and therefore are not in a panicked rush to get anywhere. Most folks are helpful and patient.

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There is far less pushing and shoving. In fact, the worst experience I had in terms of crowds was at the Church in the Rock in Helsinki, which I left immediately upon opening as a herd of Russians and Americans swept me up and jostled me around noisily before bashing me into a glass wall in their hustle to get into the church. It was so discordant with my experience of the rest of Finland that I simply turned and walked out, not wanting to be a part of that mêlée.

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Travel brings with it a suspended state of reality and almost an alternate universe. Periodically I found myself looking back at my life in Newfoundland through a window, wondering how it would play out, worrying about the transition I have ahead of me upon my return, and each time firmly closed it, preferring to live in the here and now as much as possible rather than borrowing from either the future or past. Now as I look ahead to the trip home, I’m reflecting on what I can take back with me and how to integrate it and how it can help me through the next stage of my life.

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I think I will borrow the Finnish calmness. I like the senses of order and certainty that come from not panicking, but simply creating a Plan and stepping forward into that plan without carry unwarranted stress or borrowing worry.

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There is also a very good sense of how to unwind in this culture. An evening spent with friends in the hot tub and sauna, talking and laughing and simply enjoying each others’ company has mental and physical health benefits that we in North America have let slip out of our grasp to a great extent. While every day can’t be like a day on vacation, every week really ought to carry some sort of social tonic for the soul. These mental oases with good friends connect us to each other in ways that make us all stronger. As Spider Robinson so aptly put it, “Shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased.”

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I’d also forgotten what regular sauna relaxation can do for the body; it’s meditative, therapeutic, and something I need to spend more time using to physically recover from training and reduce stress levels.

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I want to live a life where health is an assumed base state, not something I’m struggling to find. In Finland, good food is not even a question, it’s a default. The meat and fish are of higher quality. Fresh vegetables are copious and readily available; produce and meat aren’t cheap, but people eat them regardless and when you walk around, there are far fewer people carrying extra bodyfat.

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There are bicycles everywhere and when I checked with the tourist bureau about a sight I wished to see, the attitude expressed was, “It’s only a 25 minute walk and parking is a nuisance. Why on earth would you take your car?” It’s healthier here because there’s an underlying assumption that the time that a healthy life takes is simply what is done. I want to live that sort of a life and to surround myself with people doing the same. I’d like to drag the standard of living in Newfoundland up by example and find a group of friends who have similar goals and attitudes. I want to consistently be the sort of person who prefers to walk fifteen minutes over paying for parking, or who looks at $20 for a night at a loud and junk-food-laden movie theatre versus that same amount spent with friends at a sauna or pool and makes the healthier choice.

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