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Aroha: Māori wisdom - Book Review

Aroha: Māori wisdom for a contented life lived in harmony with our planet

Elder, H. (2020). Penguin Books.

Dr Hinemoa Elder is a child and adolescent psychiatrist. This book is written with aroha, and encompasses the many facets of her life and experiences as a Māori woman, mother, teacher, researcher and most importantly a member of the following tribes: Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kurī, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi, which are centred in the Northern part of the North Island, or the tail of the fish caught by Māui.

I found the 52 whakataukī or proverbs included in this small book joyful to read, as they encourage you to reflect on the wisdom of past elders, their observations of life, their spiritual connection to nature, the importance of our role as humans as being kaitiaki - being both leaders and care protectors for future generations and all species on Earth, the planet we all live on. In reading them, we learn a little more about who Dr Hinemoa Elder is as she shares with us what each proverb means to her – in relation to something that has happened in her life, how it has helped her to understand or accept certain happenings, and emphasising her soul connection with nature, particularly living on Waiheke Island, the home of Ngāti Paoa.

Throughout the book, Dr Hinemoa Elder passionately reminds us that we are living at an important time in history, where the planet is suffering from decisions that humans have made and that change is now occurring faster than most humans can cope and adapt to, especially new technological changes which impacts all of our lives. Dr Hinemoa Elder encourages us to make sacrifices in our life, such as giving up meat at least one day per week, to make changes that slow down the effects of climate change and pollution of the environments we live and consume from. Further, she encourages us to step up and be vocal about the changes we need to make to protect Papatūānuku, Mother Earth. The choices we make daily affect the future.

Dr Hinemoa Elder encourages us also to live simply, to be in harmony with nature, to be observant of changes occurring around us, to watch the birds that are around us as they are wonderful creatures to watch and reflect on the messages they are often telling us. Most importantly, she encourages us to develop meaningful conversations and communicate with each other, so that we go deeper into ourselves, which is the core of our being, similar to the core of the heart of trees. She reminds us of the importance of “kanohi ki te kanohi”, face to face communication to carry out important conversations as they strengthen human bonds and relationships. She also encourages us to develop our wairua, our spiritual dimension, to help us understand the important role of our ancestors and the pathways that they often have created for our journey in life.

This book may help many people suffering from isolation, loneliness, the effects of Covid-19 across the globe, cope with loss and grief, and the importance of having love or creating aroha in your life, beginning with yourself. As a reader, thinker, planner, decision maker or lover you could take one proverb per week, reflect on it, think about its special meaning and then find out what it means to you and your story, or the story of people special in your life and those who have gone before you.

This book would be great for students and life learners who want to understand more about tikanga Māori, te reo Māori and the wisdom of Māori as the indigenous population of Aotearoa.

Ngā mihi aroha

Review by Dr Lorna Dyall QSM, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Paoa

RĀHINA | MONDAY

Reconnect with someone you care about / He hononga tangata, he hononga aroha

 

When life gets busy it’s easy to forget to check in with the people in our lives, butwe know connection is important for our wellbeing. Having a kōrero with others nurtures our relationships and helps us to feel happy, connected and secure.
Over time, these chats help us to understand each other better and ensure we have people we can count on when times are tough. Today we encourage you to reconnect with someone you care about. Whether it’s with whānau, friends, hoamahi/colleagues, iwi or community, a little chat can go a long way.

A few ideas for reconnecting:

  • Check in with whānau you haven’t spoken to in a while. Have a chat on the phone, send them a text or catch up kanohi ki te kanohi/face to face if you can. Ask them how they’re going and really listen.

  • Write a letter or email to your whānau sharing what you appreciate about them.
  • Look back through your photos and share a happy memory to reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with.

  • Have a think about whether there is someone in your life who may be going through a tough time. Take time to kōrero and ask them how they are, empathise and listen. You can find more support for how to have a safe and supportive kōrero on page 16 of the Mental Health Awareness Week guide.

 

 

 

RĀTU | TUESDAY

Get outside in nature with someone / E puta ki te taiao

 

It’s often the little things that bring us joy. The singing birds, the grass beneath our feet, the wind on our faces. Kōrero doesn’t have to happen indoors. Today we encourage you to get outside in nature with someone else. Take a moment to chat about the things that support your wellbeing and appreciate the beauty around you. You might be surprised by what you notice!

A few ideas for connecting in nature:

  • Have your lunch outside with a friend or hoamahi/colleague, take notice of the
    nature around you. Even if you work outdoors, it’s great to take a break and
    spend some quailty time together outside of your work space.

  • Connect with the whenua; grab some mates and get into the great outdoors - go on a bush walk, walk up your local maunga, breathe in the salty fresh air of the moana. Take time to kōrero and get to know each other whilst you’re there.

  • Head down to your local beach with a friend or whānau member and pick up any rubbish you come across. It’s a great way to spend quality time together outside and keep Aotearoa beautiful! Check out the Department of Conservation
    website for more ideas.

  • Take tamariki on a nature walk and get them to point out the things they see, smell and hear. Ask them how being in nature makes them feel. Or, head to the school field, park or your backyard and have tamariki lie on the grass and do this tummy breathing Sleeping Statues activity from the Sparklers website.

  • Have a cuppa and a kōrero in the garden with your whānau, listen to the birds, be present and enjoy each other’s company. You might like to take off your shoes and feel the grass beneath your feet.

  • Go outdoors, snap a photo of some nature that catches your eye and send it to someone to brighten their day.

Tuesday

RĀAPA | WEDNESDAY

Have a kōrero about Te Whare Tapa Whā/ Tōku Whare Tapa Whā

 

Now that we’re halfway through MHAW, why not use this day to explore your wellbeing through Te Whare Tapa Whā and have a kōrero with someone else about what you learn? Consider the four pou and think about the different ways you can boost your wellbeing.

A few ideas for exploring Te Whare Tapa Whā:

  • Learn about Te Whare Tapa Whā and its four dimensions of wellbeing. Reflect on which areas you feel are going well for you right now and which ones you need to focus on for your hauora/wellbeing. Share your thoughts with someone else.
  • If you’re in an office or shared workspace, get hoamahi together and have each corner of the room represent one of the four dimensions of Te Whare Tapa Whā. Ask them to stand in the corner of the dimension they feel is strongest for them at the moment. They might like to then share why they chose this dimension with the group.
  • Print out and fold this Chatterbox to encourage tamariki to have a kōrero about their wellbeing using Te Whare Tapa Whā.
  • Add a song to our MHAWNZ playlist on Spotify. It might be a song you love to work out to for your tinana, that uplifts your wairua, soothes your hinengaro, or a whānau favourite that you sing along to in the car!

 

 

RĀPARE | THURSDAY

Connect through kindness / Takohatia ki tētahi

 

When we do something nice for someone else, be it a friend, colleague or stranger, not only does it make them feel good, it gives our wellbeing a boost in return. Whether it’s a big gesture or just a smile, everyone has a little act of kindness to offer. Think about someone who might need some extra support right now, because today is all about giving: our time, our kindness, our aroha, our kōrero, to others.

A few ideas for spreading kindness:

  • Send a kind message to someone in your life and let them know you’re thinking of them
  • Visit a friend, neighbour or family member who could do with some company or tautoko/support. If you’re unable to visit, give them a call.
  • Volunteer your time to others in need – join a community group, pick up someone’s groceries or simply drop off a hot meal to someone who could do with a helping hand – not only will it create a moment to kōrero, it will give you and them a feel-good boost.
  • Make a kaimahi a cup of tea or bring in some biscuits and create a moment to kōrero in the lunchroom – look for opportunities to put a smile on someone’s face
  • Introduce yourself to a new parent at your child’s school, new kaimahi at your workplace or a new neighbour in your community. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them settle in.

RĀMERE | FRIDAY

Come together and reflect / Noho tahi, kōrero tahi

 

Come together with others at school, work or home, or find a moment on your own to reflect on the week just gone. Be present and take time to kōrero about the things you’ve learnt, and the wellbeing tools you’re going to continue with. What little chats have you had this week? How does connecting with others and talking openly about wellbeing make you feel?

A few ideas for reflecting together:

  • Try switching off the TV for a night and play a game with your partner or tamariki instead. You could even make music together, or just talk.
  • Organise a virtual dinner date. Set a time to eat and jump on a video call with someone else. Share kai, reflect on your weeks and chat about how you’re going to keep up the kōrero.
  • Plan a whānau activity day - create a moment to kōrero about what makes each person feel good and plan an activity that focuses on each of those things. It could be getting out in nature for a walk, cooking a favourite meal, or video calling a relative overseas. 
  • Share kōrero and kai with your team at work. Everyone bring a plate and chat about the things that you do to look after your wellbeing. If you’re working from home, have lunch and chat together over Zoom. Afterwards, have kaimahi fill in the wellbeing action plan at the end of the Mental Health Awareness Week guide to help them stay mentally healthy at work.
  • For tamariki, end the week with this How Am I Doing? activity by Sparklers. It’ll encourage them to think about their wellbeing and all of the things they already do to care for it.