An Embodied Inquiry

Blog, Philosophy and Opinion, writing

In 2015, I set out on a journey to a faraway place. I knew I was in for an impactful experience. How could I not? Six months away on a remote atoll with rustic accommodations and minimal contact with the outside world. It’s what I signed up for and I was looking forward to nothing more than leaving behind everything I knew in hopes of finding anything new.

I returned to the atoll, known as Kure, two years later in 2017 to continue where I left off: with a newfound mode of inquiry, one I have deemed an embodied inquiry. I had experienced a personal transformation and sought to understand the significance of this transformation. It is a difficult experience to describe, one that I have attempted to do through pages and pages of writing, too lengthy to illustrate for this paper. But, if you could for a moment, relax your gaze and steady your breathing while reading the next paragraph.

Imagine yourself immersed in a landscape devoid of any modern sounds, and instead, listen to the constant and nearby roar of ocean waves crashing onto a shore that surrounds you in a 360-degree direction. Imagine a night sky in which you can see every horizon, and above you the glimmering of more stars than your brain allows your eyes to process. Imagine this is your life for 180 days straight without a break.

 I had not the slightest grasp of what I was meant to do moving forward with this experience, one for me that was not a faint abstract imagination. Now, two years later, as I’ve unraveled my own experiences, I hope to explore this emergent concept of embodied inquiry by diving into some of the relevant work that teachers, cultural practitioners, and scientists in Hawai’i have reported on in their own endeavors to unravel the meaning behind embodied inquiry. Through their work, I will examine the effectiveness of their techniques geared towards perpetuating a cause for Hawaiian well being that does not separate out the economy of people from the economy of place. 

To begin, embodied inquiry is a term I am pitching as an attempt to encompass a massive and potentially unlimited array of experiences that evoke a particular set of outcomes essential for the bridging and integration of multiple world-views with the end goal of increasing the welfare of any one person, group, or community along with the residing ecology. Cultures are meeting, exchanging, blending, and morphing in a myriad of complex ways. It is an exhilarating time to be alive, but also a confusing one in which the core of human operation – identity – can too easily feel at lost.

There is a sense of security that exists in this technological age in which the comfort of our lives is reliant on the goods and services of the developed world. However, the more we rely on our external technologies, the more we are potentially shedding our own intrinsic human values and handing them off to our machines. The human body becomes just a mere container for the inferring mind, but even this extension of our worth will soon be out-sourced to the far superior processing capabilities of machine-learning technologies (Brockman, 2019).

Embodied Inquiry confronts an essential question to the future of human relevance by critically examining the outcome of the education system as it prepares children for the world at large: is there human worth beyond the development of the human mind? What is the value of developing the whole human, body and all?

To answer this question, we must spend time exploring what exactly an embodied inquiry looks like by first laying down the inner-workings of inquiry itself. 

Scientific Inquiry Versus Embodied Inquiry

As defined by the National Research Council, Scientific Inquiry is the method scientists use or the direct work they do when studying the natural world, subsequently providing proposed “explanations based on the evidence derived from their work” ( National Research Council, 2000, P. 1). Inquiry is also what is referred to as a process in which students “develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world ( National Research Council, 2000, P. 1). So what are these methods used by scientists? And how exactly are students being introduced to these ideas?

Briefly put, inquiry follows the doctrine of the scientific method which outlines a congruent set of steps that leads a scientist from the observation of a phenomenon into the investigation of the phenomenon. By using prior sets of knowledge applicable to the occurrence observed, the scientist states a hypothesis that might explain the phenomenon. Continuing along with the steps of the scientific method, the scientist constructs methods to measure and produce evidence that will ultimately either support, negate, or neither support nor negate the scientist’s hypothesis. This is the most crucial step in establishing the validity and legitimacy of any scientific study as well as showing that the study was executed in a way that validates the measurable evidence.

The providing of evidence and the reproducibility of the study becomes a coin that adds another value point to a larger network of similar or relative studies, providing further statistical strength to the global human understanding of nature and the universe. 

In recent times, as science has evolved beyond its geopolitical origins and as cultures from around the world have inevitably come into contact with it through western expansion, a new dialogue has emerged in the ethics of science which seeks to give voice to alternative ways of knowing. This is certainly the case in the realm of natural sciences, and more specifically amongst the environmental sciences such as conservation, which seeks to find sustainable solutions between human relations and interactions with nature by democratizing its practices through the incorporation of other societies of authority (Salomon, A.K., 2018). 

This type of thinking, which proposes the partnering of a diverse set of entities, is a move towards acknowledging that “all knowledge holders have the right and opportunity to participate in scientific endeavors ( Saomon, A.K., 2018, P. 1). This process has been deemed a democratizing process because it acts as a key to opening gateways for these different knowledge holders to work together. It is a systems solution, which is essential for achieving its goals. However, we cannot skip over the fact that all systems are made up of a group of living beings – in this case, humans – who interact and function based upon both innate biology and socially constructed – also known as cultural – behavior traits (de Waal, 2001).

A practice needs to be adapted amongst those coming from their differing, respective cultures that allow those involved to integrate the multiple world views in a coherent and harmonious manner. This is what an embodied-inquiry can offer to the desire of experts across cultures who want to work together and ultimately want to establish a grounds for practice in education that is able to face an ever-expanding diversity of values, norms, and behavior.

Embodied inquiry is a kind of gateway into the enculturation process which allows those involved to shift, alter, or expand their orientation to the world. To illustrate this point further I now turn to the efforts that have already begun in Hawai’i, a place that I have personally experienced the gathering of multiple world views. Here are a few hopeful anecdotes that represent an exploration of embodied inquiry and a commitment to revitalizing a way of knowing for the sake of continued health and prosperity of the people of Hawaiʻi. 

Applied Hawaiian Epistemology 

In 2006, an unprecedented move was enacted in the history of marine conservation: the establishment of one of the largest marine national monuments in the world: Papahānaumokuākea (Kikiloi, 2010). Four years earlier, a Ph.D. candidate from the Anthropology department at the University of Hawaii Manoa named Kekuewa Kikiloi set out on a voyage to these far-reaching islands, the very same islands I had the opportunity to work on in 2015 and 2017. He was determined to discover the significance of these islands to the Hawaiian heritage (Kikiloi, 2010). Over the next seven years, with a total of eight more trips, Kikiloi’s discoveries and experiences launched him into a level of inquiry that he could not possibly have predicted (Kikiloi, 2010). “On these trips, I was left to live and survive on these islands with barely any contact with the outside world. Through this process, I began to see through our ancestors’ eyes. The past became alive to me. It was a transformative experience that fundamentally changed my life” (Kikiloi, 2010, P. 74 ). 

As Kikiloi was connecting the metaphysical dots between Papahānaumokuākea and Hawaiian heritage, a group of adventurous teachers embarked on their own journey into the ancient cultural wisdom of Hawaiʻi (Pai and Kawakami, 2005). They were attempting to do something new and risky: create a K-12 curriculum that would unite the world of Western science Astronomy with Hawaiian traditions (Pai and Kawakami, 2005). In education in Hawaii, this very notion had always been a source of tension, a clash of epistemologies (Meyer, 1998). Epistemological overlap in Hawaii is an ongoing challenge and historically (as well as presently with the recent news of the blockade protest of the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on top of the recognized sacred mountain of Mauna Kea) has caused escalations in conflicts of interests between the State and the people (Yerton, S., & Simon, J., 2019).

Nani Pai, a classroom teacher, and Alice Kawakami, co-investigator and Native Hawaiian Educator, committed their time over the course of four years building connections between Hawaiian cultural practices and modern space science (Pai and Kawakami, 2005). This project was modeled under the process of learning through experiences in authentic environments, proving to have an effect on the participants, changing their outlook on education  (Pai and Kawakami, 2005). Pai writes, “We wanted to support each other in creating a holistic learning experience in our natural cultural landscape so our students could experience Hawai’i and space science as relevant and life-enhancing” (Pai and Kawakami, 2005, P. 56). Through their partnership with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, an organization that single-handedly revitalized the traditional navigation and way-finding practices of Polynesia, the teachers learned the true value of stepping into a canoe, or Wa’a, and experiencing an embodied inquiry, experiences with which “each other and time together on the wa’a truly transformed us as human beings” (Pai and Kawakami, 2005, P. 57). 

Coincidentally, around the same time that Pai and Kawakami were braving the waters on the voyaging canoe, Kikiloi was entering uncharted waters of academia as he began to paint a picture of where Hawai’i was heading, politically, before European contact. To do so, he had to return to the sites of Nihoa and Mokumanana, two uninhabited islands devoid of resources yet rich with archeological evidence and oral-historical accounts of early Hawaiian presence from A.D. 1400 – 1815, (Kikiloi, 20120). Kikiloi knew he would have to move his vessel of research across disciplines to make the strongest case for “the centralizing of chiefly management, an integration of chiefs and priests into a single social class, the development of a charter for institutional order, and a state-sponsored religion spreading throughout the main Hawaiian Islands” (Kikiloi, 2012, P. 5). By embodying the native language of Hawaiʻi (‘Olelo Hawai’i), and diving deep into the ethnohistorical documents of Hawaiian mythos persevered both through writing and the passing down through oral tradition, Kikiloi was successfully able to bring to light evidence that Hawai’i was already modernizing itself prior to the influence of European-American contact (Kikiloi, 2012). Kikiloi writes, “Ethno-historical analysis of cosmogonic chants, mythologies, and oral accounts are looked at to understand ritualization as a historical process, one that tracks important social transformations and ultimately led to the formation of the Hawaiian state religious system” (Kikiloi, 2012, P. 8). 

The findings of Kikiloi’s research is less relevant to this discussion than the methods he used to arrive at his conclusion, which encompasses this idea of embodied inquiry. It seems that based on Kikiloi’s dedicated trips to these remote islands coupled with the rhythmic proverbial chants reverberating in his research, he discovered an even more profound message to share with the people of Hawai’i and the world: “The ‘āina [land] sustains our identity and health by centering our attitudes, instincts, perceptions, values, and character within the context of our sacred environment. We, in turn, sustain our ‘āina and love them with generations of memories and experiences of enduring compassion. As we nurture and restore all aspects of identity and well-being of ‘āina, we will, in turn, begin to recover and thrive as a people. Now more than ever, we must remember who we are as native people of Hawai‘i, reaffirming these ancient truths and renewing this holistic worldview on people and ‘āina” (Kikiloi, 2010, P. 30).

The message here is about looking forward to a lively future we can imagine in which humanity and the ʻāina are prosperous. He means to stress the importance of embodying a human identity that is married to the land, a relationship that is encoded in the name of the very Marine National Monument established in 2006, Papahānaumokuākea, which is actually two distinct names, Papahānau (mother earth) and Wākea (sky father), two deity-like figures who provide the genealogical evidence to the Hawaiian people of their direct descendants of the land itself (Kikiloi, 2010). Should we not look to the important works of scientists like Kikiloi who provide compelling solutions for the deepening modern problems of environmental degradation? If the Western world is held responsible for bringing a modern social order to the whole world, a vast reduction of human violence and poverty (Pinker, S, 2012), who or what cultures can we look towards in establishing the welfare of the rest of Earth’s communities as well? 

To answer this, we must return to the efforts of the New Opportunities through Minority Initiatives in Space Science (NOMISS) four-year project in which Pai and Kawakami share their insights. 

Pai and Kawakami surveyed the teachers involved in the project who identified three main themes that were effective in linking Hawaiian cultural practices and space science: sense of place, origins, and observation (Pai and Kawakami, 2005). Each of these themes qualifies as an embodied inquiry, for they return the learner to a primary mode of experience. In the case of sense of place, the embodied experience is literally in the stated words described; sense of place. Of course, our primary mode of experience is through our sensory organs. Also integral to this theme is place, which refers to the physical world around us in which our bodies are in continuous contact with. These two words bring together a more complex concept that gives context for the developing identity of a child or learner. Many developmental scientists, psychologists and naturalists such as Steven Trimble, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Edith Cobb write about the innate desire of a child to “find a place to discover the self” (Fisher, 2013). 

In Hawaiʻi, cultural traditions influence the experiences of its members on a daily basis through common values such as mālama ʻāina (care of the land) (Pai and Kawakami, 2005). I myself have experienced the commonality of this type of practice and hear the phrase used by all ages. Even as a high school teacher, when I asked my students one day what they believed to be the most important thing in their life, the phrase aloha ʻāina (love of the land), was one of the most repeated in all my classes. 

The second, origins, is a trickier theme, but perhaps one of the most powerful socially. The questions of “who we are” and “where do we come from” are foundational for any culture. Connecting the Hawaiian Moʻokuauhau (genealogy) to the western science pursuit of the origins of the universe is a way to support integrating cultural and scientific communities (Pai and Kawakami, 2005). It is also a powerful way to integrate personal experience with the world at large.

Lastly, and key to the actualization of the first two, comes observation. Pai and Kawakami point out a contrast between the Western tradition of observation which “assumes consistency and reliability of quantifiable data to verify information that may be generalized to other settings”( Pai and Kawakami, 2005, p. 68). They make the claim that this accordance of observation is derived from a cultural world view, or epistemology, that differs from that of a Hawaiian epistemology. 

The western approach to scientific knowledge exists upon a premise that assumes “knowledge is static, and once verified, can be replicated under similar conditions” ( Pai and Kawakami, 2005, p. 68). However, this is not the only epistemology that is correct and/or accurate. It too has its limitations as is pointed out by the long-standing and on-going discussion about the replication crisis – most notably in the life and social sciences (Aarts, 2015).

The Hawaiian epistemological approach to acquiring knowledge described by Pai and Kawakami puts the observer in the center of focus rather than attempting to limit or remove the subjective experience from that which is being observed. Thus, there is an emphasis on the initiation of a protocol to prepare the observer for accessing “the unseen (spiritual) dimension” (Pai and Kawakami, 2005, p. 68). This, in turn, has a lasting and critical effect on how individuals experience a place, for it is through this type of observation in which the subject is seeing the location as if it too were a subject, as if the observer is establishing a relationship with a place just as one might with another fellow human being. 


Kikiloi, Pani, and Kawakami are but a few dedicated scholars and educators in the State of Hawaii working to expand the way in which different epistemologies interact. In both narratives on their work, they describe this personal transformation which has afforded them not only a deeper connection to the culture of Hawaiʻi, but more profoundly to the place of Hawaiʻi. To be instilled with a sense of aloha ʻāina, like my high school students confided in me, is to be fully open to the ways in which people of all different backgrounds may successfully come together in achieving well-being for the community at large. As the modern global citizen rises to meet the forces of the technocratic society, a quiet yet profound rumble is murmuring below the foundation of our existence. It is here the embodied inquiry can be felt in full force. And it is here I believe we must lend our stance, firmly footed, if humanity is to stand a chance in securing a foreseeable future, lest we are swept away by our own demise.


Kikiloi, K., (2010). Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Wellbeing; Rebirth of an Archipelago: Sustaining a Hawaiian Cultural Identity for People and Homeland (p 73-115) (Vol. 6). Honolulu, HI: Pauahi Publications Kamehameha Schools.

Pai, N., & Kawakami, A. (2005). Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Wellbeing(Vol. 2) (p 47-72). Honolulu, HI: Pauahi Publications Kamehameha Schools.

Kana‘iaupuni, S., Ledward, B., & Jensen, ʻ. (2010, September). Culture-Based Education and Its Relationship to Student Outcomes[PDF]. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Research and Evaluation.

Brockman, J. (2019). Possible minds: Twenty-five ways of looking at AI. New York: Penguin Press.

National Research Council 2000. Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Salomon, A. K., Lertzman, K., Brown, K., Wilson, K. B., Secord, D., and McKechnie, I. (2018). Democratizing conservation science and practice. Ecology & Society, 23(1), 597-608.

About Papahānaumokuākea. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Meyer, M. (1998). Native Hawaiian epistemology: Sites of empowerment and resistance. Equity and Excellence in Education, 31, 22-28

Yerton, S., & Simon, J. (2019, July 31). Do Negotiations Offer A Way Forward On Mauna Kea? Retrieved from

Pinker, S. (2012). The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined. NY, NY: Penguin Books.

Fisher, A. (2013). Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Aarts, A. A. (2015). Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science,349(6251). Retrieved August 4, 2019, from

Solstice to Solstice

Blog, Poetry

Even the everlasting sun will die someday

eternity is found only beyond certainty

the solid ground shakes and the low clouds at night glow red.

The earth splits open and nothing will be the same.

The deep core of fire that holds it all together

It must break through claiming the land

The oceans boiling

Life is whisked away like spirits into the heavens.

It happens in cycles

Solstice to solstice

The tension of life awaits catastrophe

Welcoming the change

the eruption of order into chaos

the loss that spins and weaves grief into a new creation

new possibilities

Solstice to solstice, we dance in perpetual motion

We dance to celebrate the change

to honor eternal life, fed by loss

knowing that even the everlasting sun will die someday

The Watchful Spring

Blog, Shorts



Blink, and you might miss it. Spring is in full swing, and what an arch that swing creates. Its momentous motion.  Its vigor. Its desperate lust.

The forest floor crawls with growth. Trilliums blooming in trillions. Bleeding Hearts weeping their lavender colored flowers in hoards. The Mock Orange Vine reaches rapidly above my head and looks down upon me with its orange, trumpeted grin. Flattened ferns from the Winter’s snow emerge, unraveling and crowning the understory with its primordial foliage.

Spring does not wait for the weary. It is the fullness of potential erupting into the calamity of life as the savior of the wandering and lost. It is the aimed arrow that flies true. It is the antithesis of sin. Shame is thrown to the wind, and vitality shimmers in the air, settling on new ground.

The pollinators generate an ambient buzz heard stretched across the valleys. The palatable sweet rain is quenched by roots on high demand, as costly reproductive signals flood those same valleys. The wild dance of Spring leaps, abounding into the longing days. The pace is rattling. Overwhelming the senses. Dizzying the mind.

Blink, and you might miss it.

Curiosity: an Antidote to Fear.

Blog, Ecopsychology Project

A curious Laysan Albatross chick reaches out to explore the extended hand of a human. A moment of interconnection.

Children learn, and grow, through their curious nature. Curiosity can only exist through the establishment of a safe, yet uncontrolled environment, where the child is able to freely explore their world.
Curiosity allows us to connect, not only with nature but also with our own self.
Interspecies connection is a concept already inherent within children. A child senses a kindred connection with a wild animal upon discovery of such creatures and is only taught later by a culture that they are separate from nature. Intersubjectivity, the idea of relatedness, is swept away from us, and replaced with a sense of entitlement to this world beyond all other creatures, and sadly it is founded upon a sense of fear.
The solution to Reestablishing such a psychological connection with the other creatures we share this world with is found within the same means that a child forms those connections on their own: Curiosity. Play. Safety.

Photo by Matt Chauvin. Follow him: @mattgeophotography

Forest In Motion

Artwork, Blog

This artwork was displayed at the Western Washington University Library in Fall of 2012

Artist’s Statement

Trees surround us but rarely do we spend time truly amongst them. The density of the forest and the high production of biomass within our local area is one of the defining aspects of this place we call home. These forests are home to many other organisms as well, small and large, as humans are but one part of a greater forest of life. This is a major aspect of my studies as a student, as I have looked at the psychological and sociological effects of forming deep and meaningful connections with nature. As an artist, I have expressed the emotional frustration and contradiction of trying to connect. This piece expresses a sort of severed relationship that exists within my mind and daily practice of life; how I wish nothing greater than to relate personally and collectively with life beyond just humans. By returning the “forest” to the “trees” in this piece, I am symbolically representing my own backward struggle to connect.

These photographs are a tribute to our forests, and to our living, breathing planet. By using the natural resource of wood as the medium for displaying my forest-in-motion photos, I am exploring creative ways to share and connect to an ancient relationship between humans and the rest of nature. I often think that in order to have a connection to nature, I must be actively participating in some practical skills or knowledge pertaining to the “great outdoors”. This is but one way to form a relationship to nature, and as I am learning, a sense of connection or relating to something usually starts with a set of feelings or emotions. By displaying these photos, I am hoping to invoke these simple yet profound human responses we call emotions.

I am also exploring the concept of motion and movement. Motion is a key aspect of being human and of being an animal. We are fascinating creatures just in all the ways we move, as well as the ways movement has helped us settle into every corner of the earth. Specific to the photos, I am exploring the visual appeal of motion within a single frame. I am interested in how these photos may appeal to others. What is one’s somatic experience while viewing these photos? Is there some deeper connection triggered by viewing the blurred photos of trees? Was this once a common experience that may use to have existed in our ancient past?

Each piece was captured with a Nikon D200 while I was in motion. I then transferred each printed photo to blocks of cedar I salvaged, leftover from a Story Pole which can be found in the Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher building in Bellingham, Washington.


The Great Journey: Coping with Loss

Blog, Personal essay

There comes a time when innocence is shattered by loss and sorrow reigns over the land of the heart. It is said that what makes our species so special is our awareness of our own mortality, and of those whom we love. It is what makes us beautiful, it is why we find beauty in the world. It is how we create our own beauty. And it is why the gods are envious of us.

There is a lake near the house I grew up in. It is in the middle of the city. On all the hot summer days, my friends and I would walk down to the lake, cross the busy city traffic and through the park, shedding our sweaty street clothes and jumping into its cold embrace. It is a small lake, and algae would bloom during those solstice days, making it fit for its name: Greenlake. That lake raised us. Me and sisters. And my Brother.

But now it has taken one of our lives.

The individual experience of such a loss does not bring forth immediate clarity and understanding. Thoughts become confusing and unreliable. Fuzzy. Dizzying. I now exist not only in the world of the living. I sense the cold kiss of death closer than ever before. Its seduction looms just beyond my sight, and I turn eagerly to catch a glance, but always missing it.

If there is such an existence beyond what we call life, then my beloved brother is now embedded within it, trying to find his way back to our ancestors. Through my creation and past images of him, I have attempted to immerse my imagination into this realm beyond existence where I can only merely believe he now treads upon.

I will not cease to illuminate your existence until I too have embarked on to The Great Journey.

We are the music makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams;—

World-losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world forever, it seems.




One. Haunted

Haunted - A Ghost Among Us

In 2014, at the age of 16, my younger brother came to visit me in Hawai’i. He was in high school. Young, but growing up quickly, he was confronting his own individuality and the boundaries of his own morality. His spring break visit came at a time when my mother and step-father were worried about his developing deviant behavior and lack of care for school. We traveled the island together in my beat-up ’96 Subaru Outback for 5 days, before I had to get back to work, and he to school.

While rummaging through my digital archives, I stumbled across the few but memorable photos I had taken from that trip. When I came across the photo of my brother standing alone amidst the steam vents of the Kilauea Caldera, shivers shot through my spine. The solitary stance of my brother squinting into the lens of the camera made me break down and cry almost instantly. It wasn’t so much because of this particular photo alone, but because I knew there existed a photo of me and my three older sisters standing in the very same spot only two years later. The two images in my mind so starkly represented this distance and space now between him and my siblings. It was haunting. I needed to rectify it, if not because of this guilt and shame I felt deep down inside that my brother was always on the fringe of our sibling dynamics – both in age and in personality – then because of surrendering to the grief that must accompany those who remain alive to mourn the dead.


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I  merged the two photos together. The feelings began to pour through me; Guilt, anger, sadness, grief. At first, I attempted to make the images one layer, so to speak, to join Taiga’s image alongside his siblings, as if he was there with us the whole time. I was following that guilty feeling that made me want to rectify the separation of us and him. But when I combined them like so, the image did not feel authentic. It did not feel true. Instead, it felt like a cover-up. A way to deny the truth that he is no longer right there with us, just like he was not there with us on that trip to Hawai’i. He came on his own.

I decided I needed to confront the darker realization. That he was now a ghost – logged memories in our minds, past murmurs reverberating in our hearts. He was not beside us – next to us – but instead a subtle force behind us. Someone we could sense, and maybe if we turned around quickly enough, might catch a glimmer as his image fades into the haze.

If we do not mourn the dead, then they will come back to haunt us. This is the first step in the Great Journey of the Spirit. It is our responsibility as the living to reconcile with who we have lost – the wind in which the sails of the spirit’s vessel first catches on the journey across the cosmos.

Two. The Wanderer


Lost and Aimless

Finishing the first image left me with a greater hunger to create; to pour all my focus and attention into my brother. I had laid down the groundwork, which became the germination for this forested desire, and was now ready to see which direction this would go. I could not quite yet see where it would take me, but knew it was taking me somewhere.

I don’t have a lot of photos of my brother, mainly only from his trip in 2014. I decided I would just stick with these photos. Maybe that was what this project was – a way for me to connect with my brother personally. Maybe that’s what these images represent: a trip he took solely to spend time with me. So it began as most things do, as an inner and selfish desire. This was about me just as much as it was about Taiga. Maybe only about me.

The next image I came across was a landscape shot of Mauna Kea from a Pu’u that stands between the Giant Volcano and its neighbor: Mauna Loa. I took the photo as Taiga was walking just below in the distance but in the foreground of the massive mountain that towers above all life on this island. I liked this image if only for the sake of the perspectives and composition: A faraway volcano draped in silhouette and clouds. A tiny thin-lined road with a pilgrimage of mini cars ascending to its peak. My brother walking stiffly in the cold in tandem with the road. It made for this connection between objects that otherwise seemed so far away from one another.

But when I looked at this image again, I felt a loneliness protruding from my brother. I imagined him now wandering across the vast landscapes of this earth, surrounded by life but no longer a part of it, only moving through it, past it, fading out of existence and into nothingness. The closer he tried to move towards something he knew, he once was a part of, he would come to find that his own tangibility would dissolve.

With this image comes the next phase of the great journey: wandering along the planes of  Earth. The recently dead or released spirits have accepted their severance from the living, but have not yet accepted their severance from home; Earth. And so they wander, denying the call to a greater cosmic universe that awaits them. Perhaps this is what my brother is doing now, visiting the places he never got to, holding on as tight as he can to the only world he knows, yet slowly losing his grasp – slipping away.

Three. Severance


Pain and Turbulence.

One of the last things I remember my brother telling me was how much he hated school but loved to learn. I think perhaps those words more than any other have given me the courage and purpose to become a teacher. A month after he died, I found myself back in Hawai’i as an English high school teacher.

The other day one of my student’s shared a metaphor for how her mind works.

“It’s the tides,” she said, ” ebbing and flowing.”

I contemplated her answer and realized then what drew me to create this next image of my brother. The intertidal zone is a harsh place to call home. It is turbulent as it must constantly face dealings with change; desiccation, salinity, wave turbulence. It is the shore, the threshold, the gateway between two worlds.

I imagine my brother making it to the shore after wandering aimlessly as a lost spirit on Earth. I imagine him splitting from the memories he has attached all of his existence to, and severed from. I imagine his own notion of himself shrinking and dissolving into the rocky shore, becoming detritus for the invertebrates to consume, breakdown, and assimilate back into the earth.

I imagine the pain of all this. The grief he must feel to no longer have a life. We, the living, mourn what we have lost, but what of the Dead? For they have lost their life. How do the dead mourn?

The sun, bringer and destroyer of life, rises between the dividing and splitting of his existence, severing my brother once and for all from any more ties to this earthly plane. It is time to never look back.


Four. Embarkation.


Discovery and Opportunity

When we confront the aspects of ourselves that no longer serve us, and only after shedding the dry skin, are we ready to face the chapters in life that beckon us forth. Perhaps the end of life is only the shedding of our physical burden to be released into a greater chapter of existence.

The excitement that builds as we sense our preparedness is ready to bloom into action is a feeling that excites and awakens every molecule in our being.  For the dead, what exists that can feel, if anything?

I await the moment I sense my brother has discovered his liberation into the vast unknown, the uncharted territories that we mere mortals have only seen through the eyes of our instruments. This is a photo of my brother peering down into the crater of Mauna Ulu, which can be translated to mean Mountain of Growth.  It was a crater that was active in the 80’s, but now rests in its dormancy.  The position of my brother leaning ever so slightly down towards the depth of creation, while still holding on to the earthen rock, made me think of that moment we discover just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

This moment of release is the moment I pray my brother has found or will find. For he is most certainly meant to be amongst the stars.

Five. The Traveler

The cosmic wind in his hair, hitchhiking across the Lagoon Nebula, my brother is at last now on his way towards the infinite.

From yet another photo of my brother’s visit to Hawai’i, I captured him during a moment that I like to think forever impacted him. It brings me great joy to think of the two of us riding in the back of my friend’s truck, out towards the beach, and to also picture him now rocketing through the heavens, exhilarated by this newly found freedom. With such a perspective one can only celebrate his early departure from this Earth.

The background image of the Lagoon Nebula was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released on my birthday this year to celebrate the 28th anniversary of its launch. Yes, I and the HST are indeed the same age, and it seemed only fitting to use its glorious images to depict my brother free at last.

Six. The Master Navigator


The Return to the Beyond


After traveling across the stars, galaxies, and universe, my brother has become a cosmic cartographer.

His death was twisted. He died doing what gave him peace in what otherwise seemed like a tumultuous time in his life. He loved to kayak on that lake. It’s what got him up in the morning. He even worked at the lake, renting boats out to the park goers. It seemed only right to use a photo of him paddling on the very lake that took his life to show him mastering the heavens.

I will only miss you here on this earth for a brief moment, for life is short. And in this brief moment that remains of my own life, I have eternity to look forward to spending with you. You will have much to teach me when that time comes.

So long, little brother.

Education of the Individual: A Return to the Undivided

Blog, Philosophy and Opinion

In the old days, before institutionalized education, children were brought to the churches and temples of their villages, for it was understood that learning was sacred. In some places, children were left to their own, although always under a watchful eye, to begin to shape their own impressions of the world, for it was understood that the developing mind must find the soul walking on all paths. The old days have come and gone, remembered as a distant, fading memory. Charmed in romance, the old ideas of the past linger on the fringes of society where few wander any longer. What used to be the iwikuamoʻo of society – the backbone -, the kamole – the taproot-, is now left contained within stories unexpressed, like a seed that cannot germinate.

Today, education is an indentured servant to society. In other words, education has been commandeered by the essentialism of a utilitarian government, bent and broken into a mechanism for developing individuals into productive members of society. Well-intentioned, but inherently flawed, education in the modern-day emphasizes the value of whole-process development while paradoxically seeking specialization of each unique individual. Through all of its intent and carefully crafted agendas, modern education sees the value of each individual as befitting to the order of its master: society. It is only at the philosophical level that we may begin to see the brittle infrastructure of such an institution. And we need not look any further than the concept of individuality. It is here we meet face to face with the contradictions and misplaced role of education in society. We find that our beliefs are shaped by the way in which we use the very words that constitute our world view. To return to a philosophy of education founded upon the actual principles of the individual requires, like all confusions and conflicts in life, a return to an origin of meaning.

The word ‘individual’  finds its origins in the ancient language of Latin. Made up of two parts, ‘in’ – not – and ‘dividuus’ – divisible – , individual means undivided. In society, education is the conduit in which the individual meets the world at large and begins to formulate their individuality around. In some sense, education has taken upon itself the parenting role, as the child leaves the environment of home and is placed into the stimulative environment which firstly provides the basic needs of food, shelter, and safety. The observation that the individual is taken from one environment and placed into another is and of itself a predicament, in the sense that it already contradicts Education’s value in the individual – for it is dividing up the child’s experience of the world, and a child’s experience is what shapes the individual, the undivided being.

Because the inherent structure of Education immediately contradicts the whole process of the individual, any remedies made within this structure will fall short from meeting the needs of the growing pupil. Therefore, if I am to follow the same mainstream philosophical approach to education under the constitution of valuing the individual, then I must confront the blaring contradiction rooted in the foundation of this philosophy, and from there heed my own radical approach.

Let us begin with the student, for it is the student who represents the true subject on the matter of education. The student represents that which is vulnerable in society. By the time the student reaches adolescence, their vulnerability takes the form of initiation into the world, both in terms of the responsibility expected of them as they enter secondary education, and also biologically as their bodies begin metamorphosing into maturity. As the focus of this philosophy, the adolescent reflects to us what we find most valuable in the world. We look at our students and ask ourselves: what is worth passing down? And how?

The student is a role in which the individual embodies in order to allow the process of learning to be enacted. By the time a child has progressed into their teens, they are well acquainted with the role as a student, at least habitually, but may yet still be confused as to what that role entails in actuality. In the words of Michael Meade, a mythologist and renowned storyteller, “Education at a deep level means to ‘lead out’ what is trying to be born from within.” The student is undergoing the process of bringing out their own individual uniqueness. This process requires an utmost level of vulnerability on the part of the student as they navigate their sense of self in relation to the world. As a student, the individual’s role is to stay true and centered, undivided by the external forces at play which tempt the student into submission through inherent structures of habitualized behavior, and disciplinary cognitive patterning. It is the role of the individual student to excel in education based on their own desires and motivations and not by the ambitions of the teacher, family, school, or education institution. Assuming this role as a student can only be accomplished through radically altering the role of the teacher, who must resist the temptation of imparting their own ideals onto the student.

As I fly towards the glory of becoming a teacher, I found myself caught in the inevitable web of expectation. If following the same philosophical principle of valuing the student as an individual, then the role of the teacher is to guide the awakening of the inner-self of the student. Today, the teacher has become a mediator between the student and the school, caught in a web in which the more the teacher struggles against the idealism of the school, the sooner the spider bites down and paralyzes the teacher. A teacher models the mastery of the individual, and through this mastery, the student sees the teacher not as an imposing force of conformity and obedience, but rather a source of inquiry and understanding into the complexity of being. This is especially important in a changing world in which a body of students come from diverse backgrounds. Much conformity has already occured within an adolescent’s life, and so the successful teacher must seek mutual respect not based on the discipline of habit; a mechanized form of respect, but instead based on the freedom of the individual from ideologies of others.

The ideological teacher builds a different kind of relationship with the individual that is not consistent with the role of a student. If a student only learns that they must perform well based on the expected outcome of others, then they will only learn veneration for their teacher through fear of reward or punishment. This inconsistency of fostering the individual leads to the student’s internalization of the teacher as a representation and thus false understanding of society – something to become subservient to.

For an individual, like myself, to subsume the role of a middle school teacher consistent with the young adolescent’s role as a student, I must not react to the symptomatic ailments of a child’s emotional or cognitive behavior, but rather pry deeper into the cause of disorderliness to find its true source. Otherwise, learning inside the domain of the teacher’s space cannot occur. A teacher must be fully invested in the complexities of the whole being while simultaneously avoiding the web of ideology and self-ambition.

The school attempts to represent the world as a whole. It is an abstracted form of reality designed to model the implicit development that occurs within the individual as they move through life. Education has taken up the role of creating an enriched learning environment. The student who passes through the program exceeding the standards, which constitute the learning environment, will be well-equipped to engage in the world independently and productively. But if the purpose of education is to truly align with the valuing of each individual student, then it would need to be in service of the student, instead of the student being in service to the school which as an institution is locked into the conditioning of being subservient to the expectations of the both the State and Federal education committees.

As the foundation to my philosophy is a return to the true meaning of the individual; the undivided being, so then the management of my classroom and design of my curriculum appeal to the diverse population of students expected to be found in my classes. Focusing my philosophy on the undivided being recognizes that implicit in each individual is a soul calling out, or rather recalling, its purpose in life. The soul represents the uniqueness of each individual which transcends any cultural or societal norms already imparted on each student. The struggle I see in my approach is not so much in the challenge of maximizing learning in the environment I have autonomy over, but rather instead I forsee facing challenges with the surrounding environment of the school and the meta-environment of education as an institution.

Incorporating the diversity of families into education requires the fostering of right relationship between all parties. Right relationship relies upon the undertones of reciprocity in which an exchange of value occurs throughout. The value usually takes the form of voices simply being heard. Essential to this approach of reciprocity is the student whose education is what is of utmost concern. Cultural barriers, social conditioning, and belief blind-spots should all be taking into consideration when involving families in the student’s education for it is within this realm where prejudices and conflicts of interest arise with unwavering temperaments.

As the young adolescent confronts the totality of life, it is crucial their educational environment responds in kind. Within the expressed behaviorism of each individual lies clues into their purpose and drive in life. If education truly desires the highest rankings in academic performance for as many students as possible, then it is best to return to what makes actual sustainably productive members of society: a sense of self. Adolescence, beginning around intermediate grade level, is the threshold that determines how invested a child is in their own education, how willing they are to work hard and perform the best to their potentiality of ability and skill in each subject. If a child is left feeling divided in their sense of self, then they can no longer move forward as an individual who feels worthy of pursuing a life of their own. Academic excellence is merely a desirable by-product that arises from the truly valued individual as an undivided self.

A Brief Encounter

Blog, Running in Circles

In the Olympic National Forest, I awoke at dawn before my campmates to sneak in a run along the Hoh River. Cool air lay heavy and damp and thick upon the forest. The light was dim, but growing with every passing minute. I was minding my own breath with each stride on the soft trail when I heard a rumble to my right, growing in intensity. I looked up startled, and behold! A herd of Roosevelt Elk – the largest of its kind – were galloping in tangent with me.

I was so engulfed by the immensity of their sudden presence which so starkly matched my own present circumstance of running in the lush forest, that I reacted with a kind of glorious grace and raced to join the herd in a kind of mania that only a lonesome human desiring to be of nature could accentuate with such prominence. I found myself diverging off the human trail and smashing through the forest right alongside the massive elk. No longer focused on my own breathing, I turned and glanced out my peripherals, as much as a hominid can, to see the plumes of breath in the cold morning shoot out from what looked to be over thirty individual snouts. The sounds of the forest birds seized, and the rolling and rushing of the nearby Hoh river were drowned out by their rhythmic stampeding.

I felt pulled along, swept away from my mere human existence, pushed into the profundity of life, freed from the confinements of my ever-encroaching thoughts. I was truly a man among giants. Alas, I could not keep up any longer with the powerful creatures. My heart felt as if it were to leap out through my throat. I couldnʻt tell if from exhaustion or pure passion to join the herd forever. I slowed to a stop and watched the giant elk disappear into the depths of the forest.

Breathing wildly, I turned around and slowly jogged towards the sound of the river, finding my way back to the peaceful and unbeknownst humans, who still lay cocooned in their tents dreaming of fantastical encounters with the magical unknown…


The Pack and the Past

Blog, Shorts


I’ve been trying to grapple with the changes that have occurred all through my life while simultaneously trying to catch up with all the changes that occurred during the billions of years that came before me.

It’s a dizzying experience.

Some say knowledge is not discovered. It is remembered. Did someone discover that? Or was it remembered?

When I was a child, I remembered so many more of my dreams. Visions. Then, the swarm of external stimuli ruptured my cognitive world as the modern world I was engrossed in during the 90’s flooded my vision and caught my attention like a moth to light. It was not until in college that I stepped far enough out of this modern entrapment did I begin to have visions again. I went to Hawaiʻi as part of a kind of college abroad program to learn about the field of environmental science. The trip proved to be life-changing. For the 7 weeks our group lived and camped outside, often trekking to the remotest areas on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. My dreams came flooding back, lucid as ever.

As a young male, I was primed for adventure. Leaving the domain of the University campus to explore the terrain of a faraway place was a paramount decision in my awakening. To awake to the vision of the dream is the paradoxical relationship between the temporal world and the infinite. Up until this point, my life seemed to be a one track momentum hurdling me forward. It spun me into an existential crisis. I used to think that I was a late bloomer since I still haven’t really gotten my career off the ground,  but looking back to those days, I realized by stepping laterally off of the known path, I was descending into a calling that would forever be my guide in life.

We still do not understand where the stuff of dreams and visions come from. Those who approach internal imagery with uncertainty are wise in doing so. The humble way is one of discipline and uncertainty, based on the value of respecting that which you do not fully understand. Another paradox. Only by acknowledging one’s lack of understanding does one gain more understanding.

The fact that my dreams returned with such vividness during my winter in Hawaiʻi, I did not understand, but I did understand that it was something worth paying attention to. I recognized to be skeptical of the messages from the world around me, for they were only repeated messages from one mind to the next, lost in a lifeless regurgitation of jumbled words. I learned that to only trust the experiences I had that were deeply moving. The ones that moved across my skin like electricity. That triggered deep memories or lit up my dream world.

I once had a dream, not too long ago, in which I was not human, but a Cheetah. I was fast, agile, and stealthy. But I had no thoughts. It was a strange experience. Both foreign and familiar. Primal. It was a kind of remembering. A kind of returning. I was looking around, orienting myself to this new environment. It was the day, bright as can be, with the wind blowing across plains of grasses. I was hidden in the grass. I looked around, smelling, and caught glimpse of one, then two other cheetahs. I knew them. Somehow I knew this. And then I knew what I was doing. I was hunting. We were hunting.

As we prepared to execute our attack, there abruptly appeared another group of cheetahs. My pack froze in hesitation. So did the other. Caught in uncertainty. What were we supposed to make of this? The tension grew. Tails flicked. It was not worth it. You couldn’t have two separate hunting packs going after the same stock. It just didn’t make sense. We knew it wouldn’t work.

I don’t remember the rest. I don’t know what happened after. Maybe I forgot. Maybe I woke up. But when I did wake up, I remember laying there in amazement. How could I transform into a Cheetah like that? How could my imagination conjure up such an experience? I was not merely watching these Cheetahs. I was one of them. I felt like one. I walked on four legs. I breathed through a snout. I perceived with no thoughts.

It is dreams like this, and other like-visions in my life that have swept me into a world of questions and mystery. As I entered my adulthood and with that the anxiety of surviving on my own, my only solace has been to value everything that has come before, that is, to walk forward in life with uncertainty, and pry deep into the source of matter and meaning.

Perhaps then I will remember, and maybe we all will someday, how to properly live with each other, and all life on this planet. But I don’t think it can be done by telling each other how to properly live. I think we can only tell ourselves that, discovered through our dreams and visions ignited by the deep, deep, primordial past.


In between worlds and thoughts – Modern Guilt of a Environmental Conservationist

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō


Sunday, August 19th

Looking South.

It was Wednesday evening and Old Matt was making dinner while we were hanging out at the picnic table outside the main house, enjoying the breeze and sights of ducklings running around. Nimz, the NOAA seal worker, and Naomi, our Kure manager, were sharing a conversation while I strummed on the guitar in the background.

Wild Health: A User’s Guide on How to Give Up Control and Get on with Life.

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō


IMG_5393August 11th, 2017
Kure Atoll. 3 Weeks left.

Morale is important in all fields of work. Gotta keep the busy bees happy to be productive. Morale is where it all begins. You cannot sustain productivity without positive morale. Without it, the energy is drained right out the bottom. Given the bombarding strains of our work on Kure, I must confess that morale can be difficult to recover deep into the season. It is the psychological edge that cuts deep into our energy reserves. It’s the tiredness at the end of a long day when everyone is pushing to get it done and you’re struggling to keep up. You’re out of water, the sun isn’t getting any cooler, and you look over and see your teammates ain’t pushing to get it done, and all you want to do is scream out, “let’s just get this over with and get the hell outta here!” It’s the penetration of negative thoughts that brood inside your tired mind, spinning useless webs, trapping you. And the more your fight to break free, the more tightly the web binds itself to you.

Death and Renewal Pt. III: Ducks of Our Lives

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

DSCN1297Some of the most dramatic work we do out here on Kure can be attributed to the introduced Laysan Duck, an endangered species endemic to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Three years ago a group of Laysans were captured from Midway to become the founding population on Kure as an attempt to spread the species to more islands. Kure was an ideal selection because, like Midway, there is a year-round human presence that can monitor the ducks. However, the ducks on Midway as well as the ducks established on Kure have suffered from severe bouts of botulism.

Death and Renewal Pt II: The Dance and Flight of the Albatross; Rituals of Transformation

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

Nesting on the island within Kure Atoll is two different species of Albatross. These two species look different and behave differently, but it doesn’t take a bird expert to tell they share a common ancestor.  All Laysan Albatross learn the same dance moves of bobbing their neck DSCN1872up and down, whistling, thrusting their head straight up to the heavens, shaking their head left to right, lifting one wing and tucking the beak behind it, and also rapidly clapping the beak. They do this because it is a ritual. It is what works, allowing the species to continue to reproduce. The Black-Footed Albatross have their own distinct dance, and they do it for the same exact reason: it works. Same but different.

Death and Renewal Pt I: The Mo’o of Solstice

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

P1060687Fieldwork truly satisfies the whole spectrum of emotions; from the greatest failures to its wildest successes. The progress is slow and often the impact of our work is not seen within a single season. Only those who venture back reap the reward of change on Kure.
For me, it has been two years since I first came out, a year and a half since I left.

Rivaling Arrivals Part II

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

IMG_5657E hihi ka hele i ka uka o Puna
Mai ʻako i ka pua
O lilo i ke ala o ka hewahewa
Ua hūnā ʻia ke kino i ka pōhaku
ʻO ka pua naʻe ke chu new i ke alanui
Alanui hele o ka unu kupukupu
[NBE: 31]

The path toward the spring of profound life is known but to a few Donʻt pluck any bloom while on this path
Or you will relinquish your focus to the indulgence of the moment For the true forms are secreted in the stones,
Where the profusion of flowers distorts
The path pointing to the sacrificial altar where life will feed the ferns Sacrificed!
[Taupōuri Tangarō]

Rivaling Arrivals Part I

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

She smiles at me with a big grin and gives me that hug she says she doesn’t like giving. I squeeze her through her life jacket and mutter a “see ya later” into her ear, letting her go quick-like so she can get on hugging everyone else goodbye. I don’t know how to express my affection towards her except to sneak a Sea Purse bean into her Pelican case as it sits in her packed-up bunk room before her departure with a note that just reads ‘For the Memories’.

Weekend Special: If You Build It, It Will Rain.

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

Sunday Night. May 14th 2017

Sometimes, life works things out for you.
This weekend I was determined to finish a project I had begun a couple weeks back. I got all my things together and threw them into one of our many wheel barrels that we use to lug things around the island like rickshas, and headed out to the furthest extent of the island. South point. Landfill. The old dumping grounds of the coast guard base from the 60’s to the 80’s. Yes, sadly, even Kure has its own landfill.

Much Ado about Hōlanikū

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

IMG_5675Time does not wait for the ponderer. It rushes forth at the speed of light and all beings dance to its tempo. And so I must write about Kure without further ado.
We are in full force out here on the fringes of earthly delight. Our work is consuming us like salsa consumes a burrito like syrup consumes pancakes. Like the sun consumes the day, and the moon consumes the night. Our brains are packed full of the nuances of our day-to-day life and our bodies are humming with its habits. We arrived 7 weeks ago and have steadily been making this place home.


Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
Day 4 on the Kahana

E ala, e ala, e ala, e ala
E Hīkāpōkuakini, e ala, e ala
E Hikāpōkuamano, e ala, e ala
E ke akua, e ke alo, e ala, e ala
E ikauwilanuimākēhāi kalani
E ala, e ala!
[Nathaniel B. Emerson 12]

Awake, rise and come to consciousness
To you, Tittering-in-Profound-Awareness, awake
To you, Spreading-of-Ancestral-Influence, rise forth
To you, the goddess of timelessness, return to the present,
A call to the Electricity-swooshing-in-the-Heavens,
Jolt her back to life!
[Taupōuri Tangarō’s translation]

An Out of Order Introduction

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

Hōlanikū – Week 2

IMG_5443The strong and cold winds from the north have returned, bringing a light rain that scatters with each gust. The birds perk up as the force of wind fuels their movement and freedom in the open sky. I had planned to sleep in today after a long week, but instead, I woke up early and slow like the sun as it sluggishly rose illuminating layers of clouds warming the sky one by one. 

Kū mākou e hele mekuʻu mau pōiʻi aloha: I With My Siblings Stand to Journey Forth

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

Kauai from the Kahana


My hips move with the ocean. Move with the ship. Move with the swells. Rocking and gyrating. I’m out on the big blue. Kauai is now in clear sight, gleaming pale light from the afternoon sun. Our crew has settled in on the Kahana, our first full day nearing the last hours of the day.

Breath of the Hill

Blog, Hawaiʻi

A Personal Essay on Hawaii

In the winter of 2010, I traveled to Hawai’i with a school program, having never been before. During the time, I had no idea how this experience would impact my life. I now live here and consider it home. This place has shaped me profoundly, and I have discovered much not only about myself but also about us humans struggling to maintain our sense of place and identity in a globally charged world. Below is an essay I wrote upon my return to college in Washington after my short but profound time in Hawai’i. I like to return to it from time to time during transitions in my life as a reminder of where I have come from since then. In short, this is the purpose of telling stories; to remind us who we are, where we come from, and where we are heading.




          Hapu’u. Tree Fern. This was the name given to me. I liked the idea of being a tree fern, unraveling fronds towering over human heads, growing upwards steadily towards the canopy, towards light, the soft furry pulu shedding off of me, glistening a golden orange-brown through the crack of shade in this dense Ohia Lehua forest, with their bright red flowers shooting out like fireworks frozen in mid-burst. The canopy is full of sounds; a biophony. I am standing in the middle of a kipuka, this particular one is called Puaulu, a small patch of forest that stands isolated in the middle of an old frozen lava flow. It is an island of sorts, somehow untouched during the eruption that covered this side of Hawaii with molten smooth rock, pahoehoe, like syrup over pancakes.

The air is thick with mist. The sounds of birds resonate through the kipuka in a mysterious way. I am focused on a Hapu’u standing tall in front of me, trying to notice its detail. The large fronds radiate out from its thick stump creating an understory of canopy. Some of the fronds have snapped and point downwards making the tree fern into an hourglass shape…

            January 06th, 2010

            The ferns are a rusty color at the base, with a furry texture covering it. The rainforest consists mostly of these tree ferns. The Ohia Lehua trees form and enclose the canopy. Some of the trees release a hanging reddish-brown collection of aerial roots, a defense mechanism that is activated if the tree is somehow damaged. Ohia refers to the tree, lehua to the blossoms; bright red flowers, small buds, maturing into hard woody capsules.

I take out my tiny sketchbook and make an attempt at drawing this giant fern. It is the first time I’ve seen one. They are everywhere, dominating the mid-canopy, shading, protecting.

Today is full of first times. I am marveling at it all. The group is far ahead of me on the trail. I stop every step, noticing a new plant foreign and unfamiliar to me, beautiful to me. Everything is so different here. There are large cavities in the ground where the soil collapsed because of an absence of support beneath the old lava rock. The land here is not very stable. It is not so old as it is periodically covered with lava, as the island swells and grows, and erupts. My skin begins to breathe, sweating, opening up to the humidity. Rain falls softly and shyly.  A pheasant comes bursting out of the brush and over my head, a great flash of blue and black. The size of the canopy and many birds residing in this Kipuka means that this forest is very old. I think about what it must have been like before the latest lava came barreling down out of one of the volcanic shafts that connects to the deep magma chamber. Hawaii is but 0.6 million years old, making it the newest land formation on the earth. In fact, some might say that it is still 0 years old since the land is actually still forming, fed by a hot spot deep in the mantle layer. Inevitably, someday, this kipuka will come crashing down, only to rise up again.

Yesterday I landed by plane 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines. I am standing in an island within an island, isolated by lava that is isolated by a great ocean. I take a deep breath in and look up at all the life existing in the canopy. I walk out to the edge of the Kipuka and the frozen lava flow. Standing between these two worlds I begin to contemplate the balances of life. All this life somehow made it to the most isolated place on the planet, all this life finding ways into every corner of the earth.

I look down at my hands and examine the grooves sketched in my palm. I focus my eyes at the cracks in my skin. I wonder who I am. I wonder how life came to together to create me. Was I once just a mere bare rock that emerged from the ocean, born into the turbulent exposure of the world, growing and filling with life?


Tuesday, January 9th, 2010

            It was the most pretty and mystical walk yet, with the sound of hundreds of birds chirping, the giant Acacia Koa and Ohia trees, some of which are joined together near the base of the trunk forming wild structures. The most mystical aspect of it all was the Ki plants that sprout up tall, then bloom long glossy leaves that are used in a variety of ceremonial ways. The ki plant was introduced by ancient Polynesians and is part of the lily family. It is considered sacred to the Hawaiian god Lono, and to the goddess of hula and the forest, Laka. It was used by the kahuna priests in their ceremonial rituals as protection to ward off evil spirits and to call in good.

Hapu’u means ‘breath of the hill’. The young hapu’u grows upward until it is too heavy to support itself, at which point it cracks, splits, and falls over. New roots spring from the fallen trunk, and again it grows towards the sun. Again gravity pulls it back to the ground, and so on… this cycle continues, like long slow breathing. I came to Hawaii to reach out towards the sun, to feel alive, to get away from the confusion I faced daily back at home, and school. I arrived at the program silent and shy, raveled up like the new fronds of a fern, hidden from the other members of the program. As Americanized as this Island has become, Hawaii felt foreign to me, and very magical.


Monday, January 8th, 2012

              I watched the sun rise above the Kilauea caldera. I watched it shine through geological vents, pouring vapor out along the bluffs, dissipating over the rim of the caldera that rises above the desolate crater floor. Within the caldera is the Halemaumau crater, home of the passionate goddess of fire, Pele, she-who-shapes-the-sacred-land, as her name is described in ancient Hawaiian chants. I am sitting perched at the site where Pele’s brother, Kamohoali’i, god of the shark, is meant to live. Pele gave him this cliff, Palikapuokamohoali’i, for helping Pele navigate to the island of Hawaii from Tahiti. It is said that she gifted him with this side of the caldera because no smoke or fumes ever blow in this direction. It was a beautiful sight, and is embedded in my mind.


I picture myself as the shark god, looking down below into the crater where my sister Pele lives. I imagine the rain pouring down Mauna Loa, seeping into the ground, down towards the lava, towards Pele where her fiery passion vaporizes and steams through the cracked vents, bellowing out over my head, over the rim of the giant caldera, and fainting with the rising sun. I see myself as part of this story, the story of Hawai’i. I imagine myself as part of the land and wonder how I can feel so at home when I am thousands of miles away from all those I’ve ever known and ever loved. I did not want to return there. I wanted to be a part of this place, here, so active and alive with myth.

I return down the slope from the rim of the caldera to our campsite. Everyone is just getting up, slowly emerging from their tents, standing, stretching – taking in the new day. There is a slight smell of sulfur dioxide in the air. Pele’s wavering temper lingers in my mind. I think about what the volcanologists we visited the other day who told us about the volcano’s continuously erupting activity – how they don’t know exactly what caused the inflating and deflating of the magma through the vents. There are only some possible theories conjured about the swelling and increased pressure in the magma chamber, but no one knows for sure. As the sulfur smell floods my nostrils, I smile with a wild yet comforting thought that it is, of course, Pele who is causing all of the eruptions.

Keauhou trail to Halape

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

            The ground began to even out. We were surrounded by tall grass, an ecosystem we had not yet been to, but beautiful nonetheless. The thick fields of grass made everything look golden, and their pink tops created a colorful scene, dancing through the light as the wind swooped through. Suddenly, I became overwhelmed. My eyes swelled up with tears as I closed their lids, feeling the wind push against my body, against all that surrounds me. At that moment, I felt very close to the land. I felt a part of it. I understand how we are born from the soil, and die into the soil. We all come from the same energy, Earth. It is very overpowering. I have been so calm and relaxed, so peaceful and balanced, so soft and real, comfortable and clean. But I do not understand how I felt at that moment amongst the grass. It felt like a great sadness pressing down on me. How I wish times were different. How I wish I could change the world. Sometimes I think I can feel it dying. I wonder how many of my tears cry for this. How many for happiness and beauty? How many for sadness?

            Just now I saw a whale emerge, startling me, as I looked out at the ocean. It was far away in the distance. I could only see debris shooting out of its blowhole. I focused on the Whale as it slipped beneath the blue, silently disappearing.  The whale reminded me to stay focused on what’s left, and not to dwell in the absence of life, on the surface of how things appear. There is still an abundance, I just have to seek it out, believe in what’s left.


            We started out on an old frozen lava flow that stretches down the side of the biggest and newest formed island, the Big Island, comprised of five separate volcanoes, at least one still active and growing. The terrain gradually changes into thicker vegetation as we head laterally off the recent frozen lava and onto an older surface. The rock transforms from a dull charcoal color into a reddish-orange as it has had more time to oxidize in the exposed air. Many plants have made their home here, even without much fertile ground. We continue on across the frozen lava and into fields of long grass that lead us down rocky slopes eventually out to the ocean. The landscape is starting to change with our decent. The climate is fairly dry on the leeward side. Hills rise to the northwest of us, and to the south they fall down to the coast. We arrive at a lookout and can see for miles along the fall line. The beauty and expanse of the blue horizon envelops my peripherals, the water meeting the coast in deep, crashing waves. Things in the distant always look like they are moving in slow motion. To the east I can see the recent lava flow we traversed earlier slope down over a drop-off, then gradually traveling all the way to the coast and into the ocean. I stop to look out. As I graze across this landscape, something begins filling up inside of me, up to the brim of my eyes, ready to burst out. I feel compelled to be in solitude.

The group stops for a break. I unlatch my backpack’s buckles, put it down and head over the next hill, out of sight. I am tense; my breathing is fast, my skin is prickly. The corners of my mouth begin to tremble. I start to cry. I am lost and confused. This is my first backpacking trip. I sit down and hug my knees, allowing the tears to flow. I gaze up and scan the scenery around me, distorted with tears. I sense the calmness flowing around me. My breathing slows. There is a certain silence that exists here. I notice only the noise of wind darting across the sky and blowing through the grass, which rattles and sway together. I cannot even hear the rest of the group back at the trail, but I imagine them sitting there, munching on peanut butter-filled tortillas, laughing and breathing, taking in the warm air. I feel distant from them, disconnected. Why do I sit here away from the rest, alone? Why am I filled with emotions? What has gotten into me? I wipe the tears from my face, gather my wits and walk back to the group. Is it this place I have come to that is bringing about such challenging emotions, or is it where I come from?


January 5th, 2010

            I feel like I am in a dream. I don’t know if it is because I went from a dark Seattle winter to a Hawaii warm-weather climate, or just being thrown into a completely different world altogether. Maybe it is because I am with all new faces. In a dream, I often feel unsettled. Nothing is ever quite right in a dream. This is how I feel now.

            But, I also feel good. I have been unusually calm since arriving. I have also been quiet, not too social. I wonder if this is just my shyness. I don’t seem to have anything to say. For now, I will just listen.

            Tonight and for the next two nights we are staying out on the water. We arrived at night and I can only hear the sound of the waves rolling in and out. It is very relaxing and I welcome it. It makes me feel at ease, at home. I can’t wait to wake up and see the ocean…

            Tonight, I see stars, thousands upon thousands. I will spend every last waking minute staring up. I have never seen so many starts. I have never missed something so much…

The next day I wake up early and split from the group, as I’ve grown accustomed to doing most mornings, but this morning is different. It is the first time I have ever meditated. It is the first time I have sat in a single place, by myself for more than a few minutes. I find a mound of A’a, a type of lava flow that rolls, spews and sputters, freezing into large clumps. I look out onto the horizon and concentrate on nothing, but everything at the same time. I feel powerful, meaningful, significant, and humble. It feels as if the island is revealing itself to me. I sense its aliveness, from the tiny critters crawling beneath my feet and buzzing in my ears, to the cloud of gases spewing out of the land. I watch the sunrise, I hear the rhythmic waves, I feel the wind envelop me, and I taste the world. I feel free of the constraints of my body; hovering. I find myself amidst it all- experiencing something I don’t believe I have in a long time…I feel…alive

The fronds of my Hapu’u begin unraveling as the sun climbs higher into the sky. My breath is deep and with each exhale I grow taller. I exhale so tremendously that the weight and height of my branches can no longer stand on their own. I fall, crashing to the ground. The waves breathe in again, and through the soft pulu of my Hapu’u stump, new fronds appear, coiled tight, starting the cycle all over again. This moment of solitude early in the morning is something I’ve never had before. It is a gift, and I cherish it each day. I either get up and run or find a spot to my calling and sit until I grow tired, returning to the group who are always there to greet me with that sort of calm energy that Hawai’i exudes.



            Our group went to see the ancient petroglyphs left behind by long lineages of Polynesians. We meander around the rocks on raised platforms, finding many ringed shapes carved into the frozen lava. Usually, a column or row of these rings can be found, all in a line, each about the same ratio between the inner and outer circle that make up the ring. The rings represent the belly-button, a symbol of birth, fertility, and family. Each line of belly-buttons is the lineage of a family and are unique in their carving, distinguished from one family to the next. Some stretch many generations back, and others continue to be added to this day, carving new rings for each new generation. The petroglyphs are located a great distance away from any ancient human settlement. It is a sacred place, a recording of existence, a story of humans rooted in the rock.

Staring down at the donut-shaped carvings, I start to miss home, at least, the idea of home. I start to feel lonely. Where are my roots? Where do my people reside? How are we a part of the land, a part of this universe? I count the rings, one, two, three…ten…twenty…fifty…one hundred…they go on and on. I squeeze my eyes shut. I want to so badly carve my own belly-button into the rock. I want to be part of this lineage. I feel the hot sun bearing down on my exposed neck, making me sweat. I grow hot, unnerved. I want to yell out, scream at the world with such fiery passion, like Pele exploding out of the crater, erupting with volatile anger. I want to split into a million parts and float out with the wind and circle the globe until I settle into every corner of the world. All this life, in every corner of the earth. Where do I fit in?

The Inversion Layer

Mauna Kea

Mauna means mountain. Mauna Kea is the sacred mountain of Hawaii, the summit at an impressive 13,796 feet. Mauna Kea translates as White Mountain, also known as the mountain of Wakea. There is an ancient saying, Mauna Kea kuahiwi ku ha’o I ka maile, ‘the astonishing mountain that stands in the calm’. It comes from how the mountain’s summit rests above the cloud inversion line, and is one of the reasons it is such a  good site for the science of astronomy, the other reason being it is surrounded on all sides by water, so there is virtually no light pollution. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, measured from its base down at the ocean floor. It last erupted 4,500 years ago and is long dormant.

We waited until the sun went down to view the awesome array of stars above. Every star seen with the naked eye is part of our galaxy, except for the Pleiades constellation, which consists of a cluster of stars from the Andromeda galaxy. The Hawaiians have their own name for Pleiades, Makali’I.

I watched Jupiter set, and Mars rise. I watched one of the arms of our galaxy, the Milky Way, stretching across the entire sky in a wavy length containing an estimate of 1 trillion stars. There are so many that you cannot see them individually.

January 11th, 2010

   The vegetation on Mauna Kea is extremely sparse, a characteristic of a montane desert climate. Dry air, windy weather, and variable temperatures make if difficult for plants to thrive and are why so few are found here. A now rare, but highly special plant of Mauna Kea, the endemic Silversword, glistens with so much silver it looks as if spray-painted. When cattle and sheep ran free, as they did in the early 1900’s, these plants were particularly tasty to them, and soon the plant became endangered. It was thought to have gone extinct until a few were discovered growing on the edge of a cliff, where no sheep or cattle could reach.

   The summit of Mauna Kea is an Alpine-Tundra climatic region, consisting of only moss, lichen, grass, and ferns. Very little fauna can be found. The only insect found to be living at the summit is the Wakiu, because of an anti-freeze chemical it produces. This highly specialized bug is a perfect example of species adaptation. The bug flies around finding dead frozen insects that were unlucky enough to be caught in winds sweeping them up to the frozen summit. The only native land mammal of the Hawaiian Islands is located up on Mauna Kea: The Hori bat. Other animals of flight in this area are the Nene goose, which has evolved to have shorter wings and lesser-webbed feet in order to better suit their new environment on the Island. Obviously, they do not migrate, but have been hybridizing with introduced species of goose. A full breed Nene is a rare sighting. 

   The mountain itself is a sacred and holy place for the Polynesians, and only high priest have ventured to the peak, too sacred for any other class to be. The lake Wa’le on Mauna Kea is thought to have healing powers as is used often for medicinal purposes. Many believed the lake was bottomless because the water is able to collect instead of drain away through porous volcanic rock, but actually, the floor is made of clay. The lake is colored a solid green from the amount of algae growing in it.

We travel up along the saddle in between the broad active volcano of Mauna Loa, and the steep dormant volcano of Mauna Kea. The van barely makes it up the road to the visitor center on Mauna Kea. We are ascending up towards a sacred place. After reading about all of the social, cultural, and political conflicts that still occur today concerning the volcano, I feel wary about approaching. Not only am I not a priest, but I also am not Hawaiian at all. This volcano is a site where very few people were allowed. Now it is littered with tourists and scientists alike, disturbing this holy peak. It does not seem right for me to hurl myself up the side of this mountain. I feel unwelcomed.

The visitor center is only at 9,000 feet, the peak at nearly 14,000 feet. The van cannot make the rest of the climb, which I am somewhat grateful for. I already feel like a disturbance of some force or deity. The air is thin and cool. We are sitting at just about the inversion line, a layer of clouds suspended just below us. It feels like we are floating on top of them. If I strain my eyes just right, I can see the vast blue of the ocean, thousands of feet below.

While we wait for nightfall, I spend my time meandering on nearby trails, observing the vegetation, what little of it there is. There is a small garden close by dedicated to restoring the Silversword plant populations, āhinahina,, a relative of the pineapple. Their silver color is an adaptation to their cold environment. The silver coloring are tiny shiny hairs covering the leaves, which are parabolic-shaped focusing the warm sun rays on to the plant’s growing point, raising the temperature of that point by 40 degrees. It is the same concept of a reflector or solar oven.  Silverswords live for about 10 to 50 years as a low, round bush. At the end of their life, they send up a flowering stalk that can grow over 6 feet tall within a few weeks and produce up to 600 flower heads. It reminds me of the Great Pacific Octopus, which only lays eggs once, near death, thousands of them at once. She spends the last moments of her life guarding her eggs, keeping them hidden and safe. With a single death, comes a multitude of life.

Looking around, I take in the emptiness of vegetation, the scattered life that exists on this barren mountain. It seems that I am not the only one unwelcomed, for there are few who have actually been able to colonize this harsh environment and make a life of their own. The miraculous ability to adapt; to not only survive in places with little to no nutrients, oxygen and violent exposures of the sun, wind and bitter coldness, but to thrive in this environment. I decide that I am not welcomed so long as I do not belong. Everything begins from somewhere else, and only those who find a way to survive and live in balance with their environment become a part of their environment. I stare back down at the Silversword and ponder what it means to be native. Where am I native to? What specialized adaptations have I evolved to have? If this mountain is thought to be sacred, are the plants and animals that live on it sacred as well? Perhaps there is some place where I will settle and become sacred myself.

Waimanu Valley-1049

Waimanu Valley

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

            If you look down and focus on the ground where your stability lays, you can feel the whole earth shake and tremble, as it does, through age. I have grown for twenty rotations around the sun. My heart has beat in rhythmic cycles all the while. Small, rhythmic trembles, beating through age.

Last night it rained a good amount. I awoke to the sound of the river raging into the sea, crashing against huge waves. A violent battle of fresh and salt-water forces. The river’s width increased dramatically since the night before, and the speed at which the water flowed was menacing. I stood in awe, trapped on the beach, merciful and powerless. This tremendous force blocked our only way back out of the valley. I looked out where the river met the ocean imagining sharks stationed with their mouths wide open, waiting for fish and other critters as they helplessly poured in from the rushing river. I looked back into the valley to see new waterfalls appear that weren’t visible before. The amount of water coming down from the top of this valley, Waimanu, was unbelievable. How could it rain so much? It was a mesmerizing site watching new falls form slowly and subtly in the distance. 

This is the force that carved the valley into what it is now. A valley, which was used by Polynesians to nourish the growth of Taro, a staple food, which many subsisted off of and ensured food of plenty, even during terrible droughts and times of war and famine. It is a valley where people now come to live to get away from the modern human constructs of the world. It is a place of refuge, and serenity. It is a valley of time, ever-changing where all creatures may find food and stability. Yet it floods with tremendous volumes of water, carving, shaping, and changing the landscape. I look down at my feet, where the roots of my Hapu’u are buried deep into the ground, stable and grounded. I feel the whole earth shake and tremble, changing, as it should through age.

In a few days, I will return home, far away from this chain of islands. I will remember how rooted I felt in the stories of Hawaii, like the carved belly-buttons, how stable and healthy I felt waking up each day with slow and purposeful intention. I will always remember how I grew and fell, grew and fell like the waves, and the Hapu’u tree ferns. I will remember how I changed, like the Waimanu valley, carving deeper and deeper into the wholeness of this earth. We all come from somewhere, and I have learned through my passage through Hawaii, that only when I stop and listen to the stories being told around me, may I find home.



Severed Light – Crossing the Void

Blog, Ecopsychology Project

The greatest lie we have been told upon entering the living world is that we, as humans, evolved beyond nature – as if we have risen above it, as if this is our progress and greatness as a species. This lie, however, has brought our human development to a halt and left us stranded, like a beam of light cut off from its source, illuminating only a sliver of who and what we are, creating a void of darkness all around us in which we are too afraid to approach. And if it approaches us, we cower in fear or lash out in aggression.
By psychologically viewing ourselves as better and superior to the assumed primitive lesser world of nature, is to deny and deprive ourselves of our own self – to separate our body from its natural evolution.
Human’s greatest gift is to “see” we are all the same, but it is also our greatest weapon, to “see” we are separate and alone in a void. Which have you chosen?
Are you ready to cross the void?





The Unconscious

Blog, Ecopsychology Project

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The Unconscious: "Is all those parts of experience that remained inchoate and unarticulated, parts for which we never developed a full voice, for want of that receptive intersubjective field that is requisite, for the full development of the self. It is experience that is felt but cannot be shared, represented, articulated, echoed, symbolized, and thus integrated into the whole social field this tends to become stunted and arrested at best, if it doesn't disappear from felt reality altogether." ~ ' The Voice of Shame, Gordon Wheeler Ecopsychology is always attempting to understand phenomena as experiential, or rather through the phenomenological experience: that how we come to understand our world, ourselves, and each other is an embodied experience. Ecopsychology's purpose is to extinguish the separation of self and nature and see it all as one whole process. So as a bodily sense of experience: what then is the unconscious? It is the body's stopped processes, a muscular and physiological blockage. It is a jam of our world-bound energies or intentions. We learn to deliberately intercept our bodily intentions (mainly through shame) until this becomes habitual: falling out of our explicit awareness. Thus the unconscious is born: our urges and desires (intentions) persisting in a cramped or dammed up form – as bodily blocked sexuality, anger, grief, fear, terror, love, joy, etc… Spoken in another way, if our body is a river then the water is our soul, and the movement of the water down river is the experience of life: our soul's awakening and expressed self. If you place a dam along the river, stopping the flow, jamming the experiential process of your water, then we have what we call the unconscious. The unconscious is not a separate mind within the mind. It is not this thing deep down inside of you with all the answers to the universe. It is not the "dam" itself, rather, it is a relational interactive phenomenon born from repression of your life process: not living fully. This is how pathology comes to exist. This is why the unconscious has become so common in psychology language to explain a part of ourselves. #theunconscious #wetooarenature #ecopsychology

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The Unconscious: “Is all those parts of experience that remained inchoate and unarticulated, parts for which we never developed a full voice, for want of that receptive intersubjective field that is requisite, for the full development of the self. It is experience that is felt but cannot be shared, represented, articulated, echoed, symbolized, and thus integrated into the whole social field this tends to become stunted and arrested at best, if it doesn’t disappear from felt reality altogether.” ~ ‘ The Voice of Shame, Gordon Wheeler
Ecopsychology is always attempting to understand phenomena as experiential, or rather through the phenomenological experience: that how we come to understand our world, ourselves, and each other is an embodied experience. Ecopsychology’s purpose is to extinguish the separation of self and nature and see it all as one whole process. So as a bodily sense of experience: what then is the unconscious?
It is the body’s stopped processes, a muscular and physiological blockage. It is a jam of our world-bound energies or intentions. We learn to deliberately intercept our bodily intentions (mainly through shame) until this becomes habitual: falling out of our explicit awareness. Thus the unconscious is born: our urges and desires (intentions) persisting in a cramped or dammed up form – as bodily blocked sexuality, anger, grief, fear, terror, love, joy, etc… Spoken in another way, if our body is a river then the water is our soul, and the movement of the water down river is the experience of life: our soul’s awakening and expressed self. If you place a dam along the river, stopping the flow, jamming the experiential process of your water, then we have what we call the unconscious.
The unconscious is not a separate mind within the mind. It is not this thing deep down inside of you with all the answers to the universe. It is not the “dam” itself, rather, it is a relational interactive phenomenon born from repression of your life process: not living fully. This is how pathology comes to exist. This is why the unconscious has become so common in psychology language to explain a part of ourselves.
#theunconscious #wetooarenature#ecopsychology

Identity, Contact, and the Self

Blog, Ecopsychology Project

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The self, our identity, can be lost more easily than we like to admit. If the self is known and realized through the cycle of full experiencing, then any interruption to this cycle causes a loss in identity. These interruptions can be found anywhere along the cycle of experience, and tend to occur in the realm of contact. "Hurtful contact are the zones in which we exist "outside" of our openly expressed needs or where we make life-forwarding contact with others. These zones are either "too close" (dangerous, invasive) or "too distant" (neglect, absent) in which our boundaries become either overwhelmed with direct intrusion or become unbearably tense through starvation. Or both. Much of our hurt occurs through social oppression. Children are particularly vulnerable to being hurt as they exist in a state of "all need", and too often parents use their children in a misguided attempt to gratify their own unmet, and so now "frozen," childhood needs." The plenitude ways in which our society violates our own relationship with self can all be understood as instances of naturism: the global mistreatment of nature by our society. To begin on a path towards a society married once again with nature, we must allow space for the self to heal, for your own nature to once again partake in the full experience of life. – – Where do you find such fullness in oneself? Please Share! (Excerpts from Andy Fisher's 'Radical Ecopsychology) #ecopsychology #rewild #hurtzone #selfinterruption #andyfisher

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The self, our identity, can be lost more easily than we like to admit. If the self is known and realized through the cycle of full experiencing, then any interruption to this cycle causes a loss in identity. These interruptions can be found anywhere along the cycle of experience, and tend to occur in the realm of contact. “Hurtful contact are the zones in which we exist “outside” of our openly expressed needs or where we make life-forwarding contact with others. These zones are either “too close” (dangerous, invasive) or “too distant” (neglect, absent) in which our boundaries become either overwhelmed with direct intrusion or become unbearably tense through starvation. Or both. Much of our hurt occurs through social oppression. Children are particularly vulnerable to being hurt as they exist in a state of “all need”, and too often parents use their children in a misguided attempt to gratify their own unmet, and so now “frozen,” childhood needs.” The plenitude ways in which our society violates our own relationship with self can all be understood as instances of naturism: the global mistreatment of nature by our society. To begin on a path towards a society married once again with nature, we must allow space for the self to heal, for your own nature to once again partake in the full experience of life. – – Where do you find such fullness in oneself? Please Share! (Excerpts from Andy Fisher’s ‘Radical Ecopsychology)#ecopsychology #rewild #hurtzone #selfinterruption #andyfisher

We Are Our Felt Experiencing

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Phenomenology "We are our felt experiencing.” ~ Gendlin Ecopsychology primarily deals in the realm of that osmotic membrane; the contact between the inner and the outer; The cycle in which exchange takes place. It is where dualism dissolves. It is the realm of experience in which we relax our boundaries just enough to let something new in. Final contact. Where our feelings, our bodily-felt ground of experience is satisfied. Where we surrender into an orgasm, give in to grief, gain a new skill, learn something, receive a message, or flow into an expressive movement. It is the place in our experience where we sink into the sounds of the river rushing below during a rest in the warm sun. Ecopsychology concerns itself with phenomenology with the understanding that the meaning of life is that it is to be lived. That we find meaning through our felt sense of the world around us, that the self is simply the experiential cycle in motion, that we are our felt experiencing. “What we implicitly feel at any given moment takes all of this into account, so that the need contained in our felt sense is the one that is most urgent or highest priority for coping with our environment carrying our lives forward at that point.” Begin to awaken to the messages your body is sharing. It is here you will find your deeper self and lost connection to the world at large. #ecopsychology #bodyawareness #somatics #phenomenology #healingtheself #theself

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Phenomenology “We are our felt experiencing.” ~ Gendlin

Ecopsychology primarily deals in the realm of that osmotic membrane; the contact between the inner and the outer; The cycle in which exchange takes place. It is where dualism dissolves. It is the realm of experience in which we relax our boundaries just enough to let something new in. Final contact. Where our feelings, our bodily-felt ground of experience is satisfied. Where we surrender into an orgasm, give in to grief, gain a new skill, learn something, receive a message, or flow into an expressive movement. It is the place in our experience where we sink into the sounds of the river rushing below during a rest in the warm sun. Ecopsychology concerns itself with phenomenology; with the understanding that the meaning of life is that it is to be lived. That we find meaning through our felt sense of the world around us, that the self is simply the experiential cycle in motion, that we are our felt experiencing. “What we implicitly feel at any given moment takes all of this into account, so that the need contained in our felt sense is the one that is most urgent or highest priority for coping with our environment carrying our lives forward at that point.” Begin to awaken to the messages your body is sharing. It is here you will find your deeper self and lost connection to the world at large.

The Bodily Ground of Experience

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The Bodily Ground of Experience: "only human beings have come to a point where they no longer know why they exist… they have forgotten the secret knowledge of their bodies, their senses, their dreams." ~ John (Fire) Lame Deer How do we come to extract meaning from our world? This question begs to be asked in a time when our purpose to be alive seems lost in the reflection of our own humanity. To return to the bodily ground of experience, to interpret the felt ground of the world with a privileged part of nature; our body, is to receive the intelligence of nature and the purpose of your life process. Somatics. The body is a finely ordered living responsiveness, always seeking some sort of symbolic completion for its needs or intentions. When we equate the body's needs with irrational tendencies, or sin, is to repress your own soul. It is to deanimate the self, as was systematically done by the time of the Age of Reason. Animality was considered then to be the root of madness; thereby returning to a state of chaos. But the irony is that if our nature is chaotic, then our experience has no intrinsic order. Yet all we must do is pick up the sand of a river bank and feel the weight of millions of parts slide through our fingers to understand that nature is the definition of order and organization. "Your body enacts your situations and constitutes them largely before you can think how. When your attention joins the living, you can pursue many more possibilities and choices than when you merely drive your body as if it were a machine like the car." ~ Eugene Gendlin #wetooarenature #ecopsychology #eugenegendlin #somatic #body #bodyintelligence #mindfullness #order #chaos

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The Totality of The Human Experience

Blog, Ecopsychology Project
Blog, Ecopsychology Project
Blog, Ecopsychology Project

A Day in the Patient Life of Tyler

,philosophy, A Day in the Life Of, Blog, Running and mental health, Running in Circles
2016 was a year of me confronting what I want which ultimately brought me to the realization that I don’t really know what that is. And so with 2017 arriving I’m accepting that fact as gracefully as I know how, so I can take the next steps towards greater awareness, scraping off the layers of denying my own heart its true desires and begin exploring the world of risk-taking.
I’ve always wanted to rush life’s processes, anxious for change, but I always am expecting to be able to do it from the safety and comfort of my own conservatism. Committing to the unknown has always been a real issue for me, suspending me in what feels like a regressive time-wasting well with slippery moss-dampened high walls. I learned quickly in this deep well how to master self-deception, believing the walls can never be climbed, that I’ll just have to wait in the shuddering darkness for some savior to come rescue me in the forgotten forest. All of this, of course, I have done onto myself.
And so as the years go by, even as I live in the perceptive paradise of Hawai’i,  I have picked up the handy tool of doubting myself through the highly infectious inner spinning spools of the mind, twisting and weaving together threads of domesticated abstract thoughts, only mere reflections of who I am, into a too-tightly knit canvas, smothering the true me.  This blanket of deception- how I see myself, how my mind weaved together a construct of who I am – is now the wholly dominate way in which I have come to know myself. It’s hard to breath under that blanket. It’s hard to find any source of warmth in that well. It’s cold and lonely and I can only hear the echoes of my voice reverberating the doubts I shout so that my doubts in this illusionary well start shouting at themselves. Doubts shouting out doubts. Doubts doubting doubts.
Hawai’i in some ways has become a symbolic plane-field to contain my virtual self, and study it with keen awareness. Nothing really to report, certainly nothing worthy of being published. My life continues on what seems like a meaningless thread of nonsense. It brings me down a lot. I’m afraid I’ve learned to not trust most things, most people, weary of their true unconscious intentions, their unmet needs. But most of all, I have learned not to even trust myself. I’m not sure I have the strength to climb the walls towards the light. I’m not sure I have the the ability to relax so that the grip of my mind’s threads stops weaving its constricting tapestry around my squirming body.
I hunger for truth. I desire change. I pray for progress. I live in angst.
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On New Years Eve, I ventured out to the far reaching coast of Kalapana in Puna to stay with a fellow runner friend, Tyler. He’s 29, been on the island for 6 years and seems relatively grounded (relative to me that is). So I finally took him up on his invitation to dine and dash, in a literal sense. We went out for a 9 mile run on the Red Road, climbed his neighbors coconut tree to harvest the fruits as a favor, and settled into his abode as the sun set, shining its last colors above the jungle canopy.
Tyler bought a piece of land a few years back, and with the help of friend they built a 16×24 un-zoned house with lovely loft, complete with water catchment, a propane shower and composting toilet. Befriended his sweet elderly  neighbor with the mature coconuts, he borrows her electricity and modest wifi. We made a delicious abundance of vegan food all locally sourced (except for the rice). Because it was a special occasion, Tyler whipped out his valued juicer and creamed the old coconuts we harvested from the Tree, mixing it with a delectable tahini, lemon, curry spice, and soy sauce as dressing for the cooked Bananas, Uala Potatoes and Green Beans. On the ground of his kitchen lay a series of banana bunches on newspaper, all in what looked like a sequential order, from freshest to ripest. Tyler  was just going through his life’s routine, and I refreshingly observed the ins and outs of his low-impact, simple yet methodical Puna lifestyle.

The Humble Abode

The next day we awoke to the new year, and amongst our breakfast we indulged in a digestive conversation about things to come. Tyler does not comment much on his introspective life, instead spending most of his cognitive abilities outwardly. His way of life is extremely systematic. He has only what he needs, and nothing more. He is efficient with his movements and his work. It is a delight to witness, and at times I found myself even humored by it as it creates a concentrative lightness in the atmosphere. I felt so far removed from my own internal burdens that being in his world with all of its intensive intentions somehow made me feel happy and giddy. As I laughed aloud a couple times, I hoped that Tyler did not take any offense. It was too tempting to express my jubilance as he performed calculating squats for optimal leverage while juicing the coconut, or his precise arm-wailing technique while entering his house through the screen door to prevent any greedy mosquitos from joining our New Years party. The beautiful part was that all his movements, his actions, were evolutionary-based. They were all created as solutions to problems. They were creative and effective. And if they weren’t effective, they died, and new methods were born. It is his way of life.

But in this morning-lit conversation, Tyler shared some wonderful insight that struck me like a big brass bell, still resonating through my trembling cells. “I feel there is a change coming soon for me. I’m not sure what it is, or when it will happen. There is a time for rest, and a time for action. The past six years I’ve not really had any motivation to pursue anything, so I didn’t force anything. I just lived day by day, exploring what I enjoyed, and throughout it all I’ve always been waiting with patience for when the time comes to move along. And I think it is soon.”

I looked up from my oats as he spoke. Just an hour before while Tyler was still asleep, my mind was active and buzzing, trying to figure out my life for me. I was looking at Job openings, I was looking at Graduate programs. I was considering this and pondering that. My mind is earnest, it is loyal and well-intentioned, but now, as Tyler finished speaking, I wondered just how much my mind was really acting in the best interest of the rest of me. For a split second I saw that the well wasn’t real. That the blanket was made of nothing. Here stood Tyler, a man who I can say without a doubt is a gifted and talented man, just living a self-proclaimed idle life in the back jungles of Puna, and he’s okay with that. Content with his life as it is, in the now.

I was inspired. Not by his life per se, but his attitude towards his life. His full trust and faith in himself. That what he’s doing now matters, and everything will fall into place as the tides change, as the seasons cycle, as the stars align.
I don’t know how many more cycles I have on this Island. I never really know. But I dream of living here forever. I dream of starting a family, having land, having purpose, having a close and loving everlasting community, where someday I’ll be a grandfather to the whole town. But I also still doubt too much that I’ll ever achieve that. I’m afraid I’ll be alone for the rest of my life. I’m afraid we all will be. That the world will end in loneliness.
Or revive itself in togetherness.
That day, as I collected my belongings and said my farewells to Tyler, I drove back along the windy roads to Hilo and started to reimagine myself as I once was, as I always have been: a man of faith exploring that which makes the heart grow fonder.
Here’s to 2017. A new year. Another year. Another chance to wash away the past and be alert to the callings of things to come. All we can do is prepare every day in every moment and act when it is time to act. If we miss the last bus, well then we’ll take the next train…
…as in the words of Julian Casablancas:
I say the right things but act the wrong way
I like it right here but I cannot stay
I watch the TV; forget what I’m told
Well, I am too young, and they are too old
Oh, man, can’t you see I’m nervous, so please
Pretend to be nice, so I can be mean
I miss the last bus, we take the next train
I try but you see, it’s hard to explain
,philosophy, Blog, Ecopsychology Project, Mythology


#radicalecopsychology #reconnect#wetooarenature #greyjay #2017resolutions  

Blog, Ecopsychology Project

Life is a Game: The Practice of Non-attachment.

Blog, Philosophy and Opinion

There are many attitudes on life we can adapt that will ultimately dictate how we go about living our individual lives. These attitudes are essentially what we choose to focus on in the perception of our experiences. This is where philosophy plays a critical role in the task of bringing peace and balance into a society; that which provides order to a people.

The attitude of life is a game is a philosophical metaphor  we have all heard. It has many ways of being interpreted. One of the most common interpretations of this attitude is don’t take life so seriously. Another well-known interpretation is  you’re dealt a hand in life, how are you going to play it? 

Many of these thoughts on life are an attempt to reduce the suffering one experiences through their own interpretation on life. Essentially, life is a game is yet another way of explaining the practice of the non-attachment relationship with life.

So then why is life just but a game? And what does it have to do with non-attachment?

You’re just joining your friends for an evening of board games. It’s a game you all enjoy, and have played often together. You know it well, and have learned your strengths and weaknesses. It’s a bit of strategic game, but like all games chance is involved. You all sit down to play the game. There are some ups and downs throughout the game for you and everyone else. Some players seem to be doing better than others. You get bummed when all your resources are taken, you celebrate when you gain another point. You feel a pang of disappointment when you don’t win, but it soon fades as the game ends and you all transition your evening into the next thing. Those who did well feel a bit more elated than when they began, and those who played poorly feel a certain sadness, but by the end everyone has completely moved on, focused on whatever is happening in the following moments life has to offer.

It’s a cold morning, the coldest of the year, but you’re excited. This Sunday your home football team is playing their rivals in your hometown. And you have tickets. You’re whole day is dedicated to the game. You get to the stadium hours early, all bundled up in your team’s colors. There are thousands of other slowly trickling in, all feeling charged up. The game does not disappoint. It is an especially good game because the teams go back and forth in taking the lead. You’re team doesn’t win, but they played their hearts out, and you love them for that. The day is ending, and its time to get home to your family for a nice warm dinner. The day’s excitement is still buzzing in your head as you drift to sleep, and perhaps it carries into the next day at work. But over time it fades. Just another game.

To practice non-attachment is not to rid your life of desires, hopes, and dreams. It is in no way to live out a life of isolation from reality. Nor is it freedom from pain or some nirvana state. But it is to recognize that everything will eventually find its end, and much of the suffering we endure in life is the inability to move on from our attachment to something that once was but no longer exists.

There was a time when humans lived closer to nature, and our constant understanding of reality was based solely upon the principles of the nature around us. It was a continual change of conditions, a highly temporal world as people’s very survival was contingent on their understandings of these changes and learning how to adapt. Quite naturally, the practice of non-attachment was an essential part of life. If you stayed attached, got too used to one way of living, you would surely die.

Today within the context of what we know as modern society, human populations live far more separated from nature and thus more embedded in a human cultural environment. These modern cultural environments exist in a state that is of great contrast to that of the natural world. Structurally, they are rigid and engineered with a permanence design. This kind of societal infrastructure consequently bleeds into the minds of those who dwell in such environments, i.e. probably anyone reading this blog today, and ultimately as it stains our perception of reality, we then internalize this and project it outwards, as it shapes our very identity, our behavior, and our actions.

It is ironic how through the modernizing of humanity the vast majority of us have come to believe we are closer than ever to living out practical and realistic lives, which in some cases is true, but this truth is almost entirely contained within a human construct. As in, we primarily receive information about the world through a secondary source – from other humans. We entrust the vast majority of our how we “see” the world to other human beings. This practice is just fine, so long as we are aware of this, that most of the information we know about our worl could very well be untrue.

This is the principle of non-attachment. It begins with not attaching to the information you are being fed day in and day out when you wake up, conscious, absorbing and accessing the world surrounding you. It begins with not attaching to your thoughts and ideas, these highly malleable and brief moments that wisps through your mind. It’s the freedom of being skeptical; something that the philosophy of science has made it’s foundation upon. The ending principle of the non-attachment way of life is to release yourself from the attachment to your own life, and sometimes even more importantly, to the lives of others.

This is no easy task. We have been programmed, as I said earlier, to attach ourselves to the physical and non-physical; to the material and the emotional realms of existence. It is intrinsic in the design of our society: that which governs our behavior. But to break free of the chain of attachment living is to free yourself from the draining burden of being stuck in a single state of being: the underlining product of attachment.

On either ends of this spectrum it can look like two contrasting extremes. On one end it is the perpetuating craving of a kind of manic state of being, in which you are constantly seeking stimulants to feed your addiction to achieve an elated state. The other end is that of depression, isolation, grief, and ultimately pain. Much, if not all sickness and disease come from the energetic being getting lodged into one extreme or the other, or, in another extreme, rapidly oscillate between a depressive state and manic: what we have come to know as Manic-depression or in some special cases, Bipolar.

When we begin to see life as a game, it is not to see life as any less real, it is in fact to see life for what it is. It is to take something that we have ironically labeled as “unreal”, a game, and project it onto our reality. When you can agree within yourself, changing the programming of your inner representation of reality, that life is just a game, then you will begin to sense within yourself a lightness. That feeling is the flowing movement of energy that you allow to move freely, for you have begun to remove the blockades, the “attachments” to one belief or another.

But the difficult task here is not creating that change of existence for yourself. That actually comes quite naturally when put into effect. It is the “believing” part that is the daunting task. You have to believe for yourself that content and freedom are states of being that do exist. So how do you unlearn what you have learned? How do you tell yourself to stop believing the ways of attachment, and start believing in the ways of non-attachment? Because I can tell you that right off the bat, you won’t want to believe what I’m saying.

And that’s a good thing, for you should be skeptical of anything and everything that you are told, that is a practice of non-attachment! But you also need to learn how to listen, so you can discern, and make truly free choices based on your ability to listen and discern the information you are receiving from the seemingly endless sources and resources available to you in this modern human world.

But let’s get back to this idea of life as a game, because I believe it is within this metaphor you may find some assurance, something that deep down inside you relate to, that you agreed with way before human society began to take its toll on the domestication of your being.

To return to truth, we must return to the beginnings of life.

Childhood. Play. Games have always existed inherently within us. We learn about ourselves, our world, and our place in it, through exploration and play. We observe the world around us, and our parents or guardians provide a safe-feeling space for us to play out what we observed, as well as provide a safe environment for us to reach outside of our comfort-zone and grow int0 our full potential – just like a well nurtured plant.

It is all too easy to forget the blissful state of a child raised in a safe, loving, environment. But it is not to say that these children are without emotional ups and downs. A child goes through an entanglement of emotions from screaming and kicking and what looks like absolute terror, to laughter and euphoria, all in a single day, sometimes even in a single moment. These children are not sick with manic-depressive behavior, they are merely not attaching to one form of being or the other, they are dancing through life as their operative selves were natural designed to do. Parent’s of these children often perceive this behavior as a kind of wildness, laughing off jokes about their child being a menace or little beast. And these parents I would argue aren’t too far from the truth, when calling their children such names. They are wild, they are beasts. But the understanding and interpretation behind these labels can go one of two ways – if told directly to the children with a negative connotation, as a form of putting down, it will steer the children away from such behavior, domesticating the child into a series of behavioral patterns which leads to attachment, for a children learns from the parents that their wildness, their playfulness, is not the correct way to act, and thus separates play from life. 

This is a from of growing up all too common in our educational system during middle childhood: the developmental ages of around 6 to 11 year olds. It’s not to say that a structured environment where a child learns discipline is not of value, on the contrary, it is about under-valuing the role of play in the early developmental stages of our younglings.

When we grow older and learn that there is a time to play, and a time not to play, we believe we are learning when certain behavior is acceptable, and when it is not, which is true, we are learning this. But how we are applying it to the greater aspects of life is  where I believe there are dire consequences that lead to a kind of collective dependency on attachment relationships, fear of loss/death, and thus an internal suffering.

When a loved one dies, there will be grief involved. When your partner breaks up with you, you will feel grief, and possibly anger. When you lose your job, or you’ve been unemployed for months and you begin to view yourself as unworthy, you are participating in the very self-destructive practice of attachment.

For all of us, we must go through life feeling the hardships and the loss, as well as the ease and joy and gains. These events in life are a natural process for the living. Death and birth, abundance and scarcity exist continuously throughout. When we accept this as natural, unavoidable, we can then open ourselves to the full process of living, and find bliss within every state of being, for bliss is the experience of life coursing through us.

As Master Qui-Gon Jim once said, “Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts. Your focus determines your reality.”






“It’s a good day to be alive.” A Mauna Kea Run.

Blog, Running in Circles

I slept in. I woke up slowly, nothing really to look forward to on yet another empty day. I made my ritual coffee, read a few pages in the latest existentialist-fueled book, and probably cleaned my room or something mundane to preoccupy my bored mind. The weather had been awfully rainy, but everyone knew that a blizzard was upon the peaks of the two volcanoes.

My phone dings. A message from Billy.

<Thinking about taking work off tomorrow and running up Mauna Kea. Wanna join?>

Thank god for friends who are just as crazy as me. Boy was I needing an adventure.

Billy shows up at my house the next morning. Although I was just getting over being sick from a detoxifying salt water deprivation tank float, and I was mending a hurt shoulder, I couldn’t resist  the chance to join a friend up the snowy slopes of Mauna Kea. The access road to the summit was closed so no one in their right mind would be able to experience the snowy mountain. But we were out of our right minds, and really into our bodies. We parked right at the closed road, change into our layers, strapped on our running packs, gave a nonchalant nod to the Ranger patrolmen and headed into the bushes.

 We trekked up and over and a cinder cone, where we could clearly see the trail on the other side to join up with. We slid down and whooped as we connected with the trail, like passing through a gateway. Our adventure had begun.

We took off at a brisk pace listening to the crunch under our feet. It was an easy ascent at first and we spent the time chatting excitedly, keeping in check our breathing and heart rate. 

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The scenery was dramatic and ever-changing, as plumes of clouds seemed to appear from all sides of the island, converging at Mauna Kea. At one moment it was clear with grand views of the saddle, Mauna Loa and Hualalai, then suddenly it was covered up into a thickness the eye could not penetrate.

It was relatively warm until one of these voids of fog pressed down upon us, then a coldness would set in chilling the bone. I was constantly taking on and off my insulating hoody. Billy just kept rocking his buff and shades whether the sun beamed through or not.


Billy kept me up to date on our elevation gain, and I was always surprised to hear him call out the next 1,000′ milestone. We started at 9,000′ and it seemed like in no time we had already made it to 12,000′. But this was also where we were met with snow, something we were looking forward to, yet I had never really imagined the challenges that would come with the frozen terrain.

You don’t really think about snow all that much when living in Hawai’i. It doesn’t really come with the the whole tropical experience and although I’ve been in the mountains plenty of times having lived in the Rockies and Cascade ranges, I didn’t quite know how to prepare for snow on top of this volcano.

We took our first rest at first sight of snow. I grabbed a handful and pressed it into a ball. Billy took out his new camera and played with the macro settings. The scenery had cleared up again and we took it in before setting off back up the mountain.


Our trail to the summit

The climbing was beginning to get difficult, as the air thinned. My light body-weight made it easier for me to lift one leg in front of the other, but Billy had a good solid and steady pace that helped me slow down and not get too ahead of myself. We both knew in the back of our heads we’d pay for it later at the top.

We made a good team as the hours passed. The snow was getting thicker and our minds slowed to the pace of our movements and our minds blended with the rocky cinder snowy environment. Our conversations ended. The fog rolled in again and the silence was deadening. This was to be the last time we could see out beyond the slopes of the mountain. Our world shrank to just a few feet in all directions.

I lead most of the way and had to glance up from time to time to keep an eye on the next trail marker which came either as a steel post pounded in the ground, or a cairn of rocks, called and Ahu. We had been walking for a while now in the snow, and my feet were beginning to get cold. It was also much more tiring to trek across snow then the gravely trail. As the conditions thickened, the trail was lost entirely and we relied purely on the markers, walking roughly straight lines from one to the next. We slipped and slid between footings as we never knew if our next step would be upon the sturdy ground or a jagged rock hiding underneath the blanket of snow.

Time kept on passing, and we fell into the trance of our own rhythmic breathing. Our minds were fully present and focused, commanding our bodies up and up and up, until we reached a sort of fork in the road, with no clear sense of which way to go. We saw some ahu to the left through the thick fog and decided to head that way. It took us along the lip of an old cinder cone where the wind picked up from down below, cascading up and over the lip. We were pummeled with icy rain and it was just around that time we both started to get worried.

We kept our cool, I started shivering, and just below us as the wind turned, the sacred lake Waiau appeared as if out of thin air. We took it as a beacon of hope, that we must be close to our meet-up point with the road that would take us the rest of the way to the Summit. Our only problem was we didn’t know where the road was supposed to be in relationship to the lake.


Lake Waiau revealing itself through the fog.

So we continued to wander through the thick freezing fog, eventually turning back to our fork in the trail. Billy kept pointing to a large pu’u to our right saying, “I think that’s the summit, we must be behind it.” I gazed up at it, craning my neck, the top veiled by the fog. I really didn’t feel like scrambling up that Pu’u. I was starting to feel very cold, and the drunken feeling of the altitude was sloshing in my head.

We kept marching in a directionless direction when the winds shifted and Billy pointed again shouting, “there! the road!” Sure enough, a few hundred meters ahead lay the road, this whole time.

Climbing out of the now deep snow, we slapped the bottom of our shoes on the pavement, glad to be back on flat, relatively dry terrain. We headed up the road immediately, keeping our core body temperature warm, and renewed with energy from finding the road. But as we climbed only another half mile and nearing the last switchback bank, the winds were howling, and Billy, being the sensible one, stopped running and checked in with himself. I must of been too far gone with the altitude because I was feeling steadfast and determined to get to the top. Billy gave me the look, and it was enough for me to understand it was probably best not to push it. We were vulnerable, with minimal winter layers, and sure enough I realized my hands and feet were already completely numb.


White Out

So, with that, we turned around, but this time continued on the road, a seven mile decent. I kept having the strongest urge to pee, but every time I stopped and tried, I was unsuccessful. The wind died down and with every mile the air temperature warmed. Our feet and hands slowly thawed out, which we were very grateful for, but at the same rate, my head and stomach were feeling worse. My thoughts became extremely foggy, and it took all my concentration to process what Billy was saying to me from time to time. We both laughed at the pounding of our heads with each stride. It was quite amazing how positive I was feeling while simultceanusouly feeling physically wretched. With two miles to go I couldn’t stand to run and had to walk. I could no longer focus my gaze, my bladder was screaming at me, and my head was pounding like Animal on the drums from the Muppets.

Thankfully, with a mile to go, I was able to finally pee, now that we were closer to 10,000′ elevation. And the last half mile, we started running again, I think mostly because I just wanted to get back to the car so I could collapse.

We ran past the guard who just gave us a nod, and headed straight to Billy’s car. Without saying much, I grabbed my dry clothes, headed to the bathroom at the visitor’s center where I met a line of tourists. At this point my conditions were worsening rapidly. Definitely phase one altitude sickness. As terrible as altitude sickness feels, like being drunk and hungover all at once, I was also reveling in the grandness of our time up on Mauna Kea.

After changing, Billy said, “lets just get out of here”. I  nodded my head and mumbled something like, “lower elevation please”. And with that we sped down the road, only stopping once a few hundred feet after departing for me to puke. Billy rolled down the window, stuck his head out and shouted, “nice one!” Always positive that Billy.

I put my seat all the way back, closed my eyes and passed out, only waking up as we rolled into Hilo. Feeling much better, but completely spent, I grabbed all my belongings, said farewell to billy, and crawled up to my house where I immediately started a bath.

One long hot soak and a hour nap later, I felt completely revived, and even cooked up a hot curry and invited my friend over to enjoy a nice dinner.

I am constantly amazed at what the body can endure, and just how quickly it can recover, if you allow it too. Another great adventure. Another test of my abilities, and another humbling experience on Mauna Kea.