Mariko B. Ryan - The Opposite of Fear is Freedom
Mariko B. Ryan is the author of Infinite Threads: 100 Indigenous Maori Insights from Old Maori Manuscripts. "Infinite Threads" is an incredible book which reinterprets the manuscripts of Maori Tohunga (sages) in a way that has incredible relevance today. Rane and Jo both found the book full of wonderful insights which described aspects of Maori culture in a way that parallels mindfulness and yogic practices and philosophy.
In this episode, we learn about Mariko's background growing up in Auckland, New Zealand and how Maori culture influenced Mariko's upbringing. We learn about the role of the Tohunga or sage in Maori culture, their oral tradition, and how they came to write down their knowledge to prevent their traditions from being destroyed.
Mariko tells us about how it took her many years to find the courage to write the book, and the wonderful reception it has received. She also tells us how she ensured that the book made sense to both Maori and non Maori audiences.
Mariko's website: https://www.marikobryan.nz/
This episode is sponsored by Yoga Australia:
The opinions expressed in this podcast do not reflect the view and opinions of the sponsor.
Click on a timecode to play from that time in the recording.2:45 Mariko tells us about her background and where she grew up after giving a Maori welcoming.
4:00 How the government policy of the 50s & 60s led to a Maori urbanisation process which removed Maori from their tribal lands and the way this shaped Mariko’s childhood.
6:55 How did Mariko’s family celebrate their culture in everyday life?
8:42 The loss of traditional knowledge and language.
9:39 Was there much indigenous spirituality in Mariko’s upbringing. A critique of the words ‘indigenous’ and ‘spirituality’.
12:13 How at the age of 5 she told her parents she wasn’t going to Sunday school any more.
13:39 How Mariko saw self determination modelled from a young age.
15:26 The role of the Tohunga or ‘sage’ in precolonial society
18:22 The parallels between the wisdom traditions of Maori sages and the way yogic knowledge and philosophy was originally shared.
18:56 How Mariko's book “Infinite Threads” came to be
20:25 The politics of knowledge and who controls it.
21:20 The impetus to preserve traditional Maori knowledge in a time of missionaries and mass conversions.
22:51 “We removed those books from the care of the museum”
27:02 What was the pivotal moment when Mariko realised how important it was to share this knowledge?
28:27 Was writing the book a process of deciding what to share and what to keep hidden, or a focus on staying true to the source material?
30:45 Finding an editor to ensure that the material made sense to a non-Maori speaking audience.
32:17 Support us on Patreon!
33:30 Did Mariko need to code-switch as she wrote the book, or did she write the book in a flow state and edit later?
37:51 Describing the practice of a tohunga
39:51 The exploration of preconceived ideas that the reader might have and how they can be a distraction from who they truly are.
41:30 The infinite thread.
43:35 The relationships between technology, spirituality and the creative process.
49:05 Is the book an act of activism?
51:14 How has the response been to her book in general?
52:45 What was the response of her Maori readers?
55:30 Does Mariko see the book as a starting point for people’s own explorations, or as the beginning of a greater body of work?
58:18 What is Mariko’s one core lesson for the world?
59:38 Next episode Ana Forrest and Jose Calarco!
Please email us to report any transcription errorsRane Bowen: Hello. My name is Rane and this is the Flow Artists Podcast. Every episode, my co-host Jo Stewart and I interview inspiring movers, thinkers, and teachers about how they find their flow and much, much more. I've always had some level of confusion around spirituality or religion. My caucasian dad once said to me, “When you die, you go six feet under and that's it.” My mother's side of the family, the Maori side of the family, a strict Catholic. So my exposure to spirituality growing up was what I felt was a strange blend of Christianity sprinkled with Maori cultural elements. It didn't really feel authentic to me. Later on in life, when I discovered yoga, it filled a gap I'd been feeling in that aspect of my life. But as time goes on, issues of cultural appropriation spring up and sometimes I do wonder whether it's right of me to be sharing something from a culture that isn't really my own. Recently, thanks to a friend on Facebook, I was alerted to a wonderful book called Infinite Threads: 100 Indigenous Maori Insights From Old Maori Manuscripts. It's a book based on manuscripts written by Maori tohunga or sages around 200 years ago, when they realized that their traditions were being destroyed. It's a wonderfully written book and contains descriptions of practices that to me, were very reminiscent of mindfulness and yogic practices. But for me personally, it has a real power and authenticity that I can relate to. The author is Mariko B. Ryan, at least, that's her pen name and that just added to the injury. Jo and I both loved the book so we decided to reach out to her and fortunately, she agreed to speak with us. Before we get started though, I wanted to quickly mention that I'll be presenting as part of a panel on Yoga Therapy Across Diverse Communities during Global Yoga Therapy Day. This is along with Marsha Banks Harold, Julie Clark and Mark Workman. The presentation will be at 8:00 AM, Australian Eastern Standard Time on Friday, August the 14th. Just go to globalyogatherapyday.com for more details and I'll leave a link in our show notes. This episode was brought to you by our sponsor, Yoga Australia, registering teachers and training courses to ensure that everyone in Australia has access to quality yoga teachers. All right, let's get into our conversation with Mariko B. Ryan.
I was wondering if you could just start by giving us a little bit of your background, and maybe tell us about where you grew up.
Mariko B. Ryan: Sure. Thank you for having me, both of you. If I may start with something slightly different and then morph into your question, it feels right at this point knowing that you're going to have Australian listeners and possibly some New Zealand listeners and Maori listeners who live in Australia, to greet them in our traditional way. So if you don't mind, I'd like to do that and then go into your question.
Jo Stewart: Oh, please.
Mariko: [Mariko greets in a traditional way] So I've just greeted them and let them know who I am tribally speaking, that I'm from the Northern Iwi of Te Arawa and the region that we call Tai Tokerau. So I have placed myself now in a location for your listeners, so thank you for that. Where did I grow up? Now this will take me out of my tribal area. I grew up in Auckland. I was a child of parents and grandparents who had been part of the urbanization process that occurred during the 50s and 60s. So the government made some economic policy decisions which meant that many of my relations had to leave their tribal areas to find work. I'm a child of those generations, brought up in Auckland and left Auckland for several years to live in other places in New Zealand as well, which I think was a very positive thing to do to get out of a city like this and experience the regions. They were pivotal years because they caused mass cultural disconnection and they enabled the government to grab huge tracts of land, making it impossible for many to ever return. My family and my upbringing was part of that impact where we couldn’t go, what we call home, to our tribal lands. But we no longer had land there so we couldn't return to live. That whole part of my life now, I look at it in terms of what historical period did I grow up and what was my experience during that time? How did it impact me in terms of going forward as a young Maori girl, and then woman into this world? What have I been able to extract from the things that we've lost by being away from our land, and what have I gained? So they were really interesting and I've always been curious in my growing up years around my Maori side. But we were really fortunate as well because my father and grandmother who lived close by maintained connections very strongly with our tribal areas. As a child, we traveled back and forth to our tribal lands constantly. I remember vividly it would take us more than 12 hours driving to get to what is now about a five-hour drive. The roads were pretty rough but it gave me a really sound connection to my roots. We didn't become strangers to our tribal land and to our identity. So in that respect, we were very fortunate. That wasn't the case for many of my relations who lived in different areas around the country and many moved over to Australia and many have been unable to reconnect.
Rane: Nice, beautiful.
Jo: It sounds like it was a real priority and a real conscious choice for your family that even though they might have been physically moving away from these tribal lands, they really wanted to maintain that connection and as a white Australian girl, I'd love to hear more about what that looks like in your family life.
Mariko: It looks different now than it did when I was a child. When I was a child, I remember my father, my parents and his relations attending what we called land meetings in Auckland. So we're in a very politically charged time. They were very conscious of the bureaucratic cogs in wheels that had been put in place to extract land off them and they had to fight both a bureaucratic and a court system in order to hold on to land. So there were several land meetings I recall as a child, where people would get together and figure out how they were going to respond to a very complicated legal system that was biased against them. I remember very much being a part of that. Although I was more likely to be outside playing with the other children, I do recall many times sitting inside the room as well, and listening to what was being said, and also hearing our native speakers switching languages constantly throughout the conversation, which I also do in the book. It's a reflection of my memories of how the language switching was just so fluid. My upbringing was embedded, I guess, with that cultural layer, which I didn't think was anything unusual but I realized now was a gift. As time went on and that generation has passed, there was definitely a depletion. There was a huge loss with that generation, because there were so many native speakers and there was so much context and knowledge that left with them that will never be recovered. I didn't realize how much until I got a little older, I guess and in the process of talking to some of the elders for this book, some of those things started to come out. While I was jogging their memories, they were jogging mine as well. It was just so rich, complex, and simple at the same time. That part of my upbringing, I realize now is a foundation and it was such a privilege to have been able to have that part of my younger years with those people, in those conversations, and in those meetings.
Rane: Beautiful, and I guess there was a lot of, you could say, indigenous spirituality in your upbringing, is that correct?
Mariko: Yeah. Although we're using modern terminology, I was thinking about when we use the word indigenous, it's a politicized term. If I unpack that a little bit, when you're inside a particular belief system, you don't label it that way. It's the norm. It's what you experience. It's definitely been impacted by colonization. Then spirituality can sometimes be a bit of a loaded word as well, because for some people, it implies an outlook that is based on religion, for example. There are new age spiritualities, all sorts of things. So I just want to put that note at the top of this and say that as I describe my life from that indigenous spiritual perspective, to distance it from any ways of thinking that might be coming from elsewhere. So the spiritual side of my growing up was a combination of traditional beliefs fused with a colonial belief system, namely Christianity and where I was from, the missionaries, carved out patches. So in my case, in the 1800s, the Catholic missionaries were prevalent in our areas. All around our area, the Catholic church is quite dominant and still is today. However, the traditional beliefs were still there despite conversions. They were still very prevalent. As I grew up, I saw this interaction between these two belief systems in a really interesting, strange way. I have read that this happens all over the world where missionaries come into areas, they have their own belief systems, this fusion occurs. So what is catholic for Maori? It looks very different from Maori than it does for non-Maori. It was an interesting combination of some of the traditional belief systems being embedded so seamlessly into Christianity, that even today, I would have trouble separating them out and being able to tell you, “This one belongs to the Catholics and this one belongs to our old people.” That was my upbringing. I had decided early on, I think I was around five when I informed my parents that I was no longer going to go to Sunday school. This is in Auckland and I'm sure it was because they needed time out from me and my siblings [laughter] so they just wanted us to head off on Sunday morning. But I recall that decision which is a little bit of my personality, I think that I had decided as I went to these children's Sunday school sessions that I wasn't believing a word of it. It wasn't connecting with me. I did like the stories. I liked being around the other children. But I knew even then that it wasn't something that I could relate to. Did I know that I was relating instead to something more traditional? I think it was part of our lives and I was very conscious of it. I would comply with some of the traditional things that I was hearing, mostly around fear of doing things wrong. So I don't think it was a very specific thing growing up. It was more, “This is what I do in the circumstances,” without really understanding where it was coming from.
Jo: It does sound like a lot of your early childhood, like you saw activism modeled for you and you saw being true to yourself modeled for you. It's like I can see how from a very young age, you had this real sense of self-determination because that's what you saw in your family life.
Mariko: I think it was around generally with Maori. There were several years where we saw a lot of activism and while I wasn't involved directly with it, I was aware of it. I was aware of some of my relations and people that I knew who had displayed courage, who had been rebellious, and who had suffered for it, who had been ostracized for it in some ways or, in other times celebrated for it. I was aware of these things whether I was following that lead deliberately, I can't say, but certainly, it was around me and as I got a little older, as I hit my teenage years, there were lots of conversations around activism, particularly, the political space of how our people were responding to the Treaty of Waitangi, how we were responding to the Crown and particularly in the 80s, we had this huge forward movement around our education system, political system, the recovery of land, addressing breaches of the treaty, and so on. That all happened within one decade while I was a little too young to be directly involved and I was definitely aware of it. Some of the people involved in those times are now my heroes because they stepped outside into quite a dangerous place to do what they felt was right for their people and their grandchildren.
Rane: Nice. I'm wondering if we could just change the topic a little bit because I really want to get into your book a bit. But perhaps you could start by telling us about the role of the Tohunga in pre-colonial society.
Mariko: Sure. Tohunga, I use the word Sage in the book and I also use the word “knowledge keeper.” So the Tohunga, they were men and women who held and applied knowledge at the highest levels and the highest levels of philosophy, spirituality, various areas of expertise. I'd even venture the word “magic” and all of this expertise sat inside the overall knowledge system that underpins our culture. These were the people who were charged with ensuring that knowledge would be passed through to the next generation. They were the spiritual, moral, and intelligence compasses of their time. They were well respected. They were selected very, very carefully. Before the arrival of the colonialists, the methods they used to transfer knowledge was via an oral system from the Tohunga to the student that demanded accuracy. It meant that it entailed the careful selection of future knowledge keepers to ensure that accuracy was upheld to the highest level. It was an effective system. It included things like medicinal, navigational, astronomical, agricultural, seasonal, all sorts of knowledge that could be passed from generation to generation and built upon, because knowledge evolves, safely from one to the other and used in an appropriate manner. The other thing that featured in the way that Tohunga saw knowledge was it wasn't just separately material knowledge or spiritual knowledge. They were both intrinsically connected, so one always came with the other. One always impacted the other. Where Western knowledge might have, if you think of an encyclopedia, you look up a subject and boom, there it is. You've got it. It's not the way that the Tohunga sought knowledge because not only was it that material knowledge around a subject matter, but it had imbued within it a spiritual element as well. So it was revered.
Jo: It sounds like this is already one of those parallels that both Rane and I noticed reading your book because well, I obviously wasn't there thousands of years ago and it was a different culture, learning about how yogic knowledge and wisdom was passed on, it was very much based on an experiential process. Someone couldn't just tell you this knowledge, they'd give you a little seed and then you had to really sit with that and explore that for yourself and really experience it on a deep level before you got the next little nugget of knowledge to sit with. Does that feel like there's a bit of a parallel there for you?
Mariko: Oh, absolutely. I think you described that beautifully actually, and the only thing I would add in is, there's a certain amount of creativity when we're building knowledge upon knowledge and we're expanding it. There's a certain amount of imagination, creativity, and contemplation that comes with it. My impression of what you just said is that it sounds very similar.
Jo: Yeah. That really struck us when we were reading it.
Rane: Beautiful, and speaking about creativity, I'm wondering if you could tell us a little about your book, Infinite Threads and how it came to be.
Mariko: Actually, it was a very long process because I procrastinated for several years. [laughter]
Jo: You sat with it for a while. [laughter]
Mariko: I sat with it for years. I think it was a combination of two things. The first one is I love writing. I remember publishing my first poem in one of the Sunday newspapers at probably about seven or eight years old, and I've always written for my own sense of calmness and pleasure anyway. So naturally, I'm a writer. I can write until the sky falls with no effort whatsoever. I just love it. The other thing was, I was noticing, as I grew older, the disconnections that were happening in my family, the negative impacts of colonization, and realizing as I grew older and became more educated, that impact of colonization is something that's experienced around the world. It wasn't unique to my family, even to my tribe, or even to my country, it was something that was experienced everywhere and it bothered me a lot. I set about learning about it quite deeply. Even though my professional area is IT and you’d think, “What is the connection between the two?” In my mind, there was a strong connection around the mastery, I guess, and the control of technology. Not only the technology that you and I understand today, but the technology of the written word and how that played out and the negative impacts of who controlled the knowledge on my people and on others. I was aware of this. In my twenties, I came across my great-grandfather's 15 manuscripts that had survived. They were being housed in our largest colonial museum in the country, which is here in Auckland, and as a young woman, I learned that he was a well-respected leader in Tohunga. He had been leading the knowledge sessions through his lifetime amongst the northern tribes, in the wider region up north and have been doing so for decades. He was instrumental in ensuring that traditional beliefs and stories were recorded to counter the effects of conversion to Christianity and the eradication of our knowledge. While the conversions were going on, there were a whole lot of people around the country who, for around 100 years, began to record the traditional knowledge. He was one of them. The books contained incantations, chants, accounts and narratives, expensive genealogies, and a lot more. This book came into my site and initially I thought, I know they're there but I can't touch them, I can't read them because I was brought up to understand that as a woman and as a younger person, that was out of bounds for me. But I did find them and I did tell my older relations that I had discovered they were sitting here. To cut a long story short, as the years started to move by, I realized that some of my relations were quite upset that these books were in this museum. Why they were upset and what the museum had been doing with them, they've been being shared amongst academics and others, that some had been stolen or lost, and yet the books were supposed to be secret. While it was very controversial for a woman to be involved, by then I was far more politically aware, had a very probably sound understanding about colonial history, and I made some decisions. Those decisions came to the point where two of my relations and I went into the museums and we removed those books from the care of the museum. It was a little dramatic because they called the security guards and they were called in to intervene and prevent us from removing these treasures. But interestingly, we knew that we were on the right side of the law, that the museum had acquired them illegally, basically. It was interesting because museums around the world are only just starting to acknowledge that they're the holders of plunder. There are holders of artifacts that have been stolen or coerced out of the hands of their owners. While I wasn't thinking that way, the day we walked into the museum, I realized now there's always a bigger picture. So it was important for us, for my wider family and for the museum itself to understand what this meant. But that event was a catalyst and years followed, again, more years before I found the courage to actually study the manuscripts. The manuscripts were written in a very old classical te reo Maori language, and so I also had to do some learning myself even so. But I was holding back because I was waiting for somebody else to come along who would work with those books and begin to share them with the family who were asking to be told about what was inside the books, and for those things that they felt could be shared, to have them shared. Years went by and I realized after a little while that no one was coming and I was noticing that disconnection in my family was getting worse. As the years go by, and the next generations and more babies were being born all over the world, that it would be much harder for them to come and reconnect again. So I started to make the decision that maybe I needed to do this work. I remember the first time I opened the box myself and began to read what was in it. I was quite scared. Every page I thought, “My gosh. A lightning is going to strike me any minute.” Who knows what's going to happen? It was actually quite scary because I had been brought up to fear that material. The fear manifested in a way that for us growing up was, “Something bad is going to happen to either you or someone you love. Don't go near material like that.” So you can imagine as the pages turn there. But I trusted certain parts. I trusted that my great-grandfather was sitting alongside me and that if I was doing the wrong thing, he would give me a nudge. That's the way I describe it. That didn't happen. There were other things that happened though that moved me closer towards doing the task. I was very vigilant, and still am, about how I engage with this material. As I turned the pages, I particularly got to a page which revealed something that I had been taught as a deceit. That was the strike of lightning, but in a good way, that, “Oh my gosh. We've been lied to for such a long time.” Here we are, the generations down the line, lost and disconnected, and it's not necessary. I wanted my own generation and the generation below me and their children and so on, to feel that they had the right to reconnect, and how beautiful it was to come back into this world and have this opportunity. So that's what drove me to write the book. I also discovered along the way that many of the world views are universal, that the knowledge that I was finding consider alongside the world views of other belief systems as well.
Jo: Would you mind sharing that particular insight that was that really pivotal moment for you when you realized how important it was to share this knowledge?
Mariko: I'm hesitating slightly. In the book, I talk about this, but I say, “I found mine, you find yours.” [laughs]
Jo: Yeah, and there's that little seed, you're going to have to sit with it and uncover it for yourself. [laughs]
Mariko: Go and find your own. I've had a few people respond to that in a humorous way saying, “Oh, you're so mean. You should tell us.” But I've also found that people find something in there, maybe one or two or three insights that really speak to them. I think what's important for me is that I want them to find something that speaks to them. This one spoke to me. It was really around the idea that the restrictions that I'd grown up within the fear that I had grown up with were unjustified. It gave me the freedom to act straight away, as soon as I read it, I knew straight away.
Jo: So powerful. We've heard about your dilemma even reading this wisdom. As you were writing it, was a continual process of deciding what to share and what to leave out, especially knowing it would be people from all cultures reading it or once you'd committed, was it more about just being really true to that source material?
Mariko: It was probably a combination of everything you've just said. Writing the book, I knew it was going to go out there into the world and at that point you have to tell yourself, “You've got to let it go. You've got to set that book free.” I know that a lot of authors of books go through this little dilemma. It's a scary part of the process for many writers around doing that. “Will I be judged? Have I exposed myself as a fool?” Those questions and for me, you're right. There is an added question of, “Is this material the appropriate material to put out there in the world?” Especially given that our culture tends to withhold and hide certain material for several reasons and it's the way that our culture sees that material. So I had to take that into account, definitely about what I would live in, what I would leave out. For the things that I would leave out, how I could still relay the key messages without exposing that detail. Part of it was around thinking about the key messages. You'll see in parts of the book, I might only have a phrase or a sentence. But I haven't put the whole extract and translated it for everybody. I've taken the piece that, for me, is able to be shared, that holds that key message, that I can build that interpretation of. The other thing that impacted what I left in and left out was wanting to find a wide range of subjects for the insights that would be relevant for people no matter who read it. That it would find—even if it was one insight that found a place in somebody's hearts or minds—something rich and beautiful, something that really changed something for them, even if it was traumatic that I wanted to know that I had a range of insights that covered a spectrum that hopefully, anybody who reads it would find at least one, if not several, that would be something meaningful to them. With regards to non-Maori reading it, I had to use an editor. I chose an editor who was well-traveled around the world. She had been involved in cultures of all sorts and her role for me was, “Will this make sense to a non-Maori reader?” Well, this makes sense to someone who lives in another part of the world. She was my radar and she helped me build wordsmith and build context around some of what I was saying so that it could be understood by others. That was a really important part of the process. I didn't want to put a book out that was insular and that only spoke to myself and my own. I wanted to go wider because I wanted to show the value to our own people, of this knowledge and that it could sit there amongst the other spiritual and universal knowledge, out there in a world as an equal.
Jo: I think that absolutely came through. There were so many passages in the book that for me coming from a different culture, just really felt like universal human experience. Maybe it was a slightly different way of expressing that thought or that facet, but that is what I think makes your book so powerful. It's sharing this very hidden knowledge in a way that I feel like it can actually benefit all humanity, everyone reading it. So thank you so much for this beautiful gift, and for the courage that you took to go on the journey that you did, and share this knowledge.
Rane: Hello. Rane here to talk about our Patreon page. Patreon is just a way that you can help support the podcast for as little as US$1 a month. Higher tiers get access to extra special content as well as a listing on our website and a shout out on the podcast. If you'd like to support us with a small monthly donation, just go to patreon.com/flowartistspodcast and join the fun. If you'd like to support us in other ways, you can share this episode on social media, subscribe to us on Apple podcast or Spotify or just reach out and let us know your thoughts on this or anything else. All right, let's get back to our conversation with Mariko.
Jo: I also was wondering, as you are writing, it sounds like you very much had a dual readership in mind—Maori and also people through the rest of the world. Did you find yourself code switching somewhat as you were writing? Or did you find that it all just flowed, and then it was more the editing process when you went back over things and took another look?
Mariko: I'm not sure actually. I haven't thought about it. I think possibly it had more of a fluid, flowing kind of a process. Initially, I was my own audience. I was just writing for myself. So I didn't have any audience in mind except myself. I started sharing it on Facebook, on my personal page, and received so much interaction with it, and was encouraged by that to share a little more. I eventually created a separate page, which quickly filled up with members. I was feeling quite overwhelmed by that. But nevertheless, I kept writing and I was very interested in who was responding, and where they were coming from. While the majority were New Zealanders and Maori, several of them were not Maori, and several of them came from overseas. So I began to realize that the audience for this was people that I weren't even familiar with. But because the conversations were happening on Facebook, I was able to experience their perspectives. This was in the days when Facebook didn't limit the reach so I was getting a huge amount of interaction for every insight. You don't get that now. They want you to pay for it and boost it. But I'm glad that I put it out there. This was back in 2013. I became aware that there were different audiences and that their understanding of the insights needed to be honed, that the way I was writing as an insider, maybe I needed to look a little wider and make sure that my communication of a concept or an idea was being received in the way that I had meant it to, but allowing for enough space for people to challenge it, to discuss it, to come up with their own ideas around it. In a way, it was like the old knowledge sessions that were held in my great-grandfather's era, where some of that discussion would happen. I was quite invigorated by that interaction. So when I got to the book, I did have to rewrite all of the insights that I had originally written to take into account that the audience was going to be international. But at the same time, I left several threads all through the book for my Maori audience who were well connected to their cultural knowing, I guess, and that they would see the depth and the nuances that were in the writing as well, and that they would see a little more and they would see that I had honored the fact that I knew they were going to read it. There was almost like insider messages to them, as well. I wanted to make sure that the book served them just as well as it served anyone else. I had this little phrase in the back of my head, ”Don't dumb it down.” [laughter] And so that was quite a challenge to write in a way that catered to both. But it was fluid in the sense that I didn't have to go over things many times to make sure the second audience was felt. I was writing with both in mind all the way through but I did have to refine and hone it.
Rane: Beautiful. As we mentioned before, perhaps before we were in conversation, some of what you write about it really, I guess, summons images of a mindfulness practice or a yogic philosophy and I'd like to read an extract from the book. You say, “In a state of Te Kore, the great nothingness, there's an infinite emptiness where knowing is anticipated. In a state of Te Pō, the unfathomable darkness, knowing is conceived and takes form. In a state of te Ao-Mārama, the bright light of comprehension, knowing appears in fullness. In one moment, the Tohunga, her eyes closed in contemplation, may sense nothing. In the next, a small feather may drift silently by. The Tohunga, will suddenly raise her hand and pluck it from the air. Kapowairua, eyes still closed.” To me that really, I guess, feels like a metaphor for mindfulness. I guess you said, it wasn't intentional, but is that describing a practice for you?
Mariko: I think it describes the practice of the Tohunga. It is a metaphor and how you're describing mindfulness, I think it's a fit, although mindfulness isn't my area, my specialty, it sounds like it is. Then today, I think that's exactly the process I use to write these insights. As I said before, I think Jo, you asked a question, I talked about the contemplation, pondering, imagination, and those kinds of things, as Westerners, we use—and as IT people as well, Rane—we use this system of acquiring and building knowledge, which doesn't contain that spiritual or that fluidity about it, although quite often, there's creativity. But I would pull the creative side over to this mindfulness that I think you're describing, and for that extract, it would fit perfectly in there. I think without that process, I don't think these insights would have been written. I don't think the book would have been written.
Rane: That's beautiful, and I’d like to read another part as well. “Let us unmask ourselves and let go of our fantasies. Then we're open to accept other fantasies, whether or not we are cast in the role of hero. Who are we when we are not laden? When we find the answer, perhaps we will decide to plug ourselves back into the grid to either tangata, the infinite thread that connects us all, to us all.” Do you want to talk about that?
Jo: Yeah. For me, that really struck a parallel with this idea of when we have all of these preconceived ideas about ourselves and about who we should be and what we should be doing in the world, it actually takes us further away from this opportunity to explore more deeply into who we truly are and also our connection to all other living beings.
Mariko: Yeah, you've absolutely nailed it, Jo. This, I think, is the central theme of the whole book. It's about connectivity. That particular insight starts, if I recall correctly, with describing the material, the materialistic side and pressures that we fall under in modern society, the expectations that we clothe ourselves, I guess, and the expectations of society, which means that we have to achieve certain things. If we don't, we're failures. If we do, we're successes. All of these things that humans like to do in order to be accepted and in order to survive in some cases. But I wanted to strip all of that off and talk about what was underneath that. I know some of the scientists would probably like this when we talk about that we are dust particles. So it's heading in that direction. It's saying that when we strip everything off, we are dust particles. We're the same as everything else. We're connected to everything else. We're identical and it's a very minute form. This is what we are and we don't have these layers of things that we've put upon ourselves, these pressures that we've put about ourselves. So the question then is, who are we, and how are we connected to everything else? It calls as a challenge, it calls for people to recognize that they are connected. That if you strip off all those things, we're all the same. We're all part of that same, what I call, the infinite thread, which obviously is how the book came to be named. That we're all connected. When you shake that thread, the thread shakes and vibrates along to everybody and everything else on that thread. Our impact has an impact on everybody. Our negative impact has a negative impact and our positive has a positive impact as well, on everything and everybody else. So I wanted to strip it right back to that and challenge people to think about everything they do, every decision they make, everything they get sucked into doing, everything they believe, every part of how they behave with each other. How they behave with the environment and how they behave with the universe has an impact.
Jo: How powerful that this has come from your own culture. We've found a parallel in Asian culture and it feels like it's never more real and truly important to understand this, like in the culture that I'm living in now in Melbourne. I think it is that universal wisdom and to be able to uncover another facet of that in your work and in your sharing, I think it was a really beautiful moment for us reading it. It's also been so interesting to hear how much technology was a part of this process. I never imagined that a Facebook discussion would have shaped the journey of this book. Like you've mentioned before, how you and Rane both work in IT, I'd just like to explore that a little bit more. That interesting connection between technology and spirituality and how writing code you put these little pieces together to create this greater whole. So I might have just gone off on a real tangent here, but I'm pretty fascinated by the writing process and your other work and if you felt parallels as you were doing it, if maybe you dropped into the same state of mind?
Mariko: It's really interesting how those two come together. I think and I know that when I've had comments from other people, they cannot fathom how on earth I could be doing IT and then writing this thing. It doesn't fit, but in my mind it does. I think the key word is creativity, as one of the openings towards joining the two together. So I don't write code anymore. More recently, my work has focused around Maori IT projects, which means there's a strong social and cultural and political element to all of those projects, which means that I'm already embedded in my IT work in a Maori context. So to me it's joined up already. That wasn't a thing that I had to pull together randomly. The IT side of it though causes you to draw upon certain skill sets which may or may not exist in other fields. They're things like logic. I talk about triangulation, fact checking and making sure that they're meticulous. When you write code, you have to be meticulous. You cannot put a semicolon or a space in the wrong place. Otherwise, everything falls over. So those detailed meticulous skill sets, I did use for my process of study, for this material, and for this book. Part of it, where it was useful, was in unpacking and going back to source from some of the material that I know had been published over decades that I felt might be inaccurate or had come from a particular bias. I wanted to unpack it all. I wanted to take the bias out and to take inaccuracies out. I wanted proof. I wanted to see the evidence. So that definitely was my IT side and I do capture that, there is an insight that talks about triangulation that says, “Yes, it's okay to sit there in the space of Te Kore and Tep po,” which, Rane, you mentioned just a little while ago, around that process of knowledge acquisition, gathering, growing, evolution, I guess that's a very creative spiritual space that you talked about. But I wanted to add the more logical and rational and evidence-based thinking into it as well, because I was aware that so much misinformation had been shared. So I used my IT skills, I guess, put them next to the other parts of how I studied, learned, and portrayed the information, put them together and I said to myself, “If one does not support the other, then it's an anomaly. If it's an anomaly, it's either true and amazing or it's false.” So you can probably hear my IT background in the way I'm talking. [laughter]
Rane: I think in the book you also mentioned something about the Sage or Tohunga being a very rigorous standard of information transfer and storage as well. I wonder if that, in some sense, you are modern Sage in the IT realm. [laughs]
Mariko: I think we are who we are and we bring our experiences to everything we do, but you're absolutely right to bring up that the expectation of accuracy was extremely high. Otherwise, the knowledge base from which our cultural foundation was built would be very poor. My belief is that there is no culture in this world, no belief system in this world that is based on such poor transmission, that it is all hugely rich and utterly beautiful no matter where it comes from. So accuracy in an oral system is very important. The ability to learn by right, the genealogies. I'm sure that the Maori people have the most expensive genealogies in the world. I haven't yet come across a culture that puts together all of these names. Then the orators pull it out like nothing and just recite them because it's the normal. That accuracy is highly important, but over several decades, there are examples where that accuracy has been undermined. Therefore, it felt right to me to go back to how I understand accuracy can be maintained. So I drew upon my IT side. She said there cannot be one error. I have to triple check everything I do. But I also have to go to my sources, and I have to triple check everything they did. Interestingly, I found several mistakes and errors or deliberate manipulations at some of the work that I was looking at.
Rane: I guess I would actually like to come back to this activism that we talked about earlier. I'm just wondering, and this could just be me, I guess, trying to pull out patterns, but do you feel that there is this undercurrent of activism in your writing in this promotion of this badly named indigenous spirituality?
Mariko: Yes, I do. I think that probably comes out in the book strongly in some areas. Particularly in the first part of the book, I provide a historical narrative. I don't do it in an academic way deliberately. I wanted to be able to tell it as a story and to talk about the experiences of our people, or the people that I've been around, and how that's played out. So I tell it as a narrative. Definitely there's activism and there's a political layer setting there. But behind that, I have another purpose and that purpose was to try and create a rebalance that our stories have been told by others, it's time for us to tell our own stories, that some of our stories have been told inaccurately or in a shallow way, and I wanted to tell the stories in a deeper way. Also, there was the aspect of men and women. So I do spend a little bit of time rebalancing that as well, which is not just about men and women, and how that plays out in life, but also there's a somewhat political element to that as well because our colonization was very much a patriarchal system that was overlaid over the top. All of those things for me could be just revealed, challenged and by the end of the book, I strive towards a rebalancing. So by the time you get to the last page, I hope that the reader feels that the rebalance has happened. Particularly for people who may have been on the sharp end of the impact of colonization, that they feel there's more strength, there's more something they can grasp onto that is meaningful for them. So yes, you're right. There was a political layer through the book. Sometimes it comes through some of the insights and sometimes it's not there at all.
Rane: I've seen an overwhelmingly positive response to your book on Amazon. How's the response been in general?
Mariko: I think I'm just absolutely wrapped with the Amazon responses because they're international readers. I think there was one New Zealander because she got hold of me personally to tell me how she felt about the book, but the rest, I think, were international. So I'm absolutely wrapped that they got something from the book because that was a goal, to reach out to that group. Interestingly, I've had several readers who are Maori readers, who don't meet the threshold of being able to leave a review on amazon, because they haven't spent enough money on Amazon to leave one, but have overwhelmingly preferred to have the hard copy book directly from me. So I've been distributing the book in New Zealand from a website so that these readers don't go through Amazon. The readers in Amazon have come from the perspective of international readers. It's been just so wonderful reading their reviews and some of the New Zealanders from the book that I've been distributing here and also some in Australia have contacted me privately to give me their thoughts. They're very similar. Generally, there’s a historical perspective and a cultural perspective. Then secondly, there's an insights perspective. Usually, they'll tell me about an insight in particular that was quite meaningful to them. The Maori readers have been a different group and their feedback has been really interesting because I layered the contents of the books, so some of them would have realized that there was another, I think you called it a code Jo, where I'm speaking to them in a deeper way. So they've picked up on that. Some say it's changed their life, that it's such a contrast to what they were brought up with, that it's lifted our culture above the level of just rules and restrictions, and it's become more expensive and meaningful to them. They're quite excited by that and I hope that in that excitement, they start to challenge and debate and grow what it means to be Maori here, today in 2020, and how we can draw from our traditional thinking and bring it into our lives today in a way that's really important, especially in a world that's so troubled right now. Then I've also had several women. My readers have become increasingly female for some reason in the last month [laughter] and I didn't target it that way, but now I'm realizing actually there's something that Maori women just like me have needed, and it hasn't been there for them. Current cultural practices have been impacted by colonial thinking and it's not serving women well. It's not serving them in terms of the leadership, the visibility, the restrictions that we're facing in our cultural context. I tried very hard not to turn it into a patriarchal versus matriarchal battle. I wanted instead to rebalance. But I did have to, during the book, speak to the men separately and speak to the woman separately with a goal to rebalance. So the responses from women have been, from my point of view, quite exciting, that the stories have been challenged and resurrected and retold in a way that seeks to put women firmly back into this picture. So that's the feedback I've had so far. Those are the themes that are coming through at the moment.
Jo: So with this response that you're getting about the impact this is already having on how people see themselves and how they're going to live from here, does the book feel like a seed that you plant and then people will grow in their own way? Or does it feel like the beginning of a longer project of more writing and maybe more books in the future, or another way to continue to explore these materials?
Mariko: I think both. I think the goal of the book was to present something that would encourage the conversations and encourage one another, knowledge sessions with people. I have heard some say that they've taken the book as a family, and then sat down and taken an insight, then they've really discussed it. What does that mean to them? Do they agree? Do they disagree? What can they build from that? So I wanted that to happen. Then is it a one-off project? Is it the beginning of something more? I'm still thinking about that. There is a book that I wrote before this one which was the back story. Then decided to pivot to this one. But at the very end of this book, it leads into what could be the second book. So I'm still in that space of trying to decide which direction to head.
Jo: You just dropped a couple of fascinating hints at the backstory of this book, like the trip to the museum and what happened there.
Mariko: That was in the original book. That would potentially be in the second one. The other thing that is in the second book—just keeping in mind, it's still very much a draft—was the idea of the old man and his shape-shifting and what that was. So there's this magical side, I guess. But anyway I'm still working that through. [laughs] Any suggestions, most welcome.
Rane: Beautiful. Well, whatever it is, I hope you do continue to write more beautiful pieces like your current book. I just know personally as a Maori who is probably a little bit disconnected from his own culture, I found it really inspiring and beautiful. It's a marvelous read and I think also, the Maori side of my family was very heavily Catholic, so I feel like that part of the culture was quite confusing for me. Especially because on my father's side, like very, very much atheist [laughter] so that led to a bit of confusion for me growing up. This book actually, I guess, not so much answered questions but, I guess, created more for me. So it's different.
Mariko: Oh, I'm pleased to hear that, Rane. [laughs]
Rane: Yeah, it's a beautiful place to explore from so thank you. Thank you very, very much for writing this book. I guess we do have one more question. It's our surprise question that we ask everybody here. [laughter]
Mariko: Oh, okay.
Rane: This might be challenging, but if you could distill everything that you have learnt and everything that you teach and share down to one core essence, what do you think that one thing would be?
Mariko: The first thing that popped into my head was, I learned to put something beside me as I've walked through this journey, particularly as I started to get active in it, and I remind myself from time to time that when I started, I feared judgment, I feared not belonging, offending people I care about. Then I discovered that the opposite of fear is freedom. So that phrase, “The opposite of fear is freedom,” is what has underpinned all of the work to date, and will keep me going forward.
Jo: That's such a powerful insight to leave our listeners with. Thank you so much for everything that you've shared in the book, and everything that you've shared today. It's been a really fascinating conversation for me.
Mariko: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to share what I've been doing with your listeners.
Rane: Thank you.
All right, I hope you enjoyed our interview with Mariko. When she mentioned taking the manuscripts from the museum, honestly, my jaw dropped. I wanted to dig in a little bit more there, but sometimes the conversation just takes its own path. Anyway, it's an amazing book. I definitely recommend it. I'll leave a link in the show notes. Our next episode is a conversation with Ana Forrest and Jose Calarco. It's a great conversation where we cover topics ranging from physical adjustments, incorporating indigenous knowledge into a yoga practice. We ended up talking about garlic and onions a lot as well. So look out for that in two weeks’ time.
Our theme song is “Baby Robots” by Ghostsoul and is used with permission. Get his music from ghostsoul.bandcamp.com. Jo and I would like to honor the elders of these wisdom traditions of yoga and mindfulness from India and Asia. We also wish to honor the traditional custodians of the unseated land, where this podcast is recorded, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. Thank you so much for listening. Jo and I really appreciate you spending your time with us. Arohanui. Big, big Love.