Archive for August, 2015
Thursday, August 27, 2015
The other day, someone asked me:
“What’s the Hawaiian word for compassion?”
August has been called Metta Month or Lovingkindness Month. (Metta is the word for lovingkindness or compassion in an ancient language called Pali. Not to be confused with the Hawaiian word pali which means cliffs.)
And lately there’s been a lot of buzz on social media about compassion, mostly about offering traditional phrases associated with a metta meditation practice:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be heathy.
May I dwell in peace.
In the meditation practice, the phrases are directed inward, toward the self, first. Then they are directed outward, toward another individual. And then they’re directed toward all beings everywhere.
So when I was asked what the Hawaiian word for compassion is, I had to stop and think about it for a minute. Why? Well, because I couldn’t remember Pops and I ever talking about compassion with each other, at least not in a formal sense. And because I didn’t have my Hawaiian dictionary with me.
I’m not a native Hawaiian speaker. I started learning the language late-ish in life from Pops. (A little backstory: When my “official studies” in Hālawa Valley began—even before I even understood they were beginning—he suddenly refused to speak English to me. He only spoke Hawaiian. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t understand what he was saying and he said that was ok. I could learn by observing. And the only way I’d learn how to speak Hawaiian would be if I HAD to use it to communicate. More on that whole experience in an upcoming blog post.)
So I imagined being in Hālawa Valley and trying to communicate with Pops. Not having a dictionary has forced me to be resourceful and creative with the language. (Note: Pops assures me that this is how people used to speak a long time ago, figuring out how to convey what they meant to say on the spot, even though vocabulary varied from island to island or even district to district. I trust him. Kind of.)
How would I convey the word compassion to him?
I thought about what the practice really meant, about what those phrases were really saying. And it came down to this one word: A L O H A
Aloha is love. And yes, it can mean love in a romantic way. But really it’s love at its most basic essence. Love between friends. Family love. Some might even say Divine Love.
I added the words I love you in front of the four classic metta phrases and it made perfect sense:
I love you. May you be safe.
I love you. May you be happy.
I love you. May you be healthy.
I love you. May you dwell in peace.
That got me thinking about the four traditional metta phrases. Did anything exist like that in the Hawaiian culture?
The answer came to my mind immediately. Not four individual phrases. Only one:
Aloha i kekahi i kekahi. Love one another.
Pops always says that’s the old Hawaiian way, the old Hawaiian greeting. Aloha i kekahi i kekahi. Love to one another. Love to us all.
I explained this all to the poor soul who’d asked me. I’m sure I gave way more information than she was looking for. But it was good for me to think about. And it was great to find a way to share that with another person.
Later, when I got home, I pulled out my favorite book, the Hawaiian Dictionary (Pukui & Elbert) and looked up the word compassion. I wanted to see what they wrote, to see how far off the mark I’d been.
And you know what the first Hawaiian word in the definition was?
A L O H A.
Aloha i kekahi i kekahi. Love one another.
Monday, August 24, 2015
I’m so excited to be able to share a new song (with a VIDEO!) with you today! And it’s a hula!
I wrote it as a gift for Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, the creators of Zentangle®. I wrote the song last September and then recorded a selfie-style video while I was in Hālawa Valley when I was back on Molokai in March. I sent it to the Zentangle folks last week and it was released in their newsletter yesterday. I was delighted to see it pop up on Facebook and blogs yesterday.
And when I woke up this morning, I was shocked to see that the video had been viewed over 1,500 times! (What?! Crazy!)
Here’s some backstory for the song:
Many of you may know that I became a CZT™, a Certified Zentangle Teacher, back in 2012. I was part of the 10th graduating class of teachers (CZT 10). Here’s the crazy thing: if you would have told me that one day I would be able to call myself an art teacher, I would have laughed. Really hard. But Zentangle is more than just art, it’s a method of drawing that unites the mind and the body. It rocked my world in ways I wasn’t expecting.
I didn’t become a teacher so that I could teach Zentangle classes. Well, that wasn’t my primary reason, anyway. It was really so that I could go and study with Rick and Maria in person, to find out what this was and to learn directly from the source. Nānā i ke kumu. Look to the source. That’s what Pops is always telling me. (Note: the only way to become a CZT is to study directly with them at one of their teacher-training workshops. It’s done face-to-face. I loved that aspect of it. It made it even more real, more authentic.)
I’ve taught classes here in NYC and in Chicago. I’ve held classes in Pennsylvania with students ranging in ages from 6 years old to 86 years old. And we ALWAYS have fun. It’s hard to explain. I think the best way to understand it is to take a class from a trained teacher who can lead you through the process, someone who can help you create with confidence.
Anyway… last year, the Zentangle folks asked me to come back in September and speak at one of their teacher-training workshops. They wanted me to talk about how I use Zentangle–sharing stories from classes, both formal and informal.
Now you guy know how I love to play with writing songs. Well, maybe it’s better to say I love to START writing songs. (It’s the finishing of songs that is the tough part!) And I had this idea that I would write them a song as a makana, a gift, a way to say MAHALO and THANK YOU for all that they do. I had a little snippet of a melody line I’d been playing with but I didn’t have any lyrics. While I stood in line at Port Authority Bus Station, waiting for the bus to take me to the workshop in Providence, Rhode Island, it dawned on me: I would write the song in the style of a 1920s-1950s hula.
When I got to Providence, I spent the first night sitting in the hotel lobby scratching away in my notebook, writing lyrics about the Zentangle method of drawing and fitting them into the melody that I’d been playing with. (I wanted to be kind to my roommate for the weekend. He’d traveled all the way from Taiwan to attend the teacher-training! Night owls like me do better sitting on couches in the hotel’s lobby than sitting at a desk in a room, anyway.) My goal: I wanted to have the song “ready” to share when I gave my presentation the following night. I wasn’t sure if I would share it, but I wanted to have ready. Just in case…
The next night I gave my presentation. I shared about taking Zentangle to Hālawa Valley on Molokai and how we used sticks to draw the patterns in the mud, how my young Hawaiian nephew showed me how to draw patterns he saw in nature around him. I talked about the meditative qualities of the method and how I use it in my own writing process–especially when I get stuck and my hands (and brain) won’t cooperate.
And then it was time. I took the leap into the unknown and while wearing a cordless headset microphone (like a rock star!) I strummed and sang the Zentangle Hula for an audience. For the first time.
It was so much fun. And the coolest part? Before the end of the song, the teachers-in-training were singing along with me! The song followed me all weekend long, in the classes, in the dining room, in the elevators. People sang it and smiled.
So that’s how the song came to be. I recorded it over the spring when I was back on Molokai. Then I lost the video. (gulp!) Then I found the video. (phew!)
And now it has a life of its own.
Wanna learn more about Zentangle? Check out their website: https://www.zentangle.com/ (Note: the Zentangle Kit is wonderful. It’s how I got started.)
And you can read more about my story of how I reclaimed my “inner art dude” by clicking HERE.
(P.S. Because I attended the teacher-training again last year, I’m now a DOUBLE certified teacher! Ha! Me–this guy that swears he can’t draw a straight line. Do you feel that way, too? Then Zentangle is for you.)
And please share the song/video if you feel inspired to do that. Let’s start a whole Zentangle Hula movement! (Smiles are contagious, you know.)
Much Aloha to you and your families.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
One of the best parts of writing a new song is at the very beginning.
The song could go in so many directions. At this stage, it’s all about potential.
I went for a walk yesterday to clear my head and get some movement in this body. And I was pleasantly surprised when a new song (a hula?) started to take shape in my mind. Walking seems to be a great “spark” when it comes to songwriting, at least for me. As I walk, my brain “dances” and I often get little snippets of lyrics, a few words, maybe some preliminary thoughts about the song’s rhythm.
As I walked across the Harlem River on the Broadway Bridge, I used the voice recorder on my phone to capture the things that were happening so that I don’t lose them. (Uncle Dennis Kamakahi told me that he used to carry a tape recorder with him for the same reason. And hey, if it worked for him…) I was able to gather some great ideas, some moments that might turn into something bigger. (I was also able to record lots of NYC noise.)
When I got back to the apartment, I scratched a few notes about the new song in my trusty notebook. I sketched out a structure–something that may or may not work. I’ll only be able to tell when I really start working, moving the parts around to see how it all comes together.
The early stages of a new song are a lot like planting seeds.
And now it’s time to water them and let them grow.
I know I can’t rush the process. (Even though I’m incredibly impatient.) I need to let them sit for a little while, let them rest.
But I also need to mālama these precious seeds. I need to take care them and not let them dry up and die. I need to water them, give them attention. And I need to make sure they get lots of sunlight and not remain in the dark of my notebook and phone.
It will be exciting to see what happens. Just like when you plant seeds in a garden, you wait to see what grows.
Of course, there are times when gardens are planted and nothing grows, too. No matter how much you want flowers to grow, no matter how well you try to take care of these seeds, sometimes nothing happens. And thatʻs what makes the beginnings of a new song kinda scary, too.
Hopefully, something will appear. Hopefully, the song will flower.