When I walked into the Makawao History Museum, I was looking for perspective on this little town in the middle of Maui. Thanks to a friend employed by Alaska Airlines, I had lucked into a buddy pass1 to anywhere Alaska flies; wanting to be happy and warm, Maui seemed like an amazing place to spend a few days. I wasn’t familiar with the island, however, and threw together a quick itinerary thanks to massive support from the same friend, but Makawao hadn’t made the list of places I was planning to visit. I had just hiked into the crater of Haleakala National Park and needed lunch, and Makawao is between the volcano and where I planned to camp that night. It happens to be an adorable spot, and I am easily sucked into local history, so of course I had to visit the History Museum on my cruise around town.
I found myself in Maui thanks to some ample free time and an opportunity to reexamine what I wanted out of my life, especially regarding my career. Almost three years after finishing my doctorate, I was feeling a little disenfranchised with academia, and debating how I could happily work with the themes I love (primarily, conservation in agriculture) while also having time to do the things I love (real talk: climbing volcanoes is high on my list of action items lately). In more ways than one, 2018 really felt like “things were going to shit” as my father would say, and I was feeling a little lost about how to proceed in life. I do my best reflecting when I’m forest bathing and in awe with nature, so I was expecting to get good perspective in Maui while camping, hiking and swimming my way around the island. Then I found Wide Garcia at the Makawao History Museum, who just added some amazing thoughts to the mix.
As I was reading the various displays about Makawao culture and the local community, Wide—the volunteer staffing the museum that day—asked what I was doing in Maui. I told him I quit my job and had an opportunity to visit, and he responded with “Good for you” and that he left the California corporate world in the 70s, then came to Maui and spent most of his time here since. I have a particular affinity for old hippies thanks to my youth in the Bay Area and my general extroversion and curiosity about how people live their lives, so of course I considered this a wonderful conversation starter. Wide proceeded to show me a page out of his book, the Aquarian Age of Consciousness, featuring one of his poem’s titled “Paki’s Vision.” The poem highlights the thoughts of Pilahi Paki, a Maui poet and the main force behind Hawaii’s state House Bill 2569-86. This “Aloha Spirit” law, passed in 1986, legally mandates that Hawaii’s state government adheres to the principles of Aloha (University of Hawaii):
“Akahai”, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
“Lōkahi”, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
“ʻOluʻolu” meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
“Haʻahaʻa”, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
“Ahonui”, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
Wide mentioned this poem to me because he too felt that the world was going to shit (his actual words, unprompted by me) and wanted to acknowledge that the rest of the world could also benefit from a little Aloha spirit, and perhaps they could find it in Maui. Because I was essentially in Maui to find something—happiness, a career direction, volcanoes—this conversation with Wide seemed particularly timely (or maybe it was the Barnum Effect? I’m alright with that, though) and I was happy to find some Aloha somehow.
In addition to the above principles of Aloha, the Spirit also evokes a “collective existence” and “mutual regard and affection without wanting obligation in return.” Part of the reason the world feels like it is going to shit (to me, and in the US at least), is our general lack of community and an over emphasis on the individual. Recently, I started volunteering at United Food Bank (UFB), which serves eastern Arizona; for many people in rural Arizona, food banks provide access to fresh food that they would not be able to purchase otherwise, and thus these services are essential to their livelihoods. According to UFB’s Director of Operations, many of the rural food banks rely exclusively on retired volunteers to run their operations, and many of these volunteers are aging, meanwhile, apparently young people are not volunteering at rates necessary to replace that source of labor. In an ideal world, we as a nation could figure out how to address the institutional factors affecting the reasons many people would need to rely on food banks, as well as the reasons such nonprofits can only afford to operate using volunteer labor, but that’s a separate issue. The point is that people seem to be disjointed from their communities, and if they are accustomed to individualism, they may be less inclined to volunteer and/or collectively address extremely important local and global issues. The Aloha Spirit seems like a much better philosophy for trying to address climate change than doing so as individuals, for example.
With Wide’s poetry circling in my head and having just spent an 8-mile hike thinking about the relative brief time of a human’s life in comparison to geologic time (I love volcanoes!), I was able to think more about how to be effective in my own work going forward. I’ve spent the last 15 years trying to work internationally on major issues related to environmental degradation and global food insecurity. And while these topics remain important to me, after listening to Wide (and thanks to conversations with other friends recently, especially about this article), I’m reminded (again) that I might be more effective (and happy) if I just dig into where I’m local, and think about how to, at least minimally, improve the lives of my family, friends, neighbors and others in my community. In other words, finding the Aloha Spirit in Maui was exactly what I needed at this point in my life and career2.
1 Major, major thanks to James for this one. Once he starts his own travel service, I highly recommend his services. His Maui recommendations were so incredibly spot on.
2 More details to come. Stay tuned to the blog for updates on coming adventures!
Any views expressed throughout this webpage reflect my personal opinions and do not represent any of my current our previous institutions.