Try a Little Tenderness

Sometimes snark is where I park, but I’m less and less enamored with those who consistently bludgeon others with harsh verbal assessments, in the name of whatever. I prefer civil discourse, manners, tact, and even wit. Part of this is personal preference, part is professional training. And in a time when so much communication takes place on the internet, without the complexities and subtext of nonverbal and visual cues, I believe it behooves us to weigh our words and how we wield them.

I have a book of Hawaiian proverbs, called ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, collected by the great scholar Mary Kawena Pukui. Here is one that has always stayed with me:

I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make.

Pukui’s translation: Life is in speech, death is in speech.

Ahapunanaleo.org translation: In the language is life. In the language is death.

The meaning of both translations is clear: “Words can heal; words can destroy.”

My copy of ‘Ōlelo No‘eau was given to me by my ho’oponopono kumu (teacher), Ramsay Taum of O’ahu. Ho’oponopono is a traditional conflict resolving and forgiveness ritual (please avoid the appropriated and commodified version sold by white people). Kumu Taum gave the book to me as a gift for helping to pull together a workshop for him in Berkeley, CA, many long years ago. He inscribed it with words that are also good to review:

E ho’oulu i ke no’ono’o ke kino a me ka uhane.

Protect, preserve and care for life.

Right now, as I write, I am seated in front of my living room window. Mt. Konocti has been obscured by mist but blue sky patches are beginning to appear and parts of the mountain are being revealed. The mist also loves to move close to the surface of the lake, so I can see it gliding (north west?) above it just a block away, beyond the nearby trees I see clearly. I know that the pelican flocks, egrets and other water birds are feeling that same mist glide over their feathers as they sit in the water.

And at the moment, I am one mixed up human being, trying to make sense of people and where I am. I am hoping for a little mist removal of my own. I feel it glide over my eyes as I strain for vision.

In Hawai’i, which has a people and a culture colonized and brutalized by folks like me, I did not find the life I was hoping for, a happy ending with a great love, a life which was filled with people who lived with such proverbs and thoughts in their heart. Yes, a few people do live that way, but overall I was mostly conscious of my own intrusion, my own lack of suitability there. I was mostly lonely, always homesick, and often in truly deep despair. I could not feel cared for, though I tried to care for others. And spiritually, the message (which I had to accept with good grace and a sense of the inevitable) was “go back to your ancestors.”

(And the “great love?” It was pau. Unknown to me, it had run most of its course before I even arrived on Hawai’i island.)

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Pele, by David Howard Hitchcock, c. 1929. Public domain.

Sitting in my jungle home, I got the message at last. I prepared my departure. I set aside the Pele chant I’d been learning and offering in my final months in Hawai’i. I took rocks that had been given to me by that Hawaiian love and gave them back to the land, with discreet ceremonies of thanks. I placed some of those rocks in the Ahalanui Warm Ponds, now covered by last year’s lava flow. Pele took them back in truth, just as she took back the delicate little lava tube fragment that had been taken by Michael Rossman, and which I also returned to that area after his death.

So in the last quarter of 2017 I left Hawai’i in a financially devastating and physically brutal manner. I settled here in Lake County, CA. My body still suffers damage from the physical exertion of packing up an entire house, alone. Parts of my heart are still in tatters. But I took the inevitable beating knowing that a fresh adventure awaited. I just didn’t know how lonely–and yet rewarding–this next phase would be.

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Vanir goddess Freya, Old Norse Stories, 1900. Public domain.

Since my return, I’ve been working with a few deities in the Norse pantheon, as well as exploring the “ancestral medicine” (lineage healing work) offered by Daniel Foor, which I have mentioned so often in this blog. I am learning as much as I can. The Norse heritage and traditions, described as “hyper-masculine” by Jackson Crawford? They’re brutal, man!

I turn again to proverbs to try to show you what I mean. Instead of e aloha kekahi i kekahi (love one another), the “Havamal” (known as “The Counsel of Odin” in The Poetic Edda) says: “Do not sleep in the arms of a sorceress or else she will lock your limbs” (113) (Jackson Crawford’s 2015 translation, which I have at last).

(And here I am, steeped in witchery, oathed now to Loki the “mother of witches!”)

Now obviously I’ve just cherry-picked two proverbs to illustrate differences between two wildly different cultures. However the ancient Hawaiian culture was not all sweetness and light and aloha. There’s plenty of snark in ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: “Kamali’i hupe kole” means “runny-nosed brats” (1471). A lazy person is said to be “huli ke alo i luna, helu i ka ‘a’aho”–“lying face up and counting the rafters” (1141). And the bone-breaking Hawaiian martial art known as Lua (also taught by Kumu Ramsay Taum) sometimes uses shark tooth weapons. It’s brutal, man!

And the Northern traditions are not without moderation and kindness. There are parts of the Havamal which counsel mindful speech: “you will often get repayment in kind for the words you speak to others” (65). There’s even an echo of the Hawaiian view on the death-dealing power of language: “I saw a bad woman’s words bite a man in the neck–a lying tongue was his death and not even with good cause” (118).

So I ponder, wondering why I am drawn to both these traditions, among others. How do I reconcile my deep craving for community aloha with steely notions of personal honor and individualism? In some ways, it comes down to a sense of psychic temperture.  Hawaiian traditions seem “warm,” even the less pleasant parts. Norse traditions seem “cold”–even when hospitable and pleasant.

Hawaiians have a multi-layered tradition of language, known as kaona. As you can see by the examples above, language that is multi-layered and allusive is just as apt as blunt, unadorned statements. And yet the Norse also have a tradition of kennings, poetic and fanciful names for most of their deities which contrast with the stark advice offered in the Havamal.

But as a counselor who uses hypnosis in my work, I am also quite aware of the power of language, how it can impact people consciously, unconsciously, and somatically. Some people respond well to authoritarian commands and direct suggestions. Some will only respond well to indirect suggestions and permissive language. I am the latter person. An authoritarian command brings out my aggression, not compliance.

Words can trigger states of sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight) or lull us back into a calmer parasympathetic nervous system state (sometimes known as “rest and digest” or “feed and breed”). But mostly, people seem to listen better when they are calmer and don’t feel under attack.

In other words, an allusive (and slightly humorous) comment about “counting the rafters” might be more effective in getting a languid teen to take out the garbage than a sharp remark about “lazy bones,” which might cause resistance and defensiveness.

Because I’ve seen the effects of language in a professional capacity, I don’t recommend blunt force verbal trauma applied to a person or a situation in the name of honesty or “tough love.” I think that “tough love” can only work when the people involved have an established intimacy–family, close friends, lovers–so that the reality of truly committed caring is what enables the troubled person to hear the stark truth. That caring will come through nonverbal and visual cues, to soften the pain of the words.

I do believe in the necessity of stark truths, yes, but how these truths are conveyed can vary. Stark truths can be delivered with surgical precision and timing, with compassion and empathy based on how much that person is capable of hearing and listening in that moment. Otherwise, what remains may be emotions of shame, embarrassment or anger and not the important truth that needed to be heard or acted upon.

In some cases, language which is too blunt may be received as aggressive and uncaring. This is a good article about the effects of aggressive and/or abusive language.  The article references studies which show “the circuitry for physical and emotional pain appears to be the same” and also that “the effect of verbal aggression is greater than the expression of love.”

All things considered, I feel that erring on the side of caring or indirect language is generally a more responsible and effective way to communicate.

A Perfect Case for Ho’oponopono

I know that most people have said stupid and hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. My “love affair” with Hawai’i and with a particular person there ended with a last example of words meant to “kill.”

There were a few days at the end of last year when I actually thought we would reconcile, under somewhat different circumstances. During that time I confided about my new spiritual path and how rewarding I was finding it. But when it became obvious that reconciliation was not going to happen after all, it was painful. My former love, a life-long opponent of the “blood quantum” policies that adversely affected him and many Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiians), declared that his kids, who are part Scandinavian, have more blood-right to my current spiritual practices than I do, because they have more Scandinavian DNA. It was probably the strangest and most unexpected parting shot I could have imagined.

It makes me wonder how he could have put up with me for all those years, when my interest in supporting Hawaiian causes and learning about the culture was so keen? I had no “koko” (Hawaiian blood) but he used to acknowledge and even praise my spiritual connection to Hawai’i. He encouraged it and it also formed a basis for our own relationship. But that connection certainly had no foundation in my DNA!

That parting shot was made of words designed to kill–to kill my self-confidence and my self-esteem. To make me ashamed. To make me feel a fraud. And to make me pay for leaving him. However, since I am strong with my practices and strong with my patron deity, Loki, nothing died as I read those words except my belief in this man as a someone who truly lived by his stated convictions, his word. Otherwise, he would have respected the honor of my path just as I had always respected his.

And so, after this long ramble, I wish one thing. I wish that we would save our harshest words for those who are truly our enemies and that for the rest of the people who touch our lives (even ex-lovers and people on social media and those who make us feel impatient or annoyed), that we use speech that is thoughtful, kind, tender, and face-saving, even as we must sometimes deliver a stark truth. Because we can make life with our words, or death.

Let’s all try a little tenderness. And I’ll go make some ho’oponopono…

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Mauna Kea-Facing More Desecration

Heartbreaking news. The Hawai’i State Supreme Court has ruled in favor of construction of yet another industrial-strength development on Sacred Mauna Kea. The heroic case presented by native Hawaiians and allies–the Protectors aka na Kia’i–against the development of this amazingly corrupt and disrespectful project consists of legal-based, fact-based, Hawaiian culture-based, and environmentally-based arguments which all demonstrated, without a doubt, the manifold adverse effects of this humungous building proposed for a delicate conservation district, atop the island’s aquifer, on top of one of the most sacred mountains in all the Pacific. Watch this beautiful documentary, Mauna Kea-Temple Under Siege, for background on an earlier struggle against the Keck Telescope.

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Amy Marsh, Mauna Kea Kia’i Encampment, Mother’s Day, 2015.

I am stunned and heartbroken by this news. It was my privilege to stand alongside my former partner in this struggle for almost fourteen years. He was and is one of the petitioners in the court case and constested case hearings which challenged this project. I have had a pretty good ringside seat for many years, knowing what this effort has cost him and the other petitioners. Not just in money, but in family time, self-care time, and the intense effects of constant stress and trauma on individual, family, and community health. Oh, I could go on. I could! But for the moment, I am just simply appalled.

But powerful money interests appear to have won for the moment. The combined influences of CalTech, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and numerous public officials with now nicely greased palms, have formed a juggernaut determined to roll forward over sacred land.

And it’s not just sacred land. It’s Kanaka Maoli  (native Hawaiian) land which was taken and is held by force by the U.S. government, and which–in the opinion of the World Court of Arbitration at The Hague (Lance Larsen vs. The Hawaiian Kingdom)–is an unlawfully occupied nation-state (country) deprived of its proper functioning government. In other words, Hawai’i is not a legitimately acquired “state” of the U.S. and this is becoming more widely known both within Hawai’i and in the most influential circles of international law.


“I have come to understand that the lawful political status of the Hawaiian Islands is that of a sovereign nation-state in continuity but a nation-state that is under a strange form of occupation by the United States resulting from an illegal military occupation and a fraudulent annexation.”

–Dr. Alfred M. DeZayas, Feb. 25, 2018, written as a Memorandum of the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.*


So, TMT and just about everything else inflicted on Kanaka Maoli and descendents of Hawaiian Kingdom nationals (naturalized citizens) by the “fake state” government is a probably a war crime as per international law. Got that? The situation in Hawai’i is THE longest running occupation in recent world history, but most people don’t even know this. (See this news  and community meeting video regarding a local elected official’s efforts to take action on the war crimes issues.)

I will publish a link of the petitioners’ official response to this decision when I see it.


For more information on the Hawaiian Kingdom, see https://www.hawaiiankingdom.org

See also political history of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

* Source: Video of Presentation by Councilwoman Jen Ruggles, Puna, Hawai’i.

**This is an overs-simplified statement for me to make. Please see this page called Government Re-established.


“Biohazard” Section of this Blog Post

Now, I am not trying to “center” myself here, but I want you do know why I, a non-Hawaiian, care so deeply about this issue. (And yes, this is a “woo” blog but my spiritual life has always been mixed with my life as an activist, so political and social justice matters will appear from time to time.)

My long history of supporting Hawaiian independence and the struggle to protect Mauna Kea as an ally (and later as the partner of a native activist and cultural practitioner) was the result of various spiritual epiphanies and events that took place prior to, and concurrent with, my learning the truths of Hawaiian history and the political situation. I had been granted certain life-changing experiences in Hawai’i, and therefore I felt a duty to “give back” to the people and the ‘aina (land) in the form of activism and support. I didn’t always do things in the right way or with the right understanding of protocols and local ways, and to my sorrow I realize I was sometimes (often?) clumsy and off-putting in my enthusiasm, but I did try to help when I could.

My “wyrd” threw me a curveball when it upended my previously comfy residence in a San Francisco-centric world of punk rock, motherhood and marriage, anthroposophy and Waldorf schools, and environmental health activism. That “spontaneous combustion” I wrote about previously took place in this context of a “Hawaiian” connection (the nature and meaning of this event is still a central mystery in my life). My wyrd has now changed course, bringing me back from my love affair with the islands (and my island love affair), to purposeful encounters with other spiritual traditions and other urgent political and social justice issues. I’m in Pomo land, here on Turtle Island, and I stay aware of that as I adjust to my new surroundings.

But I don’t forget Hawai’i. And I don’t forget the Mauna. And I stay in solidarity, though with more distance now. I know the fight to protect this mountain and other sacred lands of Hawai’i is far from over. Please check out the Protect Mauna Kea Facebook group, and other groups supporting Kanaka Maoli struggles for independence, restoration of the Kingdom, and other social and political justice issues. Thank you.

#KuKiaiMauna #AoleTMT


Some of my contributions over the years included making websites for people and causes, writing articles, and raising modest sums of money:

“America’s Tibet,” Hawai’i Island News, 2004, with Kukauakahi Ching and David Ingham.

PDF of article in Slingshot, a publication associated with The Long Haul in Berkeley (however, I know better than to write “Hawai’ian” with an ‘okina. The editors didn’t consult me): 2005_Slingshot_1 

2005_Slingshot_2

2005_Slingshot_3

I originally designed and maintained this website for one of the Kia’i (Protectors). I also made a website for StopBombingHawaii.org but it seems to be gone now, or at least, I can’t find it. There is a Facebook group though, so please go there!

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Amy Marsh, circa 2015. T-shirt designed by Laulani Teale.

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It’s the Time of the Season

The air is finally clear of wildfire smoke. The turkey flock chicks have reached a robust adolescence (or perhaps they are the equivalent of human twenty-somethings now) and visit my yard once and sometimes even twice a day. They strut slowly when walking on asphalt, their feathers a dreary brown in the shade but flashing the copper and greens of an oil slick in full sunlight. I watched them this morning, and again this afternoon. I’ve had people sniff, “but they’re not indigenous wildlife,” but I don’t care. They are life.

The feral cats are life. Khu, a neutered Siamese with vertigo; Meowington (a friendly tabby in need of neutering and much more petting than I can give him); and the nameless grey female (spayed) who hides in the “loft” of the small woodshop, were left behind on my property by people who suddenly moved to Tennessee. Fortunately Khu has been adopted by neighbors across the street but still visits to scrounge a meal from me. Meowington would like to move in with me, but I have four indoor cats already who are still adjusting to each other. The tabby and the grey cat must remain “temple cats,” roaming outdoors and sheltering at night in the former woodshed that I call my “meagre palace of Midgard” in honor of a certain Norse god.

The deer are life. The two fawns have grown. Next year, I’ll have deer fencing in place and will attempt to grow vegetables. This year herbs and flowers were devoured, and I didn’t mind as much as I could have.

Days are warm still, but that crisp nip is in the air. It’s a season I love and yet find mournful. This time last year I had sold my house in Hawai’i, was frantically packing to load the shipping container (badly injuring myself in the process), and was preparing to flee from a 14-year love affair that had wrecked my marriage and that I (foolishly) thought would last until the end of my life. Several months later, much of the neighboring area would be consumed by Pele’s May 3rd eruption in Leilani Estates. People used to tell me I got out of Hawai’i just in time, but that was before the Mendocino Complex Fires ripped through Lake County and its neighbors and I had to evacuate with my cats. Now those folks don’t make those comments any more. Fortunately, my home here has also survived a near brush with destruction, and yet, for how long? I feel like I’m living on borrowed time, on borrowed ground.

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My former home on Mano Street, Pahoa.

So I guess I’m still mourning those losses, as well as a few fresh ones recently added to my list of sorrows. I’m trying to stay positive, active, and creative–especially with regard to spiritual matters–but while these things are good, and I am in some ways at the top of my game, they don’t diminish my accumulated pain. It seeps into every enjoyment. The joy I feel petting my cats or watching the play of sunlight on the feathers of marching turkeys, or while talking on the phone with my kids or my friends, is weighed down by sadness.

As the days darken and shorten, another season alone could become…interesting. Here in Lake County, it’s a close knit community and I am a stranger. Worse, I am a single woman in a world of couples. I had no idea how hard it would be to socialize like this, after a life of long term relationships (mostly serial monogamy), where the fact that I had a partner branded me as somehow “safe” to know. (The environmental illness factor doesn’t help either. It limits my access to just about everything.)

It’s only now that I’ve embraced the Liminal Trickster that I realize that I was never safe to know. That I was always a slightly off-kilter social irritant, always occupying the frontier boundaries, never completely fitting in, and perhaps always inadvertantly “broadcasting my inner assessment” as Caroline Casey told me during an astrology reading. This probably affected my relationships more than I realized. I remember one ex telling me about a woman he’d fallen for and how she “looked good on paper.” At that time, I thought I looked pretty good on paper too–I’d racked up a pretty decent CV by then–but I think what he really meant was that she had social standing of a kind that would serve him, and that I did not. Sheesh! 

Another ex used to enjoy telling people he was partnered with a sexologist, but once he acquired a local fan base, I think I became an embarrassment. My kind of outspokenness was also definitely not appropriate in that community. It took me a while to understand this, and why, and I have no hard feelings–just wonderment. Social cues were never my strong suit…

The only lover who never constrained or resented my growth, and who even seemed to glory in each new revelation of my abilities–including my quicksilver intelligence and tireless curiosity–which were in some ways a match for his own, still managed to demolish me with a horrible and quite unnecessary lie. That lie–I know it also took place around this time of year and I remember the surreal, metallic taste of it. Still, I think well of him overall because he saw me, mostly, and celebrated what he saw. And I tend to think more softly of the dead.

So it’s the time of the season, not for loving as the Zombies used to sing, but of taking stock, reaping the harvest of the year. At this point, I’ve got a bowl of fat acorns from the oaks in my yard, the newly minted recognition of my own Liminal Trickster nature (“mad, bad, and dangerous to know”), and a record for endurance. Loneliness is corrosive, but I hope to beat it yet. I may be looking for kindred in all the wrong places (since I seldom venture from home) but when the bright holidays beckon family members together elsewhere, if nothing else I’ll be toasting the dying of the year in a humble, homemade temple that I call Lokabrenna, keeping frith with a misunderstood, flame-haired deity, the only one now who truly sees and loves me.

It’s life.

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And here’s a song to match my mood.