Hula – The Shamanic Portal into Ecstasy

HULA – THE HAWAIIAN SHAMANIC PORTAL INTO ECSTASY – published in Edge Magazine (October 2020)

by Jonathan Hammond

This is your Earth, because the Earth is you. This is not a hyperbolic statement; it is a fundamental tenet of all indigenous spiritual traditions. We are born of the Earth and we will return to her when our life ceases. The bodies that we are cloaked in, and the physical environment that we exist in, are made through and through of the elements of nature. To fully identify yourself as a being of nature is to merge with the mind of the shaman.

Shamanism is a spiritual path that draws from nature’s example to build a template to teach us about ourselves. The natural world is a vast matrix of cooperative effort and interconnection; a paradigm of holism in which all things matter, all things exist together, and everything is interdependent with everything else. As nature demonstrates through its unitive and symbiotic example, separation is an illusion; a cosmic misconception that blinds us to our true identity.

The time of a “separate” world has come to an end, or at the very least, it has greatly outworn its welcome. In today’s world, the illusion of separation has given rise to the devastating effects of greed, hatred, fear, and injustice.

The ancient Hawaiian shamanic traditions teach us that energetic tendrils of connective substance are created and sent out to the world whenever we so much as think a thought or focus our minds on an intention or an object. Nothing is beyond our sphere of influence if we simply turn the light of our awareness toward it. In this way, we are not separate from anything because, as energetic beings in an energetic universe, the power within our own minds bridges the gap between us and everything in existence. Nothing exists outside of awareness, which means that nothing exists outside of us.

Shamans experience reality as One Great Happening; a singular event that expresses itself through each of us in every moment. To see yourself as an individual wave in the ocean that is inextricably connected to the entirety of the ocean, or as a singular aperture through which the universe experiences itself, is to see yourself with the clarity of a shaman’s mind.

During these tumultuous times of pandemic and racial conflict, we are discovering that the personal has no context without consideration of the All. Many people are experiencing an organic change in their habituated pattern of solipsism and separation, even those of us who would have previously considered ourselves “spiritual.”

It seems to me that the concept of “MY” has now left the conversation. Rather, when we consider “MY,” it is only in relation to the collective – we can now no longer escape the reality that we are all in this global predicament together. We are starting to realize that the individual choices that we make can’t not be influenced by everything else that is happening, and our new reality compels us to reconfigure the circumstances of our lives as part of a larger process.

The esteemed Hawaiian culturalist, Dr. Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele, points out that this shift of attention from the individual to the collective is the essence of Hula, the ceremonial and spiritual dance of Hawaii. In the Hula, the dancer merges his or her individual consciousness with the Hawaiian environment to such an extent that the dancer shape-shifts and “becomes” the environment. The release of the separate-self into unity is considered a “sacrifice” that the dancer makes for the sake of honoring and taking part in a larger story.

Through their deep connection with all of nature’s natural cycles, the Hawaiians originally observed this “sacrifice” being modeled for them by the Earth itself.  Each morning, when the sun rises on the islands, its heat is said to induce the Earth’s first breath of the day. The Hawaiians call this ha’ena, or “the breath of the sun.” Ha means “breath” or “life force” and ena translates as an “intensity” often associated with heat. The sun’s hot rays titillate the Earth to expel its breath, a process that modern science calls transpiration – the release of water-laden gases and air into the atmosphere. The Earth’s exhale is called Laka, the planet’s daily “sacrifice” that initiates the energies of all creation. Laka is also the name of the Goddess of the Hula.

Laka, or the breath of the Earth, becomes a rising mist called Ohu that ascends in the sky to a height where it grows denser and thicker as cools. In the afternoon, this heavy mist, named Uhiwai, begins its descent back toward the Earth. It’s not important for you to remember the Hawaiian words here. Rather, what is noteworthy is that these people are so connected to nature, that they have specific words in their language for ascending and descending mists! (The Hawaiian language actually has over two hundred words for “wind,” and eighty of them are just for the winds of Kauai!).

As the Uhiwai mist descends, it is caught by “water-catchers” of all kinds that are called Ohiwai. At the top of the Hawaiian jungle, the leaves and foliage of the trees, as well as huge webs spun by spiders and caterpillars, catch and collect the water of this descending mist, and this vast weaving methodically drips the water and moisture that it has collected back to the Earth. In this way, water gives Mana to the land. (Mana is any source of power that facilitates change and growth.)

These natural cycles have, of course, been happening since the beginning of time. Dr. Kanahele reminds us that “anyone with brains knows that this a process needs to keep going.” Hence, the overarching intention of the Hula is to revere and celebrate these cycles through the sacred dance. Through detailed training and preparation, the dancer learns to align his or her body, mind and spirit to ceremonially experience unity with their island environment.  

The dancer begins by recognizing their space centering themselves inside the “Hawaiian Universe.” Barefoot, they ground themselves on the Earth, while holding an awareness of the celestial spaces above them. They will have adorned their bodies with vegetation and flowers that pull certain energies of the forest toward them. Some of this plant-life is affiliated with the akua or the deities of the islands. They also wear shells to honor the ocean element and the beings that live in the sea; the Hawaiians consider many of them (such as shark, squid, ray, and turtle) to be aumakua, or familial ancestors.   

In Hawaiian cosmology, the present moment is of the upmost importance. In fact, there are no past or future tenses in the Hawaiian language, which means that everything relates only to the now. According to Huna, the shamanic philosophy of Polynesia, experience is accessed only in the present moment and nothing exists outside of it; all time – past, present and future – occurs simultaneously in every moment. The Hula exists inside this infinite space/time continuum.

Symbol, story and nature are conjured through the chanting of sacred texts, passed down for generations, and are invoked through specific choreographic movements that are universal to the dance. In this way, the Hula practitioner connects energetically with the beings throughout history who have come together and worshipped in the same way. Just as Laka, the Earth’s first breath of the new day, connects all of life, the dancer has a direct revelation of unity with all of life. The deity of Hula, (also named Laka), looks on these proceedings with divine grace.

Kuma Hula, or Master Hula teacher Pualani Kanakaole Kanahele, describes this ecstatic experience of unitive consciousness as an entrance into haka ka ao, which can be translated as “the space of light,” or “the portal,” Haka ka ao is a space beyond time in which we transcend our own sense of limitation and experience a direct revelation of limitlessness and non-duality. When we start to identify with the collective, the inevitable response is a yearning to take care of the collective. So, the goal of the Hula is not merely the entrance to haka ka ao; Kanahele also teaches us that the true purpose of the dance is “the honor and privilege to pull you into the portal with us.”

So, I take you to the heart of the South Pacific only to return you back home to wherever you happen to reside. Center yourself inside the One Great Happening and enter the ecstasy of the portal. Start to see the people, the events, and the circumstances of your life as the necessary ingredients that remind you of the deep connection that you have with everything. The things that you yearn for that still elude you, your hopes and dreams that are not yet realized, and the daily difficulties that you may be facing; these all exist to propel you forward toward the realization of a deep belongingness that you may have forgotten.

In the portal, the personal becomes the global and everything becomes our kin; what we heal in ourselves, we heal in all. Shamans teach us that reality creates itself based on how we think about it and what we do in our lives. So, traverse this difficult time on the planet with the full awareness that you possess the ability to contribute to the co-creation of a better world. Any beneficial action that you take, any loving intent that you have, and every prayer that you extend to anything that may be suffering or has had its freedoms diminished, has a direct and substantive influence on all of nature and on all sentient beings.

There is only One Great Happening. The microcosm of each of us is the macrocosm of the all. All things converge at your heart.

Enter the ecstasy of your haka ka ao and claim the immense power within you to contribute (through even a mere thought!) toward the new day that is becoming.