Āina: A letter from the Big Island by Lama Willa Blythe Baker

Āina: A letter from the Big Island by Lama Willa Blythe Baker

The wind this morning sings through the trees, rustles the palm leaves, curls around the exposed patches of my skin, my forearms, my ankles. The wind is cool, fresh. It smells of earth and sometimes the faint scent of night jasmine. Breathing in, I imagine this fresh wind opens pathways. Breathing out, my body’s breath seems to mingle with the āina.

Āina has been alive for me, as I explore practice and permaculture this winter on the Big Island of Hawaii. I am here at Bodhi Tree Ecodharma Sanctuary, a dharma refuge stewarded by Joel and Michelle Levey.

Āina is Hawaiian for “earth”. At first, I took āina to mean the ground underneath my feet. But then I heard a Hawaiian wise woman explain that āina is a deeper concept, central to the ethos of life here. Āina means earth, but not as something separate from those who live on it. Āina includes all of life–plant, animal, spiritual and elemental. Āina is the whole earth.

As the whole, āina cannot be owned. It is not divisible by borders and fences. Āina is not separate. As another female elder I met remarked, “You cannot own āinaĀina owns you. It takes care of everyone.”

I meander down a grassy path in between a tapestry of greens, fronds and flowers, the tips of leaves reaching out to brush my arm. A monarch butterfly glides past, lilting and shifting like my thoughts….carried inexorably by the wind of the energy in my mind. Going where they will. My thoughts, I reflect, are āina too.

I feel āina solid below my feet, supporting me, a little bit spongy from last night’s gentle rain. Sometimes, like now, I can feel āina reaching into my body. I try to draw her up into my legs, my belly, my heart. When I do this, āina seems to travel of her own accord to the parts of me that need healing. These parts need to remember that they too are āina.

Suddenly the cave-like canopy of foliage gives way to a portal rimmed in prayer flags. Through the portal, a vast expanse of blue rises to meet me. I step under the prayer flags into an open field. My breath deepens, long and slow. The āina seems to spill through my eyes into an endless sea. That sea rises into a vast expanse of sky. There is no border, no way to tell where one ends and the other begins.

This too, I imagine or feel or sense, must be āina. I want to greet her, this vast non-separate āinaAloha āina.

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