Hiola ka pali ku, naha, ka pali paʻa.
The standing precipice falls, the solid cliff breaks.
The resistance is broken down at last.
'Olelo No'eau #1011
Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings,
Mary Kawena Pukui
To take full responsibility for your life. What does that mean?
I think it means understanding your basic life affirming needs, owning your feelings and standing your ground. It doesnʻt mean blaming others for your emotions, feelings, and thoughts.
Iʻve been going to the Cook County Correctional Facility and teaching meditation to the women in Division 4. They have made decisions in their lives that have lead to their incarceration. Low self-esteem and blaming others are common habitual practices there.
Weʻre using an excellent workbook called "Path of Freedom - A Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence Workbook for Prisoners," co-written by my friend Fleet Maull.
Fleet served a 25-year, no parole, sentence in federal prison. He says in the workbookʻsforeward, "To find the Path of Freedom, you first need to realize you are in prison. This may seem easy when you find yourself actually locked up - incarcerated in a jail, juvenile facility or prison. But what about the prison of your own making ... what about the prison in your mind!"
Perhaps a third of the women who come to my class have found incarceration to be an excellent motivator for them to change something in their lives so they can move forward. They have begun to take full responsibility for their lives by freeing themselves from the prison of their minds. They come to learn whatever they can to help them on their path of freedom.
But Cook County detainees arenʻt the only ones imprisoned in their minds.
The first step to freedom is to notice how some habitual ways of thinking do not serve you. Thoughts can be very subtle, and it takes intention and attention to see them clearly. Mindfulness meditation is a foundational practice for your Path of Freedom. It trains the mind to be awake, stable, peaceful, reflective and grounded in the present moment. Itʻs a practice that takes discipline just as hula does.
One of my favorite ancient hulas is Ke Haʻa La Puna (Puna is dancing in the Wind). Puna is a district on the Big Island of Hawaii that is in the realm of Pele, the Volcano Goddess. Puna also means spring (of water). The title can also mean all life is dancing in the wind. Iʻve often mulled over the meaning of the refrain thatʻs part of this chant. Hula leʻa wale i kai o Nanahuki. Hula leʻa wale (only to dance in utter clarity!) i kai o (in the sea of) Nanahuki (literally pulling away or drawing back).
My manaʻo (thoughts) are that your life is in your hands no matter what your life circumstances are. Itʻs not productive to blame others. You can always pause and take a backwards step to reflect before you act.
In that pause, a lot of dancing and clarity can happen. In that pause, you choose between being curious or being afraid. Can you notice if your heart is opened or closed? If closed, can you just breathe for awhile and reside quietly in your body instead of jumping to quickly into analytical thinking? Such thinking to try and figure things out is an old habit that doesnʻt always work.
Can you be patient and generous with yourself instead and notice whatʻs going on in your body as if it were a dear friend? Can you just be there for a few minutes, maybe just five minutes or more?
Notice your thoughts flooding in and try to drop their storyline - let your thoughts go - and just be with your body, breathing. Do this over and over, again and again. This is the practice of meditation. This is how you tame your mind and learn what taking full responsibility means. This is how the resistance is broken down at last.
Malama pono (take good care of your body, mind, heart),
June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue
Kumu Hula and Sensei (Zen Teacher)