The Power of Symbols

If you take myth and folklore, and these things that speak in symbols, they can be interpreted in so many ways that although the actual image is clear enough, the interpretation is infinitely blurred, a sort of enormous rainbow of every possible colour you could imagine. -Diana Wynne Jones

Recently, I had the luxury of visiting the trifecta of the Balkan coastline: Tallinn, Helsinki, and Riga. Although all cities were quite amazing, there was this pull in Riga to know the culture on a deeper level. As I lingered onto the city’s streets and stores, I noticed a pattern of symbols popping up frequently on clothing, purses, notebooks, scarves, and wallets. I inquired a store teller about this, as I noticed the images were being sold as small wooden souvenirs.

 

She began to describe that these were symbols of their pagan Gods. It wasn’t until the 13th century that Christianity were forced on the Latvians. Despite this, the symbols remained rooted in the culture over time. At first I simply bought several symbols as gifts, and left the store. I quickly returned and stocked up buying 15 various symbols, but almost half of them were one particular style. Although the most popular one was “Austras koks” (power of all symbols), there was only one left. I chose to stock up on “Ugunskrusts” because it was described as the most ancient of all symbols and was equated with strength. It looked celtic and I thought this would be a perfect gift for others. The store teller Janna told me I could use the symbols as either a display on my xmas tree, in a car, office, home. It was versatile, cheap, and portable for gifts.


“Is there a book on this?” I asked Janna. “Just google it,” she encouraged me. I would find loads of resources. And therefore that evening, in my hotel room, I did. I began finding page after page of the history behind these symbols, numerous individuals gracing themselves with tattoos of these images, and other souvenir ideas I could purchase. But then I stumbled on a fact that I could not release from my head.


The Ugunskrusts which I purchased 7 of were previously worn by the Latvian military, as it signified strength. Germany was inspired by this, and therefore embraced it. It became known to the world as a “swastika”. Of course! I knew how familiar this looked. Why didn’t the store clerk tell me?


I informed my husband, and was horrified I did this. He laughed, and I was curious if I could exchange these souvenirs the next day. He reminded me that it wasn’t America, I would be stuck with 7 swastikas. The next morning, I woke up, and ensured I entered the store when it opened at 1000 am. Luckily Janna was there and recalled our interaction the day previously. I graciously inquired if I could exchange the 7 symbols for other ones. She quickly approved. I should have stopped my mouth there. But my babbling mouth continued.

“I googled it like you told me to, and it said that these were swastikas.” 

She retorted,”they are not swastikas.”

Ugg, I realized I was offending her. This was a Seinfeld episode living itself out in real time. I couldn’t stop it. 
 “I know they were originally gods here years ago, then taken from the Latvian military by the Nazis. But my family and friends may see it as swastikas. And we’re ethnic.”
She understood and was cordial. I left, but kept ruminating on how I may have offended Janna. I returned to the store, apologized again, and took a photo with her. I knew this would be a funny story. 
Having this experience, reminds me of the essence of why we travel. We uncover history of spiritual roots of a country, the power of symbols and how it can be transformed and rewritten, and the authentic vulnerable interactions we are able to have with strangers, even with store clerks who sell us souvenirs. 

 

Thanks Janna.

 

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Somewhere over the rainbow 

How beautiful for people to share gratitude in song! Can life be a musical ? 

I have always connected to this song whether it was from the original wizard of oz or hawaii’s brother iz. The song can be sung with a sense of loneliness, reflection, hope, bliss, and unity (as in this video).

We tend to confine our singing abilities to sacred places… the shower, church, concerts, sports games, karaoke and/or piano bars. But what about everywhere else in between?

On public transportation , regardless how crowded the train is, we build up invisible walls for people to not enter. We zone into a book we are reading , blast our headphones for a song or podcast , or simply daydream to a place anywhere than here. But there are moments for connection available . Sometimes the most beautiful ones I have seen on social media of strangers connecting are on subway /metro rides.

What is over the rainbow for you? How can you make a stranger smile today ? 

Silence is key

“Guard well your thoughts when alone and your words when accompanied.” ― Roy T. Bennett


Today marks the start of a potential transformation. Six days and five nights of pure silence at a retreat. When I share this with people, many think I’m mad (not American angry, but British crazy). Why would I pay a center for silence? No speaking, technology, no cell phone alarm clocks, no reading tangible books, writing. In addition, I am sure the meals we will be fed are vegetarian, there’s no sex, smoking, or alcohol. Of all these different factors, I believe a majority of them will not be an issue. In my heart, the only one that will is no writing.

I can withstand silence, no wifi, and even the lack of reading. But I long to write. I can be alone with my thoughts, but I recognize there is an importance of outputting them on paper. I like to see what I’m thinking externally. There are the lists I create of personal, travel, and life goals. There are the lists of reflections, such as countries I’ve been to, books I’ve read for the year, dreams, or boys I’ve kissed (although I am married, I never want to forget).
But perhaps the point is to get away from this potential to plan or list out my life. The goal is to just be present. I believe I do this already. I always talk about mindfulness, but do I really do it? 
Each month this year, I do something I fear. This is one for this month…silence.

Someone said yesterday perhaps I will analyze myself, since I am a psychologist. I responded with, “this is all I will do.” This is all I already do, and it will be heightened exponentially.

What am I fearful of?

I am afraid of perhaps not liking who I am? Questioning my inherent good versus evil thoughts that arise. I am fearful that I may sink into a sense of self hate about my physical attire, body weight, lack of exercise, lack of motivation. I will question everything. And just sit with the answers, not being able to process with anyone including myself.
On the other side, I could become overwhelmed with a sense of joy for life and gratitude. I may truly appreciate numerous things that were not part of my life for days: music, loved ones, connection, writing, speaking. I am already cautious of what the first words will be that will leave my mouth. There may be this realization how valuable each word we speak is. I may speak less, or perhaps choose my words with deeper caution, knowing the impact they may have. 


As this blog is about spreading kindness, perhaps today we can reflect on how our words (written and verbal) impact and land on each other and ourselves.

“Because even the smallest of words can be the ones to hurt you, or save you.” 

― Natsuki Takaya

Wanderlust doesn’t die

I would have thought that after travelling to 41 countries and living overseas for 4 years would kill off my wanderlust spirit, but it has done the opposite. It’s only gotten stronger. I have become more determined to see as much of the world as I can.

This is an issue in that my husband only wants to visit three European countries repeatedly: Italy , France , and Spain. It’s for the sake of food, he is a highly desirable fine dining chef and these are three of my favourite countries.  But there’s so much more out there. And this is why I travel solo.


These past 5 days I took a brief holiday to Riga, Tallinn, and Helsinki . I never once dreamed going to these three spots in the world. This makes the trip even more valuable. I am superceeding the travel goals I have set for myself long ago.  Each country I visit, I try to not just look how things are different (architecture, people, clothing, language, customs), but I also try to envision what I can compare it to. What are the influences from the world I know so far? For example in Tallinn, yes there is the German influence of the town square but the newer renovations give off a Copenhagen /Los Angeles vibe.


I admit the older I get and the more I travel , the less research I do. I learn at the bare minimum “thank you.” I may watch some travel shows at home (thanks Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain). And it isn’t until I am at the airport or the hotels does the true research start.

Perhaps I should be scared when visiting a new place , but somehow I feel confident and comfortable. Maybe this is a false sense of security, but oddly I feel the world is my home.​

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I did the 23&me DNA test recently, and what I discovered is that I am almost every ethnicity . The entire map of the world was highlighted except Russia and Greenland. 

So perhaps when I visit all these countries, I just am visiting my people. I did learn I am 5% Balkan. Who knew? There’s comfort everywhere I go that these are my people. What a novel concept! 

With wanting to see as much of the world I can, I may not just be desiring to learn about what else is out there , but what lays inside .

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are.”-Carl Jung