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Aloha Spirit

Thursday morning, 10:30 a.m. My wife and I pull into the parking lot of a grocery store
on the North Shore of Oahu. We've set up camp in a private campground three miles up
the road and it's time to fill our chest with food for the next few days.

People are up and about that time of morning and the lot is full. But we find the one open
spot, conveniently near the door to the store. I pull our little rented Sidekick in and start
to get out. Just as I open the car door I notice a large man, both arms full of groceries,
heading into the narrow slot between our cars. Like many people I've seen over the last
couple of days, he is tall, dark hair, full-chested, vaguely Asian in appearance, wearing a
clean but well-worn tee shirt and colorful shorts that come to his knees. He appears very
healthy and very tanned. In short, he looks like a native Hawai`ian.

I'm a very white late middle aged man who has managed to avoid exposing my legs to the
sun for several years now. I am the opposite of a native Hawai`ian. I am the Tourist. I
hesitate when I see him and attempt to sit back into the low bucket seat of our little car
and close to door to make room for this man, who I instinctively respect and want to
accommodate. But something interesting happens. In a high, soft voice, he insists that I
continue – come out, close my door. He stops in his tracks with a smile, waiting for me.
“No, no, please,” I reply. But he is not moving, and his smile has not diminished. “Come
one out,” he insists.

Courtesy now requires that I get out of my car, close my door, and clear the aisle as
quickly as I can. So I do that. As I pass him and he continues to his door, I turn around
and bow my head to him. “Thank you,” I say. He turns to me, arms still full, and beams at
me. “Aloha,” he says, with a nod. “Aloha,” I reply, smiling back. Then I surprise myself
by taking a chance. “Mahalo,” I add. “Mahalo,” he replies instantly. I am pleased and a
bit surprised that his pronunciation exactly matches mine. I've spoken this very important
Hawai`ian word correctly for the first time to a native Hawai`ian.

That's it. The whole exchange last thirty second or less but it leave my head spinning.
This tiny event, a normal daily exchange of courtesies, resonates for me, a zen lesson
perhaps, a defining moment for me during my short stay in Hawai`i. It teaches me, more
than any text could do, the true meaning of Aloha.

This comes from “The Aloha Spirit” (


Aloha and Mahalo

If you learn just two words in Hawai`ian, learn these. They are two of the
most important words in the Hawai`ian language, representing paramount
Hawai`ian values.

In Hawai`ian thinking, words have mana [pronounced: mah' nah],

meaning spiritual or divine power], and aloha and mahalo are among the
most sacred and powerful.
Say them often as they can be life-transforming and -enhancing. Be
careful to use them ONLY if you truly feel mahalo or aloha within. Do not
exploit these words for personal gain, and neither cheapen, nor trivialize
their use by verbalizing them carelessly or without sincerity.

Aloha and mahalo are ineffable, indescribable, and undefinable with

words alone; to be understood, they must be experienced.

Deeper meaning and sacredness is hinted at by the root words of these

words. Linguists differ in their opinions as to the exact meanings and
origins, but this is what was told to me by my kupuna (elder):

On a spiritual level, aloha is an invocation of the Divine and mahalo is a

Divine blessing. Both are acknowledgments of the Divinity that dwells
within and without.

[Alo = presence, front, face] + [hâ = breath]
"The presence of (Divine) Breath."

[Ma = In] + [hâ = breath] + [alo = presence, front, face]
"(May you be) in (Divine) Breath."

Think of them as single-word blessings or prayers.

I learned something after returning to the mainland that astonished me but also explained
a lot: all Hawai`ian citizens and officials are required by law to understand and practice
the Aloha Spirit ( It's on the books
- in the Hawai`i Revised Statutes, section 5-7.5 and acknowledges that The Aloha Spirit
"was the working philosophy of native Hawai`ians and was presented as a gift to the
people of Hawai`i."

From this site:

All citizens and government officials of Hawai`i are obligated by law to

conduct themselves in accordance with this law, while performing their
duties and obligations, as well as in their day-to-day living. Likewise,
those visiting our fair islands are expected to conduct themselves in
accordance with this Hawaiian law.

The Aloha Spirit elevates, empowers and ennobles its people, and KEEPS
Hawai`i the uniquely special place that it is. The Aloha Spirit Law
deserves our unmitigated support and compliance. As a model law for the
world, it can serve the greatest number for its greatest good.
Together, we can make The Aloha Spirit as vibrant and REAL as it was
for those who came before us. Those who have experienced The Aloha
Spirit have an obligation to make it real for those who follow. An
individual, conscious effort is required.

The gentleman I nearly ran into in that parking lot, whether he meant to consciously or
not, was practicing that law. And so he passed the lesson to me directly, in a way that
was powerful and unmistakable.

Part of my epiphany was this: that Aloha Spirit is a model for the rest of the world. It
turns out I'm far from alone in that conviction. Aloha Spirit is so powerful both as
inspiration and as action, a way to live in the world, that even government officials and
legislators found it so irresistible that they not only mandated it as part of Hawai`ian
law, they proposed it officially as “a model law for the world...”

Yes. It works there. It may take longer, it may be more difficult, but it could work here,
where I live. It could work where you live. It could work its magic on us worldwide.

I live in a country and a time that is fraught with pessimism and cynicism and a snide,
selfish, unforgiving kind of personal ethic. Few of us, it seems, carry the Aloha Spirit in
us at all, much less openly. That can change and it must change. For all of our sakes, and
especially for the sake of our children and grandchildren, it must spread. I challenge you:
understand it, study it, teach it, integrate it into your lives. Practice and teach it daily in
the small ways, as that Hawai`ian gentlemen did for me, and its fragrance will blossom
and spread until we may all find ourselves living in something closer to a modern
paradise, as Hawai`i seemed to me to be, and as it is for my children and grandchildren
who live there.

Aloha and mahalo to you all.