Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Designing Mind

My last few months in Hawaii were frustrating. When my parents found out they would be leaving soon, they wanted to get last minute sight-seeing and beach time in. So my Father started taking vacation days and sick days off for excursions. Of course I wasn't in on the planning of any of this. I'd just wake up one day thinking I was going to see my friends, and instead I'm dragged off to some must-see tourist-trap.

On top of that there were hours spent in a hot car in a parking lot while my parents shopped at furniture stores for the kind of cheap island-style bamboo and wicker furniture that they had to have to remember Hawaii by.

The worst thing that happened was the arrival of relatives. They had to see all the sights all over again, that my parents had already seen. Here's my Grandmother and one of my cousins with me and my parents and the dog at a beach. Doesn't my Grandmother look like she's hearing a voice telling her to wade home? I think my Mother is getting ready to strangle me, as soon as the shot is over. My Father looks like he's having a rare Jeff Goldblum moment in his head. Ordinarily he wasn't at all Golblumesque. I'm much more Goldblumesque than he ever was.

The later conversations with Lani and Lono that did take place were all over the map. Literally.

There was a long conversation in which Lani talked about his theories of Atlantis and Mu. He talked about the lost continent of Mu as though it were a traditional Polynesian idea, when I am sure that it was mostly a Western European fantasy based on misreadings of Mayan texts. I think he mixed up the continent with Hawaiian legends of people also named Mu, who were said to have inhabited the islands before the Polynesians arrived, and might still reside hidden in the mountains.

There were stories of other predecessors of the Polynesians, including cannibals. That was just creepy.

When Lani brought up the Menehune, who were a legendary short-statured people of the islands, he managed to mix them up with Leprechauns. All in all, the sense I get in remembering it all is that I can't rely on much as being genuinely ancient Hawaiian. He filled in gaps with anything he could find.

There were some things that I'm sure hailed back to pre-colonial times. There were ghost stories. There was a strange tale about two shape-shifting gods or demi-gods chasing each other from island to island.

Then there was talk about the Huna. I don't know what to make of that. Could it be ancient, or was it extrapolated from Buddhist and Hindu beliefs? A lot of the natives who ended up on Ni'ihau, though they spoke Hawaiian, had mixed ancestry, including Japanese and Chinese. A strong Buddhist influence on the non-Christian holdouts wouldn't be very surprising.

At any rate I remember some of what Lani had to say about the Huna, traditional or not. He said that just because the word means "hidden" everybody thinks it's an occult secret, but the joke on everyone who thinks that is that the Huna isn't itself hidden, the Huna is about "hidden-ness."

He illustrated by pointing out that when he held the palm of a hand up to me, I couldn't see the back, and when he held the back to me, I couldn't see the palm. He said that the Huna begins with the simple observation that you can't be aware of everything all the time. There are always going to be aspects of reality that are hidden from you, and if you look at them, other things will go hidden. The Huna involves learning respect for what you can't know.

A related idea was the idea of mental states. He said there are many different mental states a person can be in. One state is good for one kind of understanding. Another state is good for another kind of understanding. There is no state that is good for all kinds of understanding at once. That's why there isn't just one god, but many, because there isn't just one way to understand and organize reality. Only mana comes in touch with everything. But mana has no mind.

Minds, by their nature, organize and prioritize. Therefore as soon as our minds awaken and we look out and see the world, our minds impose order on that world, which order is never universal. Some things come forward, other things recede, in accordance with who we are and the sort of state we are in. It even depends on how hungry we are, and what we eat. if we are flies, we look for shit everywhere, and we're happy to find it.

Once we know that there are different mental states that provide access to alternate views of the world, Lani said, that the next thing that Huna does is offer ways to move among the states.

Only one such method was discussed. It came up in a conversation a few weeks before it was time for me to leave Hawaii. I was told about sleeping mat designs.

This is something I've confirmed: Ni'ihau is known for its sleeping mats. The people make sleeping mats which are decorated with geometric designs called pāwehe. The designs featured repeated triangles and squares. There are checkerboard patterns, rows, and a few patterns that seem to grow out from a point.

The Bishop Museum has samples online. See artifacts numbered 02560, 02562, 02564, 02565.

What Lani added to this, which I haven't confirmed, is that long ago the designs weren't just for sleeping on, but were for meditating upon.

The idea was, the meditator would sit and by some means, draw one of these designs. There were chants suitable for different designs depending on the state the practitioner wanted to achieve. While singing the chant the meditator would add to the drawing as his mind and aims moved him. The design would be an evolving ki'i of the state he was reaching toward.

I don't know if the Huna really involved such practices, or if a Taoist injected such ideas into the blend of post-colonial tradition after Ni'ihau was established as a native reservation. Or did the original Polynesian settlers in Hawaii bring such ideas with them from Asia?

What I do know is that a lot of this thinking would later be very difficult to integrate with my Sunday School lessons.

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