Category Archives: Community

The word conjures images of picnics on Sundays and kids playing down the street – but in my life, ‘community’ refers to an international network of open-minded people of varied backgrounds, spiritual and even political beliefs. The focus here is cooperation, positive intentions, disciplined action – groups and individuals who are contributing to a healthy and peaceful evolution of the planet.

Honolulu’s Meditation Gems

When you first move to a new city, it’s always an adventure finding new circles to network in, adventures to experience, spaces to explore. Foodies might hit up Yelp to check out the local kine grinds; or if you’re big into drinking, you’re probably good just cruising out to the ‘hood with the most bars per square mile, and having a little stroll.

If you happen to be a yogi/meditator/Buddhism-phile who just moved to Honolulu, choices of meditation communities are pretty easy to locate through a Googly search:

Kailua Shambhala Meditation Center: Shambhala lineage Tibetan Buddhist mindfulness meditation and workshops.

Kagyu Thegchen Ling: Tibetan Buddhist meditation center offering daily pujas and weekly meditations.

Siddha Yoga Meditation Center: weekly satsang and hatha yoga classes.

Diamond Sangha: meditation classes offered to the community three times per week, as well as workshops and residential programs.

Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin: a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple offering weekly sits, as well as judo, ikebana, and other activities.

Aloha Sangha: a group of meditators meet on Thursday evenings for yoga, meditation, and dharma talk, led by a former Buddhist monk.

There are also more private meditation sanghas one generally needs a personal introduction to in order to join; I know of just a few, from friends who’ve been on the island longer.

As for open public sits, after just a few months of seeking, I’ve visited with the sanghas at Bodhi Tree and Native Meditation – and loved them both.

Bodhi Tree is located in a gorgeous three-story house in Nuuanu Valley, graced with a view of Diamond Head and twinkling Honolulu city lights. Weekly Vipassana sits are 40 minutes long and followed by a dharma talk with a larger community of about 15 people or so. Loving Kindness meditations are also offered on the full moon, and the center hosts an array of workshops on Buddhist practices.

I had two lovely sits here, followed by invigorating chats with the teacher and a fellow sangha member in the circle who’d been living at the center for a few months. It’s definitely a sweet spot for meditation and meeting experienced community members.

My first experience with a community sit in Hawaii was actually with Kit Kanohoaloha, a teacher in the Shambhala lineage. His space was recently about to be made a sister center to the Kailua Shambhala Center, but the paperwork and whatnot got in the way and Kit is now running his sit as Native Meditation. Intimate, welcoming, and very beginner-friendly, Kit starts out with 20-30 minutes of introduction to the practice and lineage for new students. The next hour or so is sitting meditation (eyes open), and walking meditation; he alternates between the two for a few rounds and then everyone shares their experience.

Meeting my fellow meditators in the circle was super inspiring. Everyone had such interesting backgrounds – an Italian first-timer, a hula-dancing seeker, and a new transplant to Honolulu from China – and we all convened here, in Kit’s warm abode, to sit quietly and contemplate life together. I left the house feeling connected and jazzed to continue my practice at home.

It’s really been so fulfilling to come into contact with these groups, bringing peace to themselves and the community, on a regular intentional basis. When I grew up here, I was never really aware of all these possibilities for growth. My former Hawaii life was all plate lunches and movie theaters. Now, it seems I can have my meditation … and plate lunch, too!


Catching Up With the Past

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 …

From "I chose to paint Ku, the god of war, but also wanted to show the Ku as the lesser known god of husbandry. Ku protects love and provides for his family. I painted Ku and Hina dancing as a perfect yin and yang. Hina is the Hawaiian moon goddess and guides the wa‘a navigators across the Pacific Ocean.  Prime helped to emphasize this by adding the double-hulled wa‘akaulua canoe. Ku is also the god of prosperity and to show this, I rendered fish swimming at his feet, and kalo plants surrounding Ku and Hina." Mike Bam
From “I chose to paint Ku, the god of war, but also wanted to show the Ku as the lesser known god of husbandry. Ku protects love and provides for his family. I painted Ku and Hina dancing as a perfect yin and yang. Hina is the Hawaiian moon goddess and guides the wa‘a navigators across the Pacific Ocean. Prime helped to emphasize this by adding the double-hulled wa‘akaulua canoe. Ku is also the god of prosperity and to show this, I rendered fish swimming at his feet, and kalo plants surrounding Ku and Hina.” Mike Bam

My favorite lesson from the eight week course was about the difference between the words koʻu and kaʻu.

20140821_201925[1]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!


That New Neighborhood Vibe

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!

Art galleries and nonprofits, a bike shop, a dope new ‘hood magazine, it seems like Kaka’ako can do no wrong.  Then again, the prospect of multiple high-rise condominiums looms with an ominous tone.  What kind of traffic will all those new residents bring?  Will the housing be made *reasonably* affordable?  And though this may be more of an island-wide concern, what can we do to help the homeless sprinkled about our quiet urban petri dish?  Building a new neighborhood, especially in Hawaii, is no simple endeavor.

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.

Big, Da Family!

obama-clanHawaii families tend to be pretty massive.  Not because we have more kids out here than in other parts of the world, though I would say this is an ideal place to start a family.  The size of a Hawaii family feels a lot bigger, mostly because of the generous inclusion of extended members, a multilayered practice unique to the islands.  Like while I was growing up here on the south shore of Oahu, I used to play with a pair of siblings, Jacob and Missy, who were the kids of my mother’s former best friend from high school.  So we considered ourselves cousins, calabash cousins.  Which came in particularly handy when I’d get teased at school for liking Jacob – I could always just tell everyone that we were cousins, and they’d leave us alone to have fun, sans mockery!

So if Jacob and Missy were my calabash cousins, that made their mom, Ewalani, my aunty.  And I would call her just that – Aunty Ewa.  In fact, any adult I met, who happened to be very close to my mother or father, I tended to use “aunty” and “uncle” as a sign of respect.  Including my Dad’s crazy biker friends, like Uncle Animal and Uncle J.C..  Sometimes, your calabash relatives fulfill those familial roles with even more love and attention than your blood relatives.   We sometimes use the “aunty” and “uncle” titles for any person older than you encountered in public.  Like, “Eh Aunty, you like one seat?” If you were to offer a seat to an older lady on a bus.

Another fairly unique family layer in Hawaii is made up of hanai children, those taken in by a close family friend, or, in traditional Hawaiian days, children from a high ranking family creating an alliance with another high ranking family.  Queen Liliuokalani (in the featured image), Hawaii’s last ruling monarch, was taken in as a hanai child, and took in a few of her own as well.  Hanai are something akin to foster kids if the situation is temporary, or in more extreme cases, godchildren, if their parents were to have passed.

Today, however, I’m grateful for my big (immediate) family, from my parents to my grandparents, from my aunties and uncles, and especially for my cousins!  Without them, this move back home would have taken a lot longer, and been a lot more arduous.  Mahalo, cuzzies, you da best!

Yoga Family

Aspects of yoga can be rather isolating –the meditating, asanas, pranayam, and svadhyaya are all done solo.  You travel inward to get to know yourself, uncovering the patterns and surprises within your layers – some latent, some rather more active.  All paths are unique, yet we become aware that we are all connected somehow. It can seem like a contradiction – if you’re thinking about it too hard ;).

Seekers are often brought together in random places like bus stops and cafes, but I’ve more commonly met my yoga family in centers, ashrams, studios and monasteries.  We rock up there for long periods of spiritual development and, inevitably, deep connections are made.

Friendships formed in the mold of yogic experience are forged in the heat of tapas.

When we’re blessed to explore these friendships outside of our practice spaces as well, my instinct is to call these beautiful souls my yoga family.  Of course, there is a greater yoga family, the international crew of people who are shining that inner divine through all sorts of yogic paths and funky combo approaches. Millions of us out there – doesn’t it warm your heart to imagine?

Here in France, my yoga family has been representing in full effect. My yoga brother in Paris and yoga sister in Nice have gone above and beyond mere hosting – they’re even feeding me disgusting French foods so my facial expressions will delight the table.  We’re officially in the realm of family now!  Ha!

So, Tuesday’s source of thanks: Yoga Family.  With love from the infinite source, for the shared intentions, depth, trust, honesty, generosity, and oodles of good times, thank you!

City Stress Rankings – Hawaii No Ka ‘Oi

I’m grateful today for this article on stress in America, A) because it’s interesting and, B) the opening line speaks perfectly to my recent decision to move . . .

State Stress Levels: The Most-Stressed U.S. States And Cities

Posted: 05/22/13 EDT  |  Updated: 05/22/13 EDT

If you need to de-stress, you could add some cardio, try meditation — or move to Hawaii.

No surprise, that’s the least stressful place in the U.S. to live, according to a Gallup-Healthways survey on daily stress levels released last month. Hawaii has held this spot since Gallup started measuring daily stress in 2008. The map below shows stress levels by state, based on the percent of residents who experienced stress “yesterday” on different days during 2012.

Some of the most-stressed states are located in the Northeast, where there are plenty of cities filled with their own urban stressors. Our map also shows the nation’s 15 most stressful cities, ranked by a 2011 Forbes study that analyzed data on wellbeing measures such as unemployment, cost of living, population density, traffic, air quality and more. California is home to five of these cities, but sunny weather and some of the highest numbers of per-capita yoga studios may help keep city traffic and housing costs from dragging the state down.


There are countless personal and societal factors that can contribute to stress, and financial stressors are some of the most discussed. Two of the most-stressed states are West Virginia and Kentucky, where around 19 percent of people live in poverty. On the other hand, stress levels tend to be lower in the Deep South, where poverty levels are among the country’s highest.

And from Forbes . . .

America’s Most Stressful Cities

So much for California dreaming: By our measure, five out of America’s 15 most stressful cities are in the Golden State, where residents contend with a wicked brew of job woes, high costs of living, traffic congestion and poor air quality.

Los Angeles tops our list, but New Yorkers should stop snickering, as their city comes in second, followed by Chicago, which comes in third. The Big Apple has the least affordable housing in the U.S., the most extreme population density and the highest cost of living—a mass of stresses tempered only by its current unemployment rate, 8.6%, which, while high, remains below the national average of 9.1%.

Washington D.C. and San Diego rank fourth and fifth, respectively.

Behind the Numbers

To come up with our rankings, we analyzed quality-of-life data from the 40 largest metropolitan statistical areas as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and as used by the U.S. Census Bureau. For financial indicators, we looked at unemployment rates for July, and because it’s not only a lack of employment that causes anxiety but also too much of it, average weekly working hours as reported by the Census Bureau in April. We also factored in housing affordability, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index for the second quarter, and cost of living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Because air quality plays a role in mental wellbeing, we looked at the number of days per year with dangerous ozone levels, using the American Lung

Association’s State of the Air 2011 report, which is based in part on data supplied by the Environmental Protection Agency. We also took into account traffic congestion data from the 2010 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute; 2010 Census numbers on population density; and cities’ historic average of sunny days, as recorded by the National Climate Data Center.

Who’s Stressed Out and Why

“We can’t stand uncertainty, and feel enormously stressed when we feel out of control,” says Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute, based in Atlanta. “A lot of that comes from finances, especially right now. But even if you’re employed, you’re working tremendously long hours—or worrying that you might be next.” Traffic congestion and long commutes are also serious anxiety producers she says, adding, “Commuters can experience greater stress than fighter pilots in battle.”

That all certainly applies to Los Angeles—home to a whopping 12.3% unemployment rate, the third least affordable housing of the cities we looked at and a cost-of-living index of 135 (on a scale where the national average is set at 100), putting it sixth-highest in the country. In addition to its financial troubles, L.A. has a host of environmental worries: the highest ozone levels in the country and the third-worst traffic congestion. But it does have at least one bright spot to balance that all out: an average of 266 sunny days a year.

In Pictures: America’s Most Stressful Cities

The nation’s capital, meanwhile, has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, plus a high cost of living.

The biggest surprise? Seattle, coming in at number 10. The fair-trade, organic, indie-rocker city may not be a total utopia after all, considering these factors: It ranks eighth among our cities for housing unaffordability, has the 8th worst traffic congestion (forcing commuters to lose 44 hours a year), a cost of living index that tops that of both Chicago and Miami, and a mere 157 possible sunny days a year, making it the gloomiest city on our list.

Cities may be a source of angst, with urban dwellers experiencing a higher rate of mood and anxiety disorders, according to a study published in the June issue of the journal Nature, but Hall says the urban crush can have positive aspects. “In cities you have more physical contact, so for some people that actually is more comforting,” she says, while rural life can be isolating. “The only thing that matters,” she concludes, “is your state of mind.”