“If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” – Stephen Stills
For the first time since our elder son was born in 1984, Cliff and I faced Christmas alone this year. Not one of our three children was with us in Kaneohe, instead scattered from Colorado to California to New Zealand for the holiday. It happens, right? But it had never happened to us.
Fortunately for our very empty nest, a number of other folks – as if guided by some magical force – landed at our home in the middle of the Pacific to cheer in the Christmas week with us. We were quite a hodge-podge of folks, all landing to interconnect like a jigsaw puzzle of pieces from all over the globe, ultimately creating a lovely, if brief, whole.
Our dear family friends the Howards (Veena from India, Don from Kansas) arrived with their two irresistibly dear, whimsical daughters, Mira and Gita. Between their friends and ours, we found ourselves with FIVE vivacious young people going on adventures together and gathering around the dinner table – a very well-filled nest after all, even if not with our own beloved children.
Perhaps you’ll enjoy a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective, listening in our one of our conversations when I asked them all the question: What gives you hope for the future? What inspires you as we move into the new year?
Gita: age 22, half Indian / half American, currently in law school in Miami. A journalist, feminist and natural philosopher who intends to use her law degree for social justice causes.
“What makes me most happy these days is seeing people who have been marginalized, especially native Americans and LGBTQ people, turning things around. They take the very thing they’ve been marginalized for, and hold it up as a positive, a rallying point of pride, and use it for forward momentum.”
Francesco: age 30, warm, thoroughly charming, and wise beyond his years, far from his family village in Northern Italy, currently on sabbatical from teaching school in Auroville, India where he instructs children in a somatic practice called ATB, or Awareness Through the Body.
“While traveling in different countries recently, I sometimes meet people discouraged about institutions that never seem to change. I see things differently.
I imagine an outdated system as an old, dying tree, and what I see is the many little seedlings, full of life, shooting up around it. Wherever I’ve traveled, I’ve seen such a profusion of small groups doing good things for the world, my heart feels good.”
Mira: Age 26, Gita’s sister. A life-coach and art gallery manager in Venice, California. An avid outdoors woman who loves mountain climbing and swimming with sharks – a great fellow adventurer who enjoyed night hikes and rambunctious canoe paddles with Cliff over the holidays.
“And when the big tree falls, it creates a super rich eco-structure for all the other saplings and life forms growing up around it. It’s that way in all the ecosystems, on the land or in the sea.”
“Our generation gets criticized a lot for being on our phones all the time, but it’s part of our social ecosystem. I see communication as something very important to interconnectedness. Yates and I met each other 8 or 9 years ago and then lived too far apart to spend much time together, and we always stayed in touch through our phones. Getting to see him again and do stuff this Christmas is like we’ve never been separated, we’re still such good friends.”
“I do a lot of my coaching by phone. My clients don’t have to be so worried about what they look like, what impression they are making, when we’re on the phone. Just communicating by voice feels safer for some of them.”
“We can all share a lot of different perspectives and experiences online. I love seeing Eastern ideas and philosophies becoming more widely known and accepted. Even though technology can be a problem when overdone, it can also help us communicate, and relationships are super important for moving into the future.
“The best thing, though, is spending time together in person – like we are doing now with Yates and all of you.”
Katie: Age 17, a wide-eyed high school senior in Albuquerque, New Mexico, preparing for college next year. A Christian who enjoys visiting the nuns at a nearby monastery.
“This is an exciting time for me because it’s the closest I’ve come yet to seeing my dreams come true. My friends and I are all about to go out into the world, and that gives me a feeling of hope and promise.”
Yates: Age 28, a Cambridge/Harvard graduate of Swedish/English descent with a decidedly feminine look and demeanor. Quite amused on the plane to Honolulu by the flight attendants addressing him as “ma’am… I mean sir… or ma’am…” Currently working in Lithuania curating a museum. With the price of cabbage being about $.25 per kilo and wages being abominably low in Lithuania, he cooks many one-pot cabbage meals in his rice cooker, whom he fondly refers to – with his wry British humor – as ‘Condoleezza’.
“I’m touched by radical hospitality, by openness. I see hope in intergenerational dialogue, not just in our generation interacting with each other. I was feeling pretty hopeless when I landed here in Hawaii – it’s been a rough year – and now I’m inspired by the people around me that I see giving to the world.”
After that go around the table, Cliff and I felt great about the future and not so lonely after all. There are so many marvelous, kind, funny, daring, philosophical, caring people in this world. Our sons and daughter were all fine, experiencing wonderful times and adventures elsewhere with their spouses. And here we were with so many great kids coming through our door this Christmas. Francesco seemed like a long-lost cousin we were just coming back in contact with. Katie and her newly single mom felt grateful to spend the holiday in a happy home filled with laughter. Gita and Mira exclaimed to us, “You’re like the aunt and uncle we always wanted to have around!” As Yates departed, he performed his Swedish family tradition of literally kissing the walls of our house!
Steven Stills’ rock classic refrain from 1970 no doubt road upon the coattails of the hippies’ free love movement in the 1960’s, yet a Platonic, plural version of his message helped me through the holidays this year. The whole week, a revised mantra kept rising up, telling me that wherever I am and whoever is near me:
“If you can’t be with the ones you love, honey, love the ones you’re with!”
Dancing in Joy and resting in stillness with you,
And you, dear reader?
Just hit Reply – I always love hearing from you.
I often call him Eeyore – you know that droopy eared, sad-sack donkey in Winnie the Pooh. His real name is Bob, and he’s my husband’s step dad – the only grandfather our kids ever knew on that side of the family. Seldom, if ever, the life of the party, Bob’s a quiet man who verges on stubborn and grumpy more frequently these days. And yet, sometimes he surprises me.
At age 62 myself, I’ll have to live another half of my current age to catch up to where Bob is now at age 91. That’s a long time to live! He sleeps and takes some of his meals at a very nice senior home in Santa Barbara, California. He’s just recently had to give up bike riding, and his long walks have gotten much shorter.
He drives home during daytime hours to the house he lived in with Cliff’s mom for so many years. Our son Shankar and his fiance DD who now live there, welcome him daily with good cheer. They always seem able to find the humorous side of Grandpa Bob. Well, not always. Shankar finally had to set Bob straight about being curt and demanding to the waitresses when they went out for dinner together. Bob has since mended his ways on that front… most of the time!
Finding subjects of conversation with Bob is not easy for most of us. He holds politically and socially opposite viewpoints from every other person in the family – so that closes off most topics regarding the daily news. Shankar and he like to occasionally travel to Los Angeles to take in an A’s baseball game. Not being a sports person, I lack that area of dialogue that Shankar shares with him. Oh dear, what to talk about?
Bob is intensely interested in the weather, and keeps a rain gauge at the house. As a professional scientist and a former sailor who spent many happy summers taking friends on boating excursions, Bob studies weather news intently. So at least there’s that. When I call him every Sunday morning, I get a lengthy description of the changing temperatures and general drought conditions there in California. Of course the Santa Barbara flooding (rare) and fires (frequent) add spark to those conversations, especially when Shankar is out fighting those fires. He’s so proud of his grandkids.
The recent volcanic activity on Hawaii island fascinated him when he came to visit the last couple weeks. Bob wanted to track the lava flow mile by mile when he was here visiting. We even set up a trip for him, accompanied by a much younger friend of ours, to helicopter over Fissure 8 and see the lava flowing down to the sea. He loved that!
He most enjoyed going to work with our younger son Govi to his construction job sites. Our usually taciturn Bob was so thrilled about spending time with Govi, being part of the workflow, he came back to the house saying he’d just spent 2 of the best days he could remember in years. He was jubilant!
It’s rough being a widower. Cliff’s mom Sue was the sunshine of his life, and she’s been gone now for nearly four years. He’s managed to keep himself on a pretty even keel, psychologically and physically, by assiduously following his routines of getting out and about. But he’s still quite a loner. Even living in the senior home for all this time, sharing his dinner in the dining hall at tables with other residents almost every night, he still hasn’t managed to learn the name of a single other person in the facility. He’s just not what you would call a cozy, easily approachable guy.
Then there’s the matter of his health, which he frets over constantly. He keeps up a constant regimen of doctors appointments, checking his own blood pressure daily. He self-diagnoses all the time and then takes himself to the emergency room for “consultations” as he calls them, when he thinks it will be too long until his next appointment. Of course, he always thinks he knows more than the doctors do, so that can lead to interesting developments. And who am I to say? He’s made it into his nineties with a sharp mind and functioning body!
On the last day of his visit here, the rest of the family was all off island for Govi’s paddling race. I was determined to devote the majority of my time to making it a great day for Bob – on my one day off of the week, and yes, I was feeling like something of a martyr and feeling ashamed of myself about that. Anyway, I planned a trip to Bishop museum, a nice drive, a good dinner somewhere…. Some things we could enjoy together.
Bob started the day with the papaya he had asked me to buy as a special treat he never gets in Santa Barbara. He found that delicious. And that was the last enjoyable part of the day.
He next asked to be taken to the emergency room for a “consultation”. When I came to pick him up, they told me he was back in the emergency room because he had undone a procedure the doctor had performed to begin with. No time was left in the day by the time we got home, and of course he was tired, poor guy. After dinner, he asked for a third E/R visit of the day, which got us out shortly before midnight. (He’s doing fine now, thanks for wondering.)
We left for the airport the next morning at 5:30 am to put him on his flight home. Here’s when I got surprised. He apologized for leaving such a big mess to clean up – I wasn’t expecting that. Then our normally non-demonstrative Bob gave me not one but TWO big bear hugs, thanked me for being such a good hostess and told me he loved me!!!
That from Eeyore. Wow. I like it when people don’t easily fall into my expectations of them.
When I told our son Shankar this story, he was not surprised by any of it, including the happy ending. Shankar summed it up: “He has the redeeming value of being a great grandpa. He may not get along well in bigger groups but one-on-one it’s not hard to see he has a pure soul and heart of gold.”
And so I continue on my journey to more fully understand the human heart.
Dancing in Joy and resting in Stillness with you,
And you, dear reader?
Just hit Reply – I always love hearing from you.
Mālia and I agree that we may never again in our lifetimes experience hula performed at such a high caliber, on such deep underpinnings as to what it all means. The costumes, the sheer numbers of dancers presenting such powerful, complex, fast choreography, the incredible variety of chanting styles, the artistry… absolutely over the top.
The people who put on the 5th (and final) World Hula conference in Hilo on the island of Hawai’i have a profound understanding of what’s behind hula, and an incredible generosity of heart in sharing it. Throughout the conference, the hula descendants of Aunty Edith Kanaka’ole and their hula school, Hālau O Kekuhi, shared their learning with us as profusely as Madame Pele’s contemporaneous lava flows.
We were fortunate to spend one anahulu – a 10 day Hawaiian week – with 900 other participants at the conference. Along with our field trips on this VERY LIVING island that is growing by acres a day, we enjoyed opportunities galore, experiencing hula combined with the elements of nature we were chanting and dancing about.
To give us a sense of place on the evening before the conference, Mālia drove us up Mauna Kea, a magnificent, dormant volcano from which we got a tremendous view of the sunset. This vast mountain rises up 33,000 feet from the seafloor! Our tiny – yet important to us – presence within such a grand vista signified to me something of the magnitude of attending this last-of-its-kind conference.
Arriving at the Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium for our first practice for the opening ceremony felt overwhelming, partly because it spans the size of an airplane hangar and partly because it hosts the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival every year. With Kumu Mālia were her 13-year-old sons Waiea and Kaiehu, fellow hula students Kai’olena (Elaina Malm) and Ka’ike (Alex Miller), plus myself – a merry little band of six ourselves!
From our early morning hakikino (literally “break the body”) warm-up hula practices to their late night performances every evening, this family never stopped sharing hula with us. They, with their associated kumu hula and students, presented us with many dozens of workshops on hula and related Hawaiian culture, history and language, as well as field trips all over the island of Hawai’i. The giving never stopped. The hula they danced and the oli they chanted, so far from light-duty tourist performances, were rich, intense, breath-taking and sacred.
For months, I had been steeling myself for the possibility of not qualifying to participate in the opening ceremony, yet I committed to doing my best to prepare for it. By the end of two extra days of practicing the Hawaiian chants and hula dances for the opening ceremony, I was a big knot of aches and pains, especially from the literally derrière-kicking squat turns that we danced to enter the stadium on the concrete floor, in addition to kneeling on the same surface for our ipudrum hula.
My strong attempts at memorizing the chants were less than 100% successful, although I made great strides in understanding what they meant. So I was quite nervous going into the final rehearsal on Saturday, knowing that Keali’i Reichel might again walk through the group inspecting our lips for accuracy. To my huge relief, I made it through the rehearsal and was allowed a place in the next day’s ceremony.
Mālia had been wondering how on earth we were going to find the palapalai ferns she wanted to use to make our head and necklei for the ceremony. When she woke up one morning, the word Kalōpā imprinted itself upon her mind. It felt like a miracle – she was remembering back to her childhood when she once collected ferns with her hula halau at Kalōpā Native Forest State Park. Sure enough, when we drove an hour north into the hills, we found a beautiful forest filled with exactly the ferns we needed. After years of sweeping our hands in dance through the “deep, dark forest” of ferns, it felt magical to literally see and touch these delicate plants. Wearing them the next day was an itchy honor!
We danced into the opening ceremony, a golden sea of olena (turmeric) dyed costumes, arriving wave after wave onto the stadium floor, some four or five hundred strong. I felt surrounded by support: Kumu Mālia was on the stage behind me, all three of our young men arrayed directly in front of me, and Kai’olena above in the stadium cheering us on. Hawaiian voices chanted in thundering unison all around me as we faced the altar that had been specially assembled and draped with many lei of native Hawaiian plants. The slow, ceremonial passing out of coconut cups of ʻawa, in addition to the hula and chanting, signified the creation of sacred space for the passing on of knowledge. And per Hawaiian tradition, everyone in the stadium was generously fed.
The conference continued with days of workshops, 25-30 offerings a day, and field trips all over the island. We learned so much I’m tempted to create a giant video of the event, but I’ll leave that to professionals!
The entire conference was an absolute tour-de-force by the hula descendents of a “Living Treasure of Hawaii” from 1979, Aunty Edith. Her daughter, Aunty Pualani Kanahele, largely spearheaded the conference – with support from other traditionally trained hula masters: Hōkulani Holt-Padilla, her sister Nalani Kanaka’ole, her daughter Kekuhi Keali’ikanaka’ole and her son-in-law Taupōuri Tangarō, even while mourning the loss of conference cofounder Leinā’ala Kalama Heine.
So there you have my window into the events of Ka ʻAha Hula ʻO Hālauaola, the 5th World Hula Conference. In keeping with the tradition of Hawaiian newspapers in the 1800’s, I’m afraid we will need to hold you in suspense until a future edition of Life at the Center, when I can recount what it all meant to me – the real heart of my story. Until then, a hui hou!
Dancing in Joy and resting in Stillness with you,
And you, dear reader?
Just hit Reply – I always love hearing from you.
This is a story of the power of a timely Yes and the creative void initiated by a No.
Now that we are about to celebrate the 7 year ReBirthday of Still & Moving Center on March 18, 2018, I’m musing back to how I came to start this place… Here’s how it went:
My Black Belt Dilemma
When I took my Nia Black Belt training in 2009, the co-founder of Nia, Carlos Rosas, told us that he would give us our Black Belts if we simply made it through the week-long intensive to graduation day. He also reminded us that the Black Belt represents ‘mastery’. Indeed, I made it through that amazing, challenging, life-transforming, sweat-drenched, 75-hour-plus-homework week, and it was time for our graduation ceremony.
The Nia Black Belt incorporates and alchemizes all 13 principles of every Belt that has led up to it. That’s 39 principles in total. And although I had studied and moved through all the principles, I did not feel that I had achieved the level of mastery that the Black Belt represents. I was in a quandary. Carlos would give me my Black Belt, but did I deserve it?
I reflected on the time I had spent preparing for and participating in the Black Belt, and how I had really done my best, which is something we consent to do at the beginning of every Nia intensive training. I considered that this opportunity might not come again. Who knew how much longer Carlos and the other co-founder Debbie Rosas would continue their decades of Nia work? I wanted to say Yes… with a clear conscience.
So I made a deal with myself. I decided to accept the Black Belt by promising myself to re-take all previous Belt trainings as quickly as possible – hopefully within about the next year. I said YES! After gratefully accepting my Black Belt from Debbie and Carlos, I went home and signed up for the next White Belt training with them.
Over the succeeding 15 months, folks at Nia Headquarters in Portland, Oregon saw a lot of Renée Tillotson, flying in to take four intensive trainings. By the time I re-took my Brown Belt training, Carlos had decided to retire from Nia. Whew! I had just fulfilled my self-promise in time and now felt satisfied that I had truly earned my Black Belt. I was so glad to have found a way with integrity to say Yes when I had the chance!
A Black Envelope Arrives
A few months later, I went to our mailbox and found a mysterious black envelope from Nia headquarters, inscribed with silver ink, hand-addressed to me. I took it into the house, sat down, and carefully plied open the envelope, intensely curious. I recall the sensation of almost falling off my chair at what I read: Debbie Rosas was inviting me to become a Next Generation Nia Trainer.
At that time, there were only 14 Nia Trainers in the whole world, and thousands and thousands of Nia teachers. And Debbie was asking ME to become an international teacher Trainer!
The letter invited me to attend a weekend event several months later called Courting Your Destiny to determine for myself whether I was cut out to become one of the new Nia Trainers. It was an honor with responsibilities I had never sought, and though the invitation was flattering, I was inclined to write back with a flat ‘No thank you.’
However, my close friend Marta offered a different perspective: This is a really big opportunity and choice; I should really give it a lot of consideration before turning it down. And so I did.
I considered what it would be like to leave my dear, newfound home in Hawaii. I imagined traveling to all different corners of the world at least 4 times a year, training people to teach Nia, and all the effort it would take to drum up students in places I had never been to before. It would be a radical change from working in our construction office and teaching Nia 2 or 3 times a week at the Y, or rec center or health club.
Just breaking out of the mental construct of my life pattern and visualizing a sea change made me wonder: “Wow! First I became a school teacher because I didn’t know what else to do when I got out of college. Then I got into the construction business with Cliff because I could work from home while the kids were little. What do I REALLY want to want to be when I grow up?” Mind you, I was 54 at the time!
Courting My Destiny
I arrived at Courting Your Destiny event in Portland really open to what my inner promptings might tell me. Debbie gave us a precious 3-day weekend with times of moving and times of inspirational dialogue and poetry. On the morning of the last day, we all entered the Nia dance space in silence. Crimson cushions ringed the room – one for each of us who had been invited to become a next generation Trainer. In the center of the circle was a beautiful golden statue and vase of long stemmed roses, plus a lovely wooden box.
Debbie assured us that she would support us in whichever choice we made – there was no ‘right’ answer. Her assistants handed us a slip of paper on which we were to mark our choice: ‘Yes, my destiny is to become a Next Generation Nia Trainer,’ or ‘No, I my destiny is to remain a Nia teacher.’ We also received stationery for writing a letter to ourselves with the reason for our choice.
That was the time when my choice became clear to me: I said NO. I placed my written answer it in the box in the middle of the room. It was not my destiny to become an international Nia trainer roving the world. I did not stop with that No, however. The No had revealed a creative vortex of possibilities swirling around me. I wrote in my letter to myself that in fact, my path was create to a studio of my own in Hawaii with a beautiful dance floor where we could do Nia 7 days a week. It would be a studio for moving meditation of all sorts and would serve as a hub in the middle of the Pacific for teachers and students from around the world.
From that No, I went home in August of 2010 and told Cliff that I was not going to become a Nia trainer. Instead, I needed to create a studio. It was imperative. I wouldn’t be working much in our construction company any more. The studio was something I just had to do. And without really understanding why this was so important to me, Cliff supported my decision and helped me to find and build out a venue. Seven months later, on March 18th, 2011, we opened a studio at 1024 Queen Street in Honolulu.
I am forever grateful to Debbie Rosas for instigating my paradigm-shifting inquiry. And true to her word, she supported my choice, attending our first birthday and leading a number of Nia intensive trainings in our new studio.
With a Yes and a No and a lot of soul searching, Still & Moving Center came into being! Perhaps it’s not the final yes or no answer but the deep pondering of our life questions that makes the difference.
And you, dear reader?
Just hit reply – I always love hearing from you.
This conviction motivates my way of being in the world: We have the power, as human beings, to choose, create, shape our own lives. We are not victims.
Don’t get me wrong: there are things in our lives we can do absolutely nothing about. Exhibit A: Cell phone text of a nuclear missile heading our way. Real or unreal as that threat might be, for most of us, all we had was our power to choose a response. And that’s a HUGE choice.
Like lots of people I know, our family stayed fairly calm, made rational decisions and plans on how to reunite should the missile actually strike and we all survived. That’s not to say that we didn’t feel the gravity of the situation – I definitely noticed my heart racing once the false alarm was called off. Our kids came over with the baby, and we were all relieved and glad to be safely in our loved ones’ company. And we went on with life. No big blame game… Let’s just say we weren’t the ones sending death threats to the government employee who pushed the alarm button by mistake!
If we had fallen to pieces, or succumbed to wild, panicked reactions, we would have been letting an external event break into our internal environment where our peace of mind and heart reside. In the 9 second video clip I saw of a father sheltering his young girl by helping her into a manhole, he seemed to maintain a calm demeanor and came up with what I thought was a pretty ingenious protective strategy on the spur of the moment. It not a matter of what we do on the outside that makes us choosing responders or hysterical reactionaries – it’s what going on inside that counts. That man seemed to retain his clarity in the moment.
I think of Gandhi chanting the name of God as he was felled by an assassin’s bullet. This heroic human being had trained himself in nonviolent action, speech and thought for most of his 78 years. Of course, without all that training, we don’t really know how we might have spent our last moments if we had gone up in a nuclear mushroom. Would we manage to keep a peaceful vision in our mind’s eye, a song of love in our hearts? I don’t know, but I was pleased at how well we held it together in the face of a dire threat, as did many others I know.
I’m aware of living in an internal world inside an external world. Imagine something like a living spacesuit that has its own internal environment controls, coordinated by my mind/heart/will. That’s what I envision myself living in. The health of my spacesuit depends on me. What do I need to do to keep my spacesuit resilient, pliant and unpoppable?
Whenever I shine out from my spacesuit, extending joy and friendship through its living surface, my suit becomes stronger, lighter, and more elastic. Its boundaries extend further out, able to emit and receive light and warmth. Love is the most powerful sustainer of a healthy spacesuit.
On the other hand, whenever I go into anger bursts or blame fests, pity parties or fear freezes, I’m weakening my suit from the inside. Blaming myself about doing so makes it even worse. It’s as if I’ve created a dark, sticky cloud around myself that just lets in more bad stuff. Indulging in this kind of personal drama is like setting off fireworks inside my own spacesuit: not a good idea. I find that I even succumb to sickness much more easily after these little episodes. And – unsurprisingly – nobody wants to be around me!
So I need to be make peace with myself inside my suit and turn the light back on. When I do that, I feel more loveable.
To a certain extent, I can impact my external world by means of the choices I make from within my internal world. When I’m balanced, strong and clear, I have the chance to positively impact someone I can touch outside. I can lend support, advice, a quietly listening ear; I can lead a crusade, build a business designed to help others, extend love to those around me. Each of those things could make a difference to someone’s life.
Or maybe I won’t make the difference I hope. Although I can take actions, I cannot control the results of those actions. I can’t live others’ lives, can’t make their choices, for them. (Thank heavens! That’s their kuleana!) In any case, my internal life earns the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve made the effort and, hopefully, learned for the future how to be more effective. As long as I’m not attached to certain results happening from my actions, I can keep my happiness level fairly even-keeled, my spacesuit more vibrant and springy.
So do I want my spacesuit to bounce or collapse? It’s up to me.
It’s always up to each of us to choose.
Resting in stillness and moving in Joy with you in this new year,
And you, dear reader?
Email me – I always love hearing from you.
Letter from the Director
Writing this letter to you on New Year’s Day, 2018, I am taking stock of last year and of many years ago. The Romans dedicated January 1st to the god, Janus, whose two faces looked both to the past and future. Janus, namesake for January, oversaw time— its endings and new beginnings, gates and doorways. As we stand here on the precipice of a new year, do we not look to the past to get our bearings for where we are aiming?
I’ve always found January to be an important time on the personal, local and national levels, for looking behind to see ahead. I see us transforming our past in the present, creating our future. We do so gradually, sometimes seeming to lose ground, in Nature’s spiralling progression.
On the personal front, I remember a formational beginning in January 1st of 1979, when my beloved boyfriend of four years, Cliff, asked me to marry him. Recalling how our engagement unfolded 39 years ago, I see changing balances in our relationship that always manage to maintain our equality.
For a few months prior to our engagement, I had been playing around with different surname possibilities for us – such as hyphenating our last names, combining our last names, etc. – to keep parity between us. Tillotson + Auker… Tauker? Tillotker? Aukerson? They all felt ‘Aukward’!!! Then on New Eve, I listened to Cliff deliver a beautiful, poetic, philosophical talk at a gathering we attended. Wow. Shortly before the fireworks went off that evening, I told him, “You know, I am so inspired by what you said tonight, I would be honored to take your last name.”
Unbeknownst to me, Cliff was already planning, in the normal masculine lead fashion, to propose in the upcoming week. However, given my little pronouncement, Cliff suddenly felt the timeliness of the moment. So he proposed, just after midnight, on January 1, 1979. Of course I was ready with a definitive answer, “Yes, I would love to!”
Since that time, we regularly swing back and forth in who’s leading what part of our relationship. I feel as if I rely on him greatly for confidence and support – I certainly have for Still & Moving Center. Then 2017 required me to rely on some cool-headed yang (masculine) elements of my own nature to see us both through trying times. Based on our initial engagement, way back on January 1, 1979, our balance as true equals will no doubt reassert itself in another way in the future.
Remodeling Still & Moving
On the local community level, I recall January of 2011, when Cliff had already gutted the building at 1024 Queen Street and was now vigorously remodeling it for us to open Still & Moving Center. We were rebuilding the stairway, creating new studios and showers, replacing the upstairs support posts with a steel beam across the ceiling, laying the mango floors, etc. This year, 2018 will significantly mark the 7th birthday of Still & Moving Center, and the beginning of a new era.
Saturn goes through 7 year cycles, as Alice Inoue, an insightful Honolulu astrologer, recently noted to me; hence businesses need to renovate themselves every seven years. Looking back to our Still & Moving Center mission statement from 2011, equality and inclusiveness in terms of gender, gender preference, ethnicity, faith and economic background have been built into and practiced at our Center from the beginning. I have no doubt that we will stay true to the foundational principles of our inception as we progress onward. I still look to the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara and its 1976 Declaration of Interdependence, as part of the lineage that I follow with Still & Moving Center.
Hawaiians See Backwards
Here on the islands, I’ve learned from our kumu hula Mālia that native Hawaiians interpret their backs as symbolizing the future, and their fronts as facing the past – similar to the two-headed Janus concept. When we remember with gratitude those who in earlier times have cleared the path for us, we help pave the way for ourselves and those to follow us. According to kupuna Clifford Nae’ole, “By taking care of the past, the past will take care of the future. In Hawaiian thinking, the seventh generation behind you has made you what you are today, so it is important to focus on the future by thinking of the past.”
Hang with me here, dear readers. I think I’m seeing some important, hopeful threads weaving from the past into the present and future. And there’s another wedding in the offing!
History is predictive… if we are patient
On the national and global stage, last year in January America saw the incoming of a president, the likes of which almost none of us expected. But perhaps we could have foreseen it by gazing backwards. Looking to our history actually allows us to see that social evolution and progress do occur, building upon the past, even if it’s at a 3 steps forward and 2 steps back rate. If human progress mirrors natural evolution, it will always be cyclical, never a straight line upwards.
Going back to the American colonists’ revolutionary Declaration of Independence from King George in 1776, we find the assertion that “all men are created equal,” meaning that the common man had rights to self-government that even a king could not abrogate. Thomas Paine, a leading American patriot, tried to do away with slavery in his first proposed version of the Declaration of Independence, but that change was too radical at the time, too far ahead of the cyclic curve of progress. So in the Declaration sent to King George, “all men” was taken to mean all white men. We had to wait almost a hundred years for Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War to get the the slaves freed.
From Slavery to Presidency
On New Year’s day we can always celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation back on January 1, 1863. But again, progress sometimes doubles back upon itself. There were many seeming setbacks for blacks along the way from slavery to presidency. The Jim Crow laws enacted after Emancipation were designed to keep the free African Americans and other people of color segregated from the white Americans, until the Civil Rights movement forced an end to those laws by 1965.
Equal opportunity has since suffered resistance from all those who feel that their place in society is threatened by others lifting themselves up. We could again celebrate a great advance when, 9 years ago, we ushered in an African American president, heralding a new milestone of success in the integration of our society. After electing our first black president for two terms, the choice to elect our first woman president (Hillary) or our first Jewish president (Bernie) was such a shock to our nation’s system, we evidently needed to go around the other side of the spiral to elect the president we now have, perhaps to accommodate many non-black, non-female, non-Jewish people who nevertheless feel they have missed out on their part of the American Dream.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. asserted: “Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.” What was a new, mind-stretching idea of the equality of all men at the founding of our nation in the 1700’s, cannot be undone. In fact, in spiraling motion, it is being further stretched! Since that time, we have increasingly affirmed that all HUMAN BEINGS are created equal. We can see our American notions of freedom and equality rippling out into the Arab Spring, for example, setting off all the expectable reactionary responses, and bouncing back now with Iran’s current uprisings.
Looking backwards helps us to see our trajectory and propel ourselves forward. So we can see beyond this next year, or 3 years, or 7 years into a future where multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-gender and multi-economic leadership of this country, and eventually the world, truly becomes the norm. Transforming our past in the present, we create our future… in Nature’s gradually ascending cycle.
Returning to our family circle, Cliff and I watch this January as our son and his new fiancee DD (Diedra) create their wedding plans together. Her parents also seem to have a strong, committed and balanced relationship. I trust anything successful Shankar and DD have seen in our marriages will strengthen the life that they will envision and create together for themselves.
As navigators at sea look back to the last-sighted land to chart their course forward, may we all fruitfully cast our gaze to the past to get our bearings, then boldly travel forth into our new tomorrows.
I wish you a 2018 of continuing light from your yesterdays, new foundational beginnings, and bright promise for the future!
Resting in stillness and moving in Joy with you in this new year,
And you, dear reader?
I love hearing from you – simply reply to this email.
We are on the brink. A couple brothers who are part of the lifeblood of Still & Moving Center have only a few months left as 12-year-old twins. American teenagehood can strike with a vengeance, and one never knows what may be printed on the next page of the book. So let’s tell their story up to this point, and ‘get it while the gettin’ is good,’ as my dear ole’ grandma would say!
Waiea and Kaiehu Helela came into my life almost 7 years ago when their mother Malia and I opened up Still & Moving Center. They were cute, but noisy, uncontained little chaps. I have to say I’d sometimes bite my tongue when they’d interrupt our conversation yet again. Normal, healthy, self-expressive boys – I’ve had two of them myself, so I know how to put up with their occasional annoyances.
For a long time their Hawaiian names were difficult for me, and even though they looked somewhat different, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t give them the attention to determine which face fit with which name. They DID look a lot more similar then than they do now, I will say in my defense!
How is it these two little rascals wormed their way into my heart? You know, I think that they EARNED their way into my heart. They have won my respect for their integrity, their never-failing politeness and their sincere, genuine aloha.
Eventually, their distinct personalities and charm began to emerge for me, especially as Malia told their stories. Remarkably and symbolically, they were born few minutes on either side of midnight of the Spring Equinox, March 20th/21st, 2005. She describes the first, Waiea, as Old Man Winter : wizened, measured, deliberate, born the last day of the Winter season. Kaiehu, more fair-haired and light-hearted, popped out on the first day of Spring, face up and smiling.
Some of those characteristics persist to this day. Waiea, more serious, tends towards engineering. Kaiehu is enchanted by music. He began to meditate on his own when he was 7 or 8 years old. Waiea, always playing the sceptic, has a wry sense of humor that will come out the side of his mouth as understated wisecracks.
Malia has been great at putting their boy-energy to good advantage. Eager participants, Kaiehu and Waiea have probably participated in every single children’s class or event at Still & Moving Center. They had sharp eyes for finding the Easter eggs during our celebration. Nowadays, they play Easter Bunny for us and hide the eggs for the little ones.
From children’s Nia to yoga to partner acro, they were always good sports. I loved watching Waiea spin in the hanging lyra at Circus Camp. As boys, they especially relished Kung Fu, Zen Archery and recently Axion Swords.
The one activity where they gave only a lackluster, half-hearted effort was hula class – taught by their mother, of course, our ^kumu hula^ (traditionally trained hula teacher). They’d begrudgingly slog through the opening warm-ups of hula class, pleading to be excused at the earliest possible moment. Eventually they got into an Hawaiian immersion school, and I watched the boys change at our hula classes within months. In school they were with others who had equally difficult or MORE difficult Hawaiian names to pronounce than they do! They were now surrounded by children their own age participating in the cultural practices of the school that they had previously engaged in with only their parents.
Not only do they now dance hula, they’ve even begun to swing their hips as they do so! Kaiehu has even started to occasionally accompany us, the hula dancers, on Malia’s coconut drum, allowing Malia to dance with us! Along with Malia and their little sister Ilana, the boys stand next to their mother as we chant our request to enter the dance space. It gave me chicken skin the first time I ever heard their voices chanting back a welcome.
I loved clearing a traditional taro patch with them – thigh deep in mud – at a sacred site where their care-take. The boys and their mom have also just finished 3 years of lomi-lomi massage training with a traditional practitioner. They’re really diving into Hawaiian practices. At this point they are humbly proud (if you know what I mean) representatives of their culture. They accompany Malia on many of her blessing ceremony and are learning to play a role.
They’re even performing hula in front of audiences. My heart just filled up to overflowing watching them perform in front of 3 thousand of people in a Waikiki ballroom – I was so inordinately proud of them!
Speaking of cultures, these kids are as diverse as Still & Moving Center is. This year at our enactment of the Ramayana story during the Indian festival of lights, the twins delightedly changed from their traditional roles as the virtuous young princes to now becoming swordfighting members of the demon hordes!
When I saw the boys change their roles that I realized that their years of childhood were swiftly coming to a close.
As I write, these boys are inquisitive, eager learners. In our hula prayer circle they give thanks and blessings for others in the group, or for anyone who may be sick or unhappy. Kaiehu was recently the only child in a yoga and spirituality workshop, and he gave ua a clear, cogent description of his self-created morning meditation practice. The two of them walk over to greet Aunty Renee – any every other aunty – with a warm hug every time they walk in the door. I love these kids.
I have no doubt Waiea and Kaiehu will be eventually be kind, responsible, honorable men. Who KNOWS what’s going to happen in the intervening years when teenage takes place?!? The boys will turn 13 in March (at almost the same time that Still & Moving turns 7.) Maybe their Hawaiian traditions will carry them through unscathed. They’ll probably be just as wonderful, but in a different way than they are now. In any case, let’s take this moment to celebrate a happy ending – the last pages of two wonderful childhoods – as they prepare to enter the next exciting volume of the story of their lives.
‘All good things are worth waiting for,’ is a maxim I’ve seen unfold many times in my life. Hah! After 61 going on 62 years, I guess I’ve had a lot of opportunities!
Doris Morisaki is one of those people I’ve always seen as outlandishly talented. And yet she’s been on her own time line in terms of unfolding some of her many talents. That’s OK; learning to move in Natural Time is one of the important teachings in Nia.
Doris and I were both Nia students of the same teacher, Kiwi Heilman, who first brought Nia to Oahu and who encouraged me to take my Nia White Belt training. I took it in 2003 and began teaching. A year or two later I collected students and brought an official Nia trainer to the island. Doris was in the graduating group of that first White Belt I ever produced, and she was oozing with teaching potential and artistic skill.
The training, however, was a bit stressful for her, due to the personality of that particular trainer. Moreover, she was completely devoted to the daily care of her young son, Josh, a preschooler at the time. I encouraged Doris to begin teaching Nia, and she very politely – and FIRMLY – declined and continued to take class as a student. Eventually, there were a few times over the years when I was running late for class that I called Doris and she kindly agreed to play some music and do a bit of warmup movement with the students. It made her nervous.
I continued to produce Nia trainings, even bringing the Founder of Nia – Debbie Rosas – from Portland to Honolulu to give some of the trainings. Doris would happily attend the trainers’ public classes, but she always refused to take any of the trainings.
On September 6, 2013, Doris came to her first hula class at Still & Moving Center with our kumu hula, Mālia Helelā. I think that was a real turning point. She immediately was hooked and became a regular student of hula in addition to Nia. Josh was in middle school by this time, and we were now getting to see a lot of Doris on the dance floor!
As her hula skills advanced, so did her confidence in Nia. One day she came to my class very excited about hearing a song on the car radio that inspired her to create some choreography to it. She hadn’t actually DANCED it yet, except in her head while driving. So she and I found time to play the song and try out her moves. With a little extra listening to the song, finding the verse, the chorus, and the solo sections, we were able to nicely fit her choreography to the music. That’s what Nia TEACHERS do…just sayin’.
We spent a couple months practicing her song privately, until it was a well-polished little gem. How could we keep a jewel like that hidden?!? After some coaxing, Doris agreed to lead my Nia class for three and a half minutes with her newly choreographed piece.
Turns out, Doris is a self-admitted showboat. Once she put on the head mic she could hear her voice fill the room, which was thrilling. She had a great little song by Taylor Swift to teach and she did it beautifully. My buttons were bursting with pride!
Meanwhile, over on the hula side, Doris was making her way more to the front center of the hula ‘auana class, where her ability to memorize choreography was making itself known. Once the teacher starts stepping to the side and allowing students to dance on their own, all eyes begin looking for the fellow student most like to remember the steps….and that turned out to be Doris!
Josh entered high school last year. Doris, it seems, had a secret bucket list item that she prepared herself to accomplish. One night she and her husband Mark attended a concert by the local band Na Leo. Doris waited to see whether see they would play one of her favorites, “Waikiki”. Confident in the choreography that she had learned from Kumu Mālia, Doris actually stood up from the audience and made her way to the stage when the first notes of the song came on. For those of you readers who are not from Hawaii, it is a well-loved tradition of the islands, people share the hula they know when the musicians share the music. So there goes Doris, in front of several hundred people, dancing her first solo performance, unannounced. How I wish I had had a seat in the audience to cheer her on. Evidently the band played at half the speed Doris was used to, so she danced the entire hula in slow-mo. Wow! I can only imagine the crowd applauding wildly as she left the stage!
At least I did see Doris perform hula with Kumu Malia a couple months ago in front of three thousand people in a Waikiki hotel ballroom for the Transpac celebration. That was impressive.
Back on the Nia side, Doris had been cautiously watching all of the trainers that I brought to the island. She finally felt safe enough with Winalee Zeeb to take her Blue Belt training in February this year, more than a decade after taking her White Belt training. And she even began subbing Nia classes.
We’re not done yet. There are a lot more Nia belt levels for Doris to take, and she has yet to offer a regular class of her own. In hula, she has also begun subbing and students devoted to Kumu Malia actually agree to dance with Doris! So far, she is learning modern hula, ‘auana, and has yet to dance the ancient hula, kahiko. The future is ripe with possibilities. Now that Josh is driving his own car and pretty self-sufficient, who knows where Doris will go, in her own time?
All I know is that it’s been well-worth the wait to see our ‘late-bloomer’ begin to blossom! Doris has taught me a lot about living in Natural Time.
I lost touch with my inner 7-year-old for many years. Meanwhile the adult me took charge of my everyday life. Then about a decade ago, Nia taught me how to play again with physical abandon, reconnecting me with my 4, 5, 6-year-old self. Fun, but not mindful.
Now, seven-year-olds are different beings than their younger editions. By seven, we are both spontaneous and wise, thoughtful and nonchalantly carefree. Our playfulness is infused by an intelligent self-awareness.
A few months ago, I found my adult sense of personal responsibility running on overdrive, driven by lengthy to-do lists I could never complete. I felt ragged at the edges. Enough! I told myself, you are not allowed to work this Saturday. Not one iota. Go do something fun!
My adult self, bewildered, wondered, What I am I going to do with myself?
Wing it, I replied.
So against my work self’s objections, I left my calendar completely open for that Saturday. No plans, no appointments. I called out to my long-lost inner 7 year old: Hey there! Let’s make a play date!
She was a little shy. Really? she asked….Are you sure you have time for me?
Yes, I’m letting you run the whole day! I replied.
OK! I’ll meet you Saturday! she happily answered.
My 7 year old is a dawn riser, so we started the day early. She loves to read to her heart’s content, so after an early breakfast, we stretched out and read a good book about horse training… all the way to the end! My 61 year old self is lucky to get in a page and a half before conking out for the night. How luxurious reading a whole book felt!
By 11 am she was already hungry and felt no compunction to wait until noon to eat, so she threw together a great lunch, lingering over some favorite pages of the book as we ate. She was so enthusiastic and curious, she called a pal for an earnest chat about how to listen to horses. And that was enough being still for one day.
Next we headed out to the garden with one of our best friends to scoop scum out of the fish pond, dig in the dirt and feed her earthworm pets.
As a belated May Day celebration, we collected armsful of bright flowers and leaves from the yard. She invited another friend to join the fun, and we all laughed and made beautiful flower arrangements until the house was overflowing with bright floral cheer, and it grew dark outside.
It was a glorious day.
PS. Wanna come play with me? I will be home ready to romp Sunday through Tuesday, Oct 8-10. My grownup self has been off-island quite a bit lately dealing with some family matters. It’s about time for another playdate and you can join me at any Nia class!
And you, dear reader?
I wonder what you will do on the day you give to your inner 7 year old?!? You will enjoy a uniquely memorable experience, whatever doings or non-doings he or she invites you to. Hit reply to tell me about YOUR playdate.
Most of us have wondered, “Why am I here?” There’s a Sufi saying that I’d like to look at in regard to our son Govi: “Every soul is born for a certain purpose, and the light of that purpose is kindled in its soul.” And Plato affirms that we each see our life in great detail before we drop into it, and then we drink the waters of Lethe, and forget what we have seen.
No matter how much of the detail we have forgotten, we each maintain our line of life’s meditation, thrumming steadily beneath the surface of our everyday existence. To the extent we gain self-knowledge, we become aware of our life’s mission and meaning.
Govi became a father himself last week when Ryder Cliff Tillotson came into the world on August 30, 2017. Gazing at the miracle of little Ryder’s birth, I begin to see how Govi’s line of life meditation called Ryder into the world…with a lot of help from his wife, Caitlin!
Govi always saw himself following in his father’s footsteps, both in his line of work and in the family. As a little tyke, he said he was going to grow up and be “an Acacia guy” – the name of Cliff’s company at the time.
Also like his dad, Govi loved little kids. I remember now how he took his little cousin Ryan under his wing when the 6 cousins would annually go to family camp. Ryan was 6 years younger than Govi and followed him everywhere. Many older cousins would have brushed the little guy off as a nuisance. Not Govi. Ryan never spent any time in his own age group because Govi took Ryan directly under his wing and brought him along on all his own camp activities. (It’s interesting that his new son’s name is so similar to his little cousin’s.)
From a comment he made once as a teenager, I know Govi was already visualizing himself as a future family man – perhaps not even consciously until I asked him about it on his 15th birthday.
Govi’s first and only girlfriend, Caitlin, also envisioned a family of children. And before they married, they took in a troubled teenager for 3 years and in many ways parented her, even though they weren’t that much older than she was.
These I now see as earlier signals of some aspect of Govi’s line of life meditation – of course that’s really up to every human being to see for themselves, so my comments here are only my own musings.
Govi took his time in proposing to Caitlin, and then again in agreeing that they were ready to have children of their own. That, too, seems to have been part of his ideation on their being solid, reliable parents who had established their own relationship before bringing someone new into the equation.
Once they knew a baby was on the way, Govi was all in as a dad. New dads, in my experience are pretty clueless, as you can confirm with Cliff. Govi was as excited in his own quiet way as any mother to be that I’ve known! He joined Caitlin for a 12 week natural childbirth course and got training to be her birth coach. He told us excitedly when the baby reached the size of a blueberry, eventually a plum, and a sweet potato!
The next thing we knew, Govi had come up with the name Ryder, and gotten a surfboard for him (the little wave-rider, I guess) months before he was born! He also helped Caitlin put together the cutest little baby room in their house.
The two of them did tons of study about birthing and babies, so they were super ready when the time came, with a complete birth plan. I’m not sure of how much of it got followed, since she ended up having a belated, rough labor. But Govi was there with her and Ryder every step of the way.
In fact, Govi coached her through every contraction and push, no matter how stormy. He supported her from behind during her back labor and helped her in and out of the hot tub. Govi even had Caitlin pull against him with all her might while she was in her pushing phase.
After 42 sleepless hours of labor, Caitlin managed to avoid the C-section they were preparing for Ryder and pushed the baby out on her own. Govi, who had hoped to catch the little guy as he came out, had to clear the way for the worried doctors to take over. He stood watching, in tears of worry, as they cleared the baby’s air passage and allowed him to take his first breath and cry. Govi was finally able to heave a huge sigh of relief that his new son had made it safely into the world.
While Govi was awestruck by Caitlin’s determination and fight through incredible pain, Caitlin was amazed at how unfailingly helpful Govi was in the hospital. According to the hospital staff, most dads stay on their cell phones during their wife’s labor. But Caitlin says all the nurses kept asking about Govi, “Who IS this guy!?!”
Perhaps you’ll remember me asking a similar question about Govi in a recent letter I sent you, wondering what was inside this mystery box of a son. Through this time of Ryder’s birth, I’m beginning to get a clearer picture of someone who long ago saw his future of becoming a father and brought that vision into reality.
“The future enters into us in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” – Rainer Maria Rilke