“How sad to think that nature speaks and mankind doesn’t listen.”

Victor Hugo

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June Ryushin Kaililani TanoueMy best friend, Leneah Forest, left her body on August 12.  I visited her in Portland in June when she told me she was in hospice after a hospital stay. I was so glad that I had seen her and spent a good week being in her presence.

We went for slow walks on her land, and sat in her garden.  She told me a story about her magical linden tree that grew where she had planted a different tree.  She loved the beautiful scent of the linden flowers. I massaged her feet while she rested.  She didn’t talk a lot. I didn’t either.

I felt disoriented when I first heard the news of her passing.  She was only a year older than me.  It was as if someone had hit me hard on the head.  I walked about in a daze – with an aching heart – for a few days.  I decided to just sit with the pain and not try to distract myself from it.  I told myself it was okay to have a broken heart and to mourn.  My best friend was gone. Tears came.

I remember our first meeting in a beautiful Portland Park 37 years ago.  I was out walking with my partner as she was with her’s.  Both of our partners knew each other – they were physicians, residents at the same hospital – and our paths crossed.  She was dressed in a long skirt, wore birkenstocks and had a gentle strength.  We became friends after that meeting.  I was very busy working at the Interagency Food Bank then.  She volunteered to help and eventually became my closest friend.

I remember the birth of her two beautiful daughters who now are grown and lovely women. I was dubbed their “fairy” godmother.  Leneah and I talked and listened to each other’s problems, joys and sadnesses.  She was there for me a decade later when I split up with my partner. She invited me to live with her and her family as I figured out what my next step would be.

I decided to leave Portland about five months later and moved to Los Angeles where I married – she was my matron of honor. After that, I’ve lived in Hawaii, Santa Barbara, Montague (Massachusetts) and, finally, Chicago. We kept in touch with long phone conversations through all of my moves.

Whenever we talked, she urged me to move back to Portland and when I visited her a couple of months ago, she continued to suggest it to me.  It’s a wonderful feeling to be loved unconditionally by someone.  When I received my Hawaiian name, Kaililani, in 1996, she decided to call me Kaili (kah-e-lee) for short.  Her family called me that too.  They are the one family besides my hula family who call me by my Hawaiian name.

Part of my zen practice is to realize that we are all going to die someday. We aren’t going to live forever. If we truly realize that, death becomes an ally and helps us really appreciate each moment of the very precious lives we live.  Being happy or sad isn’t what matters.  Everything is part of our journey and happens to teach us something.

“Someone should find a cure for death,” my eight year old friend Shelby said very matter-of-factly as we baked cookies a few months ago. “I want to live forever!!!” she exclaimed.

I chuckled when I heard that. Good to hear that kind of youthful energy just beginning and bursting with life.  And good to mark the passage of time with tears for the death of a beloved friend.

Malama pono (Take care of body, mind and heart),

June Kaililani Tanoue
Dharma Holder, Kumu Hula

P.S.  Here’s a slide show of my Portland visit and another for my visit to the Great Vow Monastery and Portland’s Heart of Wisdom Zen Center.  For mobile units click here for Portland slide show and here for Monastery slide show.

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Space is beyond color or shape.
It doesn’t take on color, black or white: it doesn’t change.
Likewise, your mind, in essence, is beyond color or shape.
It does not change because you do good or evil.

The darkness of a thousand eons cannot dim
The brilliant radiance that is the essence of the sun.
Likewise, eons of samsara cannot dim
The sheer clarity that is the essence of your mind.

Although you say space is empty,
You can’t say that space is “like this”.
Likewise, although mind is said to be sheer clarity,
There is nothing there: you can’t say “it’s like this”.

Thus, the nature of mind is inherently like space:
It includes everything you experience.

Stop all physical activity: sit naturally at ease.
Do not talk or speak: let sound be empty, like an echo.
Do not think about anything: look at experience beyond thought.

Your body has no core, hollow like bamboo.
Your mind goes beyond thought, open like space.
Let go of control and rest right there.

Mind without projection is mahamudra.
Train and develop this and you will come to the deepest awakening.

- Tilopa

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“Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.”

Meister Eckhart

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“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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“I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness.”

Walt Whitman

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“In the cherry blossoms’ shade
there is no such thing as a stranger.”


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Honu #57 by Robert Althouse

“The more you sense the rareness and value of your life, the more you realize that how you use it, how you manifest it, is all your responsibility. We face such a big task, so naturally we sit down for a while.”

Kobun Chino

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"Honu Series #53" by Robert Althouse

Puha ka honu, ua awakea.
When the turtle comes up to breathe, it is daylight.
Said when a person yawns.  Sleeping time is over; work begins.

‘Olelo No’eau – Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, #2717     
Collected, translated and annotated by Mary Kawena Pukui 

August feels like a big yawn!   A good time to rest and play. It’s been perfect playing weather here in Chicagolands – not too hot – with humidity that feels good on my skin. Flowers are blooming everywhere – dahlias, black eyed Susans, sunflowers.  And big work is afoot for me.

My husband and I have transitioned from our large old Victorian home with its three floors, large kitchen, and seven bedrooms (counting the attic). We’ve moved to a two bedroom apartment above our Zen Life & Meditation Center.  We haven’t sold the Victorian yet – still prepping and getting it ready for sale – hopefully on the market by mid-August.

Overall it feels very good to divest and simplify. Releasing the house also includes releasing the beautiful pa hula (hula mound) in the backyard.  Halau i Ka Pono students, friends, and I have enjoyed feeling the soft grass underneath our bare feet as we danced hula on it for performances or just for the joy of dancing. This unique structure is also gorgeous in different seasons – white with snow, golden with maple leaves, and green with life-giving rain falling on it.

It’s not so easy to let go but I know that it’s time to imua (move forward).  I feel that I am like an opihi (limpet) loosening its grip on a rock as the knife of reality pries it off.  I spent part of yesterday afternoon sitting next to the pa hula reading under the shade of a leafy maple tree. The air was still and cool in the shade.  A slight breeze came up every now and then. The bamboo fencing, enclosing our yard, looked strong and quiet, turned white with weathering.  The fence secured and created a safe, serene space.

I took a break from studying and walked slowly around the mound.  The grass was slightly damp from a big rain on the previous day.  It felt peaceful, and I so appreciated being there.  Then slowly I noticed that I wasn’t clinging to it.  I was just there, taking it all in.

Change is a constant in all life. It’s good to enjoy things while we have them and let them go when it’s time to.  For example, our bodies age – our hair whitens and eventually strength leaves our arms and legs.  Youth vanishes whether we like it or not.  Our work or practice is about being ok with these changes.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t care when our bodies age.  We do care, and we do what we must to take care of ourselves.  Although we can’t stop the aging process, we can age mindfully and gracefully.  We all will die some day.  Instead of dreading it, can we make peace with mortality and let it enliven the time we have left here?  I’ve been underwater a lot.  It’s time to come to the surface and take a breath.  I think that’s the realization that leaving the house is leading me toward.

Malama pono (Take care of body, mind and heart),

June Kaililani Tanoue
Kumu Hula

P.S.  Sending prayers for everyone’s safety and well-being in Hawaii during this hurricane season!!!

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People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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