Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Simplicity

One of the most useful lessons I ever learned in my shaman training was that life is really very simple, and so are the solutions to our problems. What makes it seem so complicated is that we get distracted by all the things there are to see and do and think about, and then we get so stressed by the effort to make everything work out right that we get confused and angry or fearful.

Simplicity can be found in the fact that no matter how busy, complex, and stressful things get, living consists of thinking, feeling and doing. That's all. And solving problems consists of thinking, feeling and doing things differently. And that's all, too. When life seems to be too complicated, this is what you can come back to. It isn't like failing to see the forest for the trees. It's more like seeing the trees and remembering the soil that they come from.
Here is is something to do when life gets difficult:
1. Breathe a few times with awareness of breathing.
2. Change negative thoughts to positive ones by noticing something good. Look clearly, listen well. there's always something.
3. Change negative emotions to positive ones by remembering something good. It doesn't matter whether it was this morning or many years ago. Find something to remember.
4. Change negative behavior to positive behavior by doing something good. Give a compliment, rub someone's back, perform a simple act of kindness. It doesn't have to be big.
When you do this you will discover that you can think more clearly, feel better, and act more effectively. It works.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Moving Beyond Patience

The Hawaiian word ahonui is commonly translated as "patience." However, that translation into English can be very, very misleading

Generally, when we talk about patience in English, we mean the ability to suffer hardship, or discomfort, or pain, without complaint. There is a sense of inner strength or courage about it, but it's essentially a passive concept. Something bad is happening to you, but you put up with it bravely for as long as it takes.

As admirable as that concept might be, it doesn't carry the full meaning of ahonui.

Let me tell you a story that will help to illustrate this, one of the stories of the legendary hero Maui. This is a Kauai version, and I'll bring out some of the inner meanings to show the relationship to ahonui.

Once a upon a time, long before Captain Cook, Maui Kupua, who was born on Kauai, of course, was coming back from O'ahu in his canoe when he thought to himself, "Why are the islands so far apart? They should all be closer together." So after he landed he went to his mother, Hina in Wailua and asked for her advice.

Hina stopped her tapa beating and said, "If you want to bring the islands together you will have to catch the giant whale Luehu with your magic fishhook, Manai-a-ka-lani, and you will have to hold on fast for a long time. If you can do this, Luehu will circle the islands and you will be able to pull them together. Take your brothers with you to help with the canoe, but warn them to always face forward no matter what happens, or you will fail."

So Maui gathered his four brothers, Maui, Maui, Maui, and Maui, and told them what he was going to do. They were excited about such an adventure, and when he warned them about facing forward no matter what, they promised that they would.

At last the canoe was ready, the fishhook was ready, and the brothers were ready. During a break in the surf they paddled out into the Kai'ei'ewaho Channel between Kauai and O'ahu and around to the northwest of Kauai to begin their search for the great whale. For days and days they searched, until at last they found the great whale Luehu swimming beside Nihoa, the island to the northwest of Kauai. Maui threw his magical fishhook, Luehu caught it in his mouth, and immediately the whale began pulling the canoe through the ocean at high speed.

For many more long days the Maui brothers held on with determination as the whale pulled them onward, but by carefully tugging on the fishing line in just the right way, and by cleverly paddling in just the right way at just the right time, they caused the whale to circle all the islands, until one day they found themselves again off the coast of Wailua, facing toward O'ahu.

Luehu was tired now, so while Maui Kupua pulled on the fishing line with all his might his brothers back-paddled furiously, and slowly, slowly the islands began to pull together. Just then, a canoe bailer, Kaliu, floated past the canoe. The eldest Maui, in the steersman position, quickly grabbed it and tossed it behind him in case they should need it. Unknown to him, the bailer was really a mischievous spirit, an e'epa, who turned into a very beautiful woman. All the people gathered on the Wailua shoreline exclaimed about her beauty. At first, none of the Maui brothers paid attention, but finally the praises got so loud that Maui's four brothers turned around to see who this beautiful woman was that everyone was shouting about. In that moment, Luehu felt the weakening of the pull against him and gave one last desperate leap to escape. Without his brothers to help him, Maui Kupua pulled too hard, the fishing line broke, Luehu got away, and the islands drifted apart again. And we know the story is true because the islands are still far apart today.

Hawaiian legends always contain knowledge hidden below the surface, usually in the form of names which have several meanings. In this story, the hero Maui wants to accomplish a great task, the uniting of the islands, but in order to do this he has to capture the whale, Luehu, with his fishhook, Manai-a-ka-lani. Now, "Luehu" means "scattered," and "Manaiakalani" is "flower lei needle." The scattered islands have to be brought together, perhaps politically, culturally, or socially, like flowers strung on a lei. Where did they find the whale? The old name of the Kauai Channel, "Kai'ei'ewaho," simply means "The Outer Heights," referring to the high waves of the channel, but it could also refer to the need to go outside of one's normal boundaries. The place where they encountered the whale, "Nihoa," was a very sacred place in ancient times. The name means "jagged, sharp," like a row of teeth, and is part of an old saying: "Ku paku ka pali o Nihoa i ka makani - The cliffs of Nihoa stand like a shield against the wind." This saying refers to someone who faces misfortune with courage.

The most important element in the story is the fishing line, because this is called aho, and it also means "breath, to breathe," and "to put forth great effort." Maui must put forth great effort to accomplish his aim, but that still isn't enough. The word nui means "big, much, many; something extending over time, or something very important." Ahonui is the Hawaiian word for "patience." And, it is also the word for "perseverance." This is not the patience of waiting in a line. It is the persistence of knocking on a door until you get an answer. It is not the patience of waiting out a storm. It is the perseverance of moving through a storm to your destination. It is not waiting to get healed. It is using everything you know and doing everything you can to make the healing happen. Ahonui can also be translated as "many breaths," the act of moving toward something you want for as many breaths as it takes.

Hawaiian legends do not always have happy endings, because sometimes their purpose is not only to tell you how to succeed, but also how to fail. In the story just told, the downfall of the great plan to unite the islands was caused by Kaliu, which means "a leaky canoe bailer." Ka refers to a canoe bailer, but it is also a strong action word used for tying things together, for making or doing things, and even for fishing. Liu, the "leakage," is the leaking away of attention to your purpose, the loss of focus on what is important. In the story, Maui's brothers, representing aspects of himself, get distracted, and as they lose their focus they also lose their goal. Perseverance does not work on a part-time basis.

Fortunately, there are many examples in this world of people who have persevered in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and who have accomplished more than was thought humanly possible. I have met and talked with a lot of such people, and have read about many more, but one stands out strongly in my memory.

A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in a Department of Education program to teach young people about self esteem, and part of the workshop I gave was incorporated into a video that was distributed in the school system. The best part of the video was not my contribution, however. The best part was the story of a young girl who became a hula dancer. I was mildly impressed when the camera showed her from the waist up dancing with a group of other girls, all moving gracefully with the same rhythm and gestures. When the camera pulled back ... I was stunned. This lovely young girl was a good dancer, yes, as good as the others. And she had only one leg.

Imagine the patience, the persistence, the suffering, the perseverance, the AHONUI that this young girl applied to develop the grace and skill that was also difficult for her two-legged sisters. And what gave her this ahonui? Where did it come from? How did she maintain it through all the fears and doubts and problems she must have endured? There is only one answer. What gave her the strength of her ahonui was the aloha she had for the hula.

What will give you the strength to persevere in the direction of your dreams and desires, plans and goals, wishes and healings, is the love you have for something that you decide is so important, so valuable, so good, that nothing at all can replace it in your mind and in your heart. If your aloha is strong enough, you will have the ahonui to keep going in spite of doubt, disappointment, fear, misunderstanding, and all the people who tell you that what you want is impossible. In this infinite universe, the only impossibility is whatever you never attempt, and the only failure is when you decide to give up.

However, there is something even more important to learn from Maui's story. What do you do when you've done everything you know how to do and put all the energy and attention you have available into achieving what you want and it still doesn't work out? After all, Maui didn't give up on life after his plan to unite the islands failed. He went on to have many more adventures. The answer lies in another Hawaiian word, ha'ule. Often used to mean "to fail, failure," it really carries the idea of losing something. And, in wonderfully Hawaiian style, it has another meaning as well: "to begin to do something else."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thoughts On Cancer

My younger brother died of cancer in his early thirties, and my mother died of complications involving cancer when she was in her eighties. And I have had the opportunity to work with many people suffering from that disease. In every case I am familiar with, and according to many medical experts, cancer has both physical and emotional aspects. The strength of each of these can amplify the other, and the healing of either of these can help to heal the other.

My brother had lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker and had a lot of stress in his life. In addition, he fit the personality profile observed in almost 1000 lung cancer patients by Dr. David Kissen of Southern General Hospital in Glasgow: before he was fifteen one of his parents died (our father); there were marital difficulties; and there were professional frustrations. Naturally, a very large number of people may have these particular experiences, but what Dr. Kissen considered significant was how many of the cancer patients reacted to them. Typically, they held in emotional expression and denied conflicts. This certainly described my brother.

My mother had lung cancer. She also lost her father before the age of fifteen, and had her share of marital difficulties and professional frustrations, too. And, she held in emotional expression and denied conflicts as well.

Similar relationships between emotions, experiences of loss or frustration, and all forms of cancer have been noted in many medical studies (two good sources for this kind of information, if they are still available, are Psychosomatics, by Howard R. and Martha E. Lewis [Pinnacle Books, 1975} and Who Gets Sick, by Blair Justice, Ph.D. [Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1988]).

The common thread of emotional response in all forms of cancer (and, I suspect, in all disease), is a frustrated desire to control experience in some way. There is a wide variation in what people are trying to control. Some are trying to control their own behavior; some are trying to control the behavior of others; some are trying to control past, present, or future events; some are trying to control it all. It is not surprising that cancer is often associated with symptoms of depression, but it not always clear whether the depression is associated with the cancer, or with something else that the person cannot control.

In my own experience with and observation of people with cancer, I have noted that the most successful recoveries seem to be strongly associated with major mental, emotional, or physical behavioral changes among the people with the illness. What is major for one person, of course, may not be the same for another. Some people get results from radically changing their whole lifestyle, while others get results from forgiving a longtime resentment. I know of one success where a woman left her family, took up a different religion, changed her clothing and diet, and moved to a different country. Maybe she needed all of those changes and maybe not, but overall it worked for her. I know of another person, a man, who simply stopped trying to outdo his father, and that worked for him.
My brother, however, didn't change his reactions or his life. And my mother, right to the very end, refused to give up grudges she had held for many years against many people. If you want to change something, you have to change something.

Whenever we try to control something by mental, emotional, or physical means, and whenever we fail to control it to the degree that we want, we increase the tension in our body. The more often we try and fail, the greater the increase of tension. Not everyone gets cancer because of this since the specific outcome of excess tension depends on so many different genetic, environmental, and mental factors, but I believe that healing the control issues can be of tremendous benefit in helping to heal cancer and, probably, everything else that needs healing.

The need for control is based on fear, and fear itself generates tension. Control, then, is merely a technique for trying not to feel afraid. Maybe a good place to start the healing process would be to stop trying to control fear, and do something to change the fear reaction, instead.
It is an experiential fact that you cannot feel fear if your body is totally relaxed. However, even though there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to relax, such as massage, meditation, play, laughter, herbs, drugs, etc., that does not always solve the problem. The real problem lies behind the tension, and behind the fear. The real problem is not even the idea that something is fearful. The real problem is that you feel helpless. When this problem is solved the fear disappears (not the common sense, just the helpless fear), the need for control disappears, and a huge amount of tension disappears.

Fundamentally, what I'm really talking about is confidence, a kind of core confidence not related to a specific talent, or skill, or behavior, or experience, or piece of knowledge. Lots of teachers and lots of merchants offer ways to get this kind of confidence, and my own works contain many ideas about it, so rather than limit your possibilities by suggesting a particular technique, I'm only going to share a couple of Hawaiian words for confidence whose root meanings may point you in the right direction:

Paulele - "stop jumping around"
Kanaloa - "extended calm"

There is no quick and easy fix I know of that will produce this kind of confidence. It takes internal awareness and one or more internal decisions, but even that will only work if it results in a different way of responding to life.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fear Of Focus

I was browsing through some very old notes and came across the following piece, written to myself at a very crucial time in my life. It isn't very long, but I think that reading it might be useful to people who might find themselves in a similar state at some time in their life.

"It's time to review and set clear-cut goals. The past few days have been a torment for my Lono because radical changes are necessary and my priorities and directions are fuzzy.

I think I have a very deep issue about commitment to a single purpose. There is also an issue about what's important, about working in the present with trust vs planning/programming for the future, about what I want and what gives me pleasure, about security and service, and about focusing in the creation of an organization or focusing on the spread of knowledge.

From everything I know, success will require motivation, confidence and concentration. Motivation comes from believing something is important. Confidence comes from trusting oneself and the universe. Concentration comes from each of those. You can't concentrate if there's apathy or fear and doubt. In another sense, concentration comes first because there has to be something to be motivated or confident about.

We are back to the issue about commitment to a single purpose. Even thinking about that stirs up strange feelings akin to fear. Probably why I've found it hard to commit to a single technique, also. This is a prime issue. I see that the way I've coped with it before is to shift focus within a broad area or find a distraction. So I shift from peace, to love, to power, to energy, to success, to prosperity, to presence ... all within the context of Aloha International and Huna. Even when I 'make a commitment' to one focus, I either forget it the next day or begin to have huge doubts.

If there is such fear, there must be an anticipation of pain or danger as a result of such commitment. Is it a fear of power and what that might do to me or to others? Is it a fear of rejection or criticism if I'm 'too' committed? Is there a fear based on some other model I've seen or some other life I'm living? Is it a fear of loss from too narrow a focus? Since all of these have come to mind and provoked varying degrees of feelings and releases, it's probably some of each. 

What a complicated interlock! No matter which focus I try in my mind, fears and doubts and excuses come up as to why it's not a good idea.

So it isn't the particular focus at issue, it's focus itself. What would happen if I were to focus exclusively on one thing (I even found it hard to maintain focus on this sentence!)? Right now my head feels funny, my chest is contracted and my shoulders feel heavy. I would say the main issue is criticism/rejection. What would I be criticized for if I maintained intense, sustained focus? Here's a scenario that just went through my head: If I commit I'll be very successful, if I'm very successful I'll be noticed for being outstanding, if I'm outstanding I'll be criticized for being different and egotistical, and if I'm different and egotistical I won't have anyone to love me. Whew!

Lawa! Enough! I hereby commit myself to focus on practicing and teaching the Power of Love, 24 hours a day!"

Note from the Present: Well, I'm not up to 24 hours a day yet, even many years later, but every day in every way I'm getting better and better.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Fearlessness

We were born to be fearless.

We do not inherit fear from our ancestors. It is not an instinctive reaction, nor is it necessary for survival. Caution, yes; recognition of potential danger, yes; but not fear. We have to be taught how to be afraid.

I remember when I was a young boy watching my younger sister walk down a hallway in our home while smashing spiders on the wall with her hand. I thought it was disgusting, my sister thought it was fun, my Mom thought it was horrifying. I can still hear her screams when she saw my sister happily diminishing the spider population, and I remember how quickly my sister changed her attitude and behavior toward spiders after only one intensive spiders-are-awful-be-afraid-of-them training session.

One minute we can be fearless, and in the next we can learn to be fearful. For the moment let's put aside the question of whether fear has any value. The issue at hand is whether it is inborn or acquired behavior.

Here is another example, opposite to the one above. On a sunny day on a broad beach in Africa, when the ocean was like a calm lake, I noticed that my four-year-old and seven-year-old sons were having fun the water, and my three-year-old son was having fun on the sand. No problem with that, except that I also noticed how he scampered out of the way every time the smallest wavelet came within two feet of him. This looked like a job for "Parentman!"

I picked up my three-year-old, talked to him soothingly, and carried him a few steps toward the water. He immediately tried to squirm out of my arms, even though the water was only around my ankles. He was clearly afraid, so I stopped, calmed him down, and took a few more steps forward. Of course, he reacted in the same way. Very slowly and gently, using a classic psychological method of desensitization, I was able to get him to accept being in the water ankle deep, waist deep, chest deep, and, finally, we even ducked under the water together. After that I returned him to shore and let him develop his own relationship to the ocean. After he graduated high school he became a US Navy Seal.

One more example to illustrate my point. I teach a self-help behavior modification technique called "Dynamind," and one thing it is very good for is getting rid of phobias. During a seminar demonstration I had a young woman on stage who said she was afraid of water. We further refined that to be a state of paralyzing panic when facing a swimming pool. Even further refinement produced the interesting discovery that the panic occurred only when the pool was closer than two meters, more than one meter wide, and the color of the water was blue. In fact, regardless of the size or proximity of the pool, the panic disappeared if the color of the water was green.

In the first example above, my sister had no fear of spiders until she was taught to be afraid by our mother. Her first reaction to them was the instinctive one. In the second example, my son was afraid of the ocean, not the water itself. I know this because I had seen him happily splashing bath water all over on numerous occasions. I have no idea what event taught him to be afraid--and he doesn't remember--but his ability to get rid of the fear in such a short time definitely indicates a learned behavior and not an instinctive one. And in the last example, the fact that so many specific conditions had to be met before the debilitating fear occurred is indicative of learned behavior as well.

This would be a good time to define what I mean by "instinctive" behavior, because many people confuse it with "automatic" behavior. Behavior is automatic when you have learned it so well you don't have to think about it anymore. It is basically a stimulus response like Pavlov's dog salivating at the ringing of a bell. For many people, riding a bicycle, using silverware, reacting with fear to specific events, or getting cold symptoms when you get your feet wet in street shoes, but not in beach sandals, are common examples of automatic behavior. Such behavior is linked closely to individual experience and cultural expectations.

Instinctive behavior, on the other hand, is common to all humans and not dependent on individual experience or culture. Breathing is instinctive; breathing rates are learned. Eating is instinctive; food choices are learned. The urges to get warm when you are cold, get cool when you are hot, seek security when you feel insecure, or move toward or repeat pleasurable experiences, and move away from or avoid unpleasant or painful experiences are all part of humanity's repertoire of instinctive behaviors.

Another important difference is that learned behaviors, automatic or not, are capable of being unlearned or modified very quickly, whereas instinctive behaviors can only be suppressed, amplified, or redirected.

It is a fact, supported by abundant research, experiments and experience, that fears can be unlearned, often quickly, without suppression, amplification or redirection. This alone puts them into the learned behavior category.

Part of the misunderstanding about fear comes from early experiments in which babies were tossed into the air and observations were made of their behavior. The instinctive reaction of seeking a connection to something secure was interpreted as an expression of fear. Actually, as long as you don't drop them, some babies get immense enjoyment from being tossed into the air.

"As long as you don't drop them." This brings up the subject of how fear gets learned in the first place. For that to happen, three vital factors must be present: self-doubt, a memory of pain, and an expectation of pain. To be completely accurate, we really don't remember pain itself, but the memory of having experienced pain.

Self-doubt is the most important factor, for without it fear doesn't occur. Self-doubt is also learned behavior, but it can be learned while you are still a fetus. Basically, self-doubt is born when an individual interprets a feeling or sensation as meaning that one has lost contact with their source of power or love. To the degree that this interpretation is repeated with similar feelings or sensations it becomes learned and automatic behavior.

Memories of some kind of pain are present in everyone, but everyone is not affected by them in the same way. Fear is born--and eventually learned--when self-doubt is present at the time a painful experience occurs because, due to the self-doubt, an expectation of pain arises under any stimulus that resembles the original pain. When I was about seven-years-old I was playing with some friends and we decided to climb a tree and jump off a large branch. The other boys did it without a problem. They didn't have any self-doubt, at least in relation to jumping out of trees, so that even if they had gotten hurt in the past from leaping off a branch they had no expectation of pain from doing it again. I, however, had sufficient self-doubt, and a memory of a previous painful fall not related to trees, that I crouched on the branch, frozen with fear, for a very long time. The other boys simply crawled around me and jumped to their heart's content. At long last I suppressed my fear, gathered my courage, and leaped into the unknown. It was my first experience of branch-jumping. Fortunately, I had a good landing and it was so much fun I did it over and over, unlearning my fear in the process.
One of the last sentences in the previous paragraph reminds me of another aspect of fear that needs clarification, the so-called "fear of the unknown." There is no such thing, folks. It's always a fear of the known. Or, rather, a fear of not knowing. If we experience something truly unknown we will either be curious or we will ignore it. Fear only arises in this case when a new experience reminds us of a previous painful experience and we have an expectation of another painful experience because we don't know what to do.

Here is the moral of the story. It doesn't matter if we have self-doubt, or painful memories, or fear of anything whatsoever. We learned how to act one way; we can teach ourselves how to act differently. Self-doubt can be erased by teaching ourselves--over and over and over again--to trust in ourselves and/or in a higher power. To trust, not that nothing bad will ever happen, but that whatever happens we will be able to cope, and that more good things will happen than bad. How do we know? We don't. The future is never fixed, but now is the moment of power. What we do and how we think in the present moment may not control the future, but it has more influence on the future than anything else. There is no fear without self-doubt. Self-doubt begins with a decision. It can end with a decision, too.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Checking Your Values

One day I found myself wondering why we celebrate New Year's Day on January 1st. After all, what's the point? Nothing special is happening in Nature on that day. The winter solstice happens more than a week before. Christmas, of course, is exactly one week before, and December 25th was celebrated as the beginning of the end of winter in many ancient cultures in the Northern Hemisphere, but so what? What does that have to do with January 1st? My curiosity led me into doing a little research.

First I checked out the whole idea of a New Year celebration. I found out that the oldest one recorded took place around 2000 B.C. in Babylon, which was in what we now know as Iraq. However, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year in late March because that was the beginning of their new cycle of Spring planting. Before the planting, though, they spent eleven days in celebrations of thanksgiving for all the good that the gods had provided the previous year. In a very similar way the ancient Hawaiians celebrated the New Year in November, with four whole months of thanksgiving feasting and gaming and getting ready for the next season.

Some kind of New Year celebration has been part of virtually every culture on earth as a means of giving thanks for past things of value, and making preparations for another year of more things of value (hopefully).

Still, why January 1st? It isn't a harvest time or a seeding time in either hemisphere. As a point in the orbit of the Earth around the Sun it doesn't have any particular significance.
As it turns out, my research revealed that natural events are not the only things that humans consider significant.

During the early Roman Empire the first day of the New Year was January 1st. Weirdly enough, their January 1st fell on what we now know as March 25, at the beginning of Spring. Because various emperors and high-ranking officials placed great value on extending their terms of office, they fiddled with the lengths of months and years until the calendar got so out of whack that Julius Caesar had to put January 1st on its proper date again (March 25) in 46 B.C.

Enter the Catholic Church. As the leaders of that body became more politically powerful they decided to establish their own January 1st, in opposition to what they considered a pagan fertility festival. So they created a brand new calendar and made the New Year begin on the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, exactly one week after the birth of Christ by their reckoning.

The transition to this new New Year wasn't immediate. From the 11th to the 13th centuries, the Spanish and Portuguese celebrated the New Year on the Catholic January 1st, the British celebrated it on March 25th, the Italians on December 15 (which was Christmas day at that time) and the French on Easter Sunday. Meanwhile, and still today, the Chinese, Jews, and traditional Hawaiians celebrate New Year in their own timing. Because the Gregorian calendar is so widely accepted today, the latter get to celebrate the New Year twice if they want to.

It's time for a valid question to arise. What is the point of this article?

The point is that people everywhere have always acknowledged in some way the ending of an old cycle and the beginning of a new one. The exact timing of the cycle depends on the value--the importance--that people give to the cycle. As described above, some people may think natural cycles are more important and others may think religious or political cycles to be so. In addition, people everywhere have decided that the beginning/ending of the cycle is a good time to reflect on what they consider important in their lives, and to confirm these values or change them.

It doesn't matter whether your favorite cycle begins on January 1st, your birthday, the spring equinox, the winter solstice or Boxing Day. There is something inherently, humanly powerful about declaring that one cycle has ended and a new one has begun, and then using that transition time to give thanks for value received and make plans for value to come.

Your values consist of whatever you believe is most important in your life. Your values themselves have value because they govern every aspect of your personal behavior, and they influence the behavior of the world around you. In any situation in life you will always act according to what is most important to you at the time, no matter what the circumstance or what anyone around you says or does. If you are ever surprised by your own behavior, it's because you are not aware of your own values.

As an example, I was discussing values with my adorable wife and we each discovered something we didn't expect. We value our relationship highly, but during our discussion it came out very clearly that we value personal freedom even more. Our relationship has such a high value that we constantly accede to each other's wishes even when that means doing something we don't want to do, or not doing something we want to do. Since there is so much give and take on both sides, and so much joy in other aspects of the relationship, we consider these restrictions on personal freedom as easily tolerable (although I grumble sometimes just for the heck of it). In other words, the relationship has a higher value than these minor restrictions on our freedom. However, in playing the game of "What if...?" it came out that if these restrictions became "excessive" (by subjective evaluation) then the value of the relationship would diminish accordingly.

The discussion got even more interesting when we discovered that "relationship" and "personal freedom" are very abstract concepts. Behind those abstracts were the things we really valued most: the pleasure of our mutual admiration and respect; and the emotional satisfaction of making our own choices.

Behind all abstract values--love, power, health, freedom, etc.--are the very specific values, i.e., the really important things, that move us emotionally and motivate us behaviorally. At any given moment you will always move toward whatever holds the potential, in your estimation, for the greatest pleasure or the least pain.

In both California and Hawaii you can almost always tell who the carpenters are: they are the ones with surfboards in their pick-up trucks. They bring their boards to work, and when the surf is high enough the worksite is abandoned. The abstract view is that they value surfing more than working. The specific view is that they think the thrill of riding a big wave is more important than sawing wood for someone else (unless they are in dire need of money to pay the rent). They will usually stay on the job when the surf is mediocre, but when the waves reach a certain height...

Another example is the person who works so hard "for the family" that he or she ignores the family to the point where the person ends up alone and confused. Here the abstract value of "family security" is probably based on a very intense personal fear of being criticized for failing to support them. In the pursuit of avoiding criticism the actual family is lost from view.

The value of the discussion between my wife and myself was that we became more consciously aware of what we value. At the same time, because of our Huna background, we realized that it was all arbitrary. With the flick of a thought we can change any of our values that we choose to change. We can make important things unimportant and unimportant things important by our will alone. And the value of that is that we are more consciously aware of, and careful of, those values we choose to live by.

Changing what you value most in life is an act that has profound consequences for you and those around you, because the values you have now also have such consequences. If your life doesn't seem to be working out for you, there might be a problem with your values. If life is working out for you, then values are also involved and it might be a good idea to know what they are.

Any time is a good time to examine what is most important to you, in order to confirm it or make some alterations. Therefore, now is a good time, too.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Modern Shamanism

"You look more modern than I thought you'd be," said the visitor as we sat in my comfortable living room overlooking the ocean that surrounds the island of Kaua'i. He glanced at my large screen TV, the VCR, and the Tabora seascape on the wall with a faint trace of disapproval. Clearly I did not fit his model of what a shaman is supposed to look like.

His remark was typical of many visitors who expect--perhaps even hope--to find me wearing some kind of robe or sarong and living in primitive simplicity in a cave or a forest far away from the amenities of civilization. The general idea is that such a setting would somehow make me more authentic. I have even considered finding such a spot, having a ti-leaf skirt and cloak made, and giving all my visitors a nice show that would comfortably fit their preconceptions. Today I do live in a forest on a live volcano, but with my three computers, iPhone and iPad, Apple TV and hybrid Prius close at hand. Shamanism, however, is not limited to a particular location or style of dress or cultural environment. It is a way of thinking and acting that defies boundaries and limitations of any kind, and yet uses them when it fits a purpose.

In the old and ancient days the shaman--who was a healer of mind, body and circumstances--was right in the midst of tribal or village life. He or she might also play the part of priest/priestess or chief/chiefess if there were no one else to fill those roles, but the primary role was always that of the healer. The shaman took part in the work, play and cultural activities of the village and often used each of those for healing purposes, especially the cultural activities of art, song, dance and ritual. In some cultures the shaman wore distinctive clothing and only engaged in certain activities, while in others it was impossible to tell him or her apart from anyone else unless you were family, friend or acquaintance. When the shaman's services were called upon there was always appropriate compensation in goods or services of some kind, according to the local economic structure. In old Hawaii, for instance, those who made use of the shaman's healing abilities might in return give fruits and vegetables, livestock, tools, mats and/or clothing. Or they might give their services of fishing, farming, handcrafting or cleaning for a certain period. The important point is that the shaman was a part of the community, sharing its life and hopes and dreams and proximity. Isolation of the shaman from the community occurred only in times of religious or political repression, and even then there were always links maintained with a few members of the community.

Now shamanism is experiencing a revival of interest and freedom. Now the shaman is coming back into the community where he/she belongs in a viable, vital, visible way. It isn't necessarily any easier now, but it is extremely important that the new shamans who are remembering and reviving the ancient skills become fully a part of today's society, become modern shamans in every sense of the word.

A modern shaman (or "urban" shaman, as I often say) is one who uses the ancient knowledge in the context of our present social and cultural environment. I will frequently tell my apprentices that anyone can be a shaman in the woods (where there are no people to get in the way); the tough task is to be a shaman in the city. And yet the shaman belongs where the people are. That does not mean the modern shaman must live downtown or in a crowded barrio, or in a fast-growing suburb, but it does mean that he or she integrate with and be accessible to those who are to be helped. The tough task of being a modern shaman is made tougher by the fact that shamanism has only recently begun its revival, and it does not have a strong basis of support in today's culture. In the absence of such support, shamans need to help each other. The success of modern shamans, then, will depend on adaptability, integration, and cooperation.

Shaman knowledge has to do with an awareness of, and the ability to direct, the powers of mind and the forces of nature. Adapting the ancient wisdom to modern society is a fairly simple process because human beings still have the same desires for health, wealth and happiness, and the same emotions of love, anger and fear. And Nature still has the same basic elements of (to use the Hawaiian version) Fire, Water, Wind and Stone. The shaman's healing work is still, as it always has been, to change beliefs and expectations in order to change experience. The wisdom and its application are the same, only the context is different. An ancient shaman in the deep forest of a volcanic island using his hands to heal a wound from a wild boar and a modern shaman in a high-rise apartment building using her hands to heal a wound from a domestic cat use the same wisdom. An ancient shaman diverting a lava flow to save a village and a modern shaman calming the wind to keep a forest fire from burning a suburb use the same wisdom. The shaman skills of telepathy, energy release, manifesting, shape-changing, blessing, belief-change and inner journeying are not affected by time. All that has to be done is to adapt them to existing circumstances.

Integration is more difficult in today's society because of its variety and complexity. Most ancient shamans only had one or very few socio-cultural systems to deal with, and therefore a limited number of beliefs to work on. Today, however, there is such a vast mixture of radically different social, cultural, religious and philosophical systems that the modern shaman must constantly expand his or her knowledge and maintain an exceptional awareness of the prevailing beliefs of his or her community and its individuals through heightened development of the intuitive faculties, as well as by paying close attention to information supplied by the media.

More than ever, there is the need for cooperation among modern shamans in order to maintain and extend the wisdom, to give each other moral and practical support (even shamans need friends and helpers), and to broaden the application of shamanism to modern problems. My solution has been to form Aloha International, a world-wide network of people studying and practicing the Hawaiian shamanic tradition, but there also needs to be cooperation among the shamans of different traditions. It is truly cooperation that is needed, because shamanism is a non-hierarchical, democratic philosophy. There is a tremendous amount of healing work to do, on ourselves and for the world in general. Let us do it together in a spirit of real Aloha.