“In the Arms of Mother Ocean”
By Helen Schulz and Shanti Mook
(From “Connection Special 32”, 1996)
On the occasion of their trip to Hawai’i, we gave our two authors a mission:
They were supposed to follow up on a rumor according to which Hawaiian Kahuna-shamans accompany people on the threshold of death into warm water lagoons to send their souls into the ocean.
Despite their persistent inquiries nobody could or would supply any hints. Finally, the answer came from a totally unexpected source…
Actually I did not plan to go to the beach that day with the others from the group. I was rather looking forward to play in the warm lava pool near the ocean and give watsu sessions. But then I was persuaded by what I would call “group spirit” to join the others – just for an hour and then I would go the warm pool. It was going to be the longest hour of our trip.
The bizarre looking beautiful black sand beach, created by black lava, was recommended to us because of its wild beauty and the presence of dolphins, and I was curious when we climbed down the rocks. What we saw was an extraordinarily beautiful bay surrounded by huge cliffs, with tall palm trees, black glowing sand and a turquoise ocean.
Aumara saw the bay and said: “This is my place! I want to stay here forever. It’s so beautiful here”. She was a delicate and graceful woman with a clear laugh, always cheerful and lively, who appeared much younger than her age. Sometimes when I watched her giving a massage or dancing she reminded me of a butterfly or a fairy, I saw her floating, flying and dancing rather than standing with both feet on the ground of mother Earth. Now she was so happy about this earthly place and about being in Hawai’i.
The Pacific Ocean was smooth that day. A gentle breeze was blowing, not a cloud to be seen in the sky. We were carefree and happy and as soon as we laid down in the sand we saw dolphins playing in the far away waves. We were happy to see them and wanted to be near them. It was wonderful to be carried by the warm and gentle waves and all my cells vibrated when I saw two whales passing near the horizon.
Where is Aumara?
All of a sudden there was excitement in the group! Where is Aumara? She has been swimming for about an hour, trying to get closer to the dolphins, who saw her? She was swimming along with others, but still did not return?
I climb a mountain, start to scan the ocean and call out to Shanti. Together we scan the waves. There! I see something, next to the large cliff. Is it a trunk or driftwood…no, I recognize the shape of a body and white skin. It’s her! I am hot and now everything happens quickly:
Shanti starts running, swimming towards her. I call the group, and immediately we start forming an energy circle, twenty-five serious faces, everything happens spontaneously. We feel the guidance and know what to do. We chant, call her, speak to her soul. Some start crying, comprehending the incomprehensible, others are in a state of shock, but we stand together, holding hands – an incredible intensity! We pray, send Mana (strength) to the three swimmers out there and watch as they bring in the white, small body.
Meanwhile our circle is growing, strangers join in, multi-colored figures from all over the beach – all contributing their love to the Circle. Instinctively I put Shanti’s pareo in the middle of the circle. The men come in.
As soon as I realized what was going on, without even thinking, I ran into the water and started swimming. Relying on my experience as a swimmer and swimming as fast as I could, I suddenly realized that I am alone and that my heart is beating like crazy. What if she drags me down with her? I am swimming with my eyes open and see this deepness – the big blue. I have no idea what to expect and am getting farther away from my friends every second. Hesitating, I try to keep my orientation. Where is she?
From the beach people are trying to point out the direction, shouting something that is being swallowed by the surf. I look ahead and indeed, exactly where I assumed her to be, a wave elevates her, about 50 meters ahead of me. I see her white back shimmering. The next wave rolls over her. I feel hot. I continue to swim and feel a vibration – fear. Only a few more meters. I see that she is surrounded by the dancing waves. Is she moving, playing with letting go?
When I reach out for her, I all of a sudden realize with certainty: She has surrendered totally, without resistance or control. Like water in the water. Oh Aumara, where are you? I start talking to her, and as I turn her around I can see no life in her open eyes; no misunderstandings, she is already gone, watching my actions, saying “Don’t panic, Shanti. Let me continue my dance here. Go swim back to the others. Leave me. Leave me“.
I realize that I have reached my limit. I am totally exhausted and have swallowed more than enough water. Every third or fourth waves rolls over me, and I can’t manage to keep both my and her mouth above water. Just in time Norbert arrives like a saving angel, and he is followed by another swimmer from the beach. They take her body and as I let go of her, I see how small and fragile she is.
On The Threshold
Helen: Is she alive? Immediately a second small circle forms around her. “Let’s give her our warmth, our breath, our hands”. We cover her in blankets and start massaging her heart. Strangers become friends. Love and tears are pouring at the same time.
The prayer circle is singing. Some sit down and meditate. The men who brought her in are exhausted and quiet. I hear crying and shouting and the loud cry of the big parakeets dwelling in the trees above. They were flying over our heads with warning craws just before we spotted Aumara. Now I understand.
Her fragile face and her eyes are directed towards me for some time. Is she looking at me? I am holding her feet, massaging them, pressing the life point “sparkling source”. I am talking to her, chanting and praying, and observe her struggle. Will she make a decision for this life here on earth or is she already too far away, with the dolphins out there? Her face looks so peaceful and relaxed.
The CPR is definitely causing her stress. Sometimes it seems as if there is a sign of life; a look. I am asking her to forgive us that we are causing her pain, explaining that it is our duty to try to reanimate in case she decides to stay with us, but that we will accept it if she decides to go.
When the ambulance finally arrives many of us feel that she has already left her body. But the doctors continue to reanimate and we get the impression that the peace is leaving her face and that she looks distressed. I continue to explain to her what is happening and request her over and over again to decide according to her own will. Others keep calling her name.
The Chant of The Kahuna
We close the Circle. A woman is dancing into the pareo in the middle of the circle. She lays down her lei (flower garland) and we sing, pray and chant – then there is a long silence. The hippies who live on this beach have also joined us.
Suddenly we hear a harmonious voice singing a Hawaiian prayer. Unnoticed by the others, a Hawaiian Kahuna shaman has entered the circle. After finishing his prayer he tells that for hours an inner voice had told him to go down to the beach, and now he finally followed it. He is now here for us in our grief, and to hold a farewell ceremony for Aumara. We all instinctively know that he is right. She is long gone. She agreed out there in the ocean to her gentle death near the dolphins. Her heart simply stopped beating, no fight. It was us who could not let go, who were in shock.
The Kahuna, strong and beautiful, embraces and comforts. He talks to us silently and disappears as quietly as he came.
Several hours later, after the Circle dispersed, we silently walked back. The silence covers our grief and amazement. Out of the blue, just like that – Could this happen to me too?
Shanti’s Pareo of Living and Dying
A wonderful Hawaiian pareo I received just recently is dearly woven into this story: its ground color is a velvet black, with shining turquoise-blue flowers on it. This pareo represents the colors of the black sand beach and the shining transparency of the waves, the flowers are a symbol of perfection.
When we celebrated in a meditation circle for Aumara the day she died with visions and images of her joy of living, Helen placed the pareo in the middle of the circle. It was filled with fresh hibiscus flowers, a lava stone and a kukui nut necklace.
All of sudden I see that there is also the beautiful flower garland that someone put on Aumara’s head a few days ago – since then, she always wore it. Seeing the garland touched me, moving me to tears. With my tears I feel a flow of thankfulness and affection for this loving little woman who blessed and praised her life, her love for her spouse, her work and everything around her with so much joy and love.
I see her laugh with glistening eyes, the garland on her hair, see how she dances the hula, forceful and gentle at the same time. Yes, she is dancing. Dancing the way she wanted to and loved to. She is filling the room with the fragrance of a loving, carefree life. And trembling I see that the pareo is now wrapped around her body, a black and blue pareo – the colors of her beach, her ocean. She is dancing on the pareo and is wrapped in it at the same time. The dance of life emerging from death.
Blossoms At The Bottom of The Sea
A few days later, together with our Hawaiian teacher we gather at an incredible power place, an old Huna temple at the Na Pali coast. It is an amazing place.
Above the palm tree beach lies a huge rock altar created by nature, shaped like an eagle’s nest. People have placed offerings into the niches: stones wrapped in leaves and fruits.
We dance our newly learned hula dance for Aumara and dedicate it to her memory. It is a prayer for the blessing of the dancers and an invocation of the Goddesses of hula.
Then we rest below the trees, gathering ourselves in front of the glowing sun that looks like a fire ball. Our teacher emerges from the group, in her hands is Aumara’s flower lei.
She mounts the rocks towards the ocean that is roaring and singing an eternal song. With a flowing movement she throws the lei into the foaming ocean – blossoms at the bottom of the sea.
“Ika moana, ka moana hohonu”. This is how we said good-bye to a friend, on her way to the great Goddess.
The Circle Is Closing
A few weeks later, at the end of our journey we returned to the black sand beach. There was an atmosphere of awe as we tried to digest all that has happened. I experienced the whole story again and tried to let go of it by giving it to the ocean.
The sun is setting , a golden and red evening is embracing all my grief. I watch the whales pass by out there. Soon they will have their babies in these warm lagoon waters; death and birth at the same place.
In the twilight we mount the narrow path back to the street. A Hawaiian man on a bicycle is coming towards us. It is Manu, the Kahuna who chanted the song of the dead for us. After a hearty welcome he tells how the story continued for him: He felt guilty for Aumara’s death because as a local he feels responsible for this beach and had at first ignored the call to go down to the beach. When we told him that she did not die by drowning but probably had a gentle death, he told us the end of the story:
That same day after everybody left he climbed on the rock from which we first spotted Aumara drifting in the ocean, and prayed for her soul. This is how he completed the ritual; quietly and naturally. He thanked the animals, spoke to the lava rocks, to the waves, to the wind and to the black sand. When he opened his eyes a group of dolphins came swimming towards him, exactly at the same spot where we saw Aumara. The circle was closed.
Mahalo Manu Aloha – We accept and let go.