Finding Your Green Path: A Traditional Hawaiian Understanding of Sustainability
Despite all the talk these days about living green, many people don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to them. They read articles about the importance of sustainability, but they haven’t found the grounding to bring it into their daily lives. Sometimes when people start down a path of sustainability, they start criticizing others who aren’t doing exactly what they’re doing. This is counterproductive. Every true spiritual leader that I have ever met teaches that change begins with you as an individual. It's the same with going green in the choices we make each day. You have to understand what it means for you and believe that the path you choose is right for you and you alone. Your neighbor may have a different interpretation or experience of what it means.
Living green doesn’t mean being green with envy of someone else’s lifestyle and it doesn’t mean seeing red when someone else doesn’t look as green as you. The late Uncle George Na'ope, an expert in Hawaiian Culture, and a part of the Huna tradition of my lineage, summed it up. He said: “We spend so much time bad mouthing each other that we don’t take care of our own path.” Here’s an example: I bought an SUV. Someone asked me, “Matt, how dare you buy an SUV?” When I told this person it’s a diesel, their response was “Oh my God. How come you didn’t buy a hybrid?” I have a 45-minute drive on 60 mph roads that have no traffic. If I had bought a hybrid, I might as well have bought a regular gas SUV because the electric isn’t going to kick on. In addition, there are plants out there converting waste oil into bio-diesel. The more people want to purchase diesel, the more someone will want to come here to Hawaii and build a bio-diesel plant. And guess what? Now they are building a bio-diesel plant here in the islands. The point is, focus on your own path — what does it mean to go green for you? — rather than criticizing others. Do exactly what we teach our kids and become an example. Show other people what you’re doing and how powerful it is and they will want to do it, too. Indigenous peoples, such as the Hawaiians before the coming of westerners, understood that there were many different paths to living life in harmony with nature. In Hawaii, there were districts within each island called Ahupua’a. An Ahupua’a is a land division that runs from the mountains all the way down to the ocean. In many cases, people had different structures for how they used the land within each one of these land divisions. For example, on the island of Molokai they had gigantic fish ponds. What sustainability meant to a person managing the fish ponds was drastically different than what it meant to a person building canoes and making sure that the forests were taken care of.
According to the late John Kaimikaua, the word for the land, Aina, meant not just the land but also the people on it. Living in harmony with the environment meant different things depending on where you lived and who you live with. So how do you know which path to follow? First, you’ve got to look at what’s right for you. Second, you’ve got to look at what’s right for the Aina, both the land and the people that live on it. And third, ask how does this choice fit into higher consciousness? The Hawaiians wouldn’t do something for themselves that wasn't also right for the land and other people. They wouldn’t make the land or the people that lived on it more important, one or the other. And they would make sure that it was right with higher consciousness. Today there’s a lot of argument back and forth that people are more important than the environment or the environment is more important than people, and there are activists on both sides. Neither side is seeing the ancient teaching: there is no separation.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to look in the mirror and say, “If I want to go green, if I truly want to live a sustainable life, how is that going to fit into what I do? And how can I maximize that so that I am contributing?