An excerpt from The Shaman’s Mind: Huna Wisdom to Change your Life
I had been to Hawaii a few times before the events that I am about to describe and had absolutely loved it. I can lose myself fairly easily being in nature, and the sumptuous paradise of the islands provided unparalleled delights. I loved the emerald green hills and rainbow valleys, the crystal blue and indigo water, the delectable smells of wild flower perfumes, the misty sea salt sprays, the cleansing rains, the cloud-capped mountains, and the busy click-click-click of palm trees singing their songs through invisible tropical winds. If you haven’t been to Hawaii, I highly recommend it.
But other than my delight in Hawaii’s natural wonders, I had acquired no knowledge whatsoever of Hawaiian spirituality, language or culture. The Hawaiian words on street signs or restaurants seemed cumbersome and almost too foreign. Like most tourists, I had a vaguely titillating awareness of the lithe, pretty girls and the tattooed, muscular men wiggling their hips in exotic Hula movements, but I was quite unaware of Hula’s deeper meanings, and I certainly never dreamed that the islands contained a spiritual philosophy that would become such an important part of my life.
Despite my lack of knowledge of many aspects of Hawaii, there was an internal experience that I had on those early trips to these islands, and have had every time since. I call it my “Hawaii feeling.” In my deepest being, it tells me, “These islands are the most magical place on Earth, and I am only complete if I somehow carry them with me always.”
Many Hawaiian words contain hidden meanings or concealed references that are buried within them; these are called kaona. If you examine the kaona of the word Hawai’i, it is understandable why I and so many others are so drawn to return there again and again. “Ha” is the word meaning the breath of life to man, “Wai” means the water of life to the Earth, and “I” is the Supreme Being. Hawai’i, or Hawaii as we more commonly spell it, is the homeland all mankind continues to seek because it is there that life, Earth, and Spirit conjoin together.
On the volcano
My story begins on the volcano in Maui. Getting to the Haleakala Crater, Maui’s dormant volcano that last erupted in 1790, involves a dizzying 35-mile drive into the clouds, up 10,000 feet on a road that twists and turns so abruptly that speed limits often max out at 10 miles per hour. Many tourists do this drive in the middle of the night in order to be at the summit for sunrise, which I find rather terrifying because your vehicle is sometimes only a few yards away from a thousand-foot drop.
On my first trip to Haleakala, with my husband Domenic, we reached the top after almost two hours. When we got out of the car we could not believe where we were and what we were seeing. Among the many lessons one receives from the land of Hawaii is just how small we are. At the Haleakala Crater, the hole, so to speak, where the lava once gushed forth, is the size of Manhattan. To stand at the edge is to view a gigantic, sparkling kaleidoscopic landscape of rolling rock and soil that appears to undulate in wave-like patterns of other-worldly greens, reds, purples and browns for as far as the eye can see. It is breathtaking.
Being there makes you feel like you’re on another planet, or perhaps the moon, and the bright, shiny Haleakala Silversword plants, which only grow on the crater and nowhere else on Earth, add to the otherworldly nature of this magnificent place. You never know what to expect in terms of weather at the summit, and having been there many times now, I can attest to rain, snow, clouds so thick that you can’t see anything, freezing temperatures and hot sun. But on the day I visited for the first time, it was warm and clear with high visibility.
In addition to the astonishing scenery, there is an energy at the summit that I have never experienced anywhere else. The land itself has a visible and pulsating aura or luminous field, almost like the heat waves that come off an asphalt highway in the desert, but mystically different. Pele, the volcano goddess of Hawaii, now lives on Big Island, where there are four active volcanoes. Although she is often thought of as ferocious and wrathful, her presence on Maui has a sense of sweet and tranquil luminescence, as if her work on this island is done and she is now at peace here.
In addition to the astonishing scenery, there was a strange sound in the air, an extremely high-pitched ringing — “zzzzzzzzzz” — that felt like it was the sound of silence itself. It had an oddly faint and deafening quality at the same time, as if it were somehow sonically cleaning my ears and sinuses. I couldn’t believe that none of the other visitors there seemed to notice this sound, but once I pointed it out to Domenic, he heard it, too.
Before we began walking the long and well-worn path down into the crater, we found a posted sign explaining that the ancient Hawaiians considered Haleakala (which means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian) an extremely sacred place. The sign spoke of a time when only the Kahunas, or Hawaiian shamans, were allowed to come there, because the crater held so much Mana, or power. The sign also stated, rather mysteriously, that when the holy men and women of old would come to Haleakala, they would do so only for what they needed, and when they received it — a message, an omen, an answer — they would leave immediately. The other tourists walked past this sign, paying it no notice — and oddly, the last time I was there the sign was gone — but I felt like it was giving me the very instructions that I needed to experience this place in the proper way.
We hiked Haleakala in silence (except for the “zzzzzzz”) for quite a while, stopping along the way to pause, breathe and behold the majesty around us. I definitely lost all sense of time, and when I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket to check, it read 12:34. The first of the seven principles of Huna states, “The world is what you think it is.” These kinds of numerological synchronicities mean something to me — I choose to think they do, so they do. Seeing 12:34 set off an inner signal that told me it was time to stop and sit down.
Looking up, I found myself at the edge of a picturesque plateau with knee- and waist-high lava rock all around me. This seemed like the spot. I lost sense of where Domenic was, but my instinct was that he was probably having his own experience. Sitting on sharp lava rock can be dicey. It is born of fire, and its roughness is a physical manifestation of the “burn” that is still inside of it. Because it can cut easily, I placed a towel underneath me, got into as comfortable a seated position as I could, and entered into a light meditation.
A roaring force
I don’t know exactly how long I was sitting there, but suddenly, from out of nowhere, a roaring force began rushing toward me as if a speeding train was headed straight in my direction, and I was on the tracks in its path. This wasn’t an internal feeling or inner vision; this was a visitation with something so powerful that I found that I could no longer sit up. An invisible push forced me to lie back, and as I did, the unforgiving lava rock seemed to cradle my body as if I were on the most comfortable reclining chair in the world. I was instantaneously in a visual white-out and could not see my hand in front of my face. I knew that I was being surrounded by clouds, but something else inexplicable was happening around and inside me.
My consciousness became ephemeral and spacious. I began to feel light-headed, nauseous and not a little frightened. I was coming face to face with what I can only call It. God, Source, Great Spirit, the Mother — whatever you want to call it — It was there, and I could do nothing but allow It to wash through the very fabric of my being. I experienced wildly unfamiliar physical sensations and feelings as a dream-like experience of altered awareness overtook my mind and body.
A spontaneous life review, the kind that people are said to experience at the moment of their death, ensued. There wasn’t anything I could hold on to, make sense of, or control. I was experiencing Relative Reality, the implied opposites contained in all things simultaneously: tears and laughter, past and future, regret and hope, terror and peace, all at once.
And then something even stranger happened: I had the realization that It knew what was happening. Not only was I aware of It, but It was aware of me. And I knew that It knew that I knew this!
I remained with It for as long as It chose to stay with me (I think it was only about 30 minutes, although I can’t know for sure), and when It left, I remained unmoving in the same position for some time. I knew that something had shifted deeply, but I hadn’t even begun to process it. I wanted to remember the exact place that I was in, so without getting up, I began to take pictures with my cellphone all around my head and shoulders so that I had some record of where I had met It. What I was to find out when I got back to my hotel was that in those pictures, right next to my head, was the unmistakable face and shell of a turtle, my totem animal, carved into the lava rock by the elements, smiling at me. When I saw it, every hair on my body stood on end.
After the It experience was over, I found Domenic, who had also had his own profound encounter — although very different than mine — with It. I remembered the instructions from the sign, and I knew that I had certainly received what I had come for. Now it was time to go, and we began walking back along the path, both of us awestruck by what had just occurred.
As we hiked, with our consciousness still feeling slightly altered, we both saw flying red and purple things in our peripheral vision, but when we would turn our heads quickly to follow them, there would be nothing there. Haleakala was sharing some of its secrets with us on that day, and bizarre and strange phenomenon — faces in cloud formations, strange sounds, and tricks of vision — continued on our return journey up the volcano’s crater slope.
We walked in silence for a while and then I suddenly blurted out, “I want to be a full-time healer and teacher. I want to quit acting, and I want to run spiritual retreats around the world.” At the very moment that these words exited my lips, a tiny dust tornado formed on the path right in front of us. It lifted up into the air, hovering a few feet from the ground, and then whizzed away in a flash with a “zing!” Domenic and I looked at each other, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. “Well, alrighty then!” I exclaimed.
In the years that followed, I did exactly what I said I would do on that volcano. The third principle of Huna says, “Energy flows where attention goes,” and I put all my attention and focus into changing my life. I went full-steam ahead with some formal education that I still needed, and dove even more deeply into shamanic practice.
In no time I opened a spiritual counseling and healing practice in New York City that now operates with a wait-list. I started a travel company, leading spiritual retreats around the world. The preeminent teacher and author Llyn Roberts asked me to join her core faculty for Shamanic Reiki Worldwide, and I began teaching Shamanism and Reiki in major venues across the country. I never looked back on acting. Once I had made the choice, it just faded into the distance. The fifth Huna principle says, “Now is the moment of power.” I caught up with myself by fully acknowledging who I had now become, and this allowed me to release a past self that existed only in memory.
During those early years as a shamanic teacher and practitioner, I still hadn’t found Huna. Shamanism, to my mind, lived in Central and South America. I previously had held an apprenticeship with some of the shamans of Brazil to work with their plant medicine, and the retreats I was leading were mainly to Latin countries. Despite my love affair with Hawaii, I never thought to look there for spiritual influence. But later I would find out that I was practicing Huna without knowing that I was doing so. The next step to this realization happened on a shamanic journey that would eventually take me to the island of Kauai.