Week three of UH Manoa’s Hawaiian Language, Legends, and Lore class, and flashbacks of my 7th grade Hawaiian History class are beginning to come into sight. Today’s lesson sets up the stage for the rise of Kamehameha, the battle of Nuʻuanu and the beloved king’s family tree. If I close my eyes, I can go back in time and see Mr. Nguyen, standing in a sweat-stained polo shirt at the front of the class. Stevenson Intermediate, circa 1993, hot sun pouring in through the wooden jealousies above him, a used hardcover textbook highlighted and dog-eared sat upon my desk. We memorized war days and ruling days, amounting to little else but daze in my former hormone-riddled self.
But my Hawaiian class today … offers a depth I can appreciate. Illustrating connections between language and culture always tickles my fancy, and I’d signed up for eight full weeks of almost entirely new material under both categories. I’m in brain sponge heaven!
Professor Carol Silva (center, above) paces back and forth along the whiteboard, her blonde white mane of hair resting lightly down the length of her back. She’s bubbling with so much knowledge of our ancestors’ experience, you can feel their ha, breath, flowing through her, through her own breath, through her rhythmic delivery – you may even feel graced by its presence.
She waxes lyrical about the cool compassionate moon goddess Hina and her aggressive counterpart, Ku (check out the featured image at the top). The opposing pair reminds me of the yin and yang in Chinese philosophy, the ida and pingala in yogic thought. I think we see our lives in opposing pairs as a result of the structure of our brains, how the left and right hemispheres control such different aspects of our thought processes. It’s easier for us to see things in black or white, right or wrong, as binary forms; when really it’s all hamajang mixed together, an ever-changing balance of chaos. Or maybe it’s the duality of life that shaped our brains that way!
But thereʻs a certain beauty and accessibility to the humanized Hawaiian version of this phenomenon. Hina and Ku …
My favorite lesson from the eight week course was about the difference between the words koʻu and kaʻu.
Koʻu is used in a similar way to the word “my” in English, but has more to do with expressing a relationship than an ownership. There is no Hawaiian word for ownership. Telling, eh?
Koʻu words relate to beliefs, where one gives deference, things and actions that are critical to existence; they are often things that transcend time to the Hawaiians, like gods, elders, land, emotions, and the spirit realm. Family (ʻohana) would take koʻu, because family is forever, as is love for a friend, internal thoughts, or even lei when it is in contact with a part of a person. Lei that is touching a human has received some of that person’s mana (transcendent power, as in prana, ki, or chi) and becomes more powerful.
When the lei is not in contact with a person, when it is on a table, for example, it would take kaʻu.
Kaʻu is used for things you would not defend with your life … such as a husband or wife! Also very telling. Hawaiian partnering was sometimes for life, but often not, and separations were considered natural. Children of these broken partnerships would often be cared for by grandparents as their parents would be busy working and making a life on their own until the next partner came by.
Other kaʻu words include food, or speaking, giving birth, and children. Such things are often those we can control but, control is eventually relinquished, as with children, who inevitably grow up, leave the home, and make a life of their own.
The lesson spanned a few meetings and our teacher made sure to comment that most modern Hawaiian language schools, including many of the Kaiapuni immersion schools in the state, do not differentiate between these two kinds of words and the kaʻu/koʻu usage. She warned against losing the nuances of the culture in our push toward increasing the quantity of Hawaiian language learners.
I’m so stoked I was able to participate in this course at the UH Manoa Outreach College. Check it out for some lifelong learning opportunities – these classes are treasure troves of wisdom and passion!
“Da ‘aina” is the land, the state of Hawaii, 808, my home. A place where that special sumpin’ sumpin’ – whether you call it mana, prana, chi, or ki – feels more geographically apparent than anywhere else in the world. It’s where the earth is re-birthing, just below sea level, everyday, to create new space for life to unfold. Yup, volcanoes are some mind-boggling thangs.
And integration. Integration, at least in terms of this blog, takes on all kinds of meanings. Having just returned home only 10 months ago, I find myself re-integrating into Hawaiian culture – but not as the same Ewa Beach kid I once was. Seventeen years in Hawaii, and seventeen years away, though at the core of me nothing’s changed, I think I’ve morphed in a way, into a kind of … international kama’aina. Equal parts global citizen and homegrown keiki.
Hawaii, especially Honolulu, is also not the same place it once was. This city has developed a not-so-surprising sophistication along with the influx of entrepreneurs, artists, and adventurers from around the globe. These newbies to “the rock” find their unique harmony against the backdrop of a local majority who preserve the mixed-plate culture unique to our state, tinged with a pidgin cadence, accented by Locals slippahs. And some of us Hawaii kids are returning home, now with broader perspectives, cultivated passions, and a drive to innovate in the name of collective benefit. It’s an inspiring time to be back.
When I say “integration,” I’m also aware of this conscious steady process of applying the wisdom and insights I’ve gained on the fragrant – and sometimes lonely – spiritual path to an everyday life where friends, family, work, and logistical errands intermingle in what can sometimes feel like a surreal, though fully natural way. What is unfolding before me is wildly ordinary, predictably magic.
And maybe “unfolding” isn’t the word … because it takes effort, patience, and a whole lotta humor to finagle your way back into the “real” world after visiting the life of a semi-ascetic. Equanimity and focus are much easier in a cave than in a typical workplace where competing egos and objectives inevitably come head-to-head.
But I’m learning.
The determination cultivated during that 10-day silent Vipassana training in India has come in particularly handy during those days I work 12 hours at my desk to organize webinars on logic models (a what now?). Walking by the homeless dudes in Chinatown I counter my instinctual fear with a compassionate reminder that we’ve all known suffering at some point in our lives, and that, at the very least, connects us somehow. When I sit in my studio apartment, instead of wishing for the 3-bedroom 2.5-children flavor of life, I am simply content (santosh!) to have a bed so large and soft, it makes memories of my ashram furnishings seem like they’re straight out of a Bergman film.
Which is not to say I don’t miss the ashram days, full of practice, service, singing, and sitting under trees.
I often wonder what life would be like if I had taken my guru-ji up on the offer to assist him at the ashrams in Canada, France, Thailand, and around the world. And I sometimes wander into wondering about what life would be like if I had accepted that scholarship to pursue my journalism masters in New York. But that’s what the mind does … it trips! In moments like those, I remember my heart, which quite clearly requested I pack up my bags and get my booty back home.
So. Here I am.
Thankfully, Hawaii is an ideal place for integration, not only because I was born and raised here, and am also part Hawaiian, but the landscape reflects the unique juxtaposition of spiritual beside material, where the natural world meets human-made construct.
Driving down Kapiolani Boulevard I’m grateful for the massive monkey pod trees lining the sidewalks, offering shade from the tropical rays, and respite from the concrete slabs unfolding ahead. They were placed there with care, in the same way I am learning to sprinkle my day with mini-treats of asana, pranayam, and meditation. The apartments of Makiki are nestled into the ridges of Punchbowl in the same way my work life co-exists with my yoga life – and in some spaces, the lines are so blurred it may just be “life.”
A life surrounded by the great Mama Ocean, whose presence brings me a sense of safety in infinitude. She draws out my imagination with unknown depths – and I’m reminded of the days when lived at my grandparents’ house and pretended to be a goddess of the sea. If I could command the waves then, I can certainly command them now, at least when it comes to the vrittis of my mind. Yoga citta vritti nirodha – yoga is the cessation of the waves of the mind. (Well, there are at least 22 solid permutations on how to translate that particular sutra (Gordon White, 2014) from Patanjali’s oft-quoted text, which is actually dualistic in nature, and therefore somewhat far from my own interpretation of the Divine/existence dynamic. But anyway, it worked well for that analogy :o).)
So I’m seeing a re-integration into my Hawaii community, and a continued integration of spiritual and ordinary life. But what of the integration of self? Are we ever fully integrated individuals, or is that process a life-long dance, sometimes guided by a particular frequency, transcendent, then sweaty and messy, the lights go on, and it’s suddenly time to go home?
Oh, the perceived layers of self! On a simple day, I like to think of them as the mind-body-soul continuum, inextricably intertwined, on levels we are often not aware, but can train ourselves to tune in to. In Vedanta, the layers are described as the physical (stula sharira), astral (linga sharira), and causal (karana) bodies (koshas), each with corresponding aspects of self. Whole texts have been written on the relationship between these “layers” and the atman, or true Self, though the word “layer” is misleadingly simple. If only we could directly access the core of our being by simply peeling away layers in a linear fashion, something akin to an onion. Sure, there might be some tears, but end result is something delicious!
There are innumerable ways to happily balance and harmonize the hypothetical layers, and though we are all connected, the recipe of techniques is unique to our constitution and lifestyle. For me, it’s been through yogic techniques like meditation, asana, pranayam, mantra, service, self-study, and Buddhist methods like mindfulness, sangha (community) cultivation, compassion, and kindness, or even through writing, journeying, body work, preparing food for loved ones, convening with nature on a hike or a swim, partaking in a ritual of drink with your homies, or taking a chance connecting with a new soul. Integration is about seeing more clearly who we truly are as whole beings, connecting with that inner-light, and feeling empowered to shine in ways that serve to evolve not only the self, but the communities we are a part of, local and global.
Those concepts may sound lofty, but I can tell you from experience, it’s the real deal. Straight up.
It took me 10 months or so to figure out what this next chapter was likely to be all about. I knew I’d continue my karma yoga practice, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be offering the typical “yoga class” we’ve come to expect in America. Sitting quietly with a rich internal dialogue on cultural appropriation, capitalization, and the downright watering down of yoga teachings here in the States has not been easy, especially after seven years of passionate sharing as a teacher. Yoga did, afterall, save my life. Why wouldn’t I take every opportunity to spread the goodness far and wide, especially now that I’m back in the fertile space of my birth home?
With these themes swimming around my noggin, looking for their rightful place along my teaching journey, I also knew a return to Hawaii meant engaging in a period of “needs sensing.” What’s already being offered? Is the community receptive to teachings I hold dear? Having grown up here, I know you don’t just roll up into Hawaii and think you know what’s up. But the offers to teach keep popping up … and I feel a forward (upward? expansive?) movement back into the teaching realm…
And all that to say, the new theme of this blog is “Integration in da ‘Aina.” :)
The next few posts will likely be about the Hawaiian class I took, the worst yoga class of my life (dude, so sad to say that was here, in Hawaii), and a special focus on the muladhara chakra (which actually lead to a free dirty chai – you gotta love synchronicity!).
So keep tuning in if any of this babble resonates, and I’ll see you in a week!
. . . for being the voice of reason in times of chaos. You know $hit’s hit the fan, when the best news commentator in a country is in fact — a comedian. Playground politicians are frustrating enough. Turning on a “proper” newscast, only to find party propaganda or the ratings equivalent to flashing a little cleavage, is just downright infuriating. And so, I turn to you, Jon Stewart, for the *only* sane perspective on this Shutstorm – because clearly, farcical is what we’ve come to.
On a lighter, more inspirational note, check out Jon’s interview with Malala Yousafza, a 16 year old who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in reviving education in Pakistan. Her vision, passion and courage will give you goosebumps!
And by the way, this is my *last* week in a YEAR OF GRATITUDE . . . and incidentally, the year that led me back home. Next chapter? I’m taking suggestions . . .
Kaka’ako, once a bustling area for fishing and salt harvesting, is now an experiment in urban island culture. Creative spaces for delectable dining and tipples are popping up on the regular, like Hank’s Haute Dogs (oh, lobster dog, you will be mine!), the collaborative culinary community at Taste, and the authentic NY hipster joint, Bevy (happy hour $1 oysters? Oh, yes indeed.). Amidst the warehouses, auto shops, and old school mom and pop shops, Kaka’ako’s future iteration is gaining momentum, heading toward (what I hope will be) a green, walkable, long-term sustainable ‘hood, supporting local talent and business.
A Burgeoning Kaka’ako
On Friday, I walked past a brand new integrative healing center that just opened up a half a block from my apartment. Offering tea ceremony, ikebana lessons, yoga and the Okada Method, The Mokichi Okada Association will bring much needed nourishment to the populous elderly community here in Kaka’ako. The tea room is stunning and the welcome is warm, I highly recommend checking it out.
When there’s huli-huli chicken smoke in the air, you know something good is going down. Saturday marked the opening of Kaka’ako’s farmer’s market – woo hoo! I arrived at opening hour, around 8:00 a.m., and already the stalls were heaving with little old ladies, small families, and a few of us solo-shoppers. Most vendors I spoke to were from the North Shore and Waianae – and everything I’ve eaten so far has been divine. Check out some of the photos below for a visual breakdown!
Cutie pie Alexia sporting a “Don’t Panic Go Organic” top. The super salad is chock full of so many kinds of yummies I can’t remember all their names!
Taro poke, you say? Those are two of my favorite things! The kaffir lime taro is pretty nuts too.
Breads here are hearty and amazing!
Lilikoi goat cheese, kombucha, honey, super pestos, these dudes have all the goodies.
$2 for a massive bag of fresh organic tomatoes?? Heck yeah.
Despite the challenges ahead, I see Kaka’ako as a prime opportunity to create a real ‘hood community in Hawaii, the kind of space that may play a vital role in encouraging reverse brain drain. So many of Hawaii’s talented individuals leave the islands, never to return, many because they don’t see a place for themselves back on ‘the rock.’ Most of the island is based on a car-culture, which, though convenient for big families, has been proven to be socially isolating, detrimental to physical health, and inherently oil-dependent.
Some of the more frustrating aspects to island life are the slow pace and resistance to change. Having just returned home, I hesitate to make grand broad statements about what “should be” (like the rail, more bike lanes, world peace, etc.) But this is an exciting time for Honolulu, most especially if residents and developers alike can approach the evolution of Kaka’ako with transparency, vision, and a commitment to community.
I’ve been overwhelmed with all the sources of gratitude since moving home: thoughtful cousins, fresh air, helpful coworkers, exciting classroom moments, new books on Zen, an apartment two blocks from the library, quality Grandma time, dips in the ocean, lush green mountain backdrops, hilarity from my nieces and nephews, and so much more … apologies for the late blog!
Still, I’m no stranger to the stressors and challenges of daily life, especially while in transition. There has been one in particular that got to me for prolonged period of time: a gaping hole where I felt communication should have been plentiful. I was hoping for more texting, more emails, more Skyping – and yes, it was from a particular person. So much suffering can stem from expectations! Especially when they’re rooted in the actions of other people, and most especially when these actions are performed via modern mediums of communication.
And then I happened across an article and a video on this very topic … they certainly helped to put things into perspective for me. I hope they’re of interest/entertainment value to you. It’s hard to go wrong with Louis CK …
From Ira Israel on Elephant Journal:
I apologize in advance.
I could be wrong. I could be making a mistake. I’ve made mistakes before.
Maybe it’s my fault.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe I am misguided. Maybe I don’t understand. Maybe I just don’t get it.
In the 1970s, if you told people that someday magnetized analog audio 8-track and cassette tapes would be replaced by digital ones and zeros pinging around inside a silicon microchip…
In the 1980s if you told the workers at Kodak that celluloid film would die a painful death at the hands of digital photo and video…
Or that facsimile machines would be replaced by PDF files cruising through high speed cable lines…
They would not have believed you.
All this to say that I believe that by the year 2040 people will look back on text messaging in the same manner that you and I look back on Morse Code.
Texting may seem wonderful for the occasional brief note to instantly reschedule a meeting in your crazy-busy life, but it actually often engenders ambiguity and confusion by failing to convey essential nuances such as disappointment, hope, irony, sadness, elation.
I have witnessed the destruction of countless patients’ important relationships by miscommunications caused by texting and what I refer to as “subtexting.”
Subtexting is the tacit information given and the rampant misinterpretations of that information—namely the response time between text messages.
When you stand in front of a fellow human being and look into his or her eyes, you get a tremendous amount of information and you receive that information in real time; when you speak with someone on the telephone you can hear his or her breathing, you can feel the rhythm and tone of his or her voice, and get a general feeling of what that person’s current disposition or emotional state is.
Are they frantic, discombobulated, out-of-sorts, out-of-their-heads? Or are they serene, calm, composed, lucid, empathetic and thinking clearly?
All of this is completely lost while texting.
You have no idea if the other person is sitting on the toilet, driving furiously, smoking crack, gently massaging their wrists with a razor, having sex (yes, 25 percent of teenagers recently reported texting while having sex), throwing a tantrum, in a very important meeting, throwing a tantrum in a very important meeting or in a yoga class (yes, I watched an actress negotiate filming a nude scene via text message while in Virabhadrasana II—completely surreal yet somehow remotely acceptable at Maha Yoga).
And every second that passes as you wait for a response, your mind tries to assemble a scenario of the other person’s current reality from the blurry pixelated puzzle pieces of your text message conversation and the time it takes for them to respond.
“Is my wife really shopping at Whole Foods or is she screwing her tennis coach again? I thought that was over. Why is it taking her so long to text back?”
To my friends and recent girlfriends (too many of whom have ended our relationship via text message or what is known here as the “fade out,” which is when they slowly stop returning messages, and like a frog being boiled alive, you end up scalded by the silence): I have made very specific requests.
Please only text me for one of two reasons:
1. Egregious flirting. For example, “Ira, you’re super cool!” “You’re magic!” “You’re dreamy!” “You’re hugely gorgeous!” “You’re both dope, fresh and rad!” “I miss you!” “When can I see you again?”
2. Emergencies. For example, “Dude, I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 35 years and I still can’t calculate traffic into the equation. My GPS told me I would be there three months ago. I’m sorry I’m late. Dinner is on me.”
However, I have witnessed potential partners have entire one-sided passive-aggressive conversations and self-implode like Jon Favreau in “Swingers” via text message on my oh-so smart phone.
I have watched vacations in Paris spontaneously combust via text messaging on my oh-so smart phone. Worse, I have had imminent threesomes float off into the ether, never to be seen again, thanks to text messaging on my oh-so smart phone.
All joking aside, trying to communicate anything of note via text message equals one thing: fear of intimacy.
After ten years and thousands of texts, I feel comfortable saying that the deficits outweigh the benefits regarding text messaging.
By now you’ve read or heard about Sonja Lyubormirsky’s book “The Myths of Happiness” so you know that most of the things you learned growing up in America will unequivocally not bring you happiness—right?
Once you are above the survival level, and if you are reading this article in your home or office and didn’t drag your pilfered three-wheel shopping cart from Venice Beach to the library this morning to shower in the bathroom sink, then you are probably doing better than just surviving.
The only thing that correlates strongly with happiness is the quality of intimate face-to-face relationships.
If you set your iPhone on the sink or toilet when you take a shower, then it is safe to say that technology is no longer your friend.
Facebooking and Tweeting delude people into believing they are engaging in relationships. But face it: nobody is ever going to receive a hug or pat on the back through a video screen. We need eye contact, we need to break bread with other human beings, we need touch, we need to practice the dying art of conversation, we need face-to-face empathy, love and compassion to get all of those mirror neurons firing again.
Oh, yeah, anyone notice the massive rise in depression, alienation and isolation, or the 100 million prescriptions for anti-depressants written every year in this country of 314 million people? I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
All of the preceding is to explain why today I eliminated text messaging from my mobile telephone.
I want to rob people of the ability to reschedule via text message when I’m already sitting at the restaurant. I want to eliminate the possibility of a future girlfriend breaking up with me via text message or by fade out. It’s too easy. It’s too impersonal. It’s like assassinating someone by drone rather than knife and having his blood spurt all over you.
I’m not proud. For the last week or so, I’ve immersed myself in a world of pop. No jazz, no yoga tunes, no hip hop. Just straight up, main stream, radio friendly ear candy. Here are the gems I’ve been singing to – when no one’s looking, of course…
A livelier version of the original Rhianna ditty, “Stay” … best heard with the bass in full effect
Heart wrenching … and so bloody sweet.
More tunes from the morning drive. Catchy. Cute. Is she seriously sixteen??
Showing my age a bit. You know when you move back home and all the old school tracks start popping up?
Heard this ‘lil gem at a volleyball game the other day. Oh my…
Poor Mr. Blobfish. He has the unfortunate claim to being the ugliest animal on the planet, at least according to The Ugly Animal Preservation Society. Today I’m grateful for both his awesomely ugly face (not a bad giggle for a Monday!), and for being born a human!
Blobfish wins ugliest animal vote
By Victoria Gill Science reporter, BBC News
The grumpy-looking, gelatinous blobfish has won a public vote to become the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society.
This gives the fish the unofficial title of world’s ugliest animal.
The society began as a science-themed comedy night and devised its mascot campaign to draw attention to “aesthetically challenged” threatened species.
The blobfish tops a list that includes the huge-nosed proboscis monkey, the similarly afflicted pig-nosed turtle, an amphibian affectionately known as a “scrotum frog” and pubic lice.
Biologist and TV presenter Simon Watt, president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, said he hoped the campaign would draw attention to the threats facing these weird and wonderful creatures.
“Our traditional approach to conservation is egotistical,” he told BBC News.
“We only protect the animals that we relate to because they’re cute, like pandas.
“If extinction threats are as bad as they seem, then focusing just on very charismatic megafauna is completely missing the point.
“I have nothing against pandas,” he added, “but they have their supporters. These species need help.”
‘What died today?’
Mr Watt said he hoped the vote would also bring a lighter side to conservation.
“It’s the most depressing type of science to be involved with,” he said. “It’s basically working out: What died today?”
For this campaign, Mr Watt worked with comedians, each of whom created a campaign message on YouTube for their chosen creature. The society asked the public to vote for their favourite.
The blobfish eventually won by almost 10,000 votes.
The bizarre creature lives off the coast of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania, at depths of between 600 and 1,200m, where atmospheric pressure is several dozen times higher than at sea level.
Its gelatinous body is just slightly more dense than water, and it spends its life “bobbing around” in the depths.
It feeds on crabs and lobsters and so suffers a significant threat from fishing trawlers. Although it is inedible itself, it gets caught up in the nets.
Other animals on the shortlist face similar threats to their habitats and Mr Watt hopes that this campaign will highlight the fact that conservation should focus on the protection of habitats rather than specific species.
The remaining animals in the top five were:
The kakapo: The world’s only flightless parrot. This heavy bird evolved in an island “bubble”, with no natural predators. But its New Zealand home now has many mammals, including humans, that have decimated the population of the famously curious kakapo. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there were just 126 of the birds remaining in the wild in early 2012.
The axolotl: This is the salamander that never grows up. The amphibian spends its entire life underwater, unlike other salamanders, which develop the ability to breathe out of the water when they mature. The axolotl’s perpetual state of larval development means that it is able to regrow lost limbs. It also means the creatures are of huge interest to scientists; the salamanders are studied for their apparent natural resistance to ageing and cancer. They live only in a small cluster of lakes in Mexico that are now becoming dangerously polluted.
The Titicaca ‘scrotum’ water frog: This amphibian lives only in Lake Titicaca in the Andes. It has evolved a reduced lung capacity, so its many skin folds help it to breathe. According to some researchers’ accounts, the frogs do “press-ups” at the bottom of the lake to create disturbances in the water that increase oxygen flow.
The proboscis monkey: As well as a very oversized nose, this primate also has a rotund appearance, which is a by-product of its diet of unripe fruit. Only the males have such large noses and, although they might look odd to us, it is thought that they make the primates more attractive to potential mates.