The first thing that strikes you when you first encounter Emilia Lahti is her warm and welcoming presence – her beaming smile and positive energy is truly contagious. The second thing you’ll notice is her strength and passion for helping support people overcoming trauma. It’s difficult to imagine that only a few years ago, this passionate social activist and sisu researcher was one of the millions affected by interpersonal violence.
“Interpersonal violence (IPV) affects hundreds of millions of individuals across the globe each year from every social class, income group, race and culture,” says Emilia. She has dedicated her life to breaking the cycle of negative consequences triggered by IPV by reinforcing empowering narratives focusing on reframing victims as survivors and overcomers. Amazing, bold, and badass women and men with bright futures ahead of them.
Sisu Not Silence: The Movement
In 2016, Emilia launch Sisu Not Silence, a movement aimed at ending the silence around interpersonal violence, eradicating the stigma and shame suffered by those who have experienced it, and creating a community centred around pride, courage and honesty.
To help raise funds for her cause, Emilia is currently training to run 1,500 miles across the length of New Zealand, averaging over 50 marathons in 50 days – a truly incredible and ambitious challenge. We sat down with Emilia to learn more about what ultimately inspired her to create Sisu not Silence, her goals for the movement, how she takes care of herself through her rigorous training schedule, and – of course – what the concept of sisu is all about.
You have dedicated years of your life to researching Sisu, a fascinatingly rich cultural construct. As a concept, Sisu is relatively new to those outside Finland. Can you explain Sisu, and what it means to you?
Sisu is an ancient Finnish word that stands for deep inner fortitude in the face of stress and adversity. It’s about taking action sometimes against very slim odds and when doing so, discovering a pathway to the strength of embodied nature we perhaps weren’t aware of. It’s the second or third wind of endurance and is a potential we all share as humans. My hope is that we can learn to recognise this strength in one another regardless of differences in culture, religion, sex, ethnic background and so on to realise we’re all one underneath our physical appearance. Adversity is the great equaliser of all humankind The strength of the human soul and body in those situations is what fascinates me the most in this entire universe.
I see sisu as a verb – word of action. It is about taking action to use our energy and determination to the service of others and to help reconcile this suffering world. Through that process, we also learn about ourselves but most importantly, we get to leave a positive legacy. Life to me is not so much about what I do but how I do it why.
What led you down the path of dedicating your research to sisu, and how has this journey ultimately inspired you to launch the Sisu not Silence Movement?
Sisu was weaved into my life because of the health related challenges I had to endure from the very moment I popped my head into this world. To make a very long story short, one big turning point was having to bear witness to the violence humans are capable of inflicting upon each other, and realise how common it is. After leaving a physically violent relationship, I knew I couldn’t remain silent but felt I was called to do something. Having been lucky enough to find healing, it is time for me to give back. I want to tell the stories of all the amazing overcomers of interpersonal violence of different genders I have met and highlight the fact that life, even after emotional, physical or sexual trauma, is not destined to be mere survival. Those who’ve endured it are not weak and damaged by default, but if anything, the opposite.
Sisu not Silence is my way of serving, dismantling harmful systems of shame that perpetuate suffering and to build this planet’s most amazing community. On a more basic level, I’m a human trying to do something positive and useful with the passion, gifts and experiences I have.
50 Ultra Marathons in 50 days is an unimaginable distance! How do you take care of your body and mind when training for something as physically and mentally demanding as the Sisu Not Silence Ultra run across New Zealand?
The run starts this November from the South Island of New Zealand. Throughout my training for the past year, it’s been of utmost importance to cultivate a kind and compassionate relationship with my body. To learn to hear its often subtle messages and not simply use it to achieve some goal I have set for myself. The key to this kind of training is to honour yourself and run to the beat of your own drum, not anyone else’s. I do think that how we generally approach running may be a bit flawed (quotes like ‘no pain no gain’ and ‘go hard or go home’ come to mind). It’s not supposed to hurt, be painful and feel like a grind.
In reality, people often push themselves way too hard too soon, and we lack the patience to build endurance slowly: to run at the pace you are currently at, not at the pace you wish you’d be. Same a applies to yoga, I believe. Even a tough looking endeavour can be done in a kind way. Again, it’s not what we do but how and why we do it. Since the goal of the project is nonviolence, I will not do justice to anyone by violating myself. I’ll be writing more in the future about how I train and what is this ‘compassionate running’.
In yoga, there is a concept known as ‘ahimsa’, which speaks to showing respect and compassion towards yourself and all living things. How this concept resonate with you, and how your personal yoga practice played a role in your own healing?
I try apply the principle of compassionate running to most things I do with my body, and it totally aligns with ahimsa. This is not to say that during a run or yoga practice there won’t be hard moments but it’s about cultivating awareness and body intelligence around what is too much and when to push. It’s really about getting to know yourself and to find a beautiful union of compassion and sisu. The path there is often very experiential and we can’t simply think our way there. However, when we have a physical practice that we enjoy doing regularly, we grow in ways in which we never could. There are lessons in that transformation tend to translate to our daily lives as well. Yoga for me is about nourishing the relationship I have with my body.
What is your ultimate vision and brightest hope for the future of the Sisu not Silence Movement?
Abuse — whether it takes place within a family, at school, on the streets or within one’s work community — thrives in secrecy and silence. My vision is to witness the bird of a culture that imposes zero shame on those who’ve survived family abuse or interpersonal violence. That way we’ll not only help survivors and overcomers become empowered but we’ll diminish the power of those who abuse.
How can the Yogaia community help support the Sisu Not Silence Ultra-Run, and how will their contributions help this movement?
Sisu Not Silence is about taking action. It is first and foremost an invitation for people to lead by example, build community and open doors of psychological safety to others. For those who feel called to get involved with the work we do, we are looking to connect with community leaders and healers (again, personal leadership and service is for anyone) who’d want to build sisu not silence groups within their communities. We also have a fundraiser to give wings to the 2400km run that’ll officially kick start the campaign (and the events we’ll do along the way)!
You can also take Yogaia’s special charity class, who will be donating £1 for every yogi that joins Yogaia’s charity class, Ahimsa & Relax. Learn how to practice ahimsa, respecting all living things and non-violence, using breath visualisation techniques and holding poses to harmonise the body and mind. It would be an honour to receive your contribution and any donation will help. I am so grateful to the Yogaia community for their love and support!
On Sunday 26 April 2017, join Craig Norris for our charity class, Ahimsa & Relax, and we’ll donate £1 to the Sisu Not Silence, raising awareness and support for those affected by domestic abuse and violence.
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