Our Life's Foundation -- The Personal Soul Cluster
The following is excerpted from The Bowl of Light: Ancestral Wisdom from a Hawaiian Shaman, available from Sounds True (2011).
In 1996, a momentous trail crossing occurred in Hawai'i between anthropologist Hank Wesselman and the Hawaiian elder and kahuna nui Hale Kealohalani Makua. A friendship took root and over the next eight years, their philosophical discussions about the nature of the self and the nature of reality took Dr. Wesselman into uncharted spiritual territory. Before his untimely passing in 2004, Makua, as he was generally known, gave Hank permission to write about him and their discussions, including some of his teachings, encouraging him to bring them to the wider world.
Our next meeting occurred in a curious location, the small restaurant at the golf club near Volcanoes National Park. Jill and I had returned to the island in March of 1998 to conduct the first of many workshops at the New Millennium Institute in Waimea, and we had gone over to the volcano to visit with the chief before the event began.
Makua was waiting for us when we arrived, and after a warm reunion, we shared a light lunch while watching the golfers plying their craft on the dazzling green fairways bracketed by long dark galleries of ‘ohi‘a trees, all studded with brilliant red flowers. We shared news about the ins and outs of our lives, keeping it light as we ate with gusto; then we returned to Makua's office near the crater overlook, a short drive from the club.
In the conversations that follow, it appears that Makua and I were alone, yet Jill was also there, witnessing all that occurred and passed between us.
This time I had intentionally brought a gift for him -- a bronze image of Pele about a foot tall, which I had created in 1986 during our time on the island, and which I cast later in Berkeley. My depiction of Pele was enhanced with a ferric nitrate brown patina, with the image itself emerging from a base made of polished black stone. As Makua admired the powerful piece, he pointed to the stone base, and our discussion began.
"In considering the structure of one's life," he observed thoughtfully, "it is important to consider the foundation of that life. We must ask ourselves important questions such as ‘What is the nature of our foundation? How is our foundation guiding us as well as our relationships and our work in the world?' All this -- our foundation, our relationships, our work, our intention -- composes the structure of our lives, what it is and what it isn't, as well as what it will become."
Makua again tapped the base of the sculpture for emphasis. "And how is our foundation responding to the life we have created, chosen -- the life to which we have become accustomed?"
"It's really all about choice, isn't it?" I added. "It is indeed," confirmed the kahuna. "At each moment, we are faced with choices -- whether to remain here or travel there, whether to say this or not, whether to stay with the known or whether it's time to huli-to shift."
Makua did not define what he meant as "our foundation," and I realized that I would have to figure this one out for myself, and in fact that was his intention. As I thought about this, I assumed that it varied from person to person and included our beliefs about ourselves as well as those convictions that we hold to be true. In time, Jill and I would work this concept of one's personal foundation into our workshop curricula, asking our participants to engage in journeys of personal divination to discover more about their foundation.
Makua then continued with his line of thought. "People in the Western world hold the monotheist perspective. They believe that they have one life that begins with birth and ends with death. They have one father god who lives off-planet and works in mysterious ways. And they believe that we have one soul. This Christian belief has insinuated itself into our Hawaiian thought as the belief that we have one spiritual soul -- the ‘uhane. But in the indigenous kahuna perspective as it existed before Christian overlay, we understood that we actually have many lives spread out across the time-space continuum, that there are many deities that may come into relationship with us, and we have more than one soul. To be precise, we have three.
"We can refer to these levels of the self as distinct souls rather than selves, for they originate from the same Source," Makua stated, while glancing upward, "but each of these soul aspects exist in very different states of quality."
Makua watched me as I absorbed this, then he reiterated.
"It could be said," Makua stated, "that each of us possesses three souls. These are: one, our ‘Aumakua, our higher spiritual soul and the Source of the immortal spark of light that came into us when we received our divine breath, our Ha; two, our ‘uhane, our middle, mental-intellectual soul that expresses our higher mind functions and that develops as we grow and mature in each life; and three, our ‘unihipili, the lower soul associated with the physical body as well as its functions.
"All of the three embodied souls (immortal ‘Aumakua seed of light, ‘uhane mental-intellectual soul, and ‘unihipili physical soul) form a unity in life, a personal soul cluster that serves us as our foundation. What we call our 'self' in each life is composed of these three souls."
The Mental Soul
Makua briefly withdrew into himself, and when he reemerged moments later, it appeared that he was accessing information directly from his spiritual advisers. Although I have written what follows in contemporary English, the chief sometimes lapsed into an almost archaic way of expressing himself. This was something we would witness repeatedly over the time that we knew him. He did so on this occasion.
"As I have just said, many Hawaiians equate the ‘uhane with a singular indwelling soul or spirit that inhabits us during life and that leaves us when we die. In a sense, this is not inaccurate. Some Christians even identify it as the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, hemo lele, but in reality the ‘uhane is that embodied soul essence that provides us with certain higher mind qualities and abilities during life. For example, the power of choice and creative thought is a function of our ‘uhane, revealing it to be the mental-intellectual aspect of ourselves that comes into being in each lifetime in response to our life as we live it."
"Sounds like what you call ‘uhane is equated with what Westerners call the ego," I interjected. "The ego is the higher mind aspect of ourselves that thinks, analyzes, integrates, and assigns meaning to what we encounter during our lives; it is what the psychologist Carl Jung called 'our conscious mind.'"
"Yes, that's it," Makua continued. "We are here on Earth to develop the ‘uhane ego-soul, as it serves us as our decision maker and thus our inner chief -- our inner director. As such, it steers us successfully or unsuccessfully through life according to the beliefs and convictions that it holds to be true. And these beliefs and convictions are part of our foundation," he said with a smile. "If our ‘uhane believes itself to be powerless, we will live our life in the victim role, as a slave. If our mental soul believes itself to be powerful, we will have quite a different life."
"I have heard many speakers in what I call the transformational community say that we have to get rid of the ego," I observed. Makua laughed at the very thought of my comment, then shook his shaggy head and responded. "I don't think so. The reason we are here as embodied beings on Earth is to develop the ego, as it is this soul aspect, the mental soul, what we call ‘uhane, that is the source of our intentionality and our will forces, as well as our creativity -- our creative imagination.
"When we develop a well-balanced and fully awakened ‘uhane, we can carry the qualities and abilities that it enables back with us into our personal spiritual ‘Aumakua field when we make transition at the end of each life cycle. It is through us here, on the physical plane of action, that our immortal ‘Aumakua acquires higher and greater levels of ability, and that includes the ability to function as a creator."
The weather seemed to be turning as I considered Makua's words, and clouds were gathering above "the office" near the crater, promising rain. Let me put in here that I would learn from Makua that most Hawaiians use the word ‘Aumakua in two different ways. When ‘aumakua is spelled with a small "a," it refers to a totemic guardian spirit complex, often in relationship with a family or clan. These often take the form of a helping spirit or power animal such as the shark or the owl, the Hawaiian hawk, or a mo‘o (lizard or water spirit), or even an elemental like stone or fire or water. When ‘Aumakua is spelled with a capital "A," it refers to our immortal ancestral spiritual lineage that Makua often referred to simply as "the ancestors," as it incorporates all of our former lives and thus all our former selves. As such, the ‘Aumakua is our Higher Self that modern mystics often call the Oversoul, a term coined by the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).
"You see," Makua continued, "it is through our embodiment here in the material world that we develop our ability to create, a function of our ‘uhane soul, and when our ‘Aumakua receives this gift with the death of our physical body, it acquires all the qualities and abilities that we developed during life. It is in this way that we, as immortals, acquire the ability to become creators.
"As we travel across eternity, our life force weaves itself in and out of countless lives, and with each transition, this creative ability is transferred into our immortal aspect, our ‘Aumakua."
Makua, after pausing for a few long, thoughtful moments, then offered a profoundly interesting thought: "We actually come into this world as a god. It's just that we have forgotten who we really are as well as what our objectives for this life really are." I could tell by Makua's detached, yet focused expression that his thoughts were moving along well-known trails and that he was seeking to bring what was so familiar to him in his Hawaiian cultural perspective into a framework understandable to an outsider.
We were talking about the critical information that, when known, digested, and understood, conveys to us the experience of authentic initiation.
"Our ‘Aumakua itself is our spiritual 'dream body,' our distinct and separate immortal soul -- our Higher Self that lives always in the spirit world. This can serve us as a portal through which we dream and can travel into the worlds of spirit while we are still embodied here. Through its gift of our light that comes into us in each lifetime, it becomes part of each of us here," Makua said, grinning at the wonder of it.
"The Buddhists maintain that there is no such thing as a self," I added cheerfully. "They believe that the self is actually an illusion. What do you think about this, Makua?"
"Interesting idea," he responded with a bellow of laughter. "You see," Makua's eyes looked upward as if he was searching for terms, for words, to express his thoughts in English, "this Buddhist idea is merely a theory. I don't believe that the one called the Buddha ever said this. If he had experienced authentic initiation, and we can assume that he did," he grinned widely, "he would have known differently."
With a soft smile, Makua continued, "There is indeed a self, and when we are embodied, there are actually two. There is the immortal self that serves as our personal creator and source that remains always in the spirit world, our ‘Aumakua, and there is the self that we develop in each lifetime, a composite of our three souls -- spiritual soul seed, mental soul, and body soul.
"When our physical body dies, our energetic aspect, our kino aka that carries the composite of the three embodied souls, detaches. It then exists for a period of time independent of the physical body in a free state, thus maintaining its integration as a personal pattern for as long as it needs. The breath is the connecting link between the energy body and the physical body, and when we release our last breath at life's end, we release our Ha, and our soul cluster is free.
"Slowly at first and then with increasing speed, our energetic body, along with our personal soul cluster, loses its attachments to this world and returns to its source, to its ‘Aumakua. At that point, the personal self in whom we have invested so much during life is subsumed into our immortal soul-field -- into our real self. So perhaps what people have come to believe regarding Buddha's statements on the self is not what the Buddha really meant. Perhaps his students simply didn't understand it."
I considered Makua's perspective at some depth, and as one who studied Zen and Taoism for many years, it resonated."In my book Spiritwalker," I said, "I have written about deep trances in which I sometimes perceive my immortal self -- or maybe it's more like I'm remembering that part of my self. The experience is like 'think-feeling' accompanied by the power of vision." The chief looked interested, so I went on.
"Think-feeling is a Melanesian way of achieving a certain perspective on life at large. Among the hill tribes in New Guinea, for example, when something challenging or new happens or comes up, the people think about it; then they feel about it; then they think-feel about it.
"Think-feeling is a most useful concept when experienced directly because it enables us to achieve a deepened perspective on just about everything, because it suggests that we pull the mental and the body souls together and into right relationship, creating harmony as well as balance between these two levels of the self.
"This creates unity within what the Greeks called the psyche," I continued. "In the Classical period, thinkers from Pythagoras on down the line considered the psyche to be the organ of both thought and emotion." Makua looked interested, but said nothing, so I decided to expand on my thoughts even more.
"If I've got this right, the kahuna tradition in Polynesia perceived these two quite separate functions, thought and emotion, to be products of two quite separate souls," I concluded.
"Foundation stones again," he responded with enthusiasm. "If it's time to restructure our life, it's always the foundation that must change first. Knowing this, we must ask ourselves, ‘What is the nature of our foundation? Do we have foundation stones? What are they? How many are there, and are there any missing?'"
Makua smiled, then added as an afterthought, "Each lifetime starts with the descent of the brilliance of our seed of light into the darkness of form, the gift from our ‘Aumakua to our new embodiment for a new life.
"As we have said, it is with that first breath that the light of our immortal soul seed takes up residence within us, and as it does, it encounters another distinct and separate soul that is already in residence, our ‘unihipili, our lower body soul that imbues the physical with life. This is the self aspect that we received from our parents, and it serves as the energetic link to the field of our paternal and maternal ancestors as well."
The Physical Soul
For any of my readers who feel uncertain or confused here, let me put in that I felt the same and asked Makua to explain. "I thought that the Hawaiian word ‘unihipili described the soul of a deceased person, one that exists in the afterlife state, yet is still earthbound."
"Yes, that is true," Makua continued. "Yet our Hawaiian words have many meanings that can shift according to the context in which they are used.
"Our body's soul has very specific functions," he said. "For instance, the entire operation of the body, as well as its repair and restoration, is under its direct control. It serves us in many other ways as well. It is able to access our memories that are stored in our energetic matrix, and it is also the source of our emotions and feelings."
"This sounds like the level of self that transformational speakers like Deepak Chopra refer to as the emotional body," I suggested.
Makua nodded, and I continued, "Perhaps this self aspect is roughly analogous to what Westerners call the subconscious, a term used by the psychologist Carl Jung."
Makua thought about what I said, his face temporarily blank of expression as he accessed his spiritual advisers. And then he resurfaced with enthusiasm and responded, "The term ‘subconscious' is somewhat misleading, because the ‘unihipili is the aspect of ourselves that perceives -- and it perceives everything: the outer world in which we act as well as the inner worlds where we think, feel, and dream. It perceives both the seen and the unseen worlds, and all the time, and so it is really much more conscious than the so-called conscious mind. It is through this bodily soul that all psychic experiences, as well as all visionary experiences, are perceived."
Makua looked as though his thoughts were drifting off for a moment as he walked down some inner path known only to him. I sensed that he was accessing his inner sources of ancestral wisdom and waited for him to return. Then, abruptly, he did and turned to me with a gentle yet commanding knowing and said, "The shamanic experiences that you have described in your book, these are achieved through the ‘unihipili. This is where that doorway into the inner levels of reality is located. It's just there, within ourselves, and despite Western views to the contrary, it has always been there, waiting for us to experience it.
"Sexuality is one of the great gateways to transcendent experience," he continued, "because the ‘unihipili is very impressed by physical experiences that it likes. In fact, sexuality is probably the fastest way we can reach spirit," Makua went on. "But we have to be in love for that to happen. When we are in that intense and focused state of aloha, this sexual energy brings us into connection with transcendence. And it is then, precisely then, that we may touch the universe -- and it may touch us. Yet the key is always aloha."
"Tantra," I nodded. "Perhaps this is why sexuality has been repeatedly demonized by the various organized religions. What chance is there of creating a monopolistic business based upon privileged access to a few holy prophets or books if everyone is making the direct transformative connection with what we call God through having sex?"
We both laughed.
"What are the other ways of achieving transcendence?" I asked with enthusiasm.
"Well, there is what we ‘eha‘eha -- pain and suffering. You call it trauma, and this can be a great gateway into connection with the inhabitants of the other world as well. Many of the Native American peoples endure great suffering when they engage in their versions of the vision quest. Vision quests are initiations designed to bring people into connection with their ancestors and their guardian spirits, and the physical suffering they endure is much of what powers the experience for them.
"And then there is what we call ho‘okuano‘o -- or meditation," Makua added thoughtfully. "Another term for it is ho‘onalu -- it means to go with the flow. The ancestors don't let me sleep much beyond 3:00 a.m., you know. They get me up and sit me down in meditation almost every day at that time. This is why all the kahuna are up and at 'em before dawn."
Together we laughed at this observation. This was one of only three instances when I ever heard the chief obliquely refer to himself as kahuna. Humility is not mere convention. Authentic shamans as well as authentic kahuna never refer to themselves as such, for to do so would express spiritual arrogance. They know that their power is on loan, so to speak. It is the power of the universe, an unthinkably immense energetic field that is most easily accessed as well as conveyed through the spirits who choose to help the shaman, the mystic, or the kahuna in various ways. To become too full of oneself and proclaim oneself as a shaman or a kahuna or a healer just isn't done, as it is a sure way to lose one's power.
When you encounter someone proclaiming himself or herself as a shaman or as a kahuna, or when you read an ad in a periodical or on the Internet in which someone is seeking to draw attention by referring to himself or herself as a shaman or as a kahuna, that's your first red flag -- an indicator that this person is not authentic, because no authentic spiritual practitioner or teacher will ever do this -- no exceptions!
"When the seed of light derived from our ‘Aumakua arrives with the first breath of life and takes up residence within us, it's like a probe," Makua said. "The ‘unihipili soul is already present in the new physical body, having been sourced to us by our mother and father. In the same way that the egg within the mother and the sperm from the father carry a genetic pattern sourced from both parents, those sex cells also carry a psychic-energetic matrix from both mother and father as well. When they come together, they create union of both the physical template and the psychic-energetic template from both parents at the time of conception. This combined matrix is also our connection to our maternal and paternal ancestral lineages."
Makua watched me and waited; he made it a habit of making space for a comment or observation from me.
"The laws of thermodynamics reveal that energy can neither be created nor destroyed," I said, accessing my inner scientist. "But it can shift to a new state. This implies that energy is immortal." The idea that energy is immortal was an idea that felt immensely hopeful to me. "This truth also suggests that we cannot disconnect from our ancestors," I went on, "because energy is the connection, and energy never dies."
Makua looked at me approvingly and waited for me to continue.
"And this realization reveals that our energy body actually has three sources -- the mother, the father, and our personal Oversoul, the ‘Aumakua."
"That's it precisely," he confirmed. "The ancestors are always connected with us because of this. And this contribution from each of these three sources contains a pattern -- you as a scientist would call it a hologram -- a composite matrix of everything recorded in those ancestral energetic fields, each of which has its own unique fingerprint. All three souls are carried by the energy body through which they can come together and form something harmonious, on the one hand -- or on the other, they can resist each other, in which case there are lessons to be learned."
Makua chuckled at this last statement as he thought about it. I glanced at him and added, "I sense from your description of it that our ‘unihipili carries as well all the evolutionary software programmed into the body through the physical DNA code."
Makua nodded, so I continued.
"The resulting pattern must be like an architectural blueprint of the physical body recorded within the body's soul. It is like a computer program. The ‘unihipili soul aspect is alive, and it must be able to read this pattern, for through doing so, it uses the pattern as a guide in making repairs to the physical body."
Makua nodded again in affirmation. "This physical soul we call ‘unihipili is that elusive inner physician that all true doctors and healers know about."
This drew my excitement. "The placebo effect! The Greek philosopher Aristotle was aware of it because he wrote about outer sensations being taken in and worked on by what he called the sensus communis, generating inner imagery that could affect both the cure as well as the cause of disease. The Greek physician Hippocrates also knew about this: he stated that the physician's role is essentially to understand and assist nature. Centuries later, Galen the Roman recorded case studies of what we now call mind-body medicine, or psychoneuroimmunology."
"Great word," Makua laughed.
I continued, "The Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus was also very much aware of this mind-body relationship during the Renaissance period. His writings record his thoughts on the three levels of self -- the spiritual, mental, and physical-emotional -- a perception that comes down from the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, who called them the three principias.
Makua was riveted, so I persisted in my line of thought.
"Paracelsus observed that the real physician is in ourselves. He also said that the mind (mental) is like the master in an invisible workshop and that the body (physical) is the pliable material. From his perspective, it is in this way that the mind can cure diseases or it can cause them. He also is credited with having said that ‘the fear of disease is more dangerous than the disease itself.'"
"This is because," the chief stepped in, "the ‘unihipili takes everything literally. It does not distinguish between reality and illusion. It perceives both as real. This is also the key to Hollywood's success," he chuckled. "When we see Arnold the Terminator up on the big screen . . ."
"Or Sharon Stone in the throes of sexual passion," I offered, laughing, "the body soul does not perceive it as an illusion, and the degree to which this self aspect is drawn into the action vicariously is the degree to which the film is successful at the box office."
The chief looked amused, yet thoughtful. "Yes, Hollywood knows this, and unfortunately, they also know that the big money is to be made by appealing to the dark side of our human character." Makua chuckled again.
"In many ways, the ‘unihipili, the physical soul, is like a warrior or a servant in that it does what it is told to do by the ‘uhane. Our middle egoic soul is our inner chief or CEO, and the lower body soul is the one who does what is required. It's about relationship. These two souls have to be in correct relationship, or there is trouble -- pilikia -- and more lessons to be learned," he concluded with a laugh.
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