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Sisu - The Art of Finnish Inner Resolve

Sisu - The Art of Finnish Inner Resolve

Greetings, League of Wildness,


We hope your autumn is off to an excellent start!

First things first, we wanted to clarify something you may have seen in a recent email we sent. The email was regarding the limited inventory of our Stoic standing mat. There was a miscommunication with our design team that lead to a section in the email stating Stoic would never be available again. We only have about 175 of them remaining in stock. However, we do not have more on order at this time as we ponder what our product lineup will look like. As a result, once we run out it will be months or longer before we can get them back in stock if we do decide to re-order them. We just wanted to make sure we were clear on that since the email made it sound like Stoic was discontinued, which isn’t necessarily the case. 


On to the Friday email!


Have you ever heard the word, “sisu”? It’s most definitely a wild word we’d like to incorporate into the wild gym lexicon. Let’s discuss.


I am an American but my ancestry is almost entirely Finnish. 97% of it, to be exact. Within my Finnish family, the term “sisu” (pronounced SEE-soo) has always been used to describe courage and determination. It is a concept that has existed in Finland for several hundred years. The author Joanna Nylund describes sisu as having stoic determination, hardiness, courage, bravery, willpower, tenacity, and resilience.


Finns don’t own these ideals, of course, they just happen to have a single name to contain them all. Some Finnish people would say that once you start to describe sisu, you start to lose your grasp on what it is, as it is too big to be contained by language. It is difficult to define and for Finns it holds somewhat of a mysterious power.

Finland is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. This is more about being content with where they are and what is happening rather than believing one can be happy all the time. I believe the sisu philosophy has a lot to do with it. Many of these practices were things I grew up with and they do indeed help to build resilience and hardiness, which leads to overall contentment. Sisu reminds me in some ways of the Danish art of “hygge” which is also focused on contentment. 


Because the area I live in is heavily influenced by Finnish ancestry, the ideals behind sisu are built into our daily lives and our community. Despite our long winters, most people are generally content and the principles of sisu are often at work. Below are some ways that we employ sisu that you can enjoy as well!


Embrace winter!
It will be here before we know it. For many of us, winter is a time we eat pasta, watch Netflix, and don’t leave the house unless we are getting into our pre-heated cars. Try to choose hearty, but healthy foods, like stews. Add some light to your home by introducing candles, creative LED light setups or even Edison bulbs, which limit exposure to blue light and are just cool looking!  Host game or movie nights with friends or family. Spend time in a sauna or hot tub if you can (bonus points if you roll in the snow after!). Many gyms have these options, and if you look you might find something in your town, too. Our town has a public steam bath, which is very similar to a sauna. 


Get outside. It’s true that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Wherever you live, make sure you have appropriate clothing for your climate and spend time outside, even when it’s cold and snowy. You can even bring a mug of hot chocolate (add some Irish cream, I won’t tell anyone). Even if it’s -30F, standing with your face in the sun feels delightfully warm and the fresh air is always invigorating. I never feel so alive as I do standing outside after a heavy snowfall. Sunlight is life and our bodies love to be exposed to it. 


Getting outdoors even when the weather is less-than-perfect builds resilience and hardiness. On some days, even bravery! Wim Hof is a great resource to learn about the immense benefits of exposure to cold. 


Be Vulnerable
As Rudyard Kipling said, For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” We may have physical strength and mental fortitude, but the truth is we all need other people, and relying on them when we need to is a sign of strength, not weakness. Create a network of people you trust that you can share yourself with. Nothing builds us up like being seen and valued by people we care about. 


Sharing our successes and trials with others enhances bonding and community. Connecting with other people is a vital part of our health, as much as nutrition and fitness. All of hese things increase our willpower and our resilience to life’s daily challenges by knowing we have someone in our corner. 


Get Quiet

Silence never needs to be awkward. It is a wonderful resource of depth and renewal. Finns tend to be people of few words. They mostly don’t speak just to fill in the silence. Our world is filled with an excess of noise in part because everyone feels a need to prove themselves, especially in social media where everything is a competition. Learn to appreciate quiet places and quiet moments between people. Enjoy a silent moment with your partner when you are eating dinner. If you are someone who leaves the TV on for “background noise” leave it off some days and learn to be comfortable with the resulting quiet. Enjoy the quietude when you disconnect from your devices in the evening. The silence might feel distressing at first but eventually, it will allow your whirling thoughts to slow down. I find so much value in quiet and make a point to get it every day. 


Embracing quiet allows us to shift into a deeper place within ourselves. It allows us to connect with all of the qualities sisu consists of and build our inner strength and sense of fortitude and confidence in ourselves.


Spend time in nature
I bet you are surprised to see this recommendation, haha! Finland’s geography is very similar to where I live in northern Minnesota which is why my family settled here. We have millions of acres of lakes and forests that are available for public use. Spending time outdoors will naturally build your resilience and courage, as it is full of sights and sounds that you may not be used to, not to mention ample opportunities for environmental conditioning and cosmic rays! Go hiking, look for something new to forage, or find a quiet spot to sit and just listen.


For many of us, the drastic decrease in daylight hours keeps us inside more often. You can bring nature indoors, too! Grow some plants or herbs. Make a terrarium. Create little dishes of nature items to remind you of the other seasons. I have little bowls all around the house of things like leaves, acorns, dried mushrooms and flowers, birch bark, and so on. When you spend time outdoors, see what you can find that will invoke a sense of nature in your home. 


Bringing more nature into our daily lives allows us to connect to all of the values sisu espouses. Nature is so important to Finnish people that the right to spend time in it is built into their laws. As I mentioned in the blog article on foraging, “Everyman’s Rights” grant Finns the ability to roam wild spaces freely for foraging, exploring, camping, and fishing. This often even includes privately owned land as they believe wilderness belongs to everyone.


Leave your comfort zone
If you haven’t read “The Comfort Crisis” by Michael Easter, you absolutely should. It is an awesome book that explains why it is so important to get out of the normal rut of daily living and explore and expand our horizons on a regular basis. The edge of what is really possible for us is where we grow and find out who we really are. Choose a goal yearly that scares you enough that you aren’t quite sure you can do it (but still think maybe you can) and go for it! Even if you don’t quite get there, you will learn so much about the ways the mind tries to trick us into stopping even though we are capable of so much more.

The practice of getting out of your comfort zone builds resilience, willpower, tenacity, determination and sometimes community and physical strength as well. It is one of the best ways to practice sisu as it covers all the values.


Primarily, you want to be observant and see what you discover about yourself and the world around you. Sisu isn’t only for Finns, and it isn’t something that has a to-do list so that you can achieve it in 30 days. It is a theme that winds through one’s life and enhances it, bringing more wonder, joy, and contentment along with hardiness, resilience, and courage. Those things  always go hand-in-hand and too often we value strength in an imbalanced way. It isn’t through comfortable security that we grow but through adversity. Sisu is about facing that adversity head-on and maintaining a positive attitude about it. 


Have you heard of sisu before? Does your culture or ancestry have something similar that goes by a different name?

Extra resources:
https://finland.fi/arts-culture/sisu-within-finnish-key-life-love-success/
https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180502-sisu-the-finnish-art-of-inner-strength

Books:

The Finnish Art of Sisu by Johanna Nylund
What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney
The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter

The Wim Hof Method and The Way of the Iceman both by Wim Hof 


All of these Friday emails are put into our blog. You can find the blog here if you ever want to re-read the information or find anything you may have missed!
https://www.wildgym.com/blogs/wildest-blog-online


In wildness,

Kim