Hawaii is the epitome of paradise.
Bright blue waters, white sand beaches and palm trees galore. Chasing sea turtles and whale watching are commonplace. It’s the perfect place to relax on the beach for a vacation or chase some waves for a surf adventure.
But living in Hawaii has an entirely different feel about it than just visiting the land where palm trees sway.
I was able to experience Hawaiian life for a little over a year. More specifically I lived and worked on the island of Maui on the eastern coast in an area that was fairly secluded from the outside world.
One could say we were off-the-grid. Completely solar powered, we were a community that grew a majority of our own food, had our own source of fresh water from a nearby river, and worked and ate meals together daily. It is a testament to the success of off-grid living and how beautifully and comfortably one can live in such a set up. But learning the motions of off-grid living wasn’t the only lesson I learned on Maui:
1. The concept of aloha.
Aloha for most people just means “hello” or “goodbye”. But the concept of Aloha is much more then just a formal greeting. It’s a way of life.
Aloha is recognizing that your fellow human being is no lesser or greater than yourself. That you are no lesser or greater than the jungle or ocean surrounding you. If you treat all beings equally and with respect, you will receive it in return.
Aloha is about giving love and receiving it in your everyday life as well. Your mind, body and soul have to be open to giving love just as much as they have to be open to receiving love.
2. Benefits of community.
Before moving to Maui I had zero experience living in a community setting. For the most part I felt like where I came from didn’t have much of a community also, or at least one I fit into. So the concept initially was foreign to me.
It didn’t take long to realize the benefits of such arrangements. I created lasting friendships, learned about respect and working together to attain an ultimate goal. Not only was I surrounded with like-minded individuals who were as hungry for knowledge and life as I was, but more work could be accomplished in a more focused direction. There is a Hawaiian word “laulima” which means many hands working together that was used a lot while working.
My mentor while living there explained to me that there was another saying the Hawaiians had,
“Many hands make light work”.
3. Living mindfully.
Granted I was living far away in the middle of the jungle but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have convenience items. It wasn’t completely rustic.
Instead of living in excess, the community practiced living as mindfully as possible, such as reducing or eliminating products bought with plastic packaging, turning off lights when not in use, hanging your clothes out to dry, growing our own food and learning ways to reduce food waste by preserving excess food and composting. We had solar electricity, refrigeration, running water, washing machines, flushing toilets and even a few megabytes of wi-fi.
There wasn’t an overabundance of convenience items. You wouldn’t be able to find a dryer or air conditioner for miles. There was just no need. If things happened a little slower, then so be it. It would still get done, but with little to no impact on the environment.
I learned to enjoy the process rather then having instant gratification.
4 .Respect the ‘aina (earth).
While living on Maui I learned about the history of the islands and the relationship and respect the Hawaiians had for the land. They had divided up portions of the island into ahupua’a, shaped like pie pieces, coming to a point at the top of the mountain and getting wider as it approached the ocean.
But they did not own this land. They were simply stewards.
The concept of ownership was alien to them. It was their responsibility to look after the land and make sure it was in good condition, if not better condition for the proceeding generation. There was just no question about it, no other way to think about it.
A large amount of the Hawaiian Islands had been cleared some number of years ago, for sugarcane or cattle grazing, among other things. Because of this the soil has been degraded and there has been a loss of native forest, plus a few invasive species were introduced, which both in turn has lead to a loss of biodiversity.
This degradation opposes the Hawaiian’s original stewardship of the land.
I had a first hand look at how detrimental of an effect the human species can have on the Earth. In contrast, I was able to see how beneficial we as humans can be for the planet. I helped clear acres of invasive species and subsequently planted native trees and non-invasive bamboo.
I was able to see how the progression of the forest canopy at different ages in the reforestation and how native birds were returning to the mountainside. I was able to witness how we were repairing the soil that then allowed native plants to take root in places that previously had been too damaged for those
endemic plants to flourish in.
5. Growth is inevitable.
There is something about the Hawaiian Islands, Maui more specifically, that has the power to change you. If you stay on the Maui for any extended length of time, Mother Maui will chew you up and spit you out.
The island tests your ego and your spirituality.
It will test the fortitude in your heart and the strength of your psyche. You will emerge on the other side either a broken lump of self-deprecation or a glowing god/goddess of self-acceptance and understanding.
Thankfully I had an incredibly supportive and encouraging partner and group of friends helping me through my growth period. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have made it through to the other side with so much understanding.
Not only did I learn that growth is inevitable in life, but it is necessary to evolve into the person you were meant to become.
I left the mainland in search of something. I had no idea what I was steering towards when I left, just that I knew I was about to disembark on an adventure.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I had no idea that my life would be forever changed, that I would have grown into the individual that I am today.
Yes I have regrets.
But I cannot change the past. All I can do is move forward and grow from my experiences. Like me, you are a product of your past experiences and if you refuse to learn from them then you will never grow. If you decide to embrace that flux that life has offered you, then you truly have no limit to what you may accomplish.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of the author