In December, I spent almost two weeks staying in Finland in my best attempts to experience it like a local. If you travel as much as I do and you are giant homebody on the inside like me, you really value unpacking your suitcase for weeks and tossing your crap absolutely everywhere. I like to think of myself as almost a turtle traveler – I like to take it as slow and mellow as possible. What’s the rush? You’ll miss the best bits.
Winter in Finland consists mainly of silence, darkness and stillness, making it the ideal environment for inner journeys. Days are short and the sun stays low on the horizon. Shades of white, black and grey dominate the monotone landscapes, long blue moments preceding the dark.
One of the most beautiful places I visited was the Töölönlahti Bay in Finland. Footpaths meander through trees along the waterside; within minutes you leave the city behind and nature envelops you. The bays were frozen over and snow glittered crisply in the sunshine. There is a walking path going around the Töölönlahti Bay and I love walking around to listen to pure nothing. This is what many of the locals do as well. To listen to the serene silence in Finland. Walking through parks in Finland was mesmerizing from the very first moment. No sound of cars in the distance, no birds chirping or wind whistling through the high trees near the frozen lakes. Only me, the stillness and our breaths that stopped for a while in awe. That’s the silence in Finland.
What is silence?
For me Finland means silence. Finland is silent compared to many always buzzing countries and cities around the globe. Silence has also many stages. Silence can be sitting on a café in Helsinki and hearing only the other people talking. Silence can be very deep like inside a forest where are only me and the nature.
Silence in Finland is considered a common part of communication, and from my short time of observation, Finns don’t speak fast, even in their own language. Generally, they are better at listening rather than speaking and interrupting during conversation is considered quite impolite.
When doing business with Finnish representatives, two- or three-minute pauses of silence are common in business meetings and it’s highly recommended to avoid interrupting that silence. Finns are known also as leaders in international peace initiatives and I believe there is the reason for that.
Now, would it surprise you to hear that many proverbs related to silence are of Finnish origin? For example, “Silence is a person’s best friend, for it remains behind after the rest has gone”, “A silent man is a wise one” and one of the most common ones, “Silence is golden, talking is silver”.
There is also a joke about silence in Finland that says: “A Finnish guy loved his girlfriend so much that he almost told it to her” and I just like how accurate it is when speaking about the precise use of words and enhancing silence in Finland. It seemed to me that a person in Finland speaks only when he or she truly has something to tell, and if there is something to say, the sentences are spoken thoughtfully and with pauses of silence. Sure, not all people in Finland speak with a meditative tone and a slow pace, but it was rather exceptional to notice that trend during my stay in Finland.
Before visiting Finland for the first time, I was aware of its natural treasures, but nobody ‘warned’ me about Finnish quietness and harmony of the trees. It was amazing to observe how my own perception and expectation changed within a few moments once I entered this white, Zen kingdom of silence.
Imagine you’re walking on mossy earth, not making any sound, surrounded by high trees that do not move, still lakes that mirror the sky, with no airplanes above, no sound of animal life around, with barely any human on a walking path. Would you find this awesome or scary?
We humans are sometimes terrified of silence and we often avoid it rather than appreciate it. To stay relaxed, we prefer creating the right environment rather than getting rid of the noise around us. We put on relaxing music rather than switch off all the electronics. We prefer talking about an issue rather than contemplating it or letting it go.
We’ve also been taught that only constant memorization of large amounts of information will help us to develop our intellectual potential. But what if the opposite is the truth?
Walking through the park and being embraced by the silence in Finland, I experienced not only an intensive physical and mental recharge, but I also started to feel that there is much more beyond silence that calms you down.
There probably won’t be anyone making small talk with you, nobody will ask you why you’re there, how long you plan to stay and where you’re headed next. There will be nothing to disturb your inner silence and tranquility. The serene silence will talk to you in all languages and give you answers or ask you questions you needed to hear.
Because it’s the silence of Finland that makes you want to come back.