I went to a talk recently by Rupert Sheldrake the English author and biologist, perhaps most well known for his hypothesis of morphic resonance, which he expounded in the early eighties. The event I attended was about the topic of his new book, Science and Spiritual Practices: Transformative experiences and their effects on our bodies, brains and health. In this book he examines seven spiritual practices known to be beneficial and then explains the scientific research available to show that, from a scientific viewpoint, these practices are indeed beneficial. The talk covered four of the seven practices.
As I listened, I considered how each of the practices matched with my own practice of Huna kalakupua, a word that can refer to a Hawaiian form of shamanism. I offer some of my own brief reflections here:
From a scientific point of view, meditation has been shown to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (what Benson termed the "relaxation response") with the attendant effects: relaxation, healing, stress reduction, calmness etc. From a kalakupua perspective these are indeed excellent benefits and contribute to avoiding 'iha 'iha - the build up of tension which leads to ill health. Beyond this however, meditation can be much, much, more and can have many desired outcomes. Whether using a nalu (passive) or hua (active) form of meditation, it provides me with the opportunity to connect with more than I usually do in waking life and to strengthen mind, body and spiritual connections.
The 'attitude of gratitude' is a key component of Huna practice and is wonderfully expounded in the magical Aloha Spirit Booklet (http://www.hunahawaii.com/Files/alohaspiritbooklet.pdf). "The Little Pink Booklet" contains much simple and powerful wisdom, which easily belies it's tiny size. Not a day passes where I do not use one or more techniques to express gratitude.
Rituals, ranging from formalised group rituals to personal informal daily rituals are an effective aspect of kalakupua practice. In respect of connecting, it is interesting to consider whether a rise in interest in shamanic and other practices which emphasise ritual has come about in an effort to restore an element of connection that has been lost for many people.
Pilgrimages take place all over the world. There are many examples of pilgrimages covering different faiths that are still made including Christian healing trips to Lourdes in France, pilgrimages to Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment, and pilgrimages to the Golden Temple Amritsar in India. For some, expeditions to scale high mountains and uncharted terrains can have an element of pilgrimage to them.
I was interested to find out that in England during the time of the rise of Protestantism, Oliver Cromwell banned acts of pilgrimage, yet before that, undertaking a pilgrimage was a fairly commonplace practice. The benefits of pilgrimage include a sense of purpose, increased focus and contemplation and connection. In some traditions, a sacred place was considered to be sone where spirit and matter met. For example, where heaven meets the earth.
I recall my first trip to Hawaii years back and how it was something out of the ordinary and something that was much more than a tourist trip. It was to experience a calling that I felt within. As I look back now, I realise that that experience was a form of pilgrimage following my desire to connect physically with the islands and the sense of spirit I perceived to be there.
A recent trip to Big Island again had elements of pilgrimage to it. It is fascinating to see and experience the power and sense of awe, for example, at Kilauea Crater in Volcanoes National Park and other sacred sites on the island which goes far beyond admiration for amazing and unique scenery and touches on something deep and spiritual within. In some cases, the element of a shared experience with others added to the experience, such as sharing sunrise rituals at the crater. In other cases, solitude and deeply contemplative connection with something bigger than myself was most effective.
In the kalakupua tradition, we are fortunate to be able to make journeys in both the outer and inner worlds, and perhaps it is to be expected of a Huna adventurer that some form of pilgrimage takes place from time to time.
In Huna tradition there are many techniques for working with the elements, including plants. Chanting and singing are also practiced in both ritual and non-ritual contexts.
It is interesting to note that vibration such as stimulated by chanting and humming has been found to stimulate the vagus nerve. This is the longest nerve in the parasympathetic system which passes through the neck and thorax down to the abdomen. The vagus nerve is linked to parasympathetic functions of the organs in the body that govern the "rest and digest" aspect of body functioning. It is also considered the system in which healing takes place.
Will scientific evidence encourage more spiritual practices? The aim of the book was not to justify these practices, as clearly the benefits exist whether or not we can scientifically measure them. In fact, the only way to derive any benefit from these practices is through application and direct experience regardless of whether there is a significant body of peer reviewed research papers or not. It is interesting when science corroborates what we already know. Science has it's place but it is only one way of viewing the world. I am mindful of a tweet I saw a while back from the actor John Cleese which got a bit of attention. It read "I would like 2016 to be the year when people remembered that science is a method of investigation, and NOT a belief system".
Everything has its place and perhaps scientific evidence and validation will encourage more people to revisit and benefit from such practices which I believe would be a good thing.
Pete Dalton ©2017
Pete Dalton is an Alakai of Huna International living in the UK. For more information on his work visit his website www.urbanhuna.org