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By Mālia Helelā


Curiosity and humility go hand in hand. When we learn to challenge our assumptions and take the time to askpermission, we open ourselves to an infinite world of possibility.

Growing up in hula, my fellow students and I learned to ask permission on many occasions. Before class, we chanted at the front door of the hālau, asking permission from our kumu to come inside. When seeking plant materials to make lei, we would stand at the edge of the forest, chanting for permission to enter. And then when we reached the ferns and flowers, we were taught to ask permission from the plants themselves, letting them know what they would be used for.

This attitude of humility cultivates a powerful perspective. From a young age, we did not take for granted that we could go wherever we wanted and take whatever we wished. We learned to consider our choices. We became beholden to each other and the health of the forest. We had to determine, will our choices to harvest or access bring mana (life force energy) and healing to a space? Or will our presence harm or hinder?

My classmates and I came to accept not receiving permission right away. If our chanting did not touch our kumuʻs heart, she would remain silent and we had to chant again and again until she answered. If a plant or area of the forest proved elusive, we had to consider and accept that maybe we werenʻt meant to harvest there.

My favorite “hula homework” is observing and embodying the way wind moves through the trees. I feel confident assigning this task to my dancers because this is the way I continue to grow and learn. Several years after my hula teacher passed away, I implored the ocean to be my teacher. And it has been the most generous kumu.

I learned that fresh spring water can lay in pockets under the ocean, so clearly defined that I could swim through fresh, icy spring water to thicker, warm saltiness near the surface. I would float on the surface facing the sea floor, and stir waves of cold spring water up towards my face. When I dove down to the sandy bottom, I could take small sips of fresh water and taste sweetness. I observed how the movement of the waves at the surface would stir the sand many feet below. I matched my fingers and hands to the graceful swaying of the seaweed, and felt my hula sensibilities grow. How curious!

When we are sure of something, we limit our focus to what we know and expect. A world of possibility encircles us, and yet we often only see what we expect to see. Our brains wake up when they need to figure something out. Otherwise, they power down in the interest of self preservation. People who understand this phenomenon schedule themselves for retreats and challenges, knowing that the novelty of changing up their routines will stimulate their brains in different ways. We can tap into this heightened state of awareness by trying new classes, taking a moment to speak to the instructor or introduce ourselves to fellow students. I have found, time and time again, that cultivating mindfulness through curiosity and humility leads to a deep sense of interconnectedness and wellbeing.

Teachings and teachers surround us, if we’ll only take care to notice them!

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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)