The Hawaiian word Aloha is a term reverberating around the world. Whether you have previously set foot on any of the Hawaiian islands or just dreamed of ever doing so, you have surely come across this traditional Hawaiian greeting.
Aloha, in the broadest sense, means “love.” Hawaiians call their islands The Land of Aloha — The Land of Love (how beautiful is that??). Aloha only has one commandment: Never to harm, always to love. As such, It makes for a beautiful greeting. Each person greeted with Aloha feels loved, welcomed, feels beauty and warmth and joy. Instead of rendering judgment, saying Aloha is an invitation onto the path we all share.
But behind the word Aloha hides a much deeper meaning than the most beautiful way to say Hello. It’s the ancient wisdom of an enlightened way of life that I experienced and began to study in much greater depth when I recently traveled to the beautiful island of Kauai, the northernmost of the paradisiacal Hawaiian islands — a place that, if you ask Kahuna Harry, is “the full, regal and purest expression of the mind at peace. She is an artist’s palette of greens and blues that splash open your being, all in a sensual envelope of vitalized air.”
Not long after I stepped foot into the state of mind that is Kauai, I realized that my own understanding of the Aloha Spirit fell woefully short of the amorphous, ineffable way of living the deep life that this world-renowned word and yet barely understood principle encapsulates.
Let’s begin with the best news, which is this: Aloha is everywhere. It is a holistic state of body and mind. As such, you and I can feel and live the Aloha Spirit far away from the Hawaiian islands, if only we learn how. My goal for this essay is to help you make a few changes to your mindset, to open yourself to living Aloha a little bit more every day — to see how it shifts your mood and the way you look at life and the beauty and people that surround you.
At this point, I feel compelled to offer a word of caution first. I am not a native Hawaiian or grew up there, and as such, I am under no illusion that I have a full grasp or understanding of the holy whole that is the spirit of Hawaii — or the ability to make sweeping declarations of the way things are, for that matter.
Rather, what follows is my best attempt to share what I have learned through observation, conversation, and reading beautiful books such as “Wise Spirits of Aloha", upon which much of the following is based. I am nothing but a student of the earth, and these are my journals.
Come join me on a journey of the mind, to a place called paradise.
The true meaning of Aloha
Hawaii is a place where “every leaf, every rock, every person, every waterfall, the waves, the ocean, the beach, the scented trade winds and all life is a manifestation of divine energy and brimming with Aloha for you,” writes Kahuna Harry Uhane Jim in “Wise Secrets of Aloha.” There is a reason why the ‘Aina, the land itself, is sacred to Hawaiians.
Here, I’d like to point out two things: First, truly understanding such spiritual concepts as Aloha requires an open mind, to be receptive to a probably somewhat foreign mix of esoteric practice, native wisdom and religious/spiritual experience. I’ll be honest: This is not an essay you will want to skim like an email. This is an essay you’ll ideally want to make a cup of tea or coffee with and settle into a comfy chair, to allow your mind the space to travel to new heights. At the very least take some time with it. The rewards will be plenty.
Which brings me to my second point: You will hear repeated referrals to God in this exploration of the Aloha Spirit. As an overtly spiritual but not overly religious person, I struggled with this for a while, until I learned the following: It is important to understand that while the ancient Hawaiians were a deeply spiritual people, their teachings of Aloha long precede the arrival of Western notions of God, the Bible and Christianity on the islands. “To Hawaiians, God is a verb, an action — not a noun or a name,” writes Harry. “When a Hawaiian kahuna says God, that term may not be your term, but it still means the holy whole.” All of us pray to the God of our own understanding — which makes the wisdom of Aloha universally applicable to your own definitions of religion and spirit.
Okay, so what is the deeper meaning behind Aloha? Let’s dive in.
Harry shares the wisdom of the elder Papa Bray, who says: “Aloha to the Hawaiians of old is ‘God is in us’. It means, Come forward, be in unity and harmony with your real self, God, and mankind. Be honest, be truthful, patient, kind to all forms of life, and humble.” So much more than a traditional island greeting, the five letters of Aloha, he says, are really a set of principles, a secret teaching of the deep life. I don’t know about you, but every time I hear the term deep life, I get goosebumps. Isn’t that what we are all looking for?
So here is the secret to understanding Aloha, as shared by Papa Bray and relayed by Kahuna Harry.
A — ala, is watchful alertness, consciousness of all seeing awareness
L — lokahi, is working with unity. In the eyes of God, no one is above another, all are connected. In unity, one sees God in all form.
O — oiaio, is truthful honesty, authenticity. O knows that what you are feeling inside is manifested outside.
H — haahaa, is humility. Ha is breath or Spirit; haahaa is the emotion of Spirit having a human experience.
A — ahonui, is patient perseverance. The knowing that gravity and attention are the same thing.
Okay… I get it. This definition of Aloha doesn’t fit on a T-Shirt or a sticker, and it may take a while for the meaning to really sink in. But once you allowed your mind to process these wise words, a whole new view of the world just may open up to you. It did for me, certainly. (read on below)
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Aloha means energy, means light
That Spirit of Aloha that Papa Bray and Harry talk about lives within each of us. It’s au’makua, the radiating light within. Ask Harry, and he will tell you that the subconscious au’makua guards, nurtures and shines that light on seeds of potential within each of us. Aloha means allowing ourselves to grow.
It may help you to think of the Aloha as rays of light — just like the Hindus know that energy is light moving up the spine radiating through the body-mind-spirit.
But the light of Aloha is more than energy moving within us. It is all light, inside and out, and this is where we come full circle to my calling as a photographic artist, a perennial searcher and observer of light, and what led me to the island of Kauai: The light of Aloha. I cannot think of a better name for the spectacular collection of new works that I was inspired to create during my time in paradise.
THE LIGHT OF ALOHA is a body of photographic artwork that aims to honor this sacred Hawaiian land and its radiating light — for in all my travels across the West and beyond, I can confidently say that never have I experienced a similar quality of light as on Kauai. The secret ingredient, I’ve come to be convinced? Aloha.
Noticing, witnessing, appreciating such radiating light is a crucial tenet of the Spirit of Aloha, Harry counsels, as witnessing “is your soul hearing. You need connection to witness.” That connection cannot be shown, it needs to come from within — Aloha is light all around us, inside and out.
If you’ve been reading The Homeward Journal for a while, you’ve likely heard me talk about the idea of “slowing down so we can see” before. Turns out, that is much in line with what the Hawaiians show us what it takes to feel the Aloha Spirit: An open mind.
“A Ke Akua! By your power and agreement, I declare: Open the port” — ancient Hawaiian invocation
A KE AKUA! — Open the Port — "THE LIGHT OF ALOHA" COLLECTION. LIMITED EDITION OF 99. CLICK TO LEARN MORE.
Living Aloha means embracing Pa’a, the now
Your own power to witness beauty starts with intent. A declaration of intent is to embark on a journey. It’s focusing on what it is you want to achieve, knowledge that resides in the heart. Says Harry: “If the energy is moving out of your heart and into your hands, your hands don’t get tired.”
Our hearts move in the Pa’a, the now, he says. “So you need to free yourself from the ‘house of guilt’ which is in the mind, right? Free yourself from that. And trust your spirit and your heart to do the rest.”
To understand the Pa’a, the now, we first need to realize that the Hawaiian way of knowing time is far different from clock time. “Hawaiian time is vertical. Wherever you are, be it in O’ahu, Minneapolis or Toronto, living in the Aloha Spirit is living in vertical time,” Harry says.
What on Hawaii’s green earth is vertical time?, you might ask. “Vertical time means no deadlines, no fixed schedules. Vertical time means freedom, kindness, unity, humility, patience, alertness. We all live in linear time. It’s the watch on your arm. Vertical time on the other hand is that connection to the Higher Self. The Hawaiian knows, and we want you to know, how to emotionally invest in spirit, the au’makua.”
Au’makua — the light within. Remember? Aloha. Find pockets in your busy day to connect with your true self, your heart, to ground yourself in Pa’a — and let your light lead the way. This is the secret of Aloha, laid bare for you to embrace.
I want to give Harry the last words to drive home this most important point of the Spirit of Aloha: “Healing permeates Hawaii because people say Aloha. Words hold power. The highest experience and the concept and power of Aloha seems to disengage mainlanders from their roundedness in the mundane and the linear and sprinkle Lono’s love like rain (Lono, the Hawaiian God of rain, is viewed as a cache of intelligence.) Exposing the power of Lono to the newcomers gives them access to rejuvenation. What is such renewal? The simple, childlike ability of being in the right now.”
As I close out these reflections and thoughts on Living Aloha, I want to stress once again that these are merely my own observations of ancient wisdom. I am nothing but a student of the light, an outsider. As Harry says, “These are earth-based spiritual traditions. Before outsiders can interpret them, spiritual traditions must be given in the first-person voice.” I found much wisdom in Harry’s first-person voice in his book, “Wise Secrets of Aloha,” and I hope that you might, too.
Mahalo nui loa, many thanks.
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