Open Out the Chest that it may be Spacious

E wehe i ka umauma i akea. Open out the chest that it may be spacious. Be generous and kind to all.

 'Olelo No'eau - Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings #388 Collected, translated and annotated by Mary Kawena Pukui


Last Sunday I was happily sitting on a stone wall facing a calm, languid Lake Michigan.  It was a warm, gentle evening, and there were hundreds of people at the monthly Full Moon Fire Jam on the lake.  We were waiting to see the total eclipse of the super moon or blood moon.  Many drums were beating out a rhythmic tune causing people to naturally move and dance.

I walked, with friends, past the crowds toward the lake and sat looking up at a cloudy sky with no moon.  The cloud bank was moving along and occasionally the moon peeked through.  We were lucky.  Right at 9:22 pm, the cloud bank cleared and there was the glorious moon in full eclipse.  She was a dark, burnt orange orb floating in the sky.  I cheered along with hundreds of others.  And I offered prayers of peace for all.

That night reminded me of watching the total solar eclipse when I lived in Waimea in the early 90's.  The eclipse happened at 8:30 am and was intensely dramatic.  As the morning slowly darkened crickets began to chirp.  The moon came between the earth and sun blocking it entirely on that July morning.  There was also a very thin ring of fire around it.  Everywhere was dark as night.

I'll never forget seeing our sun as a black orb floating in the sky to the left of Mauna Kea, our great mountain on Hawaii Island, just as I'll always remember the burnt orange moon above Lake Michigan.

I've been thinking about the Native American Bearing Witness Retreat I attended in the Black Hills this past August.  The Indians call the Black Hills the Heart of Everything That Is.  It's also the entrance to heaven, the Sacred Place of the Heart.

And what is found in the heart?  Love.  Love starts in our hearts and spreads throughout our body and mind.  The beauty of the Black Hills and the warm-heartedness of her people opened the sacred place of my heart too.

We bore witness and listened to many stories about racism and trauma at the retreat - both historical, trans-generational and present day trauma happening to the Indians.  The effects of trauma - deep poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence, and youth suicide rates on the Pine Ridge Reservation - overwhelmed me.   There are many parallels to the Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian native) experience.

One of the most disturbing things I heard about was the trauma to the environment and it's effects on people.  Charmaine Whiteface told us that there are nearly 300 abandoned uranium mines around South Dakota that have been polluting the area with radioactive dust and particles for the last 60 years.  There is a high proportion of cancer-related illnesses and birth defects in certain areas.  We were probably inhaling it on the retreat site!  There is also a total of 15,000 abandoned mines in the United States - most found in the 25 western states.

I remember being very disheartened and depressed after several days of this kind of information.  Wednesday after dinner, I walked over to the prayer circle and to the fire that was burning in the center.  I sat quietly on the ground.  I was soon mesmerized and comforted by the flames that danced between the pieces of wood. I smelled the calming sage burning in the cool evening.  Nevertheless a deep sadness filled my heart and body.  I felt heavy and thick.

That night in the women's tent, I had a hard time falling asleep as thoughts circled around and around.  I knew that it would help to stop the thoughts by becoming more aware of my body, so I focused on my breath first and just noticed how I was breathing without needing to change it.  Then I focused on other parts of my body - how it felt lying on the ground in my sleeping bag.  I asked what part of my body felt heavy?  Was it my heart, my stomach, my lungs?  I brought my focus fully to each organ and lingered awhile to notice how each felt.  I fell asleep a little while later.

The next morning I awoke early and walked outside the tent into the stillness of early morning. My sadness couldn't be contained, and I just burst into tears.  How could something so terrible happen here in this sacred place of the heart?  I was angry. I was depressed.  I felt like a big weight was pressing down on me.  I couldn't really smile.

Council circles were held after breakfast each morning.  Our circle was outside the women's tent.  We sat in folding chairs on uneven ground.  We spoke from the heart and listened from the heart.  Sharing my distress with the circle in the healing presence of the Black Hills helped me.

That evening I shared a hula choreographed to the song Make Strong by Hawane Rios. It is a beautiful Hawaiian song written by Hawane when she was 25 years old.  It reminds us of the strength, perseverance and dedication needed during times of great travail. The Indian women told me that they appreciated it.

I was impressed by all of the native presenters.  I felt especially close to the Indian women - the way they worked with all kinds of difficulties in their lives and, when the time was right for laughter, they laughed with great joy.  They reminded me of Hawaiians that I know - open, humble, kind and generous. Their warmth helped me to realize that we are all in this web of life together.  Whatever we can do to help one another makes a difference.

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

June Ryushin, Kaililani Tanoue, Sensei Zen Teacher, Kumu Hula

P.S.  Here's a  slide show of selected photographs of my Bearing Witness trip. Thanks to Peter Cunningham and Darrell Justus for the photos and music by Tiokasin Ghosthorse.  Here are Peter and Darrell's complete photos and Jadina Lilien's photos of the retreat.