The Bird That Observes the Ocean

 It's my favorite month - the month I was born in and named for.  June is also the season in Chicago when we know that winter is mostly over and summer is on the way.  That also makes me happy.

Beautiful flowers abound, and now that we've sold our house, the way that I see flowers is on my walks through the neighborhood.  Big red, white and pink peonies scent the air and make me smile.  I kneel to smell the purple yellow irises and the many different shades of lilacs delight me.

This past Sunday I gave a talk about the Seven Factors of Awakening at our Zen Life & Meditation Center.  Mindfulness is the practice that forms the foundation of living a Zen-inspired life for us.  It's also very much a part of living a Hula-inspired life.  Mindfulness is the first factor of awakening or enlightenment - an essential quality for helping us on our path in life.

Awakening can mean getting up from a deep sleep.  I think many of us virtually sleepwalk through life and miss a large part of it.  And then we die and it's over.  So how do we wake up and really see and appreciate our lives while we are alive?

Mindfulness is defined as an intentional awareness which is embodied and nonjudgmental.

When we dance in hula, we first learn the placement of our arms, hands, body, and feet in space. We remain very mindful of that.  We don't have mirrors in the center so it's a wonderful practice to just feel our bodies in space without our eyes.

Then we move our bodies to music.  At first we usually are extremely mindful of how we are moving in space.  This can be difficult to do - especially if we aren't sensitive to being in our bodies and dancing.

So, we must notice and stay with the edges of our discomfort by making time to practice. We must be okay with the difficulty of learning something new.  That takes patience and persistence.  When that is too hard for people, I say, "No problem, just back away for awhile."

I have a 75 year old student, Theora Humphrey, who has been practicing hula for 2 years with me.  When she first came, she couldn't raise her arms over a certain height and her posture was a bit stooped. She also had problems with the hula step. But she had a persistent attitude. She wanted to learn and practiced regularly - almost daily - every week.  Today her posture is much better: she can raise her arms beautifully, and she has learned to combine the hula steps with the hand gestures.

Mindfulness is being a careful observer of what is right in front of us.  There is precision in such attention.  It's simple, direct and without judgment.  It's not telling ourselves stories about our experience - it just the simple awareness of things as they are.

It's not so hard to be mindful.  It just takes training to remember to be aware of what's present.  When we dance hula, we train ourselves to observe where we are placing our hands and feet.  After enough practice, the body learns to do this without a lot of thought.  But we must still stay alert.  We must be present and aware of things going on around us as well as of our dance movements.

Hula is very much a group activity.  You are dancing with your hula sisters or brothers.  Like any team activity, learning your part is very important.  But being mindful of where you are in relationship to your hula sisters and brothers is equally necessary. It's learning humility and great generosity of spirit.

With such awareness - the hula of many bodies becomes the hula of one body.

Malama pono (take care of your body, mind and heart),





Sensei June Ryushin Kaililani Tanoue Zen Teacher, Kumu Hula