Thursday, May 6, 2010

Proust and his madeleines

The Buddhist concept of living in the moment is wonderful, but easier said than done at times.

The other week I attended a French literature class and they were discussing Marcel Proust, one of the greatest authors of the 20th century.

We were talking about his story of the madeleine, where he takes a bite of a madeleine cookie with his herbal tea and is immediately drawn back to his childhood for a moment: all the feelings of joy that he had experienced one day when his aunt had given him a madeleine cookie and tea during his childhood. Yet the vivid memory only lasted for a moment. The more he tried to recapture that sensation by taking more bites of his cookie and more sips of his tea, the more elusive the feelings and memories became, like waking up from a dream.

I had always thought this story was very nice, but rather simple. However, I think I was wrong. Proust isn't only nostalgic, he is trying to recapture specific feelings from his past and bring them into the present moment, yet is unable to do it. How true and universal this concept really is.

There are times when we are flooded with memories by re-tasting a certain food or smelling a particular scent, hearing a specific song, or even looking at old photos: these are like small gifts. They bring us directly into the past for a few seconds, allowing us to remember distincly, not only people and places, but also how we felt at that precise moment.

The feeling may not last, as Proust so desperately wanted, but still we sense something, even if for a moment. And whether in the past or present, we certainly spend much of our time thinking fondly and longingly of those people and places that are far from us.

"The Portuguese call it saudade: a longing for something so indefinite as to be indefinable. Love affairs, miseries of life, the way things were, people already dead, those who left and the ocean that tossed them on the shores of a different land - all things born of the soul that can only be felt."

- Anthony De Sa

What a truism saudade is. Saudades do passado perdido, saudades dos momentos felizes, saudades das pessoas queridas que estão longe!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Spirit of Aloha

"Aloha to learn what is not said, to see what cannot be seen & to know the unknowable."
Queen Lili‘uokalani

For my first entry in this new blog I wanted to touch upon a lovely word and concept that I have felt during each one of my visits to Hawaii and that has intrigued me: the spirit of aloha.

From the moment that I first touched down in Hawaii, I was mesmorized with its beauty, culture, warmth, language and diversity. Of course the word you hear more than any other in this state is "aloha". Aloha is an Hawaiian symbol. Aloha means so much more than just hello and good-bye; it's a whole way of thinking that permeates the entire Hawaiian culture and experience. Its meaning goes beyond any definition you can find in the dictionaries.

In Hawaii, you hear aloha all the time and you are treated with aloha everywhere.

So What Does Aloha Mean?

Aloha is the most Hawaiian of words. In the Hawaiian language, it can mean hello or goodbye. It also means love and affection. The word aloha is used in a combination with other words, such as aloha kakahiaka, which means good morning; aloha auinala used as a greeting that means good afternoon; and aloha ahiahi is how you can wish good evening in Hawaiian. Because of aloha’s unique meaning and popularity, Hawaii is called the Aloha State.

The Spirit of Aloha

The literal meaning of aloha is “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life.” It comes from “Alo,” meaning presence, front and face, and “ha,” meaning breath. Aloha is a way of living and treating each other with love and respect. Its deep meaning starts by teaching ourselves to love our own beings first and afterwards to spread the love to others.

According to the old kahunas (priests), being able to live the Spirit of Aloha was a way of reaching self-perfection and realization for our own body and soul. Aloha is sending and receiving a positive energy. Aloha is living in harmony. When you live the Spirit of Aloha, you create positive feelings and thoughts, which are never gone. They exist in space, multiply and spread over to others.

Inspired by the philosophy and the wisdom of the Spirit of Aloha, nowadays many institutions and businesses in Hawaii carry its name: Aloha Tower, Aloha Stadium and Aloha Airlines. Many Hawaiian singers write and perform songs about aloha as well.

What a beautiful idea for a culture to have a word with such depth and feeling to it. I find that so inspirational and romantic. Aloha is the perfect word to accompany the lovely Hawaiian culture, and holds a spirit we could all do well to live by wherever we may be.

Aloha to you all!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Portrait

She speaks always in her own voice
Even to strangers, but those other women
Exercise their borrowed, or false voices
Even on sons and daughters.

She can walk invisibly at noon
Along the high road, but those other women
Gleam phosphorescent - broad hips and gross fingers -
Down every lampless alley.

She is wild and innocent, pledged to love
Through all disaster; but those other women
Decry her for a witch or a common drab
And glare back when she greets them.

Here is her portrait, gazing sidelong at me,
The hair in disarray, the young eyes pleading:
'And you love? As unlike those other men
As I those other women?'

- Robert Graves