Doing Hakikino at World Hula Conference & Celebrating 20 years as LMT

Our kumu hula Mālia Helelā made all of us proud at the close of the 5th World Hula conference when she took the stage at Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium on June 23rd. There she described and demonstrated, along with other students, what their class had learned in their 3-day workshop on the art of hakikino, taught by lomi teacher Keola Chan. Mālia was also joined on stage by her son Kaiehu, with whom she demonstrated the art of walking on each other!For Mālia, lomi and hula are two sides of one life practice.Used exclusively by hula schools to limber up the students for dancing, hakikino, also known as hakihaki, is a specific form of Hawaiian lomilomi massage that Keola Chan is helping to revive. Hakikino is so connected to hula, practitioners even use certain limbering movements in time with the ipu drum beats. For Mālia, assisting her lomi teacher at the Hula Conference in Hilo was a perfect blending of bodywork and dance.July 2018 marks Mālia’s 20 year anniversary as a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT). She has gone from humble beginnings as a child doing massage at home, to becoming a sought-after trainer of those wanting to learn the Hawaiian art of lomilomi.When I met Mālia in 2011, she had been doing massage at the Outrigger Hotel spa for a decade and was ready for a change. Fortunately for us, that change was moving to Still & Moving Center to teach hula, head up our massage program and help me manage the center.

Since that time she has given lomi to hundreds of clients and further developed her own techniques through advanced training. She is currently in her final year of a 4 year lomilomi program with Keola Chan. As part of this year’s work in the community, Mālia has created and is leading a 13 month program teaching lomilomi to residents and their children in Women’s Way Drug Recovery Program by the Salvation Army.

At Still & Moving Center, Mālia now provides 16 hour lomi massage training courses to local and international students who wish to learn this ancient Hawaiian technique for restoring the body. Her entire lomi program lasts 64 hours, and presents lomi in the context of the Hawaiian language, landscape, hula, chants, lei-making and knotting practices – the full cultural setting of its origin.


Cliff was a mountain man when I met him in college, fresh off Mammoth Mountain where he lived during high school. He used to love telling me about his naturalist hero John Muir merrily heading off on a trek through the Sierra – which might for last days – with only a loaf of bread in his rucksack. Cliff so convinced me of the beauty of hiking, that we spent our California honeymoon backpacking through Kings Canyon. All that dust and campfire smoke… romantic, yeah?!? ? And yet, let’s not forget the panoramic mountaintop vistas and spectacular sunsets!

After I stopped climbing trees as a kid, I became first a bookworm and then a gymnastics junkie in the gymnasium. Not a lot of outside time. Until I met Cliff. Everything I’ve learned about hiking is from Cliff: simple things, like toe first on the steep uphills, heel first going down the trails. He taught me how to identify a number of the forest trees and plants, including miners’ skunk cabbage, wild onions and gooseberries – edibles that had helped him survive a summer-long hike with his cousin.

Through some crazy logic I’ll never understand, at age 14 Cliff convinced his mom to let him hike hundreds of miles along the Pacific Crest Trail for an entire summer, alone with only his cousin Mike, a mere 16 year old. It is true that they had been well-trained by Cliff’s Uncle Vic. As good Boy Scouts and with their parents’ help, the boys carefully stashed food supplies near access points along the trail that they judged they would get to about every other week. They planned to supplement these staples with their fishing. Food caches in place, the boys blithely set off on their hike.

Sometimes scaling several mountains per day, they never able to consume as many calories as they burned. Their pre-planned menu would feature fish on the nights they expected to come to a good fishing spot, say, Bub’s Creek. Invariably, those were NEVER the nights they caught fish.

They did successfully catch a chipmunk once, using a bandana tied to fishing line on the four corners. They used trail mix in the bandana as bait, then jerked the bandana up with the chipmunk inside. They let him off on a little island in the creek and enjoyed watching him scamper back to shore. Never thought about eating the little fellow – it was all about the creative entertainment value with no TV to watch, no stereo to play their records.

When the boys hungrily arrived at one of their supply caches, it had already been raided by a bear. Later, another stash of food had been ruined by kerosene from a lamp leaking onto much of it… They gobbled it down anyway, and I don’t know how they didn’t die from that! Cliff says sometimes they’d just eat dry powdered Tang, or they’d fry up skunk cabbage and onions for dinner. Always hungry, they were two very skinny boys by the time they finally wrapped up their adventure. But man, oh man, were they wilderness wise by the time they got out! Cliff is more self-confident about his survival skills than most people I’ve ever met, stemming in part from that long hike in his 14th summer.

Something about hiking – especially long, wilderness hikes – seems to steady the character. Teenage years in modern society can be filled with so much JUNK… It’s a big bad world out there, and many teenagers want as much as they can get of it, or maybe they just have no way to shut it all out.

For several years Cliff and I served as Pathleaders for a wonderful youngsters group called Pathfinders. Whenever we took the kids backpacking in the Sierra, they would spend the first three days in withdrawal: from their transistor radios, Pac-Man games, and Walkman tape players. (Look up the history of that equipment and you’ll see how long we’ve been addicted to our personal distraction devices!) None of that stuff came into the backcountry with us, and we marveled at the amazing human beings who emerged once the kids dropped the trappings of so-called ‘civilization’ and truly entered the world of Nature. The way they talked softened a bit. Their eyes widened.

Sometimes on these hikes, Cliff had the youngsters climb sheer rock faces, often bringing on tears of fear and frustration. His encouraging, unshakeable confidence in their ability to make it to the top ignited their own willpower, so that even the frailest ones managed to successfully hoist themselves hundreds of feet above solid ground. The view was grand. The kids were jubilant at their success! Overcoming hardship and clear physical danger seemed to give perspective to the petty dramas of life in junior high school, and they came out of the mountains invariably calmer, more clear-headed.

Hiking became an important family activity once we had our own kids. Govi celebrated his tenth birthday with us eating freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches on top of a mountain peak. But he worried every time Cliff would leave our cramped tent to sleep under the stars. Govi had heard that marmots would eat people’s socks when left in their hiking boots overnight, and he was terrified that they’d chomp on Cliff’s sock-covered feet as he slept outside. Fun family memories!

For our daughter Sandhya, the mountains became such a natural part of her life, she chose a college in the Rockies still lives in Colorado; no week is complete for Sandhya without a good hike through her beloved mountains. Older son Shankar had his own long, grueling summer hiking through the Montana wilderness during a time of teenage turmoil and the results were transformative. The next summer he and Cliff reprised much of the Pacific Crest Trail hike Cliff had done with his cousin so many years ago, but they RAN – rather than walked – 256 miles of it! It was quite the father-son bonding experience!

I suspect everyone has their own times of wonder in the mountains or woods – experiences they can’t even put into words. I’ll do my best to tell you about two experiences indelibly pressed into my memory. On a Pathfinder hike in the Sierra, we met up with a river flushed with snow-melt powerfully tumbling down the slope beside us. That river was so mighty, so clear and sparkling with sunlight, I felts as if I were in the presence of a great teacher – in the form of a roaring river – pouring out compassionate wisdom that we could all drink from. I wish I were more capable of conveying the awe I felt so that you could share it, too.

On the last day of that same trip, the Pathfinders and Pathleaders all rose before dawn (which the kids were never willing to do the first days of liking!) We assembled in a large clearing, each child with an inspirational quote to share, as well as a personal reflection on the week’s hiking. As they spoke, we heard the thoughts of old souls, uncovered and undisguised after their time in the mountains.

Then hush fell over us all as someone pointed to a ridge crest just behind us. There, illuminated by the rising sun behind it, was a magnificent deer with a stately rack of antlers. His presence was so stunning, so magical, I don’t believe any of us breathed until the buck disappeared into the sunlight beyond. He had given the crowning touch of mysterious grandeur befitting our time in Nature, and we took our awe back with us into our everyday worlds.

Dancing in Joy and resting in Stillness with you,

And you, “deer” reader?

Comments? Email me! – I always love hearing from you.

Seldom has Still & Moving Center seen as dedicated a student as Truc Holt-Nguyen, our first person to “Get to the Center” by taking 1,000 classes! Also the first to climb up the wall into the stratosphere of 1,100 + classes! Her husband Courtlin has also faithfully attended classes, with a total of 645 visits to date. More important than numbers is the monumental life changes we have watched them make during their time with us. It is with fond sadness that we bid these dear members of our ohana “A hui ho!” as they move to Truc’s homeland, Vietnam.

Courtlin and Truc’s long journey with Still & Moving Center has tracked many important lifestyle adjustments, as they have regained their health through moving meditation, connected with the land and wholesome food, reduced stress in their work lives, and established deep, meaningful friendships.

This couple came to Still & Moving Center with serious health issues. They were seeking solutions that were less invasive, less destructive, less expensive and more effective than what standard Western medicine had to offer.

Courtlin was spending far too much time on the computer in his investment management job, sending him into searing back pain. At a Dr. Zunin’s office in 2013, Courtlin was given three options by nurse practitioner Christine Lee: “We can do surgery on your spine, or shoot needles into your back with pain relievers, or YOU can do yoga and pilates and get to the source of your problem. If you choose the last option, there’s a place called Still & Moving Center with just what you need.”

Courtlin chose Door Number Three and Truc came with him. Truc struggles with autoimmune conditions. Previously working in an underground room with no windows in Vietnam, then in a high stress finance position in Honolulu, Truc had quit her job and was still suffering from intense headaches.

Per instructions, they took Pilates (from LiSi Yang), quite a few yoga classes (from teachers including Claudia Castor and David Sanders), and added Feldenkrais (with Eva, Eve and Brigitte). Truc sampled a little of everything. After one of my Nia classes, she commented, “Every teacher here has taught me to be more aware of my body,” and I was elated by that comment confirming the core of what we do at Still & Moving.  Truc’s headaches largely went away and Courtlin’s back pain abated entirely.

Still seeking body and mind improvement, they continued to take classes. Two of our teachers made an especially profound impact upon them over the years: Jerry Punzal and Malia Helela.

Jerry Punzal taught an excellent Tai Chi program here until his farm in Mililani demanded his increased attention. Truc, Courtlin, Cynthia Murata and I were some of his faithful attendees. Jerry imparts a deep sense of calm; anyone who listens carefully can glean  a lot from his wisdom and life experience. Practicing with Jerry was a great antidote to Truc’s anxiety, and provided a tremendous focus to counteract the scattered, frenetic energy of Courtlin’s work world. They both learned to relax, not to try so hard, to get out of their heads, and not to over analyze it.

Kumu Malia’s classes were like a sweet, soothing balm to Truc, unlike the regimented hula she had taken under other kumu hula (hula teachers) elsewhere. As Courtlin says, Malia’s hula is like “tai chi with music and rhythm: you learn balance, weight shifting and awareness so as not to crash into people around you!”  Through Kumu Malia, Truc connected for the first time with the culture and language of Hawaii, and especially with the ‘aina, the land.

Courtlin and Truc have stayed very close to Jerry Punzal, eventually going into partnership with him on his farm, continuing to improve their wellbeing by working the land. Jerry has been interested to see their organic growing practices for veggies and Vietnamese medicinal herbs.  To initiate their new little company, Buddha Belly Farms, Truc learned from Kumu Mālia the protocol to ask permission to start the project, even chanting a blessing in Hawaiian. Jerry’s farm has been another peaceful influence in their lives.

Meanwhile, Truc has been able to return back to work in a flexible manner that adjusts to the needs of her health, often helping others with theirs. She has been working as a medical and legal interpreter in Federal and State courts, and at  Queen’s Hospital translating for people with cancer or needing surgery. As Courtlin comments, “It’s scary enough if you understand if you can people coming at you with needles and knives; much worse if you don’t understand the language.” So Truc’s services have been much appreciated.

Courtlin left investment management for a less intense career, now heading to Vietnam for a job that has been offered to him. Jerry will no doubt keep their young company going until whenever they may return.

The hula halau has provided Truc with strong friendships, in addition to those she has made in classes with students such as Surapee Surapai, Joyce Nakauchi, Linda Awana, and Cassandra Tengen. No matter where this couple go, their classes here may stop but not the friendships, says Courtlin. That has been the biggest benefit to their time at Still & Moving Center, and those friendships will continue on.

We’ll look forward to hearing their progress in Vietnam and to the time when Truc and Courtlin can return to visit us here! Until then, “A hui hou!”


Contributed by Marta Czajkowska

I’m a rock climber. I recently climbed Half Dome in Yosemite, spending multiple days on the wall. Up there our days were filled with endless effort and tenacity, and our nights were short and uncomfortable. And we had next to nothing with us.

Everything we wanted for the trip, we needed to pack, and pack lightly, since we would be hauling it all up with our own body strength. ‘Everything’ means every single thing: water, food, sleeping gear, clothes, bandaids, chapstick. If we didn’t pack something, such as sunglasses, too bad. No running back into the house to pick it up. Climbers learn to pack smart. And even then, we’re living in constant deprivation. No toilet, no bed, no shade. Just us, the rock, and a few necessities for survival.

Maybe it’s the feeling of reaching the top that makes it all worthwhile. And maybe it’s the very experience itself: something about surviving – even thriving – in adversity and scarcity.

Upon coming back to the ground and my car, I felt a sense of abundance. A bottle of coconut water was sitting right there, in my car, requiring zero effort for me to get it. Wow! Moving over terrain with the aid of motor vehicle felt incredible; after moving upwards at turtle speed for days, 60 MPH felt so fast! I looked in my small clothes bag – many choices of clean shorts and tank tops! Now for celebrating: Where do I want to eat? Seemingly endless options!

From feeling appreciation of all the comforts of modern world, I moved on to feeling a sense of overwhelm. Why do I need all this? Everything was so simple up on the wall. A clear goal provided a singular focus. The extreme limitation of material goods actually provided a sense of peace. I had spent 3 full days and nights without thinking how to get a single thing, since it was impossible.

Rock climbing proves to me how little we can get by on. It’s the ultimate minimalist experience. That said, we don’t really have to disappear onto a vertical sea of granite to be able to enjoy everyday life more fully. How about spending a whole day without any material items? A cell phone turned off and the wallet put away. Maybe just me and my water bottle. A day at  the ocean, on a river or a taking hike – with only the bare minimum to get by. The feeling of a simple shower or a hot meal at the end of such a day can be glorious!


Contributed by Lani Kwon

Today, June 7th, 2018, is the first anniversary of Hiking Hawaii Cafe’s present location at Doubletree Hilton Alana, on 1956 Ala Moana Boulevard!

Crystal Evans is proud of the service she and her staff provide at Hiking Hawaii Cafe, which includes guided hiking and custom private sightseeing tours of O’ahu, as well as serving delicious, freshly-made salads, wraps, paninis, pizza, açaí bowls, smoothies, juices, coffee, tea and other healthy options at their cafe.  

They started as a hiking business in 2010, and they expanded to include a cafe in 2012, which also caters.  They have vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, as well as omnivore fare, and their food is affordably priced $6.95-$12.95.

Guided tours include transportation and sightseeing stops to the North Shore or West Side of O’ahu, ranging $165-$175, while hiking excursions include transportation and guided hikes to gorgeous locations such as Manoa Falls, Kuli’ou’ou Ridge, Makapu’u, and a sunset hike at Kalawahine.  These hikes range in price $45-$65. Custom, private tours range from $50/hour for 1-2 people up to $125/hour for 5-7 people, and it’s also possible to rent a dog to come along with you. Crystal says that Leila can come along on the hikes and has been popular because “people who are traveling miss their dogs, and they can request a hike with her.” 

Hiking Hawaii Cafe also has a small shop with sustainable, eco-aware products, such as stainless steel water bottles and straws, reusable utensils, as well as a hiking and travel library that clients can browse.  There are also a multitude of hot sauces and other condiments for customers to enhance their food and drink to their own tastes. Unique in every way, Hiking Hawaii Cafe has become my favorite place to gather friends, family and clients. 

Hiking Hawaii Cafe is a not-to-miss experience for tourists and locals alike, and I love them, and wanted to share them with you.

1956 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96815 (at Doubletree by Hilton Alana on the edge of Waikiki; free valet parking with validation)
Open daily 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and available for evening event rentals
Facebook: hikinghawaii, hikinghawaiicafe
Instagram: hikinghawaii808, crystalcavazosevans

Health & Wellness Coach

Yoga, Barre and soon Aerial Yoga Instructor

Our own Kendra Gillis has been expanding her new professional and personal horizons enormously… fortunately for all of us! Kendra graduated last autumn from the Maryland University of Integrative Health with her Masters of Arts degree in Health and Wellness Coaching. Wow – a Masters! She didn’t wait long to implement her skills. She is now providing our students with brief mindful movement consultations as well as offering private wellness coaching at Still & Moving Center.

Amazingly, she has taken three teacher trainings in the last year, including Barre Above, her 500 hour level Yoga Teacher Training, and her Nia White Belt intensive. Whew! If you haven’t tried her Yoga Barre class – sign up in advance. It’s gaining popularity rapidly.

If all THAT weren’t enough, Kendra heads off at the end of this month to up her game with an Aerial Yoga teacher training in California. We look forward to her extending her already impressive teaching skills into Aerial Yoga when she returns.

As great as all these accomplishments are, the real reason we’re so pleased to celebrate Kendra’s magnificence is more personal. Over the last year, we watched Kendra lovingly brave the loneliness and disruption of her husband’s long and irregular military deployments. Later we held her close as he suddenly announced from thousands of miles away that he wanted a divorce. Kendra faced this devastating news, dealt with the emotional tidal wave it brought with it, fought to preserve her marriage, then completed the divorce cleanly. In a relatively short time, she has begun rebuilding her life on a solid foundation of increased self-awareness and personal strength.

In the eye of a hurricane of her personal life, Kendra remained surprisingly calm and intentional in righting her ship. And she’s unafraid of sharing the story of her journey with others. Such life experiences, well-processed, lend incredible insight and compassion to a professional who is coaching others through their challenges. She has much to offer her clients. We are mightily proud of our girl Kendra.

Contributed by Sharlene Bliss

Nia and aerial teacher Shar shares dietary tips from her life experiences. Digestion isn’t easy for everyone. Being able to process our food well takes priority over many other eating considerations. Dr. Andrew Weil provides a new food pyramid for healthy eating.

  • I’ve had enough to eat when I feel 80% full – this tip came from my Aikido sensei. It’s much easier to dance, do aerial or any activity when I’m not bogged down by eating too much. I digest better and I’m also more alert.
  • Eat the vegetables first to aid in digestion and absorption – this tip came from my internist. Some people call it eating ‘light to heavy’ since vegetables are generally easier and faster to digest. Puristat says: “Think of your digestive system as a highway; if the slower vehicles are allowed to go first, the result will be a traffic jam. If the slower vehicles follow the faster vehicles you’re highway will run smoothly and efficiently.”
  • Follow an anti-Inflammatory diet – I like the anti-inflammatory diet and pyramid from Dr. Andrew Weil.

Still & Moving Center is a vegetarian, alcohol-free facility.


Wendy Kia, Owner

Wendy Kia brings a personalized, professional care to every garment her dry cleaning business takes in. In the industry now for over 40 years, Wendy bought Marie Louise Cleaners in March of 2006 as a way to move back home to Oahu and be near her son Nate and his growing family. She’s currently the proud grandmother of 5, and Nate is an integral part of the family business.

People who care to maintain their nice wardrobes inspire Wendy’s service. Hotel uniforms or bed sheets go to less specialized cleaners. Whether it’s a wedding dress to be preserved, a King Kamehameha cape for Punahou School drama department, a costume for Hawaii 5-0 or Jurassic Park, an outfit for Neiman Marcus, or a business suit for one of the Park Lane condominium tower residents, these are the kinds of unique, specialty items Wendy caters to. Her staff handles each garment individually. They even provide free pickup and delivery.

Walking into Wendy’s business, I got none of that toxic chemical smell I dread at most drycleaners’. Marie Louise Cleaners uses “Green Earth” cleaning products. These environmentally friendly products break down into mostly water and sand. Their cleaning is not only safe for nature, it’s safe for employees, too. Wendy believes all dry cleaners will eventually be required to use such products, but in the meantime, her business is on the cutting edge of responsible cleaning.

Wendy credits her loyal staff members’ careful attention to detail for satisfying their many happy customers, from high end retailers, to luxury condo residents, to movie and TV shows. Marie Louise Cleaners truly provides world-class dry cleaning  service.

331 Kamani St, Honolulu, HI 96813  808.593.1110


Letter from the Director

Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion, is often pictured accompanied by a carp. She’s the one whose statue graces our lobby at Still & Moving Center. Her selfless credo, a bodhisattvic pledge, has always inspired me:

Never shall I seek nor receive private, individual salvation; never shall I enter into final peace alone; but forever and everywhere shall I live and strive for the redemption of every creature from the bonds of conditioned existence.

A bodhisattva is a Christ-like being who has gained enlightenment, yet remains on the edge of final liberation to help and teach all others who have not yet progressed so far – even if it means living another thousand lives and dying another thousand deaths.

I’ve been musing on Kwan Yin more than usual. A leadership training I attended last month includes painting as a technique to gain insight. Our presenter, Amber Bonnici, asked us to consult with and paint our inner wise woman. A friend at the training looked at my picture and told me that I had painted Kwan Yin. I shrugged. Maybe. I didn’t know, and I brought my painting home unnamed.

Back home we have a koi pond with fish Cliff selected from Kodama Koi Farm a couple years ago. They are like swimming jewels, so beautiful. I had been immediately taken by the presence of the largest koi, a golden colored female. Kwan Yin is traditionally pictured with a great carp. Knowing that koi are a form of carp, I instantly named our golden fish Kwan Yin.

We enjoyed watching the koi grow accustomed to their new home. Cliff has especially loved Kwan Yin, the clear leader of the group, gaining enough of her trust for her to eat from his hand. The pond of koi has given him great joy.

Shortly after I return  home with my painting, Cliff devotes a day to draining and cleaning the pond to get the filtration system again functioning optimally.

He carefully scoops out each fish with a big net, placing them in a large inflatable child’s pool filled with pond water. Keeping an eye on the koi as he does his cleaning, Cliff notices that they are not acting in a normal way. In fact some are bleeding out their gills, a sign of stress, according to Kodama’s koi book.

Alarmed, Cliff cuts short his cleaning operation and uses his fire hose to quickly fill the pond with City water. He returns the fish to their home, hoping the chlorine of the water wouldn’t be too hard on them, but, much to his distress, two of them die in the process. He’s really sad.

A couple days later, it’s time to clean up the muddy lanai and yard all around the pond. He uses a pressure washer to efficiently hose everything down. The din is really annoying in the house, and Marta and I are having trouble hearing each other as we work.

We never think about how it might be affecting the fish. Doesn’t cross our minds.

Nearing the end of his task, Cliff moves the pressure washer to the low concrete bridge over the pond evidently causing a tremendous reverberation through the water below. That does it. Kwan Yin swims out from under the bridge to a narrow gap between the bridge and the stone end of the pond. Cliff’s beloved fish leaps straight up, vertical, a full third of her body beyond the surface of the water, right in front of him, fixing her angry gaze upon Cliff, as if to say, “Stop! You’ve already killed two of my kind.” And he immediately turns off the washer, shaken.

The next morning Kwan Yin isn’t swimming well. Her tail is bruised, as if she has hit it on something coming back down into the water from her leap. Cliff is leaving the island on a trip and I need to drive to work. We aren’t able to reach Taro, president of the koi farm, for advice, so we herd Kwan Yin over to the waterfall end of the pond with the most oxygenated water and hope for the best.

When I arrive home late afternoon, I find Kwan Yin, head down, tail up out of the water. I manage to reach Taro and show him the fish over my phone screen. “That is NOT a good sign,” he tells me with a worried voice. “I’ll be over right away.”  In preparation, Marta and I bucket 300 gallons of pond water into the inflatable pool.

When Taro arrives, a short, compact man with kind eyes, he goes immediately to Kwan Yin, whose tail is still bobbing weakly above the water. He kneels and tenderly lifts the large fish in his arms, carefully laying her into the inflatable pool. Her bruised tail is an inflamed red where it connects with her body, and he determines that it is infected.

For a long time, he squats over her, holding her down with both hands, keeping her tail submerged under water. He is deeply engaged, fish-whispering.

Under Taro’s direction, we add antibiotic and salt to the water. When a fish is stressed, it takes in more water than it can expel, and the salt makes it easier for the fish to release water taken in. We add a double bubbler that Taro has brought to oxygenate her water.

Next Taro asks for iodine. We apply the iodine with a cotton swab to her tail and each of her fins. I find a way to weight her tail with a soft tube, fish line and fish weights, to keep it under the water.

It’s been a couple hours now, and Taro has done all that he can. Kwan Yin’s right side keeps floating about the water’s surface, so Taro asks that we wet it once in a while through the night. He advises us to call on her strong spirit to pull her through the night, and telephone him the next morning.

Night has fallen long ago, so I set up a cot adjacent to the shallow pool where I can simply lie down and rest my outstretched hand on her side to keep it under the water.  And so we pass the night.

Taro has taught me how to sense her breathing by placing my hand near her gills in the dark, so I know she’s still with us. A couple times I feel her energy ebbing and I call her to rally and come back to us.

At some point, her side-floating body begins to right itself, and now my hand that had been on her flank side begins to feel her dorsal fin. I’m startled to the core. That fin is the most amazing thing I’ve ever touched in my life. It is completely sentient. There the fish is taking in information and expressing its own being outwards. It’s giving me something like a galactic light show, but in a way that I can feel/sense, not see.  For a brief moment I experience through her a window into the universe that I have never had before.

We’re now nearing the end of the night and she gives a couple shudders, giving me hope that she’s going to make it through the night.

I must have fallen asleep just before dawn. When my eyes open, it’s light and I look out on her golden body shimmering in the pool. She looks perfect and beautiful. ‘She’s healed!’ I rejoice. But then the bubbles covering the water over her clear away, and it was just a brief illusion: her bruise and infection have actually spread further up her body. I move my hand from her side to her gills, and they are no longer moving. We’ve lost her.

Marta and I bury her, in front of a buddha statue with a golden heliconia flower above the grave. I thank her for sacrificing her life to save the rest of her kin.

I still haven’t cried. I’m still so overwhelmed by the awe of the experience I had with her through the night. It filled me with such a sense of mystery, that a fish could show me so much about the universe we live in.

When I go upstairs for my morning meditation, there is the painting I brought back from the retreat. Her golden amber eyes are looking at me, and I realize that I have indeed painted a version of Kwan Yin. It dawns on me that in some incomprehensible way, the self-sacrificing nature of her being is teaching me – through a fish named in her honor – about our interconnectedness with all beings. And I begin to weep, in gratitude.

Dancing in joy and resting in stillness with you,

And you, dear reader?

Email me – I always love hearing from you.

Karen’s life has been spent collecting, enjoying and sharing what she loves: beautiful stories. Karen is currently one of our beloved Hula Awana dancers whom you’ll watch in many of our Still & Moving Center performances. A lot of her storytelling has come through theatre.

Karen’s most recent acting experience took place at Kumu Kahua Theatre with “A Cage of Fireflies”. The story of three Okinawan sisters in America and was so compelling, and Karen got to work with so many dear friends being in it, she broke all her rules for herself and rehearsed over the holiday season that she usually reserves as family time!

Back in 1979-1980 she took her savings and moved to New York to enjoy the museums and theatres. There she worked with the NYU Creative Arts Team to provide workshops to special ed students and their special teachers. While doing creative movement with a class of special ed students, she kept trying to include a tall guy standing alone on the side of the room. She finally managed to get him onto the floor, laughing and moving with all the others. She afterwards found out he was the school guard for the class – not a student at all!

In her work with stories and drama over the years, Karen has helped thousands of children and adults to learn to express themselves – whether through words or pantomime – and to gain self-confidence, especially the quiet, shy ones. She loves the chance to have a positive influence on kids’ lives.

Karen majored in cultural anthropology, minored in drama and has an elementary education degree. She spent decades with the Honolulu Theatre for Youth sharing the dramatic arts. Beginning as an actor paid with love and meals from MacDonald’s (!), she eventually became a member of the paid acting company and the Education Director. With HTY Karen conducted many teacher and student creative drama workshops. Working directly with teachers allowed Karen to further expand her work to their students.

The teachers often asked her to do plays with their classes, which often had more kids than could fit in regular play scripts. That’s when Karen started putting together performances of the student’s creative writing and writing plays of her own.

As Karen studied taiko drumming with local Taiko master Kenny Endo, she found a way to weave taiko into her stories. Taiko used to be the heartbeat for villages in Japan. Honolulu Theatre for Youth commissioned her to write a play incorporating taiko and Japanese folktales. Kenny Endo agreed to compose music for the play and perform in it.

While on sabbatical with her family in Japan, Karen began writing the play about a village of rice farmers. One day as she was walking through a large field of rice, the sound and movement of the wind undulating through the plants brought her the name of her play: Song of the Rice, Song of Life: A Tale of Japan.

Her play incorporates Japanese folktales that were happening to the rice farmers. They bring in taiko to help end the drought that was threatening their farms. Her personal experience includes writing about that scene of the play in the middle of the night, when she began to hear thunder in the background. Just when she was writing about the thunder and taiko drumming coinciding to end the drought, the rain actually started to fall onto the roof and yard of their own house, a lovely concurrence of storytelling and nature.

Karen’s play was accepted by the Kennedy Center for the “New Visions, New Voices” Festival for young audiences in Washington, DC in 1996. She successfully negotiated to bring Kenny Endo and his enormous taiko drum, at least 9 feet long, to Washington for the performance. As Kenny’s started drumming, the kids and the rest of the audience were enraptured. That drum became the heartbeat of the kids.

At a playwrights festival in Los Gatos, California, Karen stayed at the Villa Montalvo estate donated to the arts. There she further developed her Song of the Rice play for a staged reading in collaboration with other playwrights for the San Jose Repertory Theatre. Her play was then produced in Los Angeles. Eventually, Karen would like to see her play produced in Hawaii.

Besides the theatre, for two decades, Karen went around the State through the University of Hawaii Outreach program, into the community and classrooms as a storyteller, sometimes with drama and creative movement follow-ups. She started with folktales, with the collected wisdom of the ages, then went into personal stories of her family. She would end her sessions by urging the audience to share their stories with their own families. When people think about their legacy, they usually think of money and land. Karen teaches that one of our most important legacies is our stories. Unless we tell them, they will die with us. We need to tell stories of our own lives, our parents’ lives and tell our kids stories about their younger selves. The beginning of Karen’s own life tale starts with the positive story her wonderful, loving Mom and Dad always told her about adopting her as a baby… People came up afterwards and told Karen how important that message was to them.

All of these dramatic endeavors are explorations of our humanness, of what makes us tick, of finding our voices, of finding how creative we are, to gain trust in ourselves as creative beings.

There’s so much fear of death in our culture. Karen’s a collector of positive stories about death. Honolulu’s storytelling meistro Jeff Gere invited her to share stories about death for public consumption, young and old – funny and heartwarming. Karen was with her mom when she passed away, her face lit up from within. Karen sat with her mom during labored breathing, she gave her mom permission to “go be with Dad”. Karen’s son arrived later, looked at his grandmother’s face and agreed it was luminous. Being a caregiver teaches us so much wisdom about life and death.

As another community contribution, Karen’s been able to share with friends and friends of friends the cancer journey that she went on. Her story joins the nutritional knowledge of her naturopath with the allopathic treatment of her oncologist. People are so frightened by hearing they have cancer. Karen never uses “war” terms around cancer, instead using terms like “path” and “journey”. Telling her story of surviving endometrial cancer bolsters others, giving them hope for their own recovery.

Karen’s interest in the rich variety of human stories began in the 2nd grade with her teacher Mrs. Ohta. The teacher took the class on field trips to a Quaker meeting house and a Catholic church in Manoa Valley, then to Buddhist temple in Nu’uanu, followed by an authentic tea ceremony with one of the student’s Japanese grandmother. Mrs. Ota had each child create their own beautiful ceramic tile mosaic in their classroom. Her teacher’s legacy of living a creative life, believing in each human being and making a difference in others’ lives is part of the person Karen has become.

We are so delighted Karen has made Still & Moving Center a part of her life story for so many years!

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