At least once a year, I go to Maui by myself for an annual writer’s retreat. My accommodations are modest and secluded. I began this tradition about the time I started writing my first novel in 2013. I’d been writing nonfiction and poetry for more than forty years, but quickly learned that the art of novel writing rested in my ability to carve out a chunk of time to write, mainly because I realized that I needed to completely submerge myself in my characters. While I’m sure I could write in any peaceful setting, there’s something about the Hawaiian environment, culture, and people that helps my creativity flourish.
Nevertheless, even when I’m in the flow, I’m not the type of writer who can write from morning until night. I need food and nature breaks. As a spiritual individual, I find that Hawaii provides a great escape for me. On one of my first visits, I asked the manager where I was staying if she could recommend a kahuna who would meet with me. Without hesitation, she said, “Sure. I’ll call the person who blessed this land.” The following morning, Kelei, a tall and powerful-looking woman in her 40s, walked through the property’s front gate. A blanket was slung over one shoulder, and on her other shoulder was a cloth bag bearing many surprises that I’d soon see. In her hands she held a bowl of water. She then put everything down to greet me with a big, hearty hug and a wide smile.
“Let’s find a good place to be alone without disturbance,” she said. Within moments, Kelei had identified secluded spot under a tree. With special care, she carefully laid down her blanket and removed some items from her bag—including ti leaves, feathers, stones, a guitar, a drum, and the bowl of water. After everything was in the correct place, she told me to sit cross-legged facing her. She reached out to take my hands, looked deep into my eyes, and said, “Before we begin, I have to tell you something.”
“Yes?” I responded curiously.
“Your grandmother says she’s sorry. Does this make any sense to you?” Upon hearing her utter these words, I sat there in stunned silence. My first memoir,
Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, was based on my relationship with my grandmother, who’d committed suicide when I was ten. Kelei didn’t know my last name, so there was no way she could have Googled me or found out any information about either me or my book, which had been published four years earlier.
Our conversation was off to a good start. I also immediately sensed that this kahuna was not a fan of small talk. During our hour together, she shared wisdoms and stories that resonated deeply within me. At the end of our session, I returned to my room or some other private place where I could journal. I was amazed by the rush of creativity gleaned from our session.
A week later I returned home, and Kelei and I continued an e-mail correspondence that resulted in four more visits over the years. She told me that she’s well known on the island and only meets privately with special people or those whom she views as “healers.” In my earlier years, I was a nurse, but my career path evolved into being a full-time writer and advocate of writing for healing. In fact, my recent book is called, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life.
My subsequent visits involved morning meetings and visits to sacred sites. My kahuna’s energy had a poignant effect on me. In one of our encounters, Kelei told me that I’d had many past lives, and that in one of them, I’d been Hawaiian, which was why I felt so at home in her culture.
While visiting the sacred sites, we shared stories about ourselves and our loved ones. Kelei pointed out the wisdom and lessons within the stories. She then performed a ceremony where she called upon my ancestors, loved ones, and spirit guides to join in the prayers, which she sang in Hawaiian with her beautiful voice. Our ancestors and spirit guides were called in to help with whatever issues I was dealing with on the mainland.
In addition to working on my novel, there were certain life transitions, inquiries, and circumstances compelling me to visit Hawaii. Kelei told me that we feel happiest when we hear the true voice of God, spirit, or our ancestors. When all the ancestors had arrived, she performed a ritual by pulling together a few ti leaves into a bouquet, and depending where we were, she either planted them in the earth or sent them down the local stream.
For years I’d been drawn to the Hawaiian tradition of Ka’ao, or sharing wisdom through the art of storytelling. Kahunas teach and instruct in the form of story, which provides a vehicle for understanding life and relationships. Thus, the story becomes a form of philosophy. The ceremonies and rituals and the art of storytelling are inherent in the Hawaiian culture.
Storytelling dates back to the beginning of time. Its purpose is to share stories that unite us. Regardless of our culture, stories bring us together and bridge the gaps between us. They’re also tools for learning and exchanging ideas. Many of the strengths, preferences, and comfort zones relating to storytelling often harken back to the patterns of our childhoods.
My parents were first-generation immigrants and worked very long hours. Typically, our dinners were often rushed, with little opportunity for storytelling. As such, most of the stories I heard during my childhood were parts of conversations I overhead when my parents had guests. Since I didn’t have brothers and sisters, I spent a lot of time reading and writing, and often found myself gravitating to friends and family members who were good storytellers, which is how I learned to be a good listener.
Because I’d been a writer from a young age, my written storytelling skills were more effective than my oral ones. During my time with my kahuna, however, out of necessity, my oral storytelling skills quickly improved. I learned that it’s important to remember to put on your “story hat,” and to embody the feeling of a story when you’re telling it. Maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, but perhaps one subconscious reason I continually yearn to spend time in Hawaii is to improve my storytelling skills, and thus, connect in a more profound way with my fellow travelers on the life path.
Diana Raab, PhD is an author, poet and speaker who often writes a lot about transformation. Her latest book is Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Her website is www.dianaraab.com.