Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Hawai’i!
This is the most unique Christmas holiday I have ever had in my life. My family and I traveled to Hawai’i where new adventures and new discoveries filled up each day of our trip!
On Christmas we caught a ferry to the very sparsely inhabited island of Lana’i. The island was formerly a Dole pineapple plantation, and in 2012 Larry Ellison, owner of Oracle purchased 97% of the island. Hawai’i remains riddled by the vestiges of colonialism, and thrives mainly through the investments of tourism, U.S. military, and ecotourism.
For Christmas day, I made what I hoped was a very neat, if not perfect plan. In addition to the ferry, I lined up two meal reservations on the island. It was Christmas, and there are only about 3200 people on the island. I wanted to be sure we had a place to eat lunch and dinner.
My family, however, wanted to make adjustments. I did not feel very flexible, and worse, I didn’t handle their wishes very well. It seems such a small thing in retrospect to change meal plans in the middle of a day. Yet when it happened, I “flipped my lid,” and became frustrated and needed time to regain my calm. More on that in a minute.
Thankfully, despite the changes to some of our plans, the main reason for going to the island prevailed. We were all in agreement that the cats were a hit! Scores of cats at the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary turned Christmas 2018 into a day of unforgettable memories. And for me holding the cats and kittens and taking their pictures helped me to refocus my attention and emotions.
Watching my daughter’s face light with joy was the best. She smiled and laughed and oohed and ahhed as she held and played with each new feline friend. She proclaimed the visit to the cat sanctuary the “best Christmas gift” ever.
Now if I could just deal with sudden shifts that come in life with a little more grace and fluidly. . . But when I flip my lid about small things or large, I’m all fight. No flight. No freeze here. Just fight. Hot lava. In those moments I am not a very good parent or partner.
Surviving Hot Lava
Let’s talk about two kinds of hot lava: geologic and emotional. And then let’s see how one amazing plant gives us an interesting metaphor for surviving volcanic activity.
As part of our vacation, we traveled to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (before the federal government shutdown), and we learned something about how the earth’s surface experiences and then recovers from the upheavals of hot lava. In particular, we learned about one plant that is part of the healing process in Hawai’i. The islands are one gigantic volcanic system that looks like eight large and scores of small islands.
The Ohia Lehua (pronounced, o-HEE-ah lay-HOO-ah) is a green, leafy plant with fluffy red blooms. It is the first to take root after a lava flow on the Hawaiian islands. It starts as a shrub in barren places but can grow up to 100 feet when it is in a nourishing landscape.
A native Hawaiian legend tells the story of how ohia lehua came to be. The goddess of volcanoes, Pele, saw Ohia and fell in love with him, but he was already in love with Lehua. Pele flipped her lid and turned Ohia into a scrubby tree. His lover Lehua was devastated and went to the other gods and goddesses to plead for help. They felt for her and turned her into a red flower that would bloom on the Ohia tree, uniting the lovers eternally.
The ohia lehua has some very special abilities to adapt to its environment. One of the tree’s characteristics helps it survive life near active volcanoes: when the sulfur and other toxic gasses come its way, the ohia lehua can in effect close its pores and “hold its breath.” This allows them to block out the toxins and live through the atmospheric disruptions during an eruption or lava flow.
The ohia lehua also has another amazing super power. When they are growing as scrubby plants on a cooled lava field, they can extend their roots above ground and reach into cracks and crevasses for water and actually help turn the lava rock into soil that other plants need in order to take hold and grow.
During one short walk from a lava field, over a volcanic crater and down into a valley, we saw ohia lehua plants of all sizes.
How do the amazing super powers of the ohia lehua tree inspire me when it comes to flipping my lid? My emotional hot lava, the immediate turn to fight when I flip my lid, can be transformed with a change in breathing and by rooting and grounding myself in my surroundings.
When the going gets tough and hot lava starts pushing up the earth’s crust and the air changes, the ohia lehua changes it’s breathing pattern. Like other plants, it takes in oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide, but when the lava smoke and sulfur come, the ohia lehua holds it’s breath. When I flip my lid and my own emotional hot lava starts to flow, I too, need to change my breathing pattern. However, I do not need to hold my breath. Rather I need to breathe more intentionally and deeply.
To survive the aftermath of hot lava, the ohia lehua takes root in seemingly impossible places and gradually turns the inhospitable lava rock into soil for other plants to also take hold. The roots spread and take in water and air in a miraculous transformation of volcanic rock into nourishing soil. This is literally a grounding process, making soil out of rock.
For me the long-term transformation of the reflex to flip my lid and turn into a fighter, is to ground myself and root down into my own body, taking in air and water (breathing and hydration) and being aware of the feelings that I am feeling, rather than leaping into fight-mode. Change over time also comes from the slow change of being present to the situation where I am currently residing and not allowing old ways of thinking and acting rule the moment.
Everywhere we go the world has wisdom for our living. In the new year, I aim to keep receiving that wisdom and releasing my hold on ways that do not serve me. Hopefully my lava will flow deep and quietly and flipping my lid will be less and less a part of my living, making me a better parent and partner each day.