Sunday, January 30, 2011


In native Hawaiian culture, there is a word and a concept that seems universal to me. Honai (Ho [long o] ni [long i] loosely translates as a foster child. Yet, it means much more than that, and includes a state of mind, a state of culture.

Ancient Hawaiians ventured forth from Polynesia to settle the Hawaiian Islands, in a series of migrations, ending about 700 years ago. Voyages lasted about a month, in long double canoes, equipped with sails and cargoes of native plants and animals, so that the voyagers could establish new villages and escape from the famine and overcrowding of their home islands.

The voyagers knew Hawaii existed, because of previous voyagers, and because of their intuitive navigation, which included observations of birds, ocean currents, clouds, and winds. They timed their voyages with the seasons, to take advantage of seasonal currents and winds. In Maori culture, in New Zealand, the word for the ancient ones sounds much like the word Hawaii. There is genetic evidence that Hawaiians are genetically linked to the native Taiwanese.

Coming from close knit villages and cultures, they bonded closer together, given the perils of a long ocean voyage and the vital importance of each person on board. When they arrived in Hawaii, they planted their precious cuttings of plants and tended their domestic animals. Fishermen fished and farmers farmed, and they build their villages in valleys, next to their fields, a stream, and the rich ocean.

Each community depended on every member of the village. The boundaries of the community were determined by the mountains, the ridges coming down to the sea, the existence of abundant fresh water, farming land, and a beach from which they fished and harvested the abundance of the sea. They traded with adjoining villages for stables and surplus foods. They build large community shelters for extended families. They build temples to honor their gods, and places where young people could meet with their elders, and be mentored and learn the ways of the community.

And, in all of this was a sense of honai, a sense of the value of each person. It was customary for the extended family to help raise the children and mentor the youth, and honai was an accepted practice, where adults would take in a child and raise them as their own.

In ancient Hawaiian law, a honai child was also legally your child, and it was simply accepted. The chief did not have to decree that fact, it simply occurred when the child began living with the adult.

In Hawaiian culture, there was usually enough food and providing shelter took little work. There was time left for the arts. People adapted the bounty of the forest, the coconut tree, and the sea to create works of art, and to beautify the daily implements of their lives. Chants and music were essential, and the hula developed as an art form to communicate community values and to express emotion and values.

The spirit of honai also was present in the hula and in the chants and in the way people worked and played together. Everyone was important, every person had value, because they all depended on each other for their existence, their nourishment, and their safety.

The other day, someone remarked about the “primitive” Hawaiian culture. Yet, today, in this culture, we struggle to extend even minimal humanitarian concern to each other, and there is a crisis in the social services sector because there are not enough foster parents to care for children in crisis. We may want to think that the Hawaiian culture was primitive, which it was not. They sailed the Pacific long before Europeans, they prospered and lived a rich, artistic interdependent life, and they lived the spirit of honai.

We have much to learn from the Hawaiians. And, we have much to learn about ourselves.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Catapulting Ahead

Sometimes, the planet shifts and things happen. Last week, I was bemoaning the fact that many of my long term projects just seemed to be stuck, and nothing much was getting done, except the daily routine of paperwork and chores. I’d even slacked off on working out and keeping myself in shape. It is January, anyway, and we are supposed to have the blahs. But, I don’t do “blah” well, and I wanted to get things moving again. Frustration was building and I had no place to deal with the angst.

Then, one morning at work, it all changed. The gods apparently decided to break the dam, and let the river run free. There was a flurry of e-mail activity, a few phone calls, a few letters in the mail. Within a day, the following happened:

• My proposed community college class on social activism is going to be offered in the spring catalog, and I solidified the mechanics of that process with the college.
• I organized a men’s gathering to talk about sexual violence, with a nationally recognized guest speaker coming to town. My guest list was created and invitations are in the mail.
• My state representative contacted me about a bill I wanted to get introduced two years ago in the Legislature. She is supportive, and I spoke with a lawyer for the Legislature who drafted the bill. It will be introduced next week, with my name on it as the “requestor”.
• The contract to set up electronic ticketing in my court was finalized, and will be approved tomorrow.
• A colleague e-mailed an offer for me to be trained on suicide prevention, an issue near and dear to my heart. There is money to pay the $500 tuition and I am now enrolled in the day long training.
• I’d been slacking off on my photography, so I left work early before a meeting, and took myself on a nice long walk on my favorite beach. The light was extraordinary and I took over 100 pictures, most of which were amazing. The Muse was present and smiling. My creative heart is happy. On the way home, I stopped for coffee and ran into two good friends I’d wanted to connect with for a long time. Our hour long coffee break was rich and cheerful. I left, connected, and caffeinated.

• I’d been stymied with my guitar homework, but finally figured out the chord progression and fingering my teacher has been trying to teach me for the last month. My song now sounds so much more alive and musical.

I am renewed, reinvigorated, and re-inspired. If you work long enough at something, and there is merit to the project, then, eventually, with a lot of patience, and the application of a few nudges along the way, things will eventually move ahead, like the two year old proposed legislation.

Maybe I should be thinking about what I’d want the 2013 Oregon Legislature to think about. Its never too early to start!

Neal Lemery 1/11/11

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Actions for the Year Ahead

• Honor the artist within me. Pay attention to the Muse, who is around me, and heed the Muse’s call. Take time each day to be quiet, thoughtful, and listen. Take time to create.

• Always have a good book, or other good writing around to enjoy, to savor. Be fully aware of what I read.

• Be open to new ideas, and be able to objectively consider my own point of view, and, perhaps, reconsider and change my ideas and opinions. Don’t be afraid to grow.

• Treat relationships as sacred. Honor them. Give them time and give them air to breathe.

• Work well, efficiently, and with passion.

• Honor the Golden Rule: treat others as I would like to be treated.

• Hone my spirituality, and keep this at the center of my life.

• Live with love in my heart: love of others, of nature, of self.

• Be quick in compassion, slow in judging.

• Spend 10 minutes a day on working towards my long term goals.

• Ignore the frivolous, the inconsequential.

• Mentor others, show them by example.

• Celebrate accomplishments, don’t overvalue disappointments.

• Take time for the unexpected.

• Find pleasure in simple things.

• Stop to smell the flowers.

• Declutter my life, my relationships, my to do lists.

• Savor each moment and live each moment fully, passionately.

• Hand someone else the tool they need, and pick up the tab for coffee.


New day, new year
cold outside, driving me in—
warm chair, hot coffee
still dripping, cup ready,

New year, new creations
ready to be written, painted, sung—
all is ready, all is waiting
for the Muse
and my pencil.

New day, new dawn
what will be written today
is already on the paper
waiting for me
to write it down.

The new song, the new

Stones In the Grass

At first, a dream,
then apart and in a row
rhythm as I walked--
at first, they went
stopping by the new tree
we had planted two years ago.

Where should they end?
or, where do we begin?

Now, there is
moving along
the path.
its song