On Moonbeams

If you research the benefits of sunlight, there are medical websites that tell you about Vitamin D, it’s mood-enhancing and bone-strengthening qualities, and the way it responds to every cell in your body. Information, stories and discussions on the absorption of moonlight is predominantly affiliated with folklore, tales of turning into a werewolf, tarot sites, spiritual, mystical, and ultimately, separate from the scholarly and scientifically accredited playing field. Hardly a trace of experimentation, research, or any sign of minute inquiry can be detected from academia and science, into how, and then why, we are affected by the moon.

There are Ayurvedic1 studies done on the cooling impact moonbeams have on our nervous system, moonlight being beneficial for inflammation, regulating menstrual cycles, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, increasing fertility, and more. Ayurvedic medicinal practices and herbs are not recognized by the pharmaceutical world. Western medicinal practices relying heavily on pharmaceutical advancement do not highly favor or take seriously the traditions and holistic remedies of the earth. Where a bottle of turmeric powder says “anti-inflammatory”, “increases brain function”, “rich in antioxidants” there is a requirement by the Federal Drug Administration to place an asterisk next to those claims, disclaiming “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease”, discrediting long lines of work done by medicine practitioners, not-so-coincidentally of indigenous and non-European origin. Where is the inquiry, or the tests run, or at bare minimum the acknowledgment of preventative and highly-effective medicine? At this point in time more people are becoming aware of the flaws in the FDA, the invalidity of claims made in the past, claims made only to further an economic agenda or government interest.

We absorb the particles of our environment–fumes, compounds in our water, the type of light we are exposed to. Our skin is an organ that is constantly taking in what we expose it to–even the soap we use to wash our sheets and clothes is taken in. Toxins are released and our bodies work hard to assign everything consumed, to where it would be most useful. Nothing goes unaccounted for, and everything matters. Therefore, the light of the moon, like the light of the sun, is no different. It’s silver blanket and hypnotic radiance is absorbed, and where does it all go? What role does it play in the cells of our bodies? Through the blood in our veins, to our nervous system, what effect does it have on our brain? It moves our wombs—but why, and how? As we gaze into the piercing white light what happens behind our eyes? Moonlight illuminates the plants as they grow, the soil, the earth, so by way of the food we eat, and water we drink, what role is the moon playing? What effect does it have on the animals of the sea, the desert, the birds in the sky?

For the last two nights I was with family tucked away with no street light to disrupt circadian rhythm, and took a significant break from the light of my phone, just letting it completely die without a sense of urgency to charge it up right away. The moon peaked over the mountain around 10pm, to reflect off the water and beat down like a stadium light over a football field. The brightness entranced me–every leaf on the trees around us were as visible as if it were sunlight. Quarter-sized translucent frogs could be seen along the banks of the river; I could read the notes in my music book, and if I wanted to could have written pages upon pages under her glow. With the safety of having family nearby, and being far away from the busy suburbia of my apartment, I slept outside directly underneath the moon, legs sprawled out, hands crossed under my head, as calm as the animals sleeping around me.

As a reiki practitioner of seven years, becoming more and more attuned to the way my body responds to the environment around me, to what I consume in any way, to the way various energetic exchanges make me feel, the moon was medicine I didn’t know I needed. Nothing in the world could have stopped me from laying there, open to receive, cradled in silver.

I was not expecting to start my cycle for at least another two weeks, but on the same day as my brother’s wife, on the night I laid so openly under the moon, I started my cycle significantly earlier than expected. Her daughter was also on her cycle at the time. Where is the scientific and “administrative approved” information on something so widely accepted amongst women as just “something we do”? If it were something happening so closely in the lives of men, would we have more answers? While I am not hurried or demanding in any way to have an explanation, I find it “funny” that in matters such as these, we sweep it into a box of phenomenon not worth serious pursuit, experimentation, questioning, diving into the root and connection it has to all living things. There is still no certainty as to why women sync cycles when in close proximity to one another, or how or why the moon correlates. Ironically, as far as the “medical world” goes, a study lead by a woman named Martha McClintock at Harvard in the 70s2, found that amongst her dorm-mates, they were indeed syncing up and sharing cycles, but for that to be the closest thing to accredited knowledge for something so common and a part of our lives, shows how much more we need women, and I will also say non-white women3, to be in high ranking medical fields. We still have little to no information on the female orgasm, or on the variations of experiences we have with our vaginas in general–from menstruation to sex to miscellaneous occurrences, women have vastly different experiences from one another, which we are constantly uncovering variations of. While men have a very concrete understanding of their genitalia, girls scramble to exchange lessons taught to them, things they read on the internet, experiences had–even in this age of information at our fingertips, nobody really has a handle on so many mysteries of the ins and outs of life with ovaries, the same way we don’t really understand what moonbeams are good for, how they dictate our cycles, what is happening in the body when we absorb her light.

If we are dependent on peer-reviewed articles, or FDA-approved information, we would think the moon to be non-essential, not a vital part of life, not worth diving into. But we know better. The undercurrents of the psyche, hormones, a woman’s womb–the cells and electric currents of our bodies respond to moonbeams. I know it because I feel it, my body responds to the silver blanket over me, and the grass underneath me. There is a kind of charging and cleansing taking place. Tides are moved by the ocean, and surfers are able to predict where to go based on the time of year, based on the moon. Growing up we always knew that beaches would be filled with Portuguese man-o-war jelly-fish, or “blue bubbles” around the time of the full moon. The ocean would come up into yards, filled with debris from the shore–rocky and spewing. Then as nights pass and there is less silver, the tides return to being shallow, calm and still. Our bodies, and our wombs of gushing current are directly affected by her in the same way, reminding us we are a part of the earth, made of the earth, and return to earth. Rain falls and basins are washed clean, valleys of mountains are cleared, veins of the earth in motion.

I am ever-leaning in, to the space between worlds–between words written, words left out, words extracted, and that which cannot be explained with them. Across landscapes and cultures the moon is associated with feminine nature, and the sun associated with masculine. “Mother Moon, Father Sun.” Yin, (feminine, dark, still) and Yang (masculine, bright, moving) represent the dualism that is inherent in every living thing. As we restore balance on earth, and within ourselves, we lean into knowledge that has never left us. This Inner Knowing has always carried us–advantageous and feared.

  1. Ayurveda is the traditional Hindu system of medicine, where everything you consume and absorb–every spice, herb, oil, and everything absorbed through the skin organ–is medicine and directly effects your organs and cells in your body.
  2. http://www.mum.org/mensyn.PDF
  3. I say non-white because many women of color have experiences, outlooks on life and background knowledge to offer that differs from what we think of as “normal” or “accepted”–often times providing more holistic and thorough approaches of preventative care vs. symptom treatment. We as human beings tend to operate within and by the means of the structures we have in place that we accept as-is. There are things in place that we question and want to change, then there are things in place we cannot possibly question because we don’t even see them as being in place at all, so acclimated to their positions in our lives. When we have people from different backgrounds and ways of life in positions of power, what we find is a more thorough and in-depth account of the subject. To take things further, we should question why current “positions of power” are more respected than if we encountered a medicine person without degree or title, in a place where degrees and titles do not equate to respectability, but I digress, per usual.

Haole Hips

hula “Late!” Uncle Wayne says and rolls his eyes. The halau is already lined up–skirts, or pa`u’s on, hands on hips, knees bent—and a few heads turn around to look at me before quickly looking forward. Delicately sliding my slippers off at the door, I step into the brightness of the glowing room that faces the mountains, where the sun is slowly hiding behind. I pull my pa`u on over jean shorts, wrapping the top elastic band of scrunched fabric onto the correct place on my hips—not too high, and not too low, letting the rest of the material parachute and sway around my thighs, stopping just below my knees.
I make my way into the third row, beside other beginners and several three-year-old girls, their tiny Hawaiian-print skirts restlessly swinging in different directions. I fit my feet to a position inside of a square tile on the cold white floor, and bend my knees slightly, resting my hands on my hips, palms open along the creases of the top of my skirt. I’m standing tall, alert, waiting for the sound of the ipu, a percussion instrument made of wood with a hollow bottom and a curved open top for gripping.
It’s always basics first, and kahiko, or traditional hula, movements are practiced in the beginning of every class. Before we learn a new song, or practice what we know, we spend a long time practicing motions in rhythm with the thumping pounds of the ipu being tapped by Uncle Wayne’s hands, and then down unto the fabric he lays on the ground in front of him. The different paces we keep are according to which way his fingers and palm hit the different places along the bottom of the ipu.
Our feet instantly start moving with the announcement “kaholo”, in which we take four steps to the right, and four steps to the left, hands and fingers sitting flat, and pointing in the direction we’re going. Watching the older girls in front of me, I make sure I look just like them, and concentrate on coordinating my hands and feet to move correctly, and in sync with one another. Uncle Wayne watches each of us moving from side to side and comments on things we should correct while he is sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of us, directly in front of the open door, the Ko’olau mountain range our audience. The room is filled with focus as I also pay attention to my limbs, lifting them up and attempting to move them at the right time. Once in a while I miss the change and my arms are pointing in the opposite direction of my steps for two beats before I quickly turn them the other way, hoping he didn’t notice, not wanting to be singled out.
“Follow the person in front of you”, he says. Bump, bada-bump, bada-bump, bump-bump. Bump, bada-bump, bada-bump, bump bump.
“Keep your arms up—no slouching!” Bump, bada-bump, bada-bump, bump bump.
We are finally all in sync, and used to the pattern, but before we get too comfortable, Uncle Wayne declares the next motion to be practiced, “Ami!” After finishing the four-step kaholo, we jump right into that motion, a circling pattern of our hips where shoulders are to sit still, and heels stay on the floor, hands on our hips and knees still bent, always.
Uncle Wayne gets off the floor, ipu still thumping against his other palm, he walks over to several girls in my row, then to me. Letting the ipu fall he tells us to keep going, regardless of the lack of a beat, and the pace continues. It isn’t until he puts a hand on my shoulder and presses down a little that I notice my whole body is doing the `ami, not just my hips. I can feel my face warming to a piglet-pink as I concentrate on keeping my shoulders in place.
“You not bending your knees das why” he says. Bending them more, I keep trying to sustain the new-found stillness in my shoulders.
“Dea you go!” As he walks away I think I am doing it right, at least I feel like I am until he returns to the front of the classroom and glancing my way he simply says, “Remember to bend your knees; keep watching the person in front of you.”
The `ami I make to the left is always more difficult than `ami-ing to the right. My shoulders start a brand new kind of bob, one shoulder rising higher than the other with every circle, and I begin a new kind of concentration—trying to defy my body’s natural counter-clockwise tendencies. Feeling my shoulders bounce I look in the line and front of me and see nothing but straight shoulders and smooth hip circles.
Along with the `ami being practiced, we then do the hela, or simple sway from left to right of the hips, (another move where I desperately try to refrain from the shoulder-bop), then the kawelu, where we turn our bodies in one direction stepping with one foot back and forth before turning to the other side, then the `uehe, where we step one foot wider than the original placing, opening our knees for a second, pushing our skirts outward. We practice these and several more, moving onto the next one when we have done them well-enough, never being able to guess when Uncle Wayne will decide it’s time to move on. In between practicing different motions we always go back to the kaholo, before the next one is announced.
All of a sudden Uncle Wayne declares “break” after a set of kaholo’s and my thighs are jello. Other girls, and a few boys have tiny droplets of sweat on their foreheads and they’re reaching into backpacks along the wall to take out candy, taking off their skirts and placing them somewhere in the room, scattering in and out, playing chase-masters, and my favorite: Chinese-jump rope.

I’m getting used to this game now, but I only can do the first several levels, before in unison the girls announce “ope-you touched!” because the rope grazes my skin and I’m out of the game, inviting the next girl to challenge my defeater. The long stretchy rainbow-colored rope that was around the wrist of one girl all through-out the first half of practice is now wrapped around two girls ankles and moves up with each level, getting more and more difficult to jump in, out, and over of without it grazing your skin. The rest of us closely watch the legs of the player, ready to yell his/her loss into the early-evening air. Sitting on the benches and walls outside the classroom we reach our hands into open plastic packages filled with lihing-mui seeds, lihing-mui covered gummy bears, the lihing-mui powder itself, lihing-mui covered gummy worms, lihing-mui strawberry belts, lihing-mui covered dried mangoes, and the lihing-mui covered edibles options go on. I am still getting used to this taste that squeezes my cheeks together and wakes my tongue up—but pretend to absolutely love them blinking away any signs of dissatisfaction.
Everyone is sassy, cracking jokes and laughing at one another constantly. I’m observing for the most part, and laughing with them on cue. Sometimes when I chime in the response is a pause, and then uproar of laughter, which I also join in on, not wanting to seem like I’m offended. But it wasn’t long before I also found my differences to be funny, before my mouth watered for lihing-mui as we got closer and closer to break-times, and before I got better at Chinese jump—(nevermind, that one didn’t happen) and it wasn’t long before fifteen minutes was up, and Uncle Wayne called us back into the room.

Practicing simple moves using just the feet, or just the hands is over, and now it is time to use both, and tell the stories we learned through them. Back in line–pa`u’s on, hands and feet in place—we can tell what is coming next by what Uncle Wayne is doing. If he starts telling a story we might learn a new dance and, verse by verse, we will go over it—motion by motion, putting the dance together piece by piece before doing the entire thing through. If we’re practicing a song we should know, he will announce the song and start playing once we’re all ready. Uncle Wayne is our mirror as he sings the song. If he takes out his ukulele, we know its auana; if he takes out the ipu we know we’re doing a kahiko song.
Compared to modern hula, or auana, kahiko hula is bold, straighter, less romantic but more on-fire, and declarative. Each song, auana and kahiko alike, tells a story. Kahiko, which means “ancient style” are of songs that tell stories of ancient warriors or of tragic love revolving around a god or goddess’ jealousy or anguish, or of the conquering kings and the places in which they fought. It feels like passion and strength, like the after-math lingering goose bump seconds following a conch shell blow. Auana, which means “to wander, or drift” is accompanied with an ukulele, and feels like a mothers smile, and smells like a ginger lei laying cool around your neck and chest. Hands bring aloha from the inside and spill it onto the luau tables, or into the eyes of proud families, friends, and strangers watching. Auana tends to speak of something as simple as a bird, or something as exciting as driving around the island with loved ones. And Uncle Wayne is always sure to tell us every detail of every verse, every character of every king or queen, god or goddess, the intricate descriptions of places, flowers, animals and periods of time. Later I learned that not every kupuna, or teacher goes into so much detail as Uncle Wayne always did with us. Stories were told with our facial expressions, how hard we stepped a heel down on the ground, or how slowly we turned our heads from one direction to the next.

Today he has his ipu on the side of him, and is sitting on a fold-out chair with his ukulele in his arms; his left hand’s finger’s is over the strings, his right arm cradling the other end, thumbs tuning for the sound he needs for the song we’re doing next, which he announces, “holoholo ka`a.” We position ourselves for auana, right leg forward, hands on our sides, then when he sees we’re ready he starts strumming and we simultaneously move to the right in kaholo, fingers waving this time unlike the kahiko style we were practicing earlier, where our hands stay flat.
After doing a kaholo to the quick strummed melody Uncle Wayne plays, we announce as a halau, or group of dancers the first word of the first verse, which is “kaua.” This verse talks about two people heading out in their car, going nowhere in particular, just on a joy-ride. It’s exciting and we first point to the audience with one foot stepping out in front, then point to ourselves with our thumb, bringing our foot back in place saying “you, and I”, then turn side-to-side with wheel motions meaning “Let’s go!” I always remember the first verse then have to make sure I’m watching the other girls carefully so that I’m not caught in the opposite direction or turning into anyone as the song progresses, making the “joy-ride” even more exciting for me in my crazy car. Each verse is done two times, so if I mess up the first time I usually come back around the second time.
As we kaholo after the first verse, I know the second verse is coming up, and I don’t remember what that word is so I just keep quiet and hear, “`Alawa.” I recognize this one—the wind! I love doing this motion that shows how the wind is blowing hard, as we’re travelling down narrow winding roads. Since I enjoy it so much, I exaggerate my motions, making it seem as if the car is in a hurricane about to topple off a cliff.
At this point in the song, all my favorite motions are covered, except for the one at the end where we get to pretend the car breaks down, and we are hitch-hiking—something a little extra Uncle Wayne threw in for fun. So I again listen for the cue announcing the next verse, ready for anything, and then I hear “Ho mana.” This verse explains that the car is old, and has problems, but we feel so blissful driving, that nothing even matters. I’m recovering from fumbles, comfortable back into the kaholo then “`O ka pa” declares the next verse and I instantly remember that this is where we clap once softly, and show the moon shining in the sky.
It is now the end of the day and of our long joy-ride, and we’re close to the bright moon in the sky, so we look up and reach our hands into the sky, palms face outward, thumb-tips and pointer-finger’s touching, leaving a circle shape in-between and over us, showing the moon is above us. It is time to go back home.
The last verse, the same as every last verse in hula, is declared by the word “Ha’ina,” which doesn’t have a literal English meaning, but is something like “let the story be told” or “tell the refrain.” The last verse we just enjoy the ride home, and we sing and smell the smell of gasoline fumes. Then, in our halau’s version, our car breaks down and we shoo our hands outward toward the car broken down on the street, now having to hitch-hike for a ride home, which is why we’re all giggling as we end the song.
With each song we practice I go into a different world, nothing specific coming to mind at all—just entranced into the song itself, body and mind engrained into each moment. Today I couldn’t tell you the exact order of motions for every song I learned over the course of eight years, or the lyrics for all the stories told, but when I listen to a familiar melody I feel as if I am in the tiny room of Satellite city hall, in the little town of Hau`ula, and something inside my gut moves in the directions it is supposed to. My chin wants to lift with the singing of the word “mahina” so I can look at the moon; my hands want to form shapes of budding petals with the word “pua,” and an ukulele playing; I get an alert sense inside of me when an ipu is heard beating nearby; and my mind drifts around anything sacred, or belonging to the earth when I hear a chant.
After that frenzy wind riding song we do at least several more songs, stopping now and then to re-learn a section, or a movement, or even for Uncle Wayne to describe something, or emphasize what the story is about. Some motions are harder for me than others to remember. And at certain points my feet move correctly while my arms just swing into general directions they should go. Then at times my arms and hands are telling the story they should be, while my feet scramble and I scurry this way and that, trying to watch the girls and keep up with everything. One day I’ll keep up, and one day an older woman at a first baby luau will exclaim at the ending of a song “Ho, dat haole girl can dance!” and I’ll smile from ear-to-ear all night, and all the next day.

It’s dark, and my body is moving like it’s my first day all over again when practice is finally finished, pau. Everyone says “thank-you!” and bye to one another, and I’m hopping on my bicycle to pedal home, pa`u over my handlebars, a humming in my head, and long blonde hair trailing behind me in a ponytail.