Recently, I was walking around a local lake with my wife, nephew Mahutonga and our new dog. It was a sunny, cool winter day.
My wife and dog strayed behind, while my nephew and I rushed ahead. We were playing together: I was pretending to be an ogre, while he was a wizard throwing fire balls at me:
“FIRE BALLl!!!!! BBBBBOOOOMMMBBBBB!”
“Ohhh no! I will get you Wwwwwiiiiiizzzzaaarrrdddd!”
Mahutonga ran ahead… I caught up with him. Then, while swinging his wizard staff, we had the following short conversation:
Mahutonga: “Onkle… Does a rock have a soul?”
Me: “It sure does! Do you think it does?”
Mahutonga: “Yeah. My mum says it does.”
It got me thinking: how I can be so sure a rock has a soul? What’s the state of my soul, how do I care for it, and what keeps me and those around me “soulful”?
The soul, fruit, veges, farmers and the Treaty of Waitangi
When thinking about what keeps me soulful two early examples of activism spring to mind.
The first example was when I was 16. At the time, I was interested in journalism and I wrote for a teen magazine in Mt. Maunganui called “Backwash”. As a voluntary group of four, we wrote about local issues that affected young people; you know, stuff we cared about.
My first article was about being paid $3.39 per hour (or something like that) at a local fruit and vege shop. I wrote about how so many of my friends were similarly getting low wages, being treated like crap by their bosses, and working long hours on weekends and after school.
Little did I know that this was the first time I started to feed my soul. I became aware that the world out there could be harsh and unfair. By being paid poorly and treated badly, I wanted to do something in response. My soul stirred.
The second example was a foray into a very direct form of education.
In 2005 I got involved in a Treaty of Waitangi education outreach campaign in the Waikato region. The campaign was called “Operation Mystery”, and was aimed at the farming community. We wanted to find new ways of creating dialogue with non-Māori about the Treaty. What better place to do that than a mammoth Pākehā cultural event such as the Fieldays! The idea was born out of a strategic response to the Don Brash Orewa speech, and moves by the government to confiscate the foreshore and seabed from Māori.
Because I grew up in a strong Māori community as Pākehā, I’ve long wanted to find ways to bridge the cultural gap between Pākehā and Māori. My mum and dad were both involved in anti-racism and non-violence. This greatly influenced my home life, values and beliefs.
In my early 20s I took a more active role in thinking about out how the Treaty of Waitangi can be used to create peace now, and into the future.
I’ve long felt that “Treaty issues” need a face-lift. The Treaty has become institutionalised, and therefore legalistic, abstract, boring and irrelevant to the lives of everyday people. This is particularly so for many non-Māori, many of whom want to avoid talking about the Treaty because it’s too conflict ridden, or they want to do something but struggle with Pākehā paralysis. Even worse still, many Pākehā mistakenly think the Treaty “isn’t their issue”. Treaty tensions result from people talking past each other, and then retrenching.
As a small group of people committed to social and cultural justice, we believed that Operation Mystery was an opportunity to challenge ideas about land, justice and cultural relationships in the rural mainstream. We didn’t (and still don’t) have all the answers, but we wanted to find new ways of talking about the Treaty and why it’s important to all New Zealanders.
Operation Mystery changed my ideas about how to create positive change. So, I wrote about it. To the best of my knowledge, this type of action had never happened before. It totally freaked me out and in doing so, it fed my soul.
So what’s all this got to do with a the soul of a rock?
Over the last 5 years I’ve become interested in how I can connect with my soul, and continue to be inspired to work for cultural and social justice. Caring for the soul while struggling for positive change is really important to me.
This has meant realising that life is complex: it’s not black and white, or able to be broken down into simple dualisms. It’s about recognising the passing state of all things: happiness, sadness, grief, elation, excitement, the mundane. It’s how we respond to these fleeting states with care that matters. I’m slowly waking up to this, by being alert to what life has to offer.
The soul is magical and strange.
For me, recognising that a rock has a soul is about engaging in the present moment with my nephew; it’s being attentive to the life force that flows through me, around me, and those I’m with. I’m in touch with what’s going on. I recognise the soul of a rock.
While I can marinate on the deep questions of life, I don’t forget the many parts of life that keep me soulful: crack-up laughs, music, ideas, fresh air, being with people I enjoy.
My Onkle (Pā Pete) once reminded me that “we’re involved in serious business, but let’s not take ourselves too seriously.” That’s some realness right there.
I want to know: what feeds your soul, and the souls around you?