Mai ka Pō Mai ka ʻōiaiʻo
Truth comes from Darkness.
Truth is revealed by the Gods.
(Pukui 1983: 225, Ōlelo NoʻEau – Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings)
No one can see beyond a choice they do not understand.
To understand is to choose to go beyond where one can see.
Every time I turn my head I see yet another young albatross run into the direction of the wind with their wings flapping as hard as they can muster, catching flight at the moment of full commitment, lifting into the air, into Lani, the sky, the heavens.
The island is abounding with the plethoric energy of albatross fledging. The time has come for these birds of the ocean to embark onto their next phase of life; to charge ahead with nothing but a compelling instinct and an empty stomach into the vastness of the unknown. To wander the ocean as a forager in solitude.
When evening comes and we all put down our work tools and shed our sweaty, sticky work attire, we fill our bellies with the rationed nourishment we brought with us from civilization, then head out to the heart of the atoll, the lagoon, to catch a few more fledglings disappear beyond the reef, beyond the horizon, where the sun has faithfully lay to rest.
By now, we have spent more time on this island than we have remaining for the season, except for the new guy, Matt, who joined us only 2 weeks prior, and for the French volunteer, Virginie, who has agreed to stay on through the winter season. She has truly found her set of wings out here.
We are fully adjusted and integrated into the daily routine of our own lives as well as the lives of our fellow bird inhabitants. It is no longer surprising to hear the harsh screech of a Tropic Bird as we step a little too close to their nesting ground. The fluttering of multiple White Terns around our heads as we maneuver through the carcass of an old dead Beach Heliotrope no longer triggers an emotional awe, but rather is duly noted and slips into our peripheral experience as we focus on the laborious and primary tasks at hand.
We move without thought like a seasoned skier across the mogul-like topography of the myriad of burrows that stretch throughout the island’s sandy-soil earth. The stench of our clothes and algae water-logged skin and hair is no longer even noticeable, even as its presence on the inhabitable surfaces of our bodies is ever more than it ever was. The periodic sharp sting of the paper wasp nor the elapsed throbbing of a tick bite arise any longer the stark state of bewildered alarm. And the wailing of the Wedge-Tailed Shear water, the glottal croak of the brown noddy’s nesting, or even the dramatic hissing and rasping of the territorial ducks right outside our windows has sequentially replaced the white noise of the car traffic that used to put us all to sleep in the city.
We are now fully accustom to Hōlanikū. Our habits, our routine, our way of life now integrated into the sounds, sights, smells, and feelings of this bizarre, strange world. But it is no longer strange to us. It is normal to us. The world of humans, where we departed from, is now the land of the strange, and upon our return, we will be the strangers.
I cannot help but think of home while I watch these albatross take flight and leave this Island. That place of home, that notion, that feeling is something that resides in all of our psyches. It is the resting place, the place that nourished us, raised us, comforted us. Or perhaps it is that place that deserted us, neglected us, abused us, threatened us. Either way, that place occupies a space in our mind, a domain which holds a many things congruent with our life’s journey. And one way or another, we always return home, no matter how far and wide we travel away. No matter how long we wander upon the vast oceanscape, foraging food for our soul, the home of our psyche beckons and awaits our return. Everything, eventually, returns to its source.
Hōlanikū is a mythical name of old. Its derived meaning, “bringing forth heaven”, constitutes an adjective process. This name is also a holder for an actual place. It is a place people can travel to. It is a place where hundreds of thousands of sea birds call home. It is a place where a few people come to work for the better part of a year. But it is also a name that is part of a greater tying of words, a chant that carries a deeper meaning, an enfolding process of a people’s connection to the gods and to the source of life.
The name Hōlanikū is one part of a whole series of names, Hōlanikū being the last of the series; the end of the line. It is the name given to the furthest island of the Hawaiian archipelago, the furthest along the pathway to Kahiki, a name used to describe a place in which the gods originated from. In Hawaiʻi, the direction of the west is associated with the domain of the ancestors, where the spirits of the those who have passed on venture to in the afterlife. It is also the direction in which the ancestors of Hawai’i came from to Hawai’i. The continuation of islands stretching west from the main Hawaiian islands are associated with the direction one takes in life from birth into old age and ultimately into the afterlife, becoming deified as the ancestral gods whom came to this world from the vast darkness of time, before the dawn of humanity.
The majority of my time on this island of Hōlanikū is spent in the light, or what is known as the realm of ao: day. This is the realm of humans. It is the realm in which humans live in and therefore have a kind of control and manipulation over. Physically, I continue to remain in the realm of ao, for this is the realm of the living. Our entire lives, as we know it, are spent in this realm. But given this condition of the living, I find that I have been lured to Hōlanikū for a very different purpose than what it appears my peers are here for. It seems that in my fortuitous way of life, I have come here guided by the desire to push myself into the darkness, the realm of Pō.
Physically, Hōlanikū and I are still existing in the light. The island is still afloat, above the vast ocean of time, and I still walk and breathe and think in the first person. But symbolically, I have indeed entered and returned to the dark. My time as a worker and temporary employee of the Department of Land and Natural Resource keeps me grounded in the light; my psyche still incased in the temporal constructs of an agency of which I am a participant of during my time on this atoll, which is governed, or rather owned in all its superficial senses, by the political entity of the country of Hawaiʻi.
Our human lives on Kure have shaped and molded into routines befitting to our character, suitable to our present needs. The lives of us few that live together in such close and lengthy proximity are encased in the boundaries of the conditions of this island, yet we each live separately in our own paradigms, each of us responding differently to this isolated wildlife sanctuary, each of us yearning to obtain some kind of transformation, some kind of change from what we were before we set out on this sojourn of seasonal work, hoping for growth, hoping to gain something. As the island has slowly become our whole world and the whole world has slowly become but a distant glimmer on the horizon, we humans wake up each day and decide what it is that defines us, here and now. We decide what we bring with us from our past into this new and different world, and what we lay to rest.
When I wake up each day and watch the lives of the myriad of birds I am immersed in constantly, I cannot help but feel another kind of separation. Like the separateness of my life from my fellow human peers as we go about telling ourselves our own version of our own experience, there too exists a desire to connect with the lives of these winged creatures. And that desire to share a connection with these creatures means that a connection does not already exist. And that severance of connection is the very same connection we knowingly or unknowingly are reaching out for every time we think of home.
We all carry in our conscious a different idea of home. For me, I think of a great many things. I think of a city smoothed between mountains and sea, saturated with moisture and brimming with tall, thick-barked piny trees. I think of my three older and uniquely different yet quintessentially the same sisters telling me how cute I am but also how stubborn I can be. I think of my younger yet growing up faster than me brother and the room we use to share when I had short straight hair and he had long golden locks. I think of my Mom in a denim jacket and Ray Bans driving a Landcruiser in the mountains with Mazzy Star and the Spin Doctors. I think of my father in a polo shirt with a big old grin on his bright face like he’s the luckiest dad in the world. I think of my step-father with long hair younger than I am now with four kids holding his hands and riding his shoulders through town to get pizza. I think of what once was, and I cling to the memories of those once upon a times fearing that if I let go I somehow will no longer know who or what I am.
I cannot say here and now how my fellow Kureans carry home with them, but I can watch how they carry themselves out here upon the sensuous world of Hōlanikū. I can see how they, like me, respond to the prophetic event of every single albatross fledgling reacting to the large squall passing over as they cast their wings out to catch the wind and feel that force lift their bodies into the destiny they were meant to live out. I see how we all stop whatever it is we are doing, our human tasks instantly becoming purposeless compared to the purposeful drive of the young albatross attempting first flight. They rip our attention away from our humanly constructs, they call to our souls, that source of life within us yearning to be filled with as clear a purpose as these seabirds.
And when the squall passes over and the winds die down, we are broken from the spell like being awoken from a dream. We drift back into ourselves, our soul slipping back into the confined space of our psyche we have so rigidly permitted it to function in. We return to the human world we have brought with us from our past, perhaps driven by the belief that it is our duty to repent for the costly mistakes of our human predecessors that left a path of destruction behind them.
When the albatross fledglings calm back down, also returning to whatever they were doing before – preening their feathers, smelling the air, stretching their feet – I feel once again that lack of connection, that feeling that there is indeed something missing from my life. I feel the appreciation for this life of mine, but I also somehow feel a distance from this life of mine, like I look at myself and wonder how it is that the older I get the further away I feel from my own self. The further away I feel from home. The less connected I feel to the source of my existence.
We often imagine the direction of the east being the source of our existence as this is where the sun rises from, the sun representing the source of life of our planet. But within the cyclical nature of our world, the direction of the west, where the sun sets, becomes a strong image of locale for the psyche’s understanding of its origin.
Myths, such as the Kumulipo, are a kind of story that can be found throughout human culture. It is what today is called a cosmology; a story of origin. It is a special kind of story because unlike all other stories which are historical, cosmological stories are telling of events that occurred before humans even existed. They come from the darkness.
Myths carry a force so powerful that when expressed aloud they can break right through the conscious mind of the listener and latch onto the attention of the deeper subconscious. In more latent terms, a myth is a road map that leads us back to truth of what each and every one of us are: that you and I, dear reader, are not necessarily what we have come to believe in our modern lives. We are in fact, so much more. And when I say more I meant it in every sense of the word.
The chant of the Kumulipo tells us that darkness, Pō, is the realm of the gods that precedes and proceeds the realm of humans, ao. It is common to associate East with our past, for the east represents birth, as does the sun rising from the east bringing light to our world, as does the birth of our life as we transition from the darkness of our mother’s procreative womb into the light of the world. However, our ancestors too represent our past; those who walked this earth before us; and if we can see this connection of all life through time – life sacrificing itself so other life may live – then it becomes abundantly clear that our past; the lives of our ancestors, actually exists in front of us, to the west, to the future, towards the place we go after we live our lives, where our ancestors await us to join them. Where we become them.
If we stop just once from our busy lives and look out past the myopic construct of our modern culture, out into the observable universe, there lies a whole expression of natural symbols that, with the help of our myths, speak to us of our orientation of existence. The past and future begin to blend together, as time and space appear to do the further out we explore our universe. The orientation of the Hawaiian archipelago has long been seen as a place holder for this understanding, a key for unlocking the illusions of the physical world; entire islands -something physical we could connect to – and the stories and names given to these islands became the very key that opens the doors between worlds.
These names are given to the islands to perhaps describe their physical features, but these names are not exclusive to such physicality. The names are also given as descriptions for a spiritual process, a spiritual pathway leading us to the beginning of the end, what I suppose would collectively be known as the source of life. No longer just behind us, but also ahead of us. Either way, it is that which lies beyond us, beyond the light, in the darkness.
This understanding is rooted in our body’s orientation in space. The view of the west as the source of darkness, the direction in which life originated, is to bring the psyche into full awareness of the human connection to the source of all life. This kind of connection is what I believe to be essential to the human race. It is through this connection that we establish a continuum of experience with life beyond our own fleeting lives. And in that continuum of existence; since the beginning of life itself, we experience the wholeness of our own self, the multiplicity of our own self. The self no longer is experienced as a self. The psyche is no longer a individual that experiences the universe in its own fragmented window of breath.
No, when we begin to experience all of time through our body’s orientation with space, guided by the stories that are older than any records of human thought, then we start to realize how catastrophic the recent cultural events have had on our beliefs of happiness. We begin to awaken to our sad and sufferable dependency on technological progress in bringing us the good life. We begin to understand that the purpose of society is to unite us in common purpose, and that the responsibility of those governing society is to ensure that that common purpose is speaking through us from the source of our existence; from our ancestors, from the source of life itself.
And when we awaken back to this understanding; when we reorient our bodies and see that our choices are not solely our own but driven by a deeper process that has been enfolding in a continuum since the very beginning of the inception of life itself, well then we realize that our society is not fully serving us the way it was intended to, just as my mind is not quite serving my life the way it was intended to.
And that feeling, that loss of connection, that loneliness, begins to make sense, and I start to fully understand why we are drawn to the Albatross enacting this next phase of their lives. They represent that connection we humans are so desperately grasping for. Our humanity. Our soul. Those albatross, bless their little strong hearts, are not governed by a single order. There is not one singular mind in control of each individual bird. It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to understand how these lives work. It doesn’t take a biologist. It takes a connection, a feeling of relating, and through that relatedness you start to see your own self, and that you too are not governed by a single, monotheistic psyche. That in fact there is no one single thing in control of you, just as you are not one single entity. You are a multiple. You are many processes being expressed through you. You are the Albatross yearning to fly. You are the Mother giving to the world. You are the Servant tending to the fields. You are the King ordering the march. You are the Thief stealing the treasure. You are the Lover falling head over heel. You are the Wind carrying the message. You are the Warrior surrendering to death. You are the Hero bounding towards glory. You are the Villain misshapen by furry. You are the Fool. You are the Dancer. You are the Fire. You are the Rain. You are the Gods. You are the Pleasure. You are the Pain.