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Lessons about the body from the island of Kauai

Lessons about the body from the island of Kauai

My airplane landed into a showering rain amidst lavish greenness of one of the Hawaiian islands. A visit to a place that was never on my map of the world became unexpectedly real — I was at Kauai. Too windy and wet for April, this island felt not welcoming at all.

Luckily, I was wearing jeans, a sweater, and leather Nike shoes.

An hour later, I was night-driving along the only civilized road, surrounding Kauai, in a white Jeep Cherokee, the rental company gave me instead of Opel Corsa (thanks a lot!). Kauai is eighty percent off-road. Anything less than Jeep is a questionable option here.

There are some places on this planet where you can’t just go on vacation. They happen to you. You have a bond with them. The first minute you arrive — something flashes on.

Kauai was that place. You will need less than 2 hours to drive around the whole island. It is miniature. But not a single second while you are here reminds you of how small it is. It has colossal energy.

The island is believed to be a cradle of ancestral trauma healing. Grounded, even heavy, severe and wet. Kauai is feminine. Kauai is Her.

Experiences, whatever diverse they are, can give you little against your will. But Kauai is kind of imperative. It does put you into a “receiving” mode. I could almost sense the umbilical code between me and the island. And as I was giving credence to this recognition, it honored me back with lessons.

Body’s decision

Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile gem that leads through the mountains and hanging valleys along the magnificent Napali Coast. Renowned for its breathtaking views and numerous legends, it is believed to be a place where you “get initiated” by Kauai. An adventure not for the faint-hearted. In some places, the trail is a narrow ledge — sheer cliffs and razor-shaped vertical folds drop 1200 m down into the ocean straight at your feet.


Picture from my personal archives. View from the Kalalau Trail.

The entering sign warns about falling rocks and steep dropoffs along the way.

Right the moment I parked my car near Kalalau Trail entrance it started showering. The whole island drowned in the sound of drumming.

High winds, torrential rain, the muddy ground under my feet, one of my flip- flops ripped up. Impressive start of the adventure!

Not many people were on the trail with me. All wearing “proper” shoes (with a rubber sole) and rain jackets. I decided to go bare feet. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be VERY slippery.

I tried several steps looking under my feet, but in the pouring water and stormy winds, I could hardly see anything at all. Heavy from wetness, my jeans and sweater moulded over my limbs like a clay, fingers were freezing, nose running.

Here I was — standing barefoot at the starting point of one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world, trying to figure out how to “receive my initiation” from Her.

O v e r w h e l m e d, my brain turned off all the noise. The only nagging thought left was about freezing fingers which became almost numb. Next moment my feet started running. Naturally. Very lightly, not exactly jogging. Rather taking small flying jumps, somehow landing softly on the slippery mud of the trail.

I am a trained dancer, I know something about the conscious competence of the body — this was NOT it. Only seeing silhouettes of the trees and rocks around me I was suddenly racing along the cliffs of Kalalau Trail.

The farther, the more extreme were the conditions. High winds became stronger as I was getting up in the mountains, and the point where I could turn back safely faded away.


Picture from my personal archives. Kalalau Trail.

Actually, running barefoot proved to be much less painful than trying to walk. But the major part of it all was that it was not even ME doing this. The first time in my life, like a passenger on a back seat, I was watching my body in complete trust.

Each time my feet were grounding back safely on to the flooded mud, making their way through avalanches of wind and water along the trail, where a single erroneous step could be dramatic.

And yet my body was tranquil. As if strung along the chain of predicted flowing moves, it perfectly knew where to step, how fast to go, where to turn and which angle to choose not to hit some edgy rock or — worse — slip down. Surely, my feet did slip now and then, but each time the opposite side of my body was catching it up and returning to balance with no sign of disturbance.

(Slipping down on a trail like that was a deadly trick. Firstly, you most probably hit people in front of you as you slide down the curvy line, secondly, in some places, the trail was indeed so narrow that dropping down into the ocean abruptly seemed the only option.)

The time felt ephemeral. My system was reviling no sign of physical weariness. But on my way back I started slowing down. It turned out that my back was all aching, shoulders and arms were frozen, ankles got stiff. My clothes were all hanging down on me from streaming water.

I finally reached the exit point, rushed to the car, switched on the engine, and leaned back. My body started shaking. Tens of images about how many times I could potentially slip down on that trail flashed in front of my eyes.

Thankfully, my idyllic decision to do camping that night was well- supported by Plan B.

Ancient wisdom about the body

In Ho’omana teaching, or teaching of Life Force (later called Huna), the heart and the body are the same sources, in the Hawaiian language, it is the Ku.

To be even more precise — being in touch with your subconscious, or the deepest memory database. Huna says, ancestral memory is all over our bodies, on a cellular level; learned memories, including all the emotions we ever went through, and the memories of our present lifetimes are stored on different muscular levels.

The Ku, your body, or subconscious, has no imagination. Whenever you are experiencing something new, your body-mind retrospects what it knows about a similar kind of event (including genetic material), and constructs an experience based on the patterns that already “worked”. More importantly, Ku’s main principle is “towards pleasure — away from pain”. Or “choosing what has already worked to move you away from pain”. How can you NOT confide in it? …

For ancient people, the body was their best advisor. What Polynesians were capable of doing naturally ages ago, seems like an outstanding performance today. Suffice it to recall that surfing was greatly cultivated and connected with Gods and Spirits in ancient Hawaii.

Polynesians, both men, and women were prodigious surfers. Although their surfboards were heavy and not waxed (like today), their visceral “knowing” of waves’ strength and dynamics was so integral, that they could surf miles and miles across the ocean to reach another shore.

Polynesians believed that if a man and woman rode in on the same wave they became intimately bond. (Their society was well-known for advocacy of sensualism and gender equality, by the way.)

Today we say “we know it on a body level”. We also say “we know it by heart”. Clearly, it should be the same thing. There is no “why” for your body. The reasoning is a prerogative of your mind.

Serge Kahili King, Ph.D., a master shaman in the Hawaiian tradition, doctor of psychology, and author of Instant Healing, and Kahuna Healing wrote, “What the Ku knows it knows well, and that includes everything from how to heal itself to how to perform skills it has learned”.

He also mentions three types of relationships with the body: controlling, cooperative, and laissez-faire (uncontrolled).

In a controlling mode you tell your body what to do — often irrespectively whether you know anything about what you are doing or not. Overly controlled bodies can be a chronic consequence of trauma. But sometimes we tend to exert too much control over the body when we are learning new things.

We don’t know that our bodies already have some memory about everything, and letting those memories be revived is a part of learning. We are hopelessly cyclical. Any new experience is just a recollection.

Cooperative relationships is a mature kind of relationship with your body, when you trust its flow, still keeping the relaxed and stable focus on where you want to arrive. This type of relationships is closely allied to a feeling of curiosity and presence. Neither rushing ahead of your own body, no dragging it behind “what your mind thinks”. Presence and trust are the two premises of this body-mind state. Sometimes (and more often then we think) your body will override your mind and catch its flow to keep you safe in unusual circumstances.

It will not even start what is not safe for you if you don’t let your mind intervene too much. And vice versa — your body will take you into the most fulfilling experiences if you rely on it.

Laissez-faire, uncontrolled, is a state when your body is out of the vicinity of your mind. Another proper word for it would be dissociation. We say “I was not all together”, “ I was out of my body”, “I was all over the place” when we talk about this kind of “connection with the body”. This stands for not being present, intuitive, sober, trustful.

All these expressions are lacking the same quality — gravity. Gravity is something we can only experience in relation to the body. Gravity gives us touch with life, opens up sensory qualities of all things around us.

We “gravitate towards each other” when we are passionate and embodied.

And we don’t gravitate towards each other when we are too mental and ungrounded, and whatever is going on between us is only in our mind.

Likewise in this kind of body-mind style of relationship: mind and body don’t see each other. While the mind is busy with itself or other external stimuli, the body is wandering around looking for a “place to land”.

What are your relationships with your body?

Do you know its voice?

For the Ku, the present is the only time. Whenever a memory comes with a tide of sensations, these sensations become your “current” state. The body has no idea it is re-experiencing what’s not present anymore. Anything that makes your body feel is REAL. It doesn’t differ imagination from an actual event. When we are fantasizing our bodies record it as a memory. By using full sensory imagination we can “create” memories that will teach the body, heal the body, or … make it ill.

Sometimes we see dreams where our bodies are exploring new things. They feel overwhelmingly physical, and often we are superb experts in what we are doing in those dreams. This is how our subconscious is teaching us through recollection.

All kinds of divinations are another example of how your body is reading the present. When casting runes, tossing cards, scribbling for answers in remote viewing, you are fishing for information from the field where your body has much better access then your mind. It is the connection of this field and the body that gives you the answers — not runes, cards or scribbles. Any divination is a reflection of what is in your subconscious right now, not in the future. Your body knows there is no time except for the present.

Kauai is filled with threads into ancient wisdom. My visit was short but far-reaching. I remember sitting on the airplane back to San Francisco thinking of the main thing I was taking with me from the island.

And the main thing was the lesson: your body is measured, your body is wise, there is no “why” for your body.

Your body — is your planet.

All rights reserved. This article is also published on Medium. Join me there.

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Map is not the territory: where language meets mindfulness

Map is not the Territory: Where Language meets Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness suggests attention towards elementary sensory experience in the present moment.

Quite often we imply that being verbally silent is the ideal setting for practicing mindfulness.

However, there is something very important, and not less primary than observing the body-mind in this practice

First time I heard about mindfulness 12 years ago, I was a student of theoretical linguistics department. This was nothing close to meditation or spiritual discipline. In fact, it was a lecture on General Semantics

Semantics studies the meaning of words and thus is thought to be a part of linguistics. However, it’s a huge and fascinating field, reverberating in many other areas.

If you think about a “word” as a separate unit, you will see it can only seem “separate” in the dictionary. Once it is taken out of the dictionary into a written or especially live speech it becomes something else. Its meaning changes, expands, contracts becomes nuanced or generalized …sometimes it vanishes completely.

Moreover, once it is vocalized, the word becomes inclusive of your present experience, i.e., your body, senses, and even the listener.

As opposed to what it is in the dictionary, even the simplest “Yes” can become vast because of the tons of contextual information, which goes with it. This is indeed when less is more.

General semantics studies the total mind-body neurology included in our language.

Alfred Korzybski, the founder of general semantics, said that the main reason why he started it was the so-called “time — binding” aspect of language, which is a fundamental human capacity to pass on information in time, from generation to generation (1948).

Being also a brilliant engineer Korzybski was posing a question: why is this that structures built according to the mathematical descriptions and sketches, made by engineers, endure for ages. And in case they collapse the errors can be easily identified

While other types of “man-made systems” which rely on language including human relations, can fall apart very quickly or become extremely complicated and traumatic within the time span of one conversation.

And the “errors” are often impossible to trace back.

It leads to an uncomfortable realization that the language we use to interact and reach out to each other is much less efficient than the language of mathematics and geometry. Math passes over a neurophysiological aspect.

Indeed lines and figures don’t include senses, past experiences, intonations and personal evaluation of whatever they are conveying.

Human language is vice versa 100 % “neuro — semantic”.

Map is not the Territory

For ages, humans have been demonstrating that despite our awesome brain potential, we don’t take advantage of it most of the time.

Our language as a response to what we perceive is intimately defined by our nervous system.

However, we continue ignoring this understanding and often rely on the high — level (almost vocabulary) meaning of the words when talking and listening to each other.

The basic postulate of General Semantics, which was later exploited by a couple of other adjacent fields including psychotherapy: The map is not a territory.

Indeed map only depicts a limited number of objects and details of routes, and not necessarily reflects all the relationships between them, the atmosphere of the territory, the nuances that we explore when we are at the new place.

The map is also an offshoot of human imagination, and personal perspective, i.e., a map — maker decides the features to include, the purpose of the map, and the scale of it.

Map is only an abstraction, but if it is correct, it has a structure similar to a territory and fulfils its purpose.

General semantics transfers this analogy to language. Our language behaviour can be thought of as a map of our experience. And our verbal expression of what we think and feel should reflect the” true territory” of this actuality as near as possible because sometimes these maps last long….

Taking into account our neurophysiology and the enormous amount of information we receive from our senses before we speak, a pre-verbal level of our experience is already a neurological “snapshot” delivered to us by our brain in the most affordable abstraction.

This snapshot represents only a fraction of “what is going on” and is largely defined by our “cognitive repertoire,” i.e., things we already know and have a reference to.

All sensory data that we receive is only available to us after our nervous system recognises it and finds a word (or a label) for it.

Then the words we choose to express our “contact with the world” are the next level of portraying the present moment.

When verbally articulating our feelings and thoughts we are, basically, extracting another map out of the “neuro” — map. Furthermore, abstracting on the level of words by nature involves evaluation (conscious or not).

With that said — what we put into words is an abstraction of what our brain registers as an experience, which is also an abstraction of our initial sensory input, which is also NOT THE SAME as the actual event.

Abstracting is a natural process of our body-mind system.

General Semantics teaches how to be conscious of several levels of abstracting with verbal being the final one.

When Maps are Messed Up

Most of the time we are not conscious of how our verbal maps are being born. General Semantics outlines two basic deviations in our language behaviour connected with this: identification and bypassing.

The experiences of what we are receiving through our human neurology are unique.

And even though what we receive is already “edited” by our organism, how we put it into words “reduces” it even more.

“Identification” is basically a “failure” to discern the gap between the sensory experience and the verbalisation of it.

Or “whatever we may say something ‘is’ obviously is not the ‘something’ on the silent levels” as Korzybski put it (1948).

The main idea here is that each minute we experience an abstraction of something else.

“Bypassing” is when we are focusing on the message instead of a person.

As if words had their own meanings.

We forget that the verbalization of one’s experience is only a “map” and it has no definite way of interpretation. Bypassing is also assuming that what one is speaking and what the other is hearing is directly equivalent.

Our verbal maps would serve us better and not destroy us, if we were conscious of these two “features” of our language behavior, especially when we engage in some emotional conversations.

Every day we are “drawing maps of our territories” by expressing ourselves through language.

Look at how many distortions happen at the level of our maps when we don’t pay enough attention to where our responses come from.


Every day we produce numerous so-called “maps without territories.”

These maps represent our process of self –talk and accidental hijacking of our brain by emotions when the mind starts producing monologues that refer to emotions only and have “no territory” of the actual event.


We have a tremendous tendency to apply “old maps” to the new territories…General Semantics views these cases as distortion in time and space, which any normal human demonstrates in varying degrees.

When unconsciously using an old map for the new territory we diminish our observational sensitivity by finding an old pattern of thinking and the “relevant” body-mind (and hence verbal) reaction in response to the new scenery.

Unconscious of reacting to a new event as if it had the same quality as the situation from the past we create a loop where the whole new experience is defined by “an old map.”

Making silent levels consciously observed (or provoking neurological delay), we give ourselves space to feel the ambiance of a new experience, recognize it and consequently “ask” for a different resolution within us, or a new map.


We distort other peoples’ maps by assuming more than listening.

We adopt other peoples’ maps by copying someone’s language without any insight into the “territory” of their experience but because we like the language and apply it offhand to our own unknown territories. This is especially true when we speak or listen about experiences that are not physically observable.

We get lost in each others’ maps. We go 180 degrees in two different directions while sitting at the same table and talking in front of each other.

An interesting observation was made in some Neuro — Linguistic Programming exercises utilising “map — territory” principle, that indeed when two people have very different “maps” (read: “understanding, way of thinking”) for “the same territory”, it is very unlikely that they will meet, even physically.

This is yet another way of looking at why our paths meet or diverge during lifetimes.


Although many of the outlooks Korzybski laid out provoked initial ambivalence at that time and couldn’t be appreciated broadly, later the Gestalt Therapy’s principles were built on it.

Today as people become more interested in conscious living, mindfulness is a part of our culture.

And yet the exquisiteness of thought, which permeates all the work of General Semantics, even today brings lots of subtle understandings of our nature in the pursuit to become mindful and more intimate with ourselves.

Many important conversations between us happen without words, but when words are inevitable — let’s prolong the silence before we speak.

Let’s appreciate our human nature of abstracting and learn how to listen to the NEW experiences that are wanting to come through when we are talking to each other…

Even a millisecond can change the world … and some words endure with us forever …

All rights reserved. The full version of this article is also published on Medium. Join me there.

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