Integration in da ‘Aina

The new theme for my bloggy blog. Aaaah, finally!

“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.

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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.

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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.

DSC02715Thankfully, 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.”

Not a bad view.
Not a bad view.

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?

panchkosha-bigOh, 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!

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