I will miss the warm island paradise that was the launching pad for this project called Aloha Dharma. And I look forward to the change in scenery as I make the move to my new home, Estonia.
Wait, did he say Estonia?
You couldn’t possibly find a place on Earth less like Hawaii than Estonia. And I have to say I’m as surprised as you are to hear that I’m going to move there. I’ve learned that no matter what I expect will happen, I’m usually wrong. Life is wonderfully unpredictable. This year I’m living in a tropical paradise. Next year I’ll be in the icy Baltic. The only reasonable attitude toward life is to expect anything – and to love what it gives you.
Nothing has taught me this lesson more than this crazy thing called “Aloha Dharma.” This site began after my teacher, Kenneth Folk, encouraged me to teach vipassana. I really didn’t know where to start, but decided that the best approach would be to create a website. Soon after, I offered to see people online, via skype, to teach them meditation one-on-one (which is an approach pioneered by Kenneth). I was more than skeptical that anyone would be interested. But now, years later, I have taught dozens of students from all over the world. Many of them have taken the meditation all the way to stream entry, and a surprising number have gone far beyond. This teaching project has been more successful than I could ever have imagined.
So this seems like a good time to reflect, to write out what I’ve learned since I started this project.
I started to really consider what I had learned when a friend asked me if I was planning to keep the site name. After all, “Aloha Dharma” probably sounds a bit weird in Estonian, which I’m led to understand includes umlauts (something going for it, in my opinion).
I replied that I am going to keep the name, explaining that the word “aloha” has come to symbolize many of the things that I have learned from teaching meditation. After all this time, it just means too much to me to change it. I can’t think of a more fitting word to express what it is like to connect with others in the context of an insight practice.
Most people know that “aloha” means both “hello” and “goodbye.” That is a beautiful expression of impermanence, in my opinion, and all by itself points to something inherent in the experience of meditation that is crucial for insight. But what a lot of folks don’t know is that the ending “ha” refers to the breath, which has deep significance in Hawaiian culture and in vipassana. The word “aloha” invokes an immediate recognition of constant motion of the living moment connected to the breath – to what Hawaiians think of as the living force. All by itself, this word is a pointer to the first thing to be seen in meditation. For me, it has come to embody the initial insight that all meditators reach when they practice sincerely: each moment is alive with vibrant change. When you tune into it, in the insight of the Arising and Passing Away, your life is changed forever.
But for me personally, as a teacher, “aloha” has a very special meaning. It also means “I see you” or “I face you.” It is a statement of clear seeing and full presence, of relaxing into the being of another with warm regard. It refers to an attitude, to a way of being with things as they are that is open, caring, and utterly accepting. It is synonymous with peace, affection, and love. As a teacher, the word “aloha” has come to be my mission statement. It is the way I teach, and it is the way I feel about those I teach. Meeting with a meditation teacher shouldn’t be intimidating. It shouldn’t be weird. It should be like coming home. Like an oasis from constant confusion and judgement in the world (and in our heads). It should be simultaneously comforting and radically honest. This is what I aim for in teaching, and it’s why I’m keeping the name (and not adding an umlaut).
So much has changed since I’ve started Aloha Dharma, and I’ve learned as much from my students as they have from me. I wish there was a less cliche way to say that – but I sincerely mean it, so I’ll say it anyway.
This project has been so inspiring that after the move I plan to dedicate myself full-time to teaching and writing. Expect a book in 2015.
I am grateful to my students for reaching out to me and so generously supporting the teaching, grateful to Kenneth for teaching me, and grateful to life for always changing. I’m looking forward to whatever is next.