There are some people in our world who have learned to live life authentically. People who have learned to listen to their own voice. In a world where we are constantly flooded with information and messages fighting for our attention, this is not an easy achievement. And yet in spite of all the noise, some people manage to listen to the world around them, integrating new information without straying from their own path and what their soul truly desires. These are the people who have the power to mobilize others. While these kinds of people may still frequently doubt themselves and question their decisions, to the rest of the world it is obvious that they are on a distinct path. One dictated by something within them and not by external forces and influences. These people are truly free, living what psychologist Martin Seligman refers to as 'the good life'.
Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua is clearly on her own path. When we asked her what she does, she explained "I run a floral and soap company called Saipua. We've been making beautiful things and events since 2006; it's a family business". But Saipua is not a regular family business. After permanently altering the world of flower arranging with her signature loose and wild bouquets, Sarah and the extended family at Saipua are continuing to alter the flower and wedding industry through seasonal flowers, educational programs, and symbiotic collaborations, for example with local ceramicists who design the vases for Saipua's floral arrangements in exchange for studio space they can work in.
In addition to their creative flower business, Sarah and her partner run a farm in upstate New York called World's End. World's End is a place that helps Sarah and her team realise goals beyond floral design and events. The farm has fostered projects such as growing uniquely coloured seasonal flowers, composting floral waste resulting not only from the events that Saipua create for, but also the events of other florists, or caring for a growing number of Icelandic sheep and lambs.
Saipua's achievements and her impact on the flower industry are enviable. And yet Sarah continues to explore new ways of challenging herself and developing. When talking about her work, Sarah explains "I get lost in flower arranging, occasionally. I used to get lost in it more. However, now I get lost more on the farm, taking long walks with the dogs or being with my sheep. Weeding is an excellent activity for becoming absorbed". Psychologist Mihaly Cziksaintmihaly describes this tendency in certain people to acquire and develop multiple interests and abilities as developing complexity in consciousness.
Complexity is made up of two linked processes; one is what Cziksaintmihaly calls differentiation; the other is integration. Differentiation refers to discovering our own unique interests and developing distinct skills as a result of them. Integration is the second part of this process and refers to learning how to use the skills we develop in service of something beyond ourselves; learning to apply our unique talents and abilities in a way that benefits other people and the world around us. In order to achieve complexity, we need to be as different as we can from each other while at the same time integrating our efforts to achieve outcomes beyond our own self-interest.
Sarah's flower arrangements are a perfect example of this process. By dictating her own aesthetic standards she differentiates herself from tradition and from how flowers have been arranged for a long time. And yet this very process of creating something aesthetically distinct has resulted in her work becoming increasingly integrated into industry standards. Traces of her influences can now be seen in many other flower arrangements across the globe. But after Sarah had mastered the skills relevant for expressing a unique style with regards to floral design she continued to seek ways to grow and develop, both on the farm at World's End and within the New York creative community. All of these endeavors are resulting in her being increasingly intertwined within a local and global community. Whether it is through the support she offers emerging ceramicists by providing studio space in exchange for unique flower vessels, or by offering internships and workshops that can serve as a springboard for the next step for many young florists and aspiring entrepreneurs.
When we asked Sarah what she was inherently interested in, what drives her to learn more even if it doesn’t lead to anything else, she explained: "Inherently...I think I'm interested in human connection. A friend helped me to realize this recently. I like intimacy and I'm not necessarily good at it". Many people would agree that human connection is one of the most inherently rewarding experiences of life. We do not pursue it for reasons other than that connecting with others is rewarding in its own right. But, as Sarah points out, truly connecting with other people is a skill. In Western society, particularly in the US and UK, we have mastered polite forms of formulaic conversations which we can have with almost anyone. But to move beyond polite conversation, to truly start to understand another person takes skill. Cziksaintmihaly explains that "to gain something from talking to another person, one has to learn something new, either in knowledge or emotions". He points out that the first step to starting a meaningful conversation is to find out what the other person is interested in. What is this person involved in? What have they accomplished or are trying to accomplish? "The next step is to utilise one's own experiences or expertise on the topics raised by the other person without trying to take over the conversation, but developing it jointly." These processes of revealing something true within ourselves and being able to discover it in someone else are the cornerstones of deep and meaningful conversations, which in turn are the cornerstones of forging meaningful connections with other people.
Building complexity whether through further developing ourselves: our knowledge and skills, our interests, our understanding of the world around us and where we fit in to it, our ability to relate to others, are skills that most people pursue their entire lives. But this process can also be inherently rewarding. Becoming more complex means that we become increasingly differentiated, following our own path and making a unique contribution, while at the same time becoming increasingly integrated into the communities and the world around us. To achieve this type of complexity is one of the highlights of human existence.
Deep gratitude to Sarah and Saipua for inspiring this post and for sharing her thoughts with us. You can find out more about Sarah's beautiful work or read her thoughts on her journal.
All images via the Saipua journal
Quote from Finding Flow: the Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1997