“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.”

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama


February comes with LOVE already in the air.

It’s easy to get cynical about Valentine’s Day, right? The holiday that originally honored a few Christian martyrs has turned into the day when little kids agonize over how many tiny paper hearts they’ll get and lovers struggle to find the perfect flowers/ chocolates/ lingerie to express just the right level of passion/ fondness /devotion. On this one day, the pressure is on to “prove” our love to those we care most about.


We devote one day to the concept of love, but how many of us were ever taught how to love and what it means to love? We watch reruns of Sex and the City or hunt through greeting cards, maybe listen to romantic ballads or gossip with our buddies about their romantic escapades. But does any of that really prepare us to love and be loved?


In modern Western culture, our notions of love have become confused and shallow. Rather than something we live by, love has become something we compete for. Rather than experiencing love as a given, we’ve been duped into thinking we must do something or be something to deserve it.


But in several ancient cultures, true love was the entire basis of the society, not just a commercial holiday. It was reflected in their everyday language and basic teachings. Hawaii was (and still is in many ways) one of those cultures.


Even if you’ve never visited the Hawaiian islands, you’re probably familiar with the word aloha. The word became used as a greeting after missionaries arrived in the 19th century. But before then, Hawaiians used aloha as the basis of how they lived.


Aloha means “from the heart.”  Aloha expresses love, compassion, affection, peace and mercy.  Every kumu (teacher) I’ve ever had said that you have to come from a place of aloha when you do anything. You’re supposed to make decisions from the heart, work from the heart, and interact with your environment from the heart. Living from aloha means that you accept and malama (cherish) everyone around you.


This might seem like a tall order if we don’t even quite understand what love really is. But within the word aloha itself is a guide to its deeper meaning and how we can express it. This deeper meaning is found within each letter and it represents a state of mind, an agreed-upon set of values and a way of being in the world.


The beginning A of aloha stands for two things.  First is ao or light, meaning that all of our actions should move us and others toward the light or enlightenment. The A also stands for ala or to look, which means we need to stay attentive to what is happening around us, not just tune into our own needs and desires.


The L of aloha stands for lokahi which means oneness with all things. Hawaiians believe that all is one. Because I am you and you are me, when I harm you, I harm myself. When I reject you, I reject myself. Anything less than 100% support of one another sabotages both of us.


The O of aloha stands for ‘oia’i’o, meaning to be genuine, authentic and truthful. In Western culture, we’re often too polite or frightened to speak our truth. Maybe we aren’t blatantly dishonest, but we hold back certain parts of ourselves. However, without authenticity, we can’t have oneness—and can’t truly love.


Aloha’s H stands for ha’a ha’a which is humility or to be humble. Arrogance prevents you from telling the truth. When you play the game of power over others, you lose your connection them. When you’re busy showing off to “prove” yourself to others, you can’t express aloha. Ha’a ha’a does not mean to hide your light or pretend to be less than you are. But it does mean that you appreciate the light in others as equal to yours.

The final A in aloha has two meanings as well: aloha and ahonui. Aloha means absolute, true love without making comparisons or judging others. When we judge, compare or discriminate, we separate ourselves from true love.


Ahonui means patient perseverance. We live in a drive-through/google-based/Twitter-happy/microwave culture.  But to truly love others and yourself requires patient perseverance, the ability to ride the ups and downs, the tenacity to see through apparent conflicts.


When you combine the meanings of aloha’s letter, doesn’t this describe the kind of love you’d really like to give and receive? I invite you to add some aloha to your relationships, not just on Valentine’s Day but throughout the year in all your daily interactions with one another.


As Eknath Easwaran writes:


“It takes a lot of experience of life to see why some relationships last and others do not. But we do not have to wait for a crisis to get an idea of the future of a particular relationship. Our behavior in little every incidents tells us a great deal.”


Till Next Time,


Dr. Matt