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Making Sense of Meditation

I would like to share an article by my mentor, Hawaiian shaman Serge Kahili King. In this article he shares some ideas about various kinds of meditation based on Hawaiian ideas. However, as he points out, these ideas are not attached to any religions or belief systems and can be practiced by anyone. I often hear from clients—“meditation does not work for me. I tried everything”.  Well, everything is a lot! So the ideas presented here are far from “everything” but I think there is enough to give meditation a try. Go for it!

Making Sense of Meditation by Serge Kahili King

A lot of confusion exists about the subject of meditation. Most of that is due to the fact that so many people associate the word with a specific form or a particular religion. I would like to go beyond all that to the core of what meditation actually is, and isn’t. To do that, I will be referring to Huna concepts and using some Hawaiian words, but what I say will apply to meditation in general.

Meditation is simply the act of putting your attention on a limited area of focus for a particular period of time and for the purpose of changing oneself in a particular way. This is what distinguishes it from mere reverie, daydreaming, fantasy, reading for entertainment or learning, and playing or observing a game. Most usually the word meditation refers to inner-directed attention, but there are exceptions to that, such as some Zen-style meditations.

There are a number of different words in Hawaiian for meditation, each representing different aspects of the process. One is wae, which also carries the idea of choosing or selecting what to meditate on. Closely related is waena, which, in addition to meditation, also means “a garden” and “to get centered.” That’s why the Kahili tradition often uses an image of an inner garden as a meditation focus.

No’o or no’ono’o is often translated as “meditation” or “to meditate,” but it really refers to the act of concentration itself and in the Hawaiian language is generally applied to intellectual thinking.

Nalu is another word for meditation, and now we are getting to the heart of it. This word also means “wave” and its roots contain the ideas of “peacefulness” and “togetherness.” Nalu is really a type of meditation that uses passive focus in order to connect with, join to, or merge with something else. It is the basis for most zen and yoga styles of meditation. In Huna it is one of two primary meditation methods.

In a Nalu meditation, as we call it, there is no explicit goal or purpose. Of course, there is always a background intention in any meditation, but in Nalu it stays in the background.

To help you understand the process, a simple Nalu meditation would be to close your eyes to reduce distractions, and just pay attention to your breathing. You don’t have to try and change how you breathe, but if it changes that’s okay. Another way would be to concentrate on repeating a word or short phrase, and still another would be to hold your focus on an object, like a flower or a crystal or a graphic image. Many meditation forms use an alternative method of maintaining attention on an internal image or concept.

Doing a Nalu type of meditation for a short period of time, say a minute or so, usually has a relaxing and/or energizing effect. Doing it for longer periods tends to produce a feeling of connection with the focus of the meditation, and often a flow of ideas or information related to it. In some cases, especially if the intent is there, it can lead to a shift of consciousness away from your current surroundings. A very curious and useful effect of Nalu may occur when you use a problem as your focus: as you maintain the focus, ideas of how to solve the problem may arise in your mind or the problem may resolve itself without any effort on your part. I won’t even try to offer an explanation for that, because it’s completely dependent on on how one chooses to interpret or explain it.

Another type of meditation is called Hua in Hawaiian. You won’t find this word translated as meditation, but two basic meanings are “seed” and “fruit.” Other important and related meanings are “result” and “effect.” In a Hua type of meditation, therefore, you are purposely and actively trying to create a particular effect, most often with the help of imagination.

A simple Hua meditation would be to close your eyes to reduce distractions once more, inhale with your attention on your navel, and when you exhale, imagine sending that breath to some part of your body for relaxation or healing, or strengthening, or pleasure. Often it helps to imagine your breath as a colored light or liquid. The idea behind this is to actively “plant a seed” in order to “produce the fruit” of your intentions. All forms of meditation involving active imagination or guided imagery fall into the Hua category. This includes most forms of hypnosis as well. Although hypnosis is seldom associated with meditation, it fits the definition given near the beginning of this article.

Meditation can be used for relaxation, for understanding, for learning, for healing, for self development, for spiritual development (according to the definition of the one who meditates), and for changing circumstances.

The main characteristic of a good meditation is that you feel better for having done it. The tradition or the style is not as important as the experience itself.


Contact Marina Raye, LICSW

Integrative Coach and Psychotherapist