I stumbled upon this photograph from 2012 that someone took with my camera. I am not sure whom but am very grateful. It is hard for me to look at myself here, not so much because I often dislike any photos of myself, which is a whole other issue, but because when I look at myself standing here, I see a proverbial "Dead Man Walking."
I had just started working with Kahu Kaleo Patterson and others in bringing and documenting the observance of mostly traditional Makahiki ceremonies with the pa'ahao at the Hālawa Correctional Facility. So many people collectively put their love, sweat and tears into the effort.
Over time, severe restrictions on what could and what could not occur during the ceremonies, what could be brought in and utilized, the limits of the photography and identifying pa'ahao, slowly changed for the better over time as trust was built within the facility, administration and with the participants. The program is still moving Beautifully forward, as Waiawa Correctional Facility was also revived, and connections to other facilities here and on the continent continue to evolve and change with a host of caring individuals.
There have been continued challenges, but the effort is too important not only for the pa'ahao, guards and facility, but for the families of these men suffering on the outside. Especially the children. I am forever grateful to Kahu Patterson for the experiences and bonds made.
When I look at this photo however, I had put my camera down and availed myself of the opportunity to speak with the men. As always, I let Spirit dictate what flows from my mouth, as well as any accompanying emotions and tears.
At this time, I was sharing stories about redemption, about choices in life, about the power of words, and about being a strong Hawaiian man, father, son, brother, husband and kanaka. I was sharing the mo'olelo of Kamehameha and Keawemauhili, in the epic tale of Kekuhaupi'o, and the significance of the black and white stones, about choices of war or peace. Death and Life.
About the power in our words and thoughts, in the stones we give to each other, and the stones we give to ourselves. It was an early Makahiki where the pa'ahao alaka'i, Wendell, who learned and led the protocol for the day, showed me the Beautiful Butterfly that had landed on his outstretched arm as he prepared for the commencement of the protocol.
A newly emerged Butterfly, slowly opening and closing its dampened wings, as it found a refuge, a pu'uhonua, on Wendell's arm in the middle of this concrete fortress. The hō'ailona, or spiritual message, was so evidently awesome and clear. It merged right into the sharing with the men.
That all of us can choose to be a different and new person. Right here. Right now. To emerge from a chrysalis of a lifetime of behaviors, attitudes, anger, hurt, insecurity, and any other state of being, and truly change and emerge anew. To take flight in Life like you never could have imagined. The choice was, and still is, always ours.
As I often begin such talks, I often let people know that I will be letting words flow out of my mouth that the ancestors and guides give me, for them to hear, in this moment. Right here and right now. Explaining that we have a short precious time together, and some of us may never cross paths again in this Life. Not to be grim or fatalistic, but to acknowledge the truth of the matter and to make the most of the sharing. Little did I know that this almost became my last sharing.
This was April of 2012 and we were behind in the closing of the Makahiki Season because of logistical issues with the facility. It was, however, a powerfully healing ceremony ultimately as many of the participants, especially those of Native Hawaiian ancestry, had never practiced their culture, spoke their language, or ever felt connected to their history, identity or ancestors.
I remember on different occasions, at Hālawa and Waiawa, men, young and old, shedding tears in front of everyone, when speaking about how it was the first time they ever felt proud to be Hawaiian. The first time someone ever told them something positive about themselves. Some having lived only twenty-five years. Some having already lived sixty-five years. The awakening and reconnections caused my own tears of gratitude to flow.
When I look at this photo, I also see myself talking to myself. I could have easily been sitting there, incarcerated, and not having the amazing rich experiences I have had over the past twenty-five years of working with ancestral remains, working with communities, working with culture, that has enriched my Life is so many precious ways. So many friends along my Life's Journey, incarcerated or dead. But for the Grace of Ke Akua...go I...into the Sorrowful Abyss..
Two months after this photo, I participated in a conference for Native Hawaiian men focused on Health. I was an invited photographer and did my best to capture the activities, Spirit and Mana.
While covering one demonstration of lua, Hawaiian martial arts, where much grappling and other techniques were being practiced by the participants, one kumu, not sure if he was an 'ōlohe, but definitely an instructor, was demonstrating a technique of walking around to the participants with an outstretched arm, hand and fingers, and placing the tip of his fingers right above the solar plexus area, then pushing in while making a fist, giving a short, but powerfully intense punch that literally knocked each person back.
I remember his coming to me as I dropped my camera down, looking me in my eye, and performing the maneuver on me. It did knock me back as I tried to right myself, and he smiled and moved over to the person next to me.
I remember feeling sore and achy at the point of impact for quite some time after as I continued capturing the event. I didn't think much of it as my ego, bravado and machismo wouldn't allow me to make it an issue. I just toughed it out.
Well, about a week later, I collapsed while trying to walk home, crying and praying to Christ to not let me die on that dirty sidewalk in front of Zippys on King Street, and ended up in the Intensive Care Unit of Queen's Hospital, in a coma, on five-life support machines with acute pancreatitis, and a liquid infection in my abdominal cavity that was resistant to antibiotics. Apparently even leaving my body at one point and floating around the ICU room, playing with, and preoccupied with, my long hair that I once had in college. Ignoring my Gifted Friends who were there trying to entice me back into my corporeal body.
I know, however, where that whole Life-Changing ordeal began. Not with a lua punch that most likely exacerbated it, but with the death of my Mother two-years earlier, who saw so many visions as she was transitioning over in her hospice bed at home, including one days before she passed where the ancestors were telling her that she was going to die, but I was going to die too because I was taking care of her.
Neither of us understood what that meant at the time, and I downplayed it to alleviate her fear and worries, assuring her that I would be okay and that I was not going anywhere. I wrote down every weakened strained descriptive word however as I knelt next to her head, listening to her descriptions of what she saw and heard on the Otherside of the Veil.
It was the following year, after her passing, that I let myself dwell more and more in the darkness of depression. My Passion for Life slowly waned, unbeknownst to me at the time, but oh so ever clear in looking back. It was my blood donation at the end of 2011 which prompted the Blood Bank of Hawai'i laboratory to call me to tell me to go see my physician right away because the lipids, the fat, in my blood donation could apparently be seen with the naked eye.
I put it off. I felt strong as an ox. Invincible. Until the end of June and the hospitalization. After half-a-year of recovery and discharge from the hospital, and years of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual Healing, I understood what the ancestors had told my dying Mother. She was going to transition, but I was too, because of my deep sorrowful Love for her. She was my Ali'i. My Queen. I was to be her moepu'u. Her death companion. To care for her in the Afterlife as well.
Since my own Death and Resurrection, I have learned and experienced so many Profound and Beautiful things, such Joy, such Happiness, and yes, such Sorrow and Pain as well. The difference, however, is that I treasure each waking moment, each new morning, each new opportunity to shed the Chrysalis of my Past, and truly become the Human my Soul ventured here to become. To experience, to learn, to refine, to appreciate, to ascend. To ascend while amongst the Living.
I lost all fear of death since this photograph. However, I did fear leaving my wife and sons prematurely, but I had to release that fear and replace it with the power of Intention, Faith, Trust, and most importantly, Love. Fear never serves any good purpose other than as a quick motivator for change once you release it.
I have so much Beautiful kuleana, responsibilities, that I want to finish and so many initiatives to accomplish, that I give thanks throughout the day for the Spiritual assistance from all Divine Beings and my Beautiful Creator.
There are no words to adequately describe the experiences and understanding gained in the years since this photograph. Especially in the past four months. I have never felt so at Peace in my Soul, finally remembering truly from whence I came. From whence we all came. Why we came...
Replace fear with observation. With acknowledgment. With acceptance. With Love. Then Release it. Darkness has always been one of our Greatest Teachers.
Especially the Darkness we hide in the deepest recesses of our Soul, out of Fear. Fear of Judgment. Fear of Loss. Fear of Inadequacy. Fear of Weakness. Fear of Vulnerability. Fear of Losing Family, Friends and Community.
Especially Fear of Losing Ourselves. Our Masked, Fake, Hidden, and Pretend Selves subjected to the judgment and opinionated observations and cruelty of Others trying to fill their own voids, hide their own insecurities, and maintain the facade of what a modern Society has dictated to our Beautiful Eternal Divine Souls what we should value and conform to in this Human Experience. Based upon Ego, Greed, Avarice, Lust, Power and everything else you can toss into the Truly Empty Meaningless Soup of Despair.
Look at your buried Darkness, regrettable actions, and woeful experiences, especially during this unprecedented opportunity for self-reflection in the World. Take a good hard look at them in all of their perceived ugliness, shame and pain, but this time, without Judgment. Not Good and Bad. Not Angelic and Evil. Just Higher and Lower vibrational experiences, beliefs and actions. Lessons for the Soul.
You may find this to be one of the most difficult undertakings you have ever initiated but it will truly change your Life as you shine the Light of Truth and Non-Judgment onto, and within, your Being.
Then Lovingly Embrace them all. Thank them. Breathe them through and let them go. All of it. With Gratitude, Love and Forgiveness. They no longer serve you.
Retain, however, the very important lessons that lower vibrational experiences and actions taught you, on this Journey, as reflecting upon them will emancipate your Soul and propel you into becoming a more Loving, Humbled, Gracious, Compassionate, Grateful, and Healing Human Being, through both the Remembrance and Recognition of Who you Truly Are.
This is what Humanity needs now more than ever. What Mother Earth needs now more than ever.
What You need more than ever right now. For yourself. For your Loved ones. For your Journey.
As you extend your New Wings and take Beautiful Glorious Flight...
With Endless Gratitude and Never-Ending Love...