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.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Teaching Huna To Children

From time to time I am asked whether any books or courses have been designed and presented by anyone specifically for children, or whether I might consider doing one.

In the first place, I think it would be great if someone would do that (and let me know so I can tell people who's doing it). In the second place, I wouldn't do it myself because I think Huna is so simple that anyone of any perceptive age can understand and apply it. As a matter of fact, most of the time when I'm teaching adults I have to make it more complicated than it really is so they'll accept it. It's often the case that when Huna is presented as simply as it really is, scientifically-trained and intellectually-conditioned people tend to dismiss it as not worth pursuing.

When parents ask me if their children can attend one of my courses I always say yes, as long as they are interested enough to participate in the excercises, discussions and questions. The youngest participant I ever had in a Huna workshop was a young boy of five and a half. He turned out to be one of the best students, with the most vivid experiences and some of the best questions. The only thing I had to make allowance for was his meditation technique of quietly rolling back and forth underneath his mother's chair.

Personally, I don't find any need for a special course just for children (although some parents might). Children have the same basic kinds of problems that adults have (love, fear, anger, success, etc.) and the same desire to be happier and more effective. As long as a child has something he or she wants to change, then they are ready for Huna.

Naturally, it's important to tailor your language to your audience. When I'm teaching a group of mostly adults with a few children I make it a point to include examples the children can relate to, and to cut down on intellectual discussions so they don't get too bored. When I'm teaching a group of mostly children with a few adults I include examples the adults can relate to and toss in an intellectual idea or two so they don't get bored. And I allow both adults and children the freedom to come and go as they please, using the theory that you are only going to learn what you are interested in anyway. Part of my job as a teacher is to make it as interesting as possible for all the participants, but I'm not obsessive about it.

If I were going to teach the Seven Principles to a group of children I would probably re-word them a bit. After all, there is nothing sacred about the wording. As long as you get the concept across you are being true to their spirit. So I might state them in the following alternate ways:
1. The world is what you think it is - How you feel depends on how you think.
2. There are no limits - Everything hears what you say and feels what you feel.
3. Energy flows where attention goes - What you want is more important than what you don't want.
4. Now is the moment of power - Things don't happen yesterday and they don't happen tomorrow; they only happen right now.
5. To love is to be happy with... - The more happy you are, the more lucky you are.
6. All power comes from within - There's always something you can do.
7. Effectiveness is the measure of truth - Always do what works (and if what you do doesn't work, do something different).

These are just suggestions, of course. In a particular situation or for a particular group I might change them in another way.

Children (like adults) tend to be very responsive to imagery, and that means it's important to use a lot of descriptive words full of sensory content when you are explaining something or leading a meditation or other inner experience, because the more abstract you are the less impression you make. Take this line from a guided meditation I've heard: "Now you are in a wonderful place where everyone is happy." Well-meaning, but it doesn't really evoke anything. Here's a more evocative alternative: "Now you are in a park where birds are singing beside a waterfall surrounded by pretty flowers, and lots of children are playing games and laughing." The guideline here is to describe something that could be a specific place or event, and not just any place or any event.

With children in your audience (and certain adults) it's also a good idea to allow for more movement than you might ordinarily. Most adults in modern society have been thoroughly trained over many years to sit quietly in a class situation. Human learning, however, occurs much faster and is remembered better when both mind and body are involved in the process, and children know this instinctively. When children are in my audience I let them do whatever they want, as long as it's not disruptive to the class as a whole. Over the years I've learned that some people learn better when they are walking, lying down, looking away from me or just moving rhythmically. Since children are more apt to be this way than adults I give them as much leeway as possible.

Children don't have to be educated differently because they are children. They have to be educated in a way that allows for their language level, their concerns, and their ability to learn in ways that work for all humans, regardless of age.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Hawaiian Facts

As I have discovered in my travels, it is a mistake to assume that people know very much about our fiftieth State, so here are some facts to give you a better sense of the spiritual home of our teaching.

The State of Hawaii is a fifteen hundred mile long chain of 132 islands, reefs and shoals stretching from the southeast at about the latitude of Mexico City to the northwest at about the latitude of Houston. However, 99.9 % of the land area is on a fairly close group of eight major islands around the lower latitude. In land area only, the State is larger than Connecticut. 

There are about one million and a half persons living in the State, with 80% of them living on Oahu. About 23 % are haole, or of Caucasian descent, about the same are of Japanese descent, and about 21 % of Native Hawaiian descent. The rest are from all over. Even those born in Hawaii are not called Hawaiians. That word is reserved for Native Hawaiians and part Hawaiians only. As a side note, there is no such word as "Hawai'ian" either in English or Hawaiian, so please don't use it.

Hawaii, "the Big Island," (or Hawai'i in Hawaiian) from which the State gets its name, has about two-thirds of the land area. No one knows what the name means because it is probably part of a much older name, but one possibility is "Place of the Water of Life." The island is famous for its orchids, coffee, macadamia nuts, and volcanoes. In fact it has five large volcanoes. Mauna Kea (where it snows sometimes) and Kohala (in the north) have not erupted in historical times. Hualalai, overlooking Kona on the west coast, last erupted around 1800. Both Mauna Loa (tallest mountain in the world measuring from sea bottom and also where it snows sometimes) and Kilauea (legendary home of Pele the volcano goddess) still erupt fairly frequently. A new volcano, Loihi, is erupting underwater about twenty miles off the southern coast. 

Maui, the second largest island, is shaped like Tahiti with two volcanoes and a valley between. Many believe it is named after the shaman hero of legend, Maui Kupua. Its largest volcano, Haleakala, last erupted in 1790. Maui is famous for pineapples, Lahaina (an old whaling port and modern tourist mecca), superb sweet onions, and condominiums. Maui also produces some very good pineapple and grape wines. On the northeast coast are the lush jungles of Hana and the Seven "Sacred" Pools (which were used for bathing and laundry and have nothing sacred about them at all except for the fact that they are part of Maui).

Oahu (or O'ahu), third largest, is usually called "The Gathering Place" which may come from ahu meaning "collection" or "heap" or may just refer to it as a population center. However, it if is really named O'ahu, then that refers to a coat or a cape and no one knows what that is supposed to mean. Oahu is famous for Diamond Head, Honolulu, Waikiki, and Pearl Harbor, as well as many military bases. It is "in" to put down Waikiki as a tourist trap, but it still has the best shopping and one of the finest beaches in the islands. The Bishop Museum in Honolulu is a wonderful place to study old Hawaiian culture. Oahu is also famous for some of the best surfing in the world on its North Shore, and sometimes the most dangerous (30 foot winter waves).

Kauai (or Kaua'i) is the fourth largest island. Called "The Garden Isle", its name can mean "The Great Rains." Today it is considered by Hawaiians as the most spiritual place in the islands. It is famous for its magnificent natural beauty, including the Fern Grotto and the Na Pali Coast, for the legendary Menehunes (Hawaiian elves in the very old sense), the high mountain forests of Koke'e, the dangerous and mysterious Alaka'i Swamp, and Mt. Waialeale (wettest spot in the world with 451 inches annually).

Molokai (or Moloka'i), the fifth largest, is now called "The Friendly Island," but a few years ago it was called "The Lonely Island." A desire for tourism prompted the change. I think the name means "to train (ka'i) to tie bundles (molo)" and refers to the training of kahunas, for it is a fact that there were more schools there than anywhere else. Molokai is famous for its former leper colony, its mule rides down cliff trails, its many temples, and its low level of development.

Lanai (or Lana'i) is the sixth largest and called the Pineapple Island because that's mostly what used to grow there. The name Lanai means either "stiff-backed," referring to its single ridge, or "porch" (referring to it as the porch of Maui, perhaps), but Lana'i means a type of sweet potato, a very important crop in the old days. The pineapples are gone now and resort development has taken their place, but there is still a lot of empty land and isolated beaches. The island's population is around 2000.

Niihau (or Ni'ihau), the seventh largest, is called "The Forbidden Island" and a lot of tourist hype is played around that. Actually, it is forbidden because the whole island of 70 square miles is a private ranch, owned by the Robinson family. The Hawaiian name is a type of yam, another important crop. Tourist agencies like to give the impression that the Hawaiians there live in the old ways, but what that really means is that they live in a company town like the plantation era of the 1800s. The island is famous for a particular kind of shell necklace made there and the population of the single village is about 200. Hawaiian is the first language through 3rd grade, according to the last I heard.

The smallest "major" island is Kahoolawe (or Kaho'olawe), only 45 square miles. The name means "The One That Was Taken Away." I don't know when that name was given, but that's how the Hawaiians and the State of Hawaii feel about it today because after Pearl Harbor the Navy took it over for bombing practice and still won't give it back. There is currently a strong movement to make it into a center for Hawaiian culture, and some progress has been made in that direction. The old name of the island was Kanaloa, also an ancient god of the sea, and it was an important place for navigation training.

The motto of the Monarchy, the Republic and the State is Ua mau ka 'ea o ka 'aina i ka pono, usually mistranslated as "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness," which sounds nice, but makes no logical sense. In context, the statement was made by Kamehamena III on the occasion when the British government restored sovereignty to the kingdom after it had been illegally taken over by an over-ambitious naval officer. A more appropriate translation would be "The sovereignty of the country endures because of proper behavior" (on the part of the British).