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Huna And Sustainability
by Stewart Blackburn

Ua mau ke ea o ka 'aina i ka pono
The life of the land is preserved by harmony

Hawaii State Motto

The motto above is a good reminder of the essence of living sustainably: to endeavor to keep all parts of the life of a community in harmony. Most of us are getting it that we need to change our consumption habits to ways that have a greatly diminished impact on this thin little covering of the Earth that we live on. Living sustainably suggests that we can consume energy and resources in ways that have no net loss of these things. And that we can do so in ways that still please and nurture us. It is a lifestyle that lives in harmony with the Earth to the greatest degree possible.

However, living in harmony with the Earth means more than the best possible planting philosophies and strategies. It is more than the organization of food production to more organic, probiotic, and natural means. Living in harmony with the Earth must include all of the elements of life here. It must include living in harmony with all the plants, animals, and elements around us. And it must include harmony within our communities, harmony between communities (even to the largest communities we have), and, most of all, it must include harmony within each of us.

Huna is a spiritual philosophy that has its roots in the ancient sustainable life here in Hawaii. The ancient peoples of Hawaii were not perfect beings; they had their personal challenges and opportunities for growth. But since they were living in one of the most isolated places on Earth they had to live sustainably in order to survive. Those who couldn't or wouldn't live sustainably ended up in great tragedy, like the peoples of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) who slaughtered one another over ever diminishing resources.

Huna is similar to many spiritual systems in regarding our experience of the outer world as a function of how we have constructed our inner world. If we find ourselves living a life of conflict with those around us, Huna would suggest that conflict is a part of how we have chosen to live internally. If we find that our lives are filled with love and beauty, then it is a reflection of how we see ourselves. Harmony thus starts at home. When we reduce the conflict within, we experience more harmony, both inwardly and in our environment.

I think the most useful concept for reducing conflict, of any sort, is Aloha. I'm not just talking about sharing love with everyone, although that's a part of it. Aloha is about connection. It is the awareness and enjoyment of being connected to some thing or some person. This is the ethic of the Hawaiians, to stay in connection with everyone and everything as much as possible. And the motivation to stay in connection is, frankly, to feel good. Connection is often overlooked as a pleasure, especially in Western society. However, for many it is the very best pleasure of all. It is the joy of consciously being fully a part of the web of life. And the experience generally includes a delicious sense of who we are and how we fit into the bigger picture.

One of the things that comes in and breaks Aloha, cuts connection off immediately, is fear. When we approach sustainability from a place of fear, we are defeating ourselves before we start. Fear is not sustainable. Fear saps our energy, it keeps us focused on the future, and it prevents us from living in joy and love. So when we look at the need to live sustainably from a place of being afraid of what will happen if we keep consuming things at the rate we have been, we do so divorced from our joy and happiness. As we noted at the being of this article, the ancient Hawaiians, like so many others. found that we create our experiences of life from what is going on inside us. And thus we cannot create lives of love and joy from a place of fear!

A more effective way to look at the changes that are happening now is to see that we have choices based on pleasure that we can make. We can choose between enjoying all the resources now, admittedly at the expense of future pleasures, or we can enjoy the resources at a slower pace so that they will last longer. We can also choose to enjoy what we have differently. We can choose to find more pleasure in connection and place less emphasis on diversions and novelties. The accent in the past has been on the premise that ownership and consumption of many things will bring happiness and joy. All the evidence to the contrary does not seem to have dented this notion.

Since feeling good, or at least feeling better, is the motivation for everything we do, I would suggest that the clearest path to living sustainably is in assisting people to enjoy the many wonderful things in their lives and to enjoy being who they already are. When we feel good about who we are, we need so much less and we enjoy our connections to everything more. Inspiring words aren't enough. It is through modeling joy, coming from a place of pleasure, and genuinely loving ourselves that we can show others a better way. This, I believe, is the heart of living sustainably: Aloha.

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