On my first trip to Hawaiʻi in June of 2004 I kept hearing about the Ala Moana Shopping Center and how I just had to go there! At the time I was staying with my brother Dan in his apartment just up the block so it was an easy walk. After walking around the Center for about an hour I was a bit bewildered why people thought this was somewhere I needed to visit, as if there was something uniquely Hawaiian about the place which I could experience nowhere else. Yes, there was a hula demonstration on the Center’s stage and one or two small shops selling Hawaiian items but other than that it was just another “Temple of Consumerism” I could find anywhere on the Mainland! The experience made me wonder to what extent Hawaiian culture in the Islands is slowly being subsumed into Western culture, and not for the better?
Since leaving my monastery I can often be a grumpy monk, irritated by constantly bumping into non-monastic, non-spiritual values and realities. Living “out in the world” these past ten years has been like living in someone else’s house! It was only upon being in Hawaiʻi that I felt as if I had come home, which is pretty strange for a non-Hawaiian monastic haole! Hawaiʻi’s cultural emphasis on other-centeredness is the secular equivalent of the Cenobitic monastic life I have lived for 40 years.
In Christian monasticism there are three basic possible ways of living out monastic life. The Cenobitic monastic lifestyle calls for the individual to live within a community of people, a monastery. The Eremitic calls for the individual to live alone as a hermit. And the Idiorythmic lifestyle is some combination of the other two. The basic movement in spiritual life is out-and-away from the self towards others, towards otherness. From my Christian monastic background and having come into contact with Aloha it is clear to me that if we foster self-centeredness, if we hug Aloha to ourselves then we smother both Aloha and our own heart! Aloha is meant to be received and then given away. Life… whether Christian or non-Christian, monastic or non-monastic, Hawaiian or non-Hawaiian… is about receiving, living, giving.