On the Big Island in Hawaii is a national park called Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or the Place of Refuge. The place is special, white sand, black lava stone walls, ki’i figures bearing their teeth at the wind and the water, tall palms swishing their fronds in the wind. There are usually a few sea turtles bobbing around in the waves and happily grazing algae. Sometimes one pulls itself out of the lapping waves for some warming sunshine.
In the park, there are some lava stone walls and platforms, some buildings and figures, but mostly it contains peace and beauty.
What’s important to know is that inside these walls was safety. Historically, the place of refuge provided an escape valve of sorts out of the strict rules of Hawaiian society. To my superficial understanding, that traditional culture had strong kapu – or what we might call taboos – protocol for who is allowed to do what where. Some sound social-caste-driven – commoners couldn’t touch the shadow of nobleman – others seem much more about alignment with ecological forces – letting land or fishing areas lie fallow to recover from harvesting pressure. There were also political struggles. Those who had transgressed the rules or been on the wrong side of a battle could reach one of these zones of…is it forgiveness? or maybe absolution?…and enter a process to be reincorporated into society.
A hut near the entrance holds the bones of priests, and it is their power, in my language perhaps the power of their intention, that gives this place its power of peace. The place is magical. Maybe it is the warm sun, the closeness of sea turtles, the graceful swaying of the palm fronds. Or maybe the years of peace and renewal in this spot has left an aura of deep calm.
While there are moments of transcendence and sublime beauty, life also contains moments of annoyance, small-minded prejudice, mistakes of inattention, bad luck, and bad intentions. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place where we can go and be forgiven?
Of course, the spell breaks when envisioning larger transgressions, or repeat offenders. And, while I cannot imagine setting this up for a larger society, this place does inspire me to create openness and forgiveness for myself, for the day to day departures from intention, misfires, and missed opportunities, for the ways in which I find myself lacking and lecture myself on doing ____ better, more often, or never again.
As I near my 40th Birthday, my goal is to carry that safe place around for myself and for those close to me. My meditation practice is the practice of building that space, and my meditation room is its physical manifestation.When I am calm and at peace, I create peace around me. When I let myself become disturbed, I disturb.
What is your place of refuge? How can it be extended to increase your own well-being and that of those around you? How do you nurture your hope?