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Mind/Body and Pele's Rocks

Pele's RocksVisitors from all over the world who travel to the Big Island are warned to not take any souvenir lava rocks with them when they return to their homes. Invariably, many tourists cannot resist the temptation to pocket just one or two lovely black stones to show the folks back home or to add to their personal rock collections.

Since the 1950's, more than one ton of rocks has been annually returned to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from visitors who claim to have experienced "Pele's curse." It seems that Pele, the legendary Goddess of the Big Island volcanoes, regards her rocks as sacred and doesn't want to share them. Thus, ill-fortune and poor health accompany those unbelievers who remove rocks from the Island, motivating them to return the rocks to the abode of the capricious Goddess.

And now for the rest of the story. According to Robin Stephens and Linda Ching, co-authors of "Powerstones, Letters to a Goddess," Pele's Curse has no basis in Hawaiian mythology. They say that the whole notion of a curse was started by a park ranger in 1946 in an attempt to discourage visitors from taking rocks from the National Park. Stephens and Ching say that if the curse is a sham, then why all the fuss? The realization they arrived at was that the power of our beliefs shapes our perceptions of the world and creates our reality.

Whoa! What am I saying here? I think I am saying that pain, suffering, health, happiness and the laws of physics are affected by the power of our conscious and unconscious minds. If this is true, then why don't we re-create the Garden of Eden? Simply put, we humans do not yet know how to focus our intent to the degree that we can consciously manifest on the physical level.

This brings us back to health. The realization that the mind exerts a powerful influence on the body is almost a cliche. The mind-body connection is finally acknowledged by many (not all) western medical practitioners, although they are at a loss to incorporate this realization into a therapeutic approach with their patients. When most western-trained physicians find that there is a psychological dimension influencing a patient's experience and expression of life, an anti-depressant is most often their solution.

Eastern medical practitioners and tribal shamans have traditionally practiced a more integrated approach, using herbal medicines and ritual in their approaches to restoring health. Drums, feathers and ritualistic dances may not, in themselves, drive out the evil spirits that are creating distortion on the physical level. But if the patient, the object of the focused attention of the shaman believes that they do, then the possibility of restored health is greater. Any physician knows that the survival potential of a chronically ill person is greater if the patient believes they will recover.

Back to Madame Pele. From one perspective, her lava rocks have gathered power because the strength of our belief systems has given it to them. But let's also give Pele's creation a bit of credit. From another perspective, it is typical human arrogance to think that all that we perceive as reality is the conscious and unconscious manifestation of our human minds. The rocks may have an innate power. Drums and feathers may drive evil spirits from the body. There is a grand mystery beyond the ken of our five senses, a place of wonder that defies verbiage. We know it exists because we can "sense" it on a cellular level. To consciously experience this dimension, our mission is to learn to let go of the concepts and structures that define so much of what we know as reality. Somewhat scary and easier said than done.

Our ancestors saw life and spirit in every tree, in every rock, in every grain of sand, in every tangible, natural object. Modern science looks upon this practice as primitive, if not barbaric. Our fear of the unknown drives us to try to define, understand and adapt everything we perceive to the limited confines of our present conscious intelligence. In the process, we are separating ourselves from the possibility of intuitive contact with the mana, the transformative grace of the land.

I have written in previous columns that the Big Island is called the "Healing Island" because to many people, there is an almost tangible energy emanating from the land that provokes self-examination and conscious change. It is almost like we are forced to look at the patterns of our lives and respond according to our highest visions. Island residents have various responses. Some respond by losing themselves in the oblivion of drugs. Others choose to leave the Island. Others choose to indulge in various worldly aspects such as material acquisition. And some are driven to various forms of deviant social behavior. Then there are those who accept the challenge and choose to use the pressure they feel as an impetus to grow in consciousness, to move closer in their life expressions to their highest visions.

Perhaps the real lesson in Pele's curse is that when we desecrate the Big Island environment, we bring a kind of karmic retribution upon ourselves. By extension, if we continue to wreck havoc upon the Earth, well, there is no shortage of doom and gloom scenarios. The only difference is that we have no place to mail the planet to when the consequences of our actions catch up with us.

In reading what I have written in this column, the residue of weightiness makes me squirm a bit. The words are infused with what "The Little Prince," in the classic by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, calls "matters of consequence." The Prince accuses adults of always being too serious in their interactions with the world. Maybe the best approach to life is to simplify as much as possible and follow artist Beatrice Wood's recipefor happiness, "Eat dessert first, preferably chocolate."

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