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  • Kevin Hara

Ha’aha’a - Empty

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

There are several layers of meaning in the Hawaiian vocabulary. The first layer is the literal; the translation of the word as defined by the missionaries upon their arrival. The second is the allegorical; the poetic and symbolic language used in traditional Hawaiian communication. The third is the esoteric meaning; a deeper interpretation and understanding behind the Hawaiian word. Aunty Pilahi Paki has been revered as the Keeper of the Secrets of Hawaiʻi. She shared the secret deeper meaning behind the words of Aloha with her grandnephew, Uncle Pono Shim, who taught them to me.

The “H” in the word Aloha stands for Haʻahaʻa. The literal meaning of the word Haʻahaʻa is humility. It is humbleness which is to be expressed with modesty. The deeper meaning is to go empty. For in that place of emptiness, we are able to perceive and receive truth and peace.

Martial artist Bruce Lee relates a Zen parable. ... A learned man once went to a Zen master to inquire about Zen. As the master talked, the learned man would frequently interrupt him with remarks like, “Oh yes, we have that too,” and so forth. Finally the Zen master stopped talking and began to serve tea to the learned man; however, he kept pouring, and the tea cup overflowed. “Enough! No more can go into the cup!” the learned man interrupted. “Indeed, I see,” answered the Zen master. “If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea.”

Sometimes, we try too hard. An important concept in pulmonary physiology is dynamic hyperinflation. It takes longer to empty the lungs than it takes to fill it. Therefore, if the respiratory rate increases to the point that there is insufficient time for exhalation to complete, the lungs will progressively hyperinflate. This is an unsteady state. Like a balloon, the lungs cannot continue to keep getting bigger. In addition, the pressure changes within the chest necessary to attempt further inflation gets greater and greater which produces adverse effects on the heart and circulatory flow. The remedy is to slow the breathing down. The technique used to achieve this is called “pursed lip breathing.” First, a slow deep breath is taken in through the nose; like smelling the roses. Then, a slow deep exhalation is made through pursed lips; like blowing into a balloon. Only by emptying the lungs , are we allowed to take in a full breath.

I have learned that patients will usually reveal their diagnosis to their doctor if allowed to speak. Yet, studies have shown that patients are allowed to speak for only 18 seconds before being interrupted by their doctor. Trying too hard makes the work more difficult. A colleague of mind related how he uses haʻahaʻa in his practice to remedy this situation. Before entering the patient room, he goes to emptiness. This allows him to optimally receive all that the patient and visit situation has to offer him.

We need to slow down. We need to release the clutter and preconceived notions in our mind and go to emptiness. In that space of emptiness, insight, wisdom, and peace will be revealed. It will allow us to connect meaningfully with the world around us.

Lee S. Be Water, My Friend. Penguin Random House. 2020.


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