Most people live on a lonely island,
Lost in the middle of a foggy sea.
Most people long for another island,
One where they know they will like to be.
Bali Ha'i may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you'll hear it call you:
"Come away...Come away."
“Bali Hai” from Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
If you ever had the chance to travel around the world, you will find that not everyone greets you with “Hello!” a smile and a handshake. Other parts of the world prefer more meaningful expressions. In the Middle East, it is either “Shalom” or “Salaam,” both meaning peace. In India, it is “Namaste”, meaning “I salute the divinity within you.” In the Far East, it is either a bow of the head or of the waist.
However, there is one particular greeting known the world over which, hands down, would win a contest for the universal greeting: “Aloha!”. Thanks to extensive tourism and the media, most people have heard its melodious sound and have at least a vague sense of what it means.
Whatever interpretation you give “Aloha,” you can’t get away from the feeling of LOVE.
Aloha has such universal appeal because it is usually given with an embrace and a gorgeous lei, or garland. Whatever the Hawaiians say, they say in flowers. Blossoms in the hair, on the table, even on the food, itself. The island of Kauai is known as The Garden Island. The classic movie, South Pacific, was shot there, and it is hard to think of that film without seeing people surrounded by flowers, music and dancing.
Most people who visit Hawaii are in no hurry to leave. Tourists find enchantment in the air. While it might have the world’s best organized tourist industry, the personal touch is never forgotten. I remember walking along a boulevard in Honolulu looking for a pay phone. I dove into a hotel and asked the concierge where to find one. He told me to simply use his phone and ushered me to his desk.
When you receive an Aloha, you are the only person in the world who matters. You feel more more like a king than a millionaire. Everything is presence. Whatever you do is OK. There is never a rush about anything. Life is precious and sacred. It is natural to be conscious, rather than in your head. What else is there to do? Aloha is more than a state of mind; it is a state of being.
Aloha literally means sharing your breath, the divine breath, with someone else. We all breathe the very same air and share the very same life. A Hawaiian kiss is to put your foreheads together and breathe in the sacred mana. It is no accident that breath, wind and spirit are all closely related in the world’s languages. This is the vital energy that Indians call Prana, Chinese Chi and Japanese Ki.
Aloha means putting others’ welfare before your own. You ARE your brother’s keeper. Whoever is your neighbor IS your friend. Their wellbeing is your own. Joseph Campbell tells of a Hawaiian officer who almost jumped off a cliff to save an impulsive, suicidal youth. The cop later recounted, “If I had not done everything I could to save that teenager, I couldn’t live with myself another day.”
Aloha elevates you, as a guest, to the status of a god or goddess. I will do anything within my power to ensure your comfort. I am here to serve you, to honor you, to cherish you. Hawaii is a favorite wedding spot (Bill and Melinda Gates got married there), because that kind of love is in the air. When you step off the plane, you can literally smell the intoxicating fragrance of orchids and plumeria blossoms.
Hawaii is the crown jewel of the Polynesian culture. I met Tahitians who confessed that they were jealous of the Hawaiians. They really had it good. This is a culture that prizes presence, harmony, gentleness. Being is valued above doing. Bliss is a prerequisite to life. You will do anything to ensure that your loved ones stay happy.
The missionaries came to Hawaii in the 19th century, and, among other things, banned nudity. However, the native Hawaiians won over their hearts to the point where we can see true Christianity practiced there. To be Polynesian is to be Christian, and to be Christian is to be Polynesian. Isn’t it all about love, anyway?
As Hawaii prepared to become a state within the U.S., rather than remain a territory like Puerto Rico, it seized upon “Aloha!” as its symbol. Hawaii officially became “The Aloha State.” It even named an airline by that word. Aloha became popularized all over the U.S., and eventually the world. However, the pure, innocent and gentle spirit behind it never entirely went away. That was the miracle!
The spirit of Aloha is something you just pick up without thinking about it. If you meet people born in Hawaii, you will be impressed with how delightful they are, how much in their bodies, how totally present. In Silicon Valley, we think of Guy Kawasaki, who evangelized the original Macintosh. Guy has always been filled with good humor, wit and playfulness. You can now find these qualities embedded in every Apple device.
Once you get to Hawaii, it will only be a matter of time before you have to leave. You know then that you are losing something irreplaceable. Where can you find land and sea like this? Where can you find a whole state that shares the Dalai Lama’s religion of kindness? I had one pal who flew from California to Hawaii every weekend just to be there.
You can deal with this by placing a high value on things Hawaiian. Not simply the Ukulele, steel guitar and hula dancers, but the beautiful places in creation that speak to your soul, secluded spots in the forest or by the sea. Perhaps a town or village where people are open and warm. People who never shrink from demonstrating hospitality.
Once you have brought Aloha home with you, you will seek ways to create that spirit wherever you go, with whomever you meet. Humanity is desperate for people who are truly present, who know how to simply love, who see the divinity within.
Seek out a spiritual practice or expression of faith that truly works for you. Even if it is simply meditating with your eyes closed five minutes a day. Sure, your monkey mind will go berserk and the task will seem hopeless. You might add yoga exercises or Tai Chi to it, as well. Simply persist. Think in terms of months and years, rather than minutes or hours.
Most importantly, get in touch with Divine Love in whatever form it manifests. That Love IS God, and God IS That Love. This may seem like an impossible project. However, if you know what truly matters, you are a step closer to bringing it about.
If you live in America, you are free to visit Hawaii. However, you are also free to celebrate the spirit of Aloha with everyone you meet. In doing so, you may do more to save the planet than anything else. It all begins with individual enlightenment followed by collective enlightenment culminating in planetary transformation. Once you truly get behind Aloha, a whole lot of other people will, as well.