The Importance of First Drafts

Dear readers, 

 

This December marked my five-year anniversary of living off-grid on three acres of tropical rainforest in rural Hawaii.  It’s the longest relationship I’ve had with a place since leaving my parents' house at seventeen, and the first time I’ve been solely responsible not only for maintaining a home, but for building one from the ground up—painting every board, laying every stone, and slowly coaxing the magic of running water and electricity out of previously-inscrutable piles of wire, fuses, and PVC pipes. 

A few months ago, I decided to build a solid roof over my bed to replace the tent I had been sleeping in ever since I moved onto the land. I hauled in the lumber and hardware, and my next-door neighbor framed in a simple shoebox of a structure with a sturdy metal roof and half-walls on two sides to let in light and air. Over the holidays, I caulked and painted, stapled mosquito screens across the openings in the half-walls, and finally retrieved my grandmother’s painting from a friend’s house and hung it on the wall. 

For most of the five years I’ve lived on my land, the infrastructure has been provisional and haphazard—temporary placeholders propping up yet more temporary placeholders. The kitchen sink is held up by two sawhorses, its faucet hooked up to a garden hose. A handful of nails banged into a two-by-four passes for a tool rack; a length of PVC pipe suspended between two hooks serves as a closet; a couple of old wooden boxes stacked one on top of the other functions as a staircase, provided you have good balance.  

At the time that I put these things in place, they felt like amazing improvements: no more washing dishes in a five-gallon bucket, or storing clothes in garbage bags. Now, I am slowly replacing these resourceful but flimsy solutions with sturdier successors—overwriting my exuberant but sloppy first draft with something a little more elegant, sure-footed, and pleasant to behold. 

 

 

Creativity takes many forms, but I’ve found it to be an essential practice to a happy and fulfilling life. And whether you’re building a homestead, choreographing a dance piece, establishing a spiritual practice, or writing a book, chances are you’re going to go through one or several first drafts before arriving at the final expression of your vision. Our early attempts are sometimes exuberant and bursting with beginner’s luck; other times, they’re halting and uncertain, bits and pieces coming together as we feel our way through the dark. We know there’s something juicy in there, and we have a feeling if we just try a little bit of this and a little bit of that, we can slowly summon it into existence. As a writer and editor, I am well-acquainted with first drafts with their endless placeholders and notes-to-self. Need better anecdote to illustrate this point, I’ll write. Or, End-of-chapter exercise will go here. 

A first draft often looks like one long to-do list: Fix this! Replace that! See if this works better over there! You call your creative vision into being by sketching out what will be there someday, erecting a crude version of it as you go, while promising to eventually replace those preliminary gestures with the real thing. You dream, ruminate, and gather inspiration from others who have trodden a similar path—and you make endless lists of what you’ll do to make your creation even better. 

Every now and then, a little piece of the final version will make itself known to you: a few paragraphs that just happened to come out right the first time, a chord progression you feel confident about, an aspect of your project that just makes sense. These moments of clarity offer a sneak preview of the polished gem to come, and often give us just enough encouragement to keep going through the more difficult aspects of the work. Starting at one of those solid points, you can slowly claim more and more territory, coaxing the rest of your creation into being. 

Although the decisions involved in undertaking a creative project seem endless, an infinite fractal of possibilities that can easily overwhelm even a seasoned artist or creative, each new point of clarity helps to narrow those options down. Huge structural decisions give way to modest organizational ones, which in turn yield to subtler aesthetic ones. What was once an unwieldly and impossible jumble of ideas mysteriously transforms into a generous, coherent, and meaningful work of art; a contribution that might help, inspire, or even shelter someone, someday. 

 

 

The platform on which my tent used to sit, and on which my shoebox now stands, was the first point of clarity in the process of drafting my homestead. When I first arrived on my land, I had no idea how long I would stay here, or what kind of shelter I’d need. All I knew was that I had to get above the thick brown mud that swallowed my boots to the ankle every time I took a step.  

My need to be dry was so urgent that I couldn’t afford to spend weeks carefully evaluating where the platform should go. Instead, I picked a spot, cleared a few spindly guava trees that were standing in the way, and banged the thing together. As it so happens, I was lucky: the spot I chose has worked well over the years, the surrounding trees providing both privacy and shade.  

Having just one permanent element of my homestead in place gave me an anchor point from which to build the rest. The overwhelming fractal of possibilities resolved itself into a somewhat smaller subset of options; I set about plotting other chapters, and sketching out where other elements of my homestead would go. Any visitor to the land could see that my vision was far from realized, the tarps and sawhorses dragged to more promising locations every month or so; yet every now and then, a new point of clarity would emerge, and like a constellation revealing itself amid the stars, the final shape of my home began to come through. 

Now that the tent is gone, I am slowly replacing many of the other original features of my home: that ridiculous sink, those dangerous stairs. As I erase the exuberant, ramshackle, sometimes-bewildering traces of my first draft, I feel grateful for the way these things held space for the better versions to come. These structures didn’t come out perfectly the first time, and they didn’t need to—like the placeholders in a manuscript, their job was to say, Do this thing, but better; and by their mere existence, to give me the confidence that I could. 

 

 

Few artists know exactly what they’re going to say when they pick up a paintbrush, tune their guitars, or sit down to write a book, but the process of creation teaches them. Following our creative passions challenges us to go beyond what we already know and become more capable than we already are. In our first drafts, we throw our intelligence into a kind of sandbox, saying, Go play, go try things! I trust that you’ll figure it out. Eventually, a handful of words becomes a song; a hazy vision becomes a clearly defined path, and a determined amateur becomes a knowledgeable practitioner. 

When I decided to build the shoebox, I wondered if I would feel nostalgic for the tent which so defined my first five years on the land. But now that I’m sleeping under a solid roof, I’ve discovered that I feel no more nostalgic for the tent than for one of the many haphazard and provisional first drafts which have passed across my desk as a writer and editor. The books that emerged out of those drafts were far superior to the drafts themselves; and the shoebox is indisputably superior to the tent. 

First drafts aren’t meant to be clung to. Like seedpods, they are meant to break down and fade away when the true flower emerges. We might look back fondly on planting those seeds, but we would never trade the flower to get the seed back again. Once they’ve served their purpose, first drafts disappear; it’s our job to let them go, even as we honor their role in bringing the final version to life. 

In this new year, I look forward to keeping authors company as they transform their own first drafts into sturdy, beautiful, and worthy books. May your own seeds of inspiration receive the water they need to bloom—in whatever form your creativity takes—and may you perceive the potential in those first, uncertain gestures towards your vision, no matter how approximate they are. 

 

Sincerely, 

Hilary Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 

The Freedom to Change

Dear Readers,

This weekend, one of my best friends came to visit me at the small off-grid community in rural Hawaii where I live. As we roasted green coffee beans in a cast-iron pan, we took turns asking each other questions from a game she had brought—What was your most embarrassing moment in high school, what’s the most important trait you look for in a partner, and so on. We soon realized, to our bemusement, that the game was hard for us to play, because we already knew each other so well we could rattle off each other’s answers off the tops of our heads. However, one card gave me pause. When did you change your mind about something?

As my ramshackle cabin filled with the scent of roasting coffee, and the myna birds began to chirp outside, I realized just how many times in my life I’ve gone from fearing, disdaining, or resisting something, to wholeheartedly embracing it. These days, wild horses couldn’t drag me away from my beloved rainforest hut—but five years ago, when life dropped me into this place, you’d think I’d been sentenced to an execution. My e-mails to friends and relatives were grim. To be fair, life was much harder when I was living in a tent, during a year of incessant floods, a stranger in what I then perceived to be a remarkably strange and inscrutable place.

 

 

These days, my e-mails to friends and family are filled with worshipful descriptions of fruit trees, waterfalls, and clouds, proud recountings of minor victories involving carpentry or truck repair, and fond descriptions of the neighbors who are no longer strangers to me. The difficulties and inconveniences I once viewed as outrageous and insurmountable, I now view as precious; where I once experienced isolation, I’ve become aware of teeming, riotous webs of community. I’ve changed my mind about off-grid life, and I can’t imagine going back.

Although my friends sometimes tease me about my “conversion,” I’ll be forever grateful that the people around me gave me the space to change, without trying to hold me to an outdated version of myself. How terrible it would be if we were permanently held to account for our former beliefs and attitudes—if an opinion, once expressed, had to define us forever. How wonderful it is to have the freedom to change—to update our beliefs, our opinions, and our identities as we proceed through life, shedding old layers as we go.

Last winter, I had the privilege of working with don Jose Ruiz on his wonderful book The Shaman’s Path to Freedom: A Toltec Wisdom Book, which releases on October 3rd. Of the ten freedoms he describes in the book, number three will always be my favorite: the freedom to change. In this chapter, Ruiz describes the Toltec concept of shapeshifting, which he defines as “living in dynamic relationship to life.” Life is always changing—not just decade to decade or year to year, but moment to moment. We can confront this change with brittleness, and make ourselves suffer, or we can learn to dance with life. We can learn to joyfully shapeshift, the same way life itself is constantly shapeshifting.

If there’s anyone qualified to talk about change, it’s don Jose Ruiz. As a teenager, he felt compelled to seek out suffering, after perceiving how much the adults around him seemed to prize their trauma and pain. Yet today, don Jose has one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen, and it’s hard not to grin when you so much as glance at his author photo. As a twenty-something, don Jose went through a phase where he felt he had to dress in “spiritual” clothes and listen only to mantras—but today, he’s no longer shy about his love of heavy metal concerts, and he doesn’t mind when his dogs get their paws all over his distinctly unspiritual cargo pants.

These days, don Jose Ruiz holds his identity lightly. He writes, When people ask me, “What are you, Jose? What is your profession? What race are you? What things are you?” I think to myself, “I’m just life.” Like a stream that changes shape a million times as it finds its way from a mountaintop to the sea, Ruiz knows that he isn’t any one of the innumerable masks he’s donned throughout his lifetime, but the ineffable life force, or nagual, running through them all.

 

 

I’m just life. What a beautiful sentiment—and how liberating. As don Jose Ruiz describes in The Shaman’s Path to Freedom, so much of our suffering comes from confusing ourselves with something other than life itself. We confuse ourselves with our jobs, our relationships, and our status in the community. We confuse ourselves with our bodies—our health and looks. Meanwhile, we are made of the same stuff as toads and jaguars, starlight and waterfalls, orchids and moss. Life is always manifesting itself in different forms, revealing new faces of the infinite. To think that we are exempt from this process, or to desire to be exempt from this process, is to miss out on the beauty of life—and to align ourselves with this process is to be free.

*

Ten years ago, my sister took me to an ecstatic dance event in the city where I was living. For the uninitiated, ecstatic dance is an event at which people dance to electronic or other music, often for hours, with no talking or phones allowed. When I went with my sister, I found it incredibly awkward and swore I would never do anything of the sort ever again. “The music is terrible,” I remember saying, “And those people—well, they’re just not my people!” I considered myself a serious person with serious tastes—I listened to Indian classical music and was forever trying and failing to write important novels. Like the teenaged don Jose Ruiz, I thought that suffering was a sign of superiority. The thought of joining a bunch of smiling, unserious hippies on a dance floor was anathema.

Although I’ve long since ditched my love affair with suffering, I retained a sort of prudishness and formality when it came to music and art, and feared being caught liking anything that was, well, fun. Then near the end of the revision process for don Jose’s book, I realized I hadn’t been to town in weeks; I had been buried in a happy haze of editing and working on my land. It was the first Saturday of the month, and I knew there was ecstatic dance at the community center in town that night.

I felt in my heart a twinge of longing. What if I did something completely out of character? I thought. It’s about time I poked my head into the world and tried something new. Besides, I think don Jose would approve. Before I could talk myself out of it, I grabbed the keys to my truck and embarked on the long and precarious drive into town. I figured I’d stay at the dance for half an hour at most before high-tailing it out of there, grumbling to myself about the “bad” music and wasted gas.

I ended up staying for the whole two hours of dancing, and for the sound bath at the end, and for the closing circle where I realized that the people I’d formerly described as “not my people” were in fact very much my people. I drove home in a state of elation, my heart humming with the pleasure of allowing a new self to unfold. Am I a serious person? Am I a carefree dancer? Yes to both—because I am life itself. And a part of me that had been stuck is now free.

 

 

Of course, the freedom to change isn’t the only freedom don Jose Ruiz teaches in his new book. There is also the freedom to love unconditionally, when you’ve been taught to judge and condemn; the freedom to heal, when you’ve learned to live within the confines of your wounds; the freedom to see, when you’ve accepted a self-imposed blindness; and all the other freedoms that we must claim if we are to bring our gifts into the world in their highest form. When we attain this freedom, we touch the infinite potential of the nagual— a Nahuatl word for pure life force —which reminds me a whole lot of the feeling I have when I’m dancing.

Readers, I wish I could pour you all a cup of this freshly-roasted coffee, picked from the trees near my land—and I wish I could load you all into my truck and take you to ecstatic dance. I will have to settle for wishing you happiness in whatever form you find it, even or perhaps especially if means taking a leap away from the person you believed yourself to be. May you all have the freedom to change, and may those changes bring you wisdom and delight every single day.

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

 

 

 

Humanity is in crisis.

War, poverty, environmental disasters, and more have brought the planet to a tipping point. In our personal lives, many of us carry deep-seated fear, resentment, anger, and even hatred for others and ourselves.
 
Since ancient times, Toltec shamans have taught that the root of all this discord can be found in the human mind and what they called its addiction to suffering. They have also taught that the time will come when we must choose to either break free from this addiction or pay the ultimate price.
 
According to Toltec Shaman don Jose Ruiz, that time is now, and the change that is needed can only come from within.
 
In The Shaman’s Path to Freedom, Ruiz will teach you how to find and claim your own personal freedom, one based on unconditional love for yourself and others, and in doing so break your mind’s addiction to suffering. By walking this path, you can live a life of peace and harmony within yourself, which is the most important thing you can do to bring about the change that is needed in the world.
 
Filled with Toltec practices for establishing personal freedom, The Shaman’s Path to Freedom is don Jose Ruiz’s most personal and radical book yet, guaranteed to thrill both new readers and longtime fans. 

There Is No Such Thing As Trash

Dear readers, 

 

The other night, I reread one of my favorite Zen books—Novice to Master, by Sōkō Morinaga. He shares a wonderful story of the time when he first began to study at Daishuin monastery. His first task upon being accepted to the monastery was to sweep up the temple garden. When he had finished sweeping, he went to the roshi and, pointing at the pile of leaves, pebbles, and moss, asked, “Master, where shall I put this trash?” 

“Trash?” bellowed the roshi. “What trash?” 

The Zen master proceeded to show Morinaga how to save the dry leaves for lighting fires under the bath, use the moss to plug holes between the stones in the walkway, and to place the pebbles under the rain gutters.  

I love the humility and simplicity of the roshi’s demonstration, showing that everything is useful for something—that is, if you can shed the modern habit of throwing everything away and learn to perceive its value instead. And of course, there’s a message here about the nature of life itself: although we may reject certain experiences or aspects of life as being less beautiful or important than others, they are all valuable. There is no trash. 

 

 

Although my off-grid home in rural Hawaii is many miles away from the nearest zendo, I’m nevertheless surrounded by teachers whose wisdom rivals that of Morinaga’s roshi. Many of my neighbors remember a time when there was no road at all to this isolated part of the island, and the only way out was to hike or ride a mule up the steep, narrow trail on the side of the cliff. Even now, getting to town is a production on the best of days, and can become impossible for weeks at a time during storms. For this reason, my neighbors are all expert recyclers. Things that would be considered trash in the “real world” are carefully salvaged here. Scraps of rope, peanut butter jars, and bits of wire all find a use; I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve pulled an old water jug or tarp out from the pile of junk under my cabin and thought, Good thing I didn’t throw this away! 

But after living here for five years, I still fall prey to the temptation for convenience, and its shadow side, waste. When that happens, my neighbors are always ready to steer me gently back in the right direction. 

This past week, I was rushing to build a proper outhouse to replace the leaky, derelict one at my homestead before a friend of mine came to visit from the mainland. After digging the hole, building the structure, painting it a beautiful shade of “discount green” from the reject shelf at the hardware store, and even hanging artwork on the back wall, I was ready to add the finishing touch—the toilet seat. Although most of the structure consisted of salvaged wood and leftover bits of hardware and roofing, I’d taken the wildly profligate step of ordering a brand-new seat online. 

 I was determined to get the whole project finished before my friend came. But on the eve of my friend’s visit, my neighbor returned from the post office and informed me that the crucial package had not yet arrived. As ridiculous as it feels to confess this now, I was absolutely crushed. I’d sweated to finish building and painting the outhouse in time, and now it seemed my vision of presenting my friend with a beautiful and luxurious bathroom was dissolving before my eyes. 

In the small community where I live, most projects end up becoming group projects, whether you intended them to or not. Most of my neighbors had gotten themselves involved in the outhouse project, whether it was by giving me advice on siting, helping me lift huge rocks out of the hole, contributing a scrap of wood or a panel of roofing, or playing practical jokes on me when I was building it. At this point, they felt just as invested as I did—especially when it came to the time-honored goal of coddling a “city” friend whose needs, we liked to imagine, were more sophisticated than our own.  

As I stood in my yard, absorbing the news that the yearned-for toilet seat had not, in fact, arrived, my next-door neighbors wandered over. “Why not check the old shack that fell down in the storm?” said one of them. “There used to be a toilet in there.” “Or the one down the trail, by the pomelo tree,” said the other. “Let’s go check there!” “Or, come to think of it,” said the first neighbor, “I think Brad still has an old toilet sitting around in his shed.” 

Suddenly, in the fading light of the day, I found myself going on a toilet seat hunting expedition through the jungle, along with two of my closest neighbors. Within a matter of minutes, we’d rounded up not one, but three—pulled from the abandoned outhouses of bygone residents. 

“See?” said my neighbor. “No need to buy it online. Just look around and use what you can.” 

My spirits lifted by the adventure, and buoyed by a last surge of physical energy, I headed to the outhouse with a jigsaw and cut a hole, then installed the most dignified of the three salvaged toilet seats over it. And when the brand-new version arrived in the mail a few days later, I sent it back. After all, my “no trash” outhouse was already perfect exactly as it was. 

 

 

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work on the 10th Anniversary edition of Stephanie Bennet Vogt’s classic book Your Spacious Self: Clear the Clutter and Discover Who You Are, coming out from Hierophant next month. As I edited the book, I remember wondering what Vogt would make of my homestead, with its stockpile of odds and ends which just might come in handy someday. Would she take one look at my home or my neighbors’ homes and declare them hopelessly and terminally cluttered? 

But as I moved through the chapters, I was relieved to find that Vogt’s message goes far beyond organizing your tool drawer and letting go of the clothes you no longer wear. Your Spacious Self is about stepping into a mode of existence characterized by expansiveness and ease—whether you live in a minimalist apartment or on a homestead where every last bit of detritus might someday have a use. According to Vogt, spaciousness isn’t measured by the empty space in your cupboards, but by the calm and kindness with which you can hold your physical, mental, emotional, or energetic “clutter” when it arises, allowing it to gently dissolve in the loving field of your awareness. 

I decided that, while Vogt would most likely identify various types of clutter after walking around my home, from the expired seed packets I feel guilty for not planting in time, to the overwhelming mess of files on my hard drive, I’m guessing she couldn’t help but feel the spaciousness here, too—the warm wind blowing through the open tent flaps, the love of my neighbors, and the way that just about any problem can be solved by taking a short walk through the jungle and seeing what you can see. 

 

 

This morning, I carefully gathered up the scraps left over from the outhouse project—the sawn-off bits of two-by-fours, dropped nails, and nearly-empty paint cans—and sorted them carefully in my workshop. Who knows when they’ll come in handy, or for what? I felt a kind of reverence as I handled these objects which were at once precious and worthless, as I imagine Morinaga must have felt when he began to see the swept-up leaves and pebbles as something more than trash. I remembered Vogt’s advice to place objects carefully, imbuing them with the energy of your care and attention—energy which will bless the next person to handle those objects, whether it’s you or someone else. 

It is our reverence, of course, which makes things precious, whether those things are scraps of wood or entire chapters of our lives. Handling things with care is a way of elevating them—and elevating ourselves in the process. Learning to care for those things in ourselves and in the world which we are used to seeing as “worthless” is a revolutionary act, going against the grain of a consumer culture that teaches us to ignore or reject that which isn’t perfectly shiny, flawless, and brand new. And when we do start to perceive the value in what we previously considered trash, we realize we are surrounded by treasures—in all places, at all times. 

Readers, as the summer draws to a close, may all the old peanut butter jars you’ve been saving find a use—and may you see the perfection in even your most imperfect endeavors. 

 

Sincerely, 

Hilary Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 

Balancing Skepticism and Receptiveness

Dear Readers,

 

One of the unexpected benefits of living on a ramshackle off-grid homestead in rural Hawaii is that whenever friends come to visit from the “real” world, they can never quite restrain themselves from fixing things, building things, or making the small but necessary changes I never seem to get around to completing on my own. No matter how sincerely I assure them that a visit to my land does not come with work-trade requirements, when they see the jumble of tools and the overgrown garden, few of them can resist the urge to put some small piece of this chaos in order.

They remind me of myself when I’m editing a book—poking around, finding better places for things, telling me I should really add this or get rid of that. Before I know it, they’re swinging hammers, pruning trees, and tackling all that is leaky, wobbly, broken, dangerous, or all of the above. I feel a sense of kinship with the authors whose books I gaily assault with my own fix-it projects, and hope they feel the love in what can otherwise be an overwhelming experience, the same way I feel my friends’ love in the knots tied, screws driven, holes patched, and heavy objects moved around my land.

 

 

While my friends are fixing things, they also love to project their own dreams onto the land. Why not have a rope swing over here, and a fire pit there? Why not build a trellis for those air potato vines, or drag in a clawfoot tub? I’ve lost track the number of times I’ve heard the words, “If this was my place, I’d build a tree house in that monkeypod.” (Indeed, it’s a running joke in the valley that every newcomer dreams of building a treehouse in a monkeypod, and you can tell how long someone has been here by the fervor with which they express this desire. Meanwhile, most longtime residents have abandoned their monkeypod treehouses and embraced the convenience of life on the ground.)

One friend who stayed with me recently is an avid bird watcher.

“Why not put a bird feeder in the garden?” he said. “You’ll be able to watch birds all day while you’re writing.”

I was skeptical, and told him so. I already saw plenty of birds every day—eating the seeds off the amaranth plants, perching on the ‘awa stalks, chattering in the bamboo at sunrise and sunset. What did I need a bird feeder for? This wasn’t some suburban backyard where one had to carefully court the visits of wildlife. Besides, the kind of birdseed people used on the mainland would probably get moldy in this wet and jungly part of Hawaii, and who knew if tropical birds would even eat it?

Undeterred by my grumping, my friend cut a thick piece of timber bamboo and piled some lava rocks around its base. He set an old metal platter on top of this rudimentary post, weighing it down with another rock. Next, he cut a few bananas from the rack we’d harvested the previous day, and laid them on the platter along with some papaya skins. I groaned inwardly at his naivety.

“You’ve just made a gecko feeder,” I protested. “And a fruit fly feeder, too.”

I imagined myself cleaning up the rotting mess after he left, the same way I’d discreetly dismantled a few of my other friends’ well-meaning but ill-considered contributions to the land. Sure enough, the first visitors to the bird feeder were the bright green geckos ubiquitous to this part of the island—cute enough in their own right, but hardly the feathery spectacle my friend had in mind. Meanwhile, the birds continued to eat the amaranth seeds and perch on the ‘awa plant, ignoring the bounty of fruit.

I’ve lived here for five years, I thought, feeling amused and a little smug at the correctness of my prediction, but anyone who comes down for a weekend always thinks they know better than me. I thought ruefully of the ways that I, too, had ignored the advice of long-term residents when I first moved onto my land—planting a garden in the middle of a swamp, pitching a tent where falling tree limbs could crush it in a storm, and yes, boldly declaring my intention to build a treehouse in a monkeypod as if no one had ever thought of that before.

 

 

What is the correct balance between letting yourself be surprised and inspired by another person’s vision, and gently affirming your own experience, wisdom, and authority? As a writer and editor, I ask myself this question all the time. Sometimes, I have to push back on a chapter or section that just doesn’t work. Other times, I have to ask myself if I’m rejecting an idea out of true discernment, or out of the inability to appreciate its potential. Am I being too deferential, or too headstrong? If I let an author have their way against my better judgement, am I giving their vision the benefit of the doubt, or failing in my sworn duty to stop them from needlessly driving over the edge of a very well-traveled cliff?

As an editor, I have to have some measure of confidence in my own sense of what will make a book successful—otherwise, there would be no reason for me to exist. When an author clings to a beloved-but-unnecessary section or paragraph, I sometimes need to summon the inner strength to say, “Look—I’ve been doing this for years, please trust that you’re in good hands.” In my early years as an editor, wary of hurting authors’ feelings, I sometimes refrained from making changes I knew would benefit their books—ultimately robbing those books of the expertise I’d been hired to provide. Even now, I’m still learning when to insist and when to indulge, when to suggest and when to assert, and when to say, “You want to know why nobody who’s lived here for a long time lives in a monkeypod tree?”

 

 

“Maybe the birds don’t like the shiny platter,” said my friend. He scrounged around my scrap wood pile until he found an old wooden cutting board. He set it on top of the bamboo post with a fresh offering of papaya and bananas.

The next morning as we sat outside drinking our tea, they appeared: little green white-eyes, rainbow-feathered leothrixes, and a pair of yellow-billed cardinals with a brown-headed baby in tow. We watched for over an hour as the cardinals pecked at the papayas, feeding pieces to their chick, and as waves of leothrixes carried bits of bananas back to their nests. Although I’d seen all these birds before, I had to admit it was wonderful to watch them close up, for extended periods of time—to see their colors and hear their songs and scoldings. My smugness melting into sheepishness, I thanked my friend for his persistence. In this case, at least, a short-term visitor really did know better than curmudgeonly old me.

Since then, the bird feeder has become a daily source of wonder and companionship. The birds keep me company as I sit on my little porch, tinkering with books for hours at a time. In the weeks since my friend went home, I’ve seen the baby yellow-billed cardinal learn to feed itself, and watched the pale brown feathers on its head slowly turning to brilliant red. It makes me wonder how many of the other ideas I’ve dismissed out of hand would change my life if I let them. I, too, am still learning how to be edited—how to trust in the expertise of others, when appropriate, and how to invite others to draw me out of my tunnel vision instead of remaining cozily ensconced within it.

Living off-grid, I’m surrounded by reminders of the never-ending balance between consulting your own authority and deferring to the wisdom of others. Gazing up at a crooked rafter in my cabin, I remember the moment I wanted to ask my friend to start over with a fresh two-by-four, but refrained out of fear of looking ungrateful. When damp specks of mist blur the pages of my notebook, I feel a twinge of regret for failing to heed my neighbor’s warning that this north-facing deck would get all the weather, even as I’m constantly grateful for the cool shade it provides.

Although there will always be moments of ambiguity, the bird feeder reminds me to always maintain a seed of skepticism towards my own doubting tendencies, an openness to being humbled and amazed—and the ability to see the singing, feathery potential in another person’s ideas, even if the early iterations of that idea are all geckos and fruit flies.

As we move into spring, may you all be blessed with birdsong, no matter where you live—and with friends whose wisdom enriches your life, even if it takes some courage to let them.

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

 

Click here to read Hilary's previous essay, "The Magic of Oneness."

Your Spacious Self

Your Spacious Self: Free yourself from clutter, discover a slow-drip approach to clearing physical, mental & emotional chaos.

 

Hitchhiking to Freedom

Dear readers,

As an editor at a spirituality and self-help publisher, I learn profound lessons from all the books and authors I work with. In fact, I often joke that it’s like getting paid to do therapy all day—there’s just no way to spend so much time reading and editing uplifting books without having those positive messages sink into my heart and mind. This has never been truer than with Adelfa Marr’s book, Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain’t Easy: How to Stay Emotionally Balanced in a Chaotic World, coming out from Hierophant next month.

 

a headshot of author Adelfa Marr

 

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about working with Adelfa. After all, she’s a successful life coach, Instagram influencer, and lives in southern California with her husband actor Manny Montana—about as different a life from my rustic off-grid existence as you can get! How would we relate to each other as author and editor? Yet I soon found out we had a lot in common. On the very first page of her book, Marr writes of her struggles with anxiety and overthinking:

In my mind, being in control of my emotions—and ideally, the emotions of everyone around me—was the only thing that could keep me safe… I truly believed that I could eliminate any uncertainty, awkwardness, or discomfort from my life if I just thought hard enough.

When I read these words, I felt like I’d been struck by lightning.

Like Adelfa, I’d spent long periods of my life believing that I was responsible for, well, everything. It was my job to defuse conflicts, pre-empt disasters, and eliminate all negative emotions in myself and everyone around me. I was constantly rehearsing conversations, convinced that if I could just think of the perfect thing to say and the perfect way to say it, I would magically gain control over the situations that scared me. Yet for all my thinking and planning, life continued to be as awkward, uncertain, and uncomfortable as ever, and even my “successes” at controlling outcomes failed to bring me lasting peace.

As I slowly read and edited Adelfa’s manuscript, I began to remember a time in my life when I hadn’t been so fearful and controlling—when, in fact, I’d routinely taken risks that many people would find uncomfortable, with complete trust that everything would turn out OK.

At eighteen years old I was obsessed with hitchhiking. In high school, I’d read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and On the Road. I’d also recently discovered mysticism, and begun devouring the works of Rumi and Lao Tzu. Between the swaggering characters I encountered in the novels and the thrilling ideas I absorbed from the poems, I was filled with eagerness to hit the open road and discover these states of freedom for myself.

I’ll never forget the day I walked to the side of the highway and stuck my thumb out for the first time, carrying a backpack stuffed with books and a guitar I had no idea how to play. The sky was clear and blue, and the air pleasantly chilly. I was filled with a sense of hope, possibility, excitement, and absolute trust. I trusted my body to walk for miles if I needed to, and my instincts to turn down rides that didn’t feel safe. I trusted my long johns and raincoat to keep me warm and dry if the weather turned stormy. Most importantly, I trusted in life. I believed that everything was a kind of teacher—the road, the drivers, the weather—and I was open to all of it, with a near-total absence of fear.

 

 

 

For me, hitchhiking represented a voluntary surrendering of control. I didn’t know who I would encounter on any given day, where I would sleep, or whether I would spend hours in a state of hunger, wet, or cold. Although cell phones existed at the time, they were not yet ubiquitous, and I was unencumbered by one. I was happy not knowing, and not having the option of knowing—content with being confined to the present moment, to the direct sensory experiences of wind, sunshine, and rain, and to the feelings of joy, curiosity, pride, and trepidation that came and went like passing clouds.

For the next four years, I hitchhiked on a regular basis—a short trip here, a long expedition there, sometimes alone and sometimes with a friend. I slept in public parks, in strangers’ homes, and in the occasional campsite or motel room. I interacted with people from all walks of life, and became very competent at meeting my own basic needs and staying calm and cheerful under all sorts of conditions. Those years were a magical period in which my tendency to trust was at an all-time high, and my tendency to control was at a corresponding low.

This all changed when, at age twenty-two, I got into my first “serious” relationship with a man I’d met after—what else?—hitchhiking to San Francisco. Interestingly, the easy and expansive sense of trust I’d felt towards the universe while hitchhiking dissolved abruptly when it came to trusting a specific person. I felt anxious about my partner’s eating habits, his approach to finances, his behavior in social situations, and a myriad of other subjects. My not-so-subtle attempts to control these things did little to gain me the sense of safety I craved, while doing much to aggravate my partner.

In Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain’t Easy, Adelfa Marr writes, “When you put your anxieties in charge, the first thing they do is cannibalize your joys.” This was certainly true for me. Like a swarm of termites, my anxieties about being vulnerable to another person swiftly began to bore holes in the joy I felt at falling in love. Before I knew it, I had turned from a carefree hitchhiker into a micromanaging control freak. Although I had no problem trusting strangers with lead feet to give me rides down winding forest roads in the backs of their pickup trucks, I could barely let my partner drive me across town without holding my breath and clenching my foot on an imaginary brake pedal, convinced it was only my hypervigilance that kept us from crashing.

 

 

Over the years I stayed in that relationship, this mystery tormented me: how could I be so trusting in some domains of life, and so controlling in others? What was it that made me shift so dramatically between these two states? When I was alone, I could sometimes recapture the sense of cosmic certainty I’d experienced in my days on the road; yet when I was with my partner, I often found myself in an anxious, contracted state that was anything but mystical. Which one was my “real” self? Was I a trusting, mystical person or a neurotic, controlling person?

It was only while editing Adelfa’s book that I finally stumbled upon the answer: I wasn’t inherently trusting or inherently controlling. These qualities simply appeared or disappeared based on how free I perceived myself to be. As an inexperienced twenty-something who had been socialized to value long-term commitment, it didn’t occur to me that I had the freedom to leave my relationship. It therefore became ever more important to control my partner and somehow turn him into the person I wanted him to be.

As a hitchhiker, I knew myself to be free, and could therefore accept all kinds of uncomfortable experiences, knowing I could always leave. I didn’t need to control things to feel safe, because my freedom was my safety. In the context of my first big relationship, I’d believed myself to be bound, and therefore fought tooth and nail to ensure that things would go my way. I’d forgotten my freedom like some precious coin that rolled under the couch, and with it, lost my sense of safety. For me, therefore, regaining that sense of mystical trust was contingent on regaining a sense of freedom. The more I learned to bring my hitchhiker self to my relationships, the better a partner I became—and the less I felt the need to control the minutiae of my own life and the lives of those around me.

 

 

 

In Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain’t Easy, Adelfa Marr gives us practical ways to reorient our lives towards trust, spontaneity, and ease, no matter how far down the rabbit hole of control we may have fallen. The tools she shares have been life-changing for me, and I believe many readers will feel the same way. I wish her wise, entertaining, and deeply relatable book had been around when I was twenty-two. As it is, I will be handing out copies to everyone I know—and to every hitchhiker I pick up along the lush Hawaii roads, trusting that they are all teachers in disguise.

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

 

Click here to read Hilary's previous essay, "A Tale of Two Waterfalls."

 

Book cover for Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain't Easy by Adelfa Marr

 

 

A worldwide pandemic, climate change, social injustices. . .

Over the last few years, it’s seemed like things on the outside are falling apart! Meanwhile, on the inside, many of us are struggling with feelings of unworthiness, fear of failure, and difficulty finding hope—all while trying to be perfect partners, parents, or friends!

In a world that seems increasingly chaotic, unpredictable, and sometimes downright scary, is it still possible to live a happy and fulfilling life?

Beloved life coach and self-care guru Adelfa Marr tackles this question with her characteristic wit, humor, and warmth, and readers will find a refreshing take in her answers.

Marr understands that self-care isn’t all bubble baths and scented candles. This book gets into the messy stuff—the fear, the shame, the regret—and shows how we can all become more authentic, joyful, and courageous versions of ourselves.

Lord knows this sh*t ain’t easy, but with Adelfa Marr as your guide, you may find that it’s not as hard as you think.

Pruning Trees, Words, & Life

Dear readers,

 

My land here in Hawaii is bordered by a guava thicket. The first year I lived here, I gathered entire buckets of the round, fleshy fruit, and spent many happy afternoons making juice and jelly. The following year, I eagerly awaited the return of guava season, only to discover that the harvest was rather smaller. The third year, I hardly gathered any guavas at all—the ones I found had all fallen from a great height, smashed open on the ground, and rotted. 

I was puzzled by this change in my guava fortunes. The trees were healthy and fast-growing. Why wasn’t I getting the abundant fruit which had so delighted me in Year One? 

After consulting the internet, I found my answer: Guavas only grow on new branches, not on old wood. With every passing year, the trees were growing taller, and the new branches were appearing higher and higher off the ground, until the fruit was so far out of reach it was as if the trees weren’t fruiting at all. 

 

 

I researched how to prune them. I felt some trepidation about cutting off so many apparently healthy branches. But the sources I consulted were clear: when it came to getting healthy, accessible fruit, the old wood had to go. I added some bar oil to my smallest, handiest chain saw, sharpened my loppers, and went to work on my guava thicket. Before I knew it, I was standing next to a pile of branches nearly as tall as I was. Where the thicket had been dense and impenetrable, it was now airy and open. I could see the sky where the over-tall trees had blocked it before. Returning my tools to the shed, I felt a flicker of nervous excitement. What had I done? Had I gone too far? Would this really work? 

I thought it would take months to see new growth on the guava trees. But a flush of new branches appeared almost overnight, skinny and smooth and shining with clean new leaves. I picked some of the young leaves, which are highly medicinal, and brewed them as tea. Meanwhile, I waited for the next crop of fruit to appear. When summer came, the new branches had thickened, and round yellow guavas appeared within easy reach of where I stood on the ground. Far from damaging the trees, the heavy pruning had stimulated them to grow. 

Sometimes, the fruit we long for is waiting to appear—as soon as we cut off the old wood. This is true in life as well as in horticulture. I think often of the times in my own life when I’ve pruned old wood, whether by moving away from a beloved town, leaving a relationship in which I’d invested heavily, or setting aside a project which had consumed my energy for years. I remember the trepidation I felt at the prospect of each pruning: How can I take down that branch? What if I kill the whole tree?  

It took me a long time to understand that, just like the guava trees, my life would not only grow back, but flourish in the wake of every shock. We tend to think of loss as a negative thing, but skillful deletion is a highly creative act. Empty spaces hum with potential. Although the forms of life can be altered or destroyed, the force of life remains undiminished. Life wants to grow back. All we have to do is let it.  

 

 

As an editor, I’m keenly aware of the ways that courageous pruning can allow a book’s true message to emerge. Sometimes, we have to bravely wield the saw, cutting off entire sections of a manuscript which may have been necessary in the first draft stage but are no longer serving a purpose in the final version. No matter how interesting or well-researched a given section may be, it needs to go if it’s not giving readers something nourishing, memorable, and necessary—in other words, the branch gets pruned if it’s not producing fruit. 

Just this week, I took a two-hundred-and-eighty-page manuscript and trimmed it down to a hundred-and-seventy-five pages. Even though I am confident that this pruning will result in a beautiful, focused, productive book, I must admit I felt a few moments of vertigo as I watched the word count dropping precipitously with every cut. Would the author be shocked when she saw the enormous pile of branches I’d removed from her tree? Or would she trust me when I told her that the tree was now stronger, healthier, and soon to be overflowing with fruit? 

As a project moves along, the prunings become more subtle: a sentence here, a word there. It always amazes me how even these subtle deletions can dramatically alter the feeling of a book, lifting unnecessary weight, injecting lightness, and allowing the beauty of the language to shine through. It’s tempting to think that an extra word or sentence won’t make any difference, but as the extraneous material falls away, I swear I can hear a book breathing. 

 

 

This Thanksgiving, I was invited to stay on a remote piece of land in a part of Hawaii that few people get to see. Accessible only by helicopter, it is the site of an ancient Hawaiian village, and has many beautiful waterfalls and archeological features, which a small team of stewards are restoring. One of the stewards took me for a walk around the land, showing me the rock walls he’d rebuilt, the agricultural terraces he’d restored, and the ancient stone walking path he’d uncovered from under layers of brush. 

This person had lived and breathed this restoration project for several decades. His knowledge of plants, aquaculture techniques, and archeological features was exhaustive. I commented on the fact that he seemed intimately bound to the land, to the point that I could scarcely imagine the project going on without him. I was stunned when he shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Nah. One of these days, I’m going to walk away, and they’ll carry on without me just fine.” 

It was humbling to listen as this master stonemason explained to me that when he rebuilt a wall or restored a terrace, that was it—he was done. Why hang around and gaze at his creations, impressive as they were? Those branches had fruited, and were now spent. It made no sense to linger for the sake of lingering, to hang on to what was finished when life is constantly urging us to begin again. His love for the land was deep and genuine, but he had no fear of leaving it, knowing there were an infinite number of places he could love. 

 

 

 

I realized that the artists and spiritual teachers from whom I’ve learned the most all share this quality of detachment. It’s novice writers who cling to the words they already have on the page, not trusting themselves to generate equally good or better material to replace what has been deleted—master writers can cut with confidence, knowing there’s more where that came from. The spiritual masters on whose books I’ve been lucky enough to work at Hierophant emphasize the importance of embracing change. They remind us that our lives come with us wherever we go, and whatever we do.  

This quality of detachment requires a deep trust in life. At the same time, practicing detachment is the best way I’ve found to gain trust in life, if you don’t already have it. Cut a paragraph or chapter from your book, and you’ll find that you do, in fact, possess the skill to write something even better. Accept a change without resisting it, and you’ll discover that life rushes in to fill the empty space. When a thing is complete, bow and move on. By learning to let go of specific things, we embrace the infinite, discovering more and more to love. 

 I look forward to pruning my guava thicket in another month or two, and I look forward to puttering around in the garden of words here at Hierophant, tending the many excellent books we’ll be releasing in the upcoming year. May you all be happy and safe, and may your buckets always overflow with fruit. 

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

 

Click here to read Hilary's previous essay, "The Magic of Nature."

 

Cover image for Think Like a Publisher by Randy Davila

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for guidance for pruning your own thicket of words? Check out Think Like a Publisher by Hierophant President Randy Davila. This detailed guide for authors explains the basics of the publishing industry in clear and concise language, including what publishers (and readers!) look for in a manuscript, the importance of a good editor and how to find one, author platform building, marketing strategies, and even how to find the right self-publisher for your manuscript.

The Magic of Nature

Hello dear readers!

As I mentioned in last month’s newsletter (which you can read here if you missed it), I am the new senior editor at Hierophant Publishing.

One of my first tasks in this role has been to familiarize myself with our catalogue by reading as many Hierophant books as possible (which gives new meaning to the quote, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”). And while I eagerly devoured books like The Mastery of Self by don Miguel Ruiz Jr. and Warrior Goddess Training by HeatherAsh Amara, when I saw that Earth Witch: Finding Magic in the Land by Britton Boyd was next on my review list, I must admit I was a little reluctant.

Before reading this book, I would never have thought of myself as a witch.

True, I live deep in the forest of rural Hawaii, in a strange little cabin I built by hand, and can often be seen gathering herbs and mushrooms, a handwoven basket slung over my arm. I spend a suspicious amount of time conversing with trees, stones, and bodies of water, and am partial to candlelight, incense, and dark, windy nights.

But a witch? Never.

Like many of us, I associated that word with my fourth-grade teacher’s Halloween costume, pointy hat and all, or with certain trendy Instagram accounts wherein witchcraft consists of skincare routines and home décor. I’ve never, to my knowledge, cast a spell.

Indeed, witchcraft has always struck me as dizzyingly complex, with its elaborate tables and charts—moon phases, obscure qualities of herbs and gemstones, the proper combinations of ingredients for various workings, etc. If you challenged me to either cast a spell from one of those manuals or change the head gasket on my truck, I’d probably have better luck with the head gasket.

Please let there be no charts, I thought as I downloaded the manuscript onto my e-reader and got down to business.

Snuggled up with a pot of guava leaf tea, rain falling on the metal roof of my cabin, I began to read:

 

Magic lives in the soil, in the backwoods, in the bones of the dead, and in seemingly desolate places in nature.”

 

 

 

When I read those words, something in me nodded in recognition. Just that morning, I had dug up a fresh ‘awa root to share with some visitors, the soft and fragrant soil falling away to reveal the pale white lateral. Nearby on the Pali, or hillside, the bones of my neighbors’ Hawaiian ancestors have been resting for hundreds of years, rocks piled carefully to mark the sites. The forest where I’d gone mushroom hunting the day before was lonely and storm-tossed, with many broken branches littering the trail, its towering trees charged with mystery. What was the feeling I experienced when I spent time in these places, if not magic?

A few pages later, I highlighted these words:

 

“It is only with time and an erotic merging of the land and ourselves over many seasons that we can experience something real and profound.”

 

 

 

I recalled the many times in my life when I moved: from British Columbia to California, California to Washington, Washington to Oregon, Oregon to California, California to Hawaii. With each of these moves, I felt a sharp loss as the land, plants, and animals which had become dear to me were taken away. In each place, I had to undergo a sometimes-difficult process of getting acquainted with new land, new plants, new animals, and new magic. It took many seasons to complete this erotic merging: many seasons of slow and intentional practice before my body was at ease with the coldness of the river or the current of the ocean, my eye adept at spotting the shapes of the herbs in the forest, my tongue familiar with the taste of the berries, my nose quick to identify the scent of wildfire and mugwort, candycap mushrooms and rotting cedar, night-blooming jasmine and wild ginger.

I’ve never felt quite at home in a place until this erotic merging is well underway. Until that point, I feel lonely and disconsolate, excluded from the web of connection which is so central to my well-being.

This was especially true when I first moved to Hawaii. The tropical plants were utterly inscrutable to me; lush and beautiful as it was, the natural world felt like a locked door, and I couldn’t find my way in. Although I lived in the forest, I couldn’t feel the forest. I was a stranger there, and this state of separation was painful to me.

One day, my next-door neighbor came over to visit. She had a question for me. “Do you talk to the land owners?” she said.

“The land owners?” I said, thinking perhaps she had mistaken me for a renter. “No, I bought the land from—”

My neighbor shook her head. “No,” she said, “the land owners. You have to talk to them. Give them offerings. Tell them why you’re here.”

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that when she said land owners, she wasn’t talking about the people whose names were on a title chain down at the county records office. She was referring to the real land owners—the spirits of the ancient, sacred land we were lucky enough to call home. My neighbor explained that the land owners were always watching, always listening; it was important to ask their permission before entering a new part of their domain, and to pre-emptively ask forgiveness for any clumsy mistakes I might make while I was there. It was good to leave gifts for them, too—they were partial to strong liquor—but mostly, it was important to talk to them. To be in relationship with them. It would be both odd and rude to cut through my neighbor’s yard every day and pick fruit from her trees without ever acknowledging her presence; failing to engage with the land owners was just as anti-social.

The next day, I took a walk in the forest. “Hello, land owners,” I said out loud. “My name is Hilary. I honestly don’t understand how I ended up here, but I’d like to do a good job of living in this place. Please teach me how to live here. I’m sorry for all the things I’ve already done wrong.”

I felt something inside me change when I said those words. Some little tendril of connection became established. Suddenly, I wasn’t a stranger anymore. I had introduced myself; no matter how shyly, I had entered the web.

From that point on, the erotic merging I craved began to happen. My ears picked up the many different moods of the stream running along the edge of my land, telling me if the water was high or low. I began to sense when it would rain, moving my laundry inside just seconds before a downpour. When I walked in the forest, edible and medicinal plants made themselves known to me, and I always came home with my basket full of exactly what I needed. I found myself talking to the land owners more and more frequently, pouring out tea for them in the morning, or wine at night. This magic had nothing to do with charts and tables; it was as natural and obvious as talking to my “regular” human neighbors.

As I write this now, another natural and obvious fact is staring me in the face: I’m an earth witch, and have been one all along.

Real magic has little to do with gemstones and magic wands; it’s in the quality of our attention when we move through the natural world, and in our capacity for relationship with neighbors both seen and unseen. I’m grateful to Britton Boyd and her fabulous book for calling these facts to my attention, and reminding me that whether or not we identify with the word “witch,” we can all engage with the magic of nature, give ourselves joyfully to the service of the earth, and walk a path of connection, communion, and reciprocity with all forms of life.

I’ll share more of my journey next month, and until then, I encourage you to find the magic and mystery in the land you call home, wherever that may be.

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

 

Cover image for Earth Witch by Britton Boyd

 

 

 

 

Earth Witch: Finding Magic in the Land by Britton Boyd

Interested in exploring your own magical connection to the sacred land around you? In Earth Witch, author Britton Boyd invites you to seek out the deep and mysterious connections with the earth that lie at the ancestral roots of witchcraft. This book provides those new to witchcraft with foundational practices on which to build an organic spirituality rooted in the natural world, and challenges seasoned witches to renew the ancient relationship with the earth that lies at the heart of their craft. Packed with stories, spells, and rituals, Boyd encourages all of us to live in service to the planet we call home.

Learn more and read two free chapters from the book here.

The Hawaiian Tradition of Pau Hana

Dear readers,

 

Hello! My name is Hilary, and I’m the newest editor at Hierophant Publishing. Over the coming months, I’ll be working behind the scenes to bring you fantastic books from some of your favorite Hierophant authors. You’ll also be hearing from me in our new monthly newsletter. I am thrilled to join such a passionate community of readers, writers, spiritual seekers, and creatives, and I can sincerely say that this is my dream job.

I live off-the-grid in rural Hawaii, where the daily tradition of pau hana still holds strong. Pau hana can be translated as “stop work” or “work finish,” and that’s exactly what it means: it’s not a break from work or a brief respite before catching a second wind and cranking out a few more hours, it’s stop work. Although in urban areas pau hana can take the form of an American-style happy hour at a bar, in my tight-knit farming community it refers to the time when everyone wanders over to the circle of chairs under the monkeypod tree — beer, ‘awa, kombucha, or sugarcane juice in hand — to talk story and let the dogs run around.

 

 

It took me a long time to become a pau hana devotee. Coming to Hawaii from the mainland, I had little concept of “stop work.” Even as a teenager, I would rise at five AM to practice piano, then go to school, attend sports practice, do homework, then practice piano again. My parents would work at the office all day, then spend the evening getting a jump on the next day’s tasks. From my perspective growing up, it was as if the point of life was to squeeze out every last drop of work your body and mind could manage.

When I saw my neighbors gathering under the monkeypod tree each evening, I used to wonder what they had left to talk about day after day. Hadn’t they already caught up on each other’s news? Wasn’t it a little much to hang out every single evening? Sometimes, I’d be tempted to join them, but then I’d think to myself that I should really mow the lawn, or finish painting the shed, or tackle the next item on a never-ending list. Yet all of my neighbors had off-grid homesteads to take care of, too. I wondered why they didn’t meet at seven instead of five, thereby squeezing out two more daylight hours in which weeds could be whacked, boards painted, and fruit picked.

There I’d be, banging away on a project, the only person still spinning the wheel of work while everyone else had transitioned into relaxation. The dogs would be chasing each other through the stream, my neighbors would be gazing contentedly into the sunset, and I’d be up on a ladder with a hammer or paintbrush, putting those last hours in—while oblivious to the importance of the ritual on which I was missing out.

Then one evening, I was firing up the weed whacker when I spotted the pau hana circle in the distance. It occurred to me that the last thing any of my neighbors needed to hear after their own long days of farming, carpentry, or truck repair was another roaring machine, reminding them of the physical labor they’d just set aside for the day. Not only was my insistence on working through the pau hana hour obnoxious, it was also oblivious: my neighbors had all been living this lifestyle for many decades. If they observed pau hana every day, it must serve a pretty important function. Life in our isolated stretch of island can be tough—maybe pau hana was the key to my neighbors’ strength, resilience, and closeness as a community.

 

 

I began to join my neighbors under the monkeypod tree, bringing a jar of water, some treats for the dogs, and a headlamp to help me navigate the stream crossing on the short walk home. It was like joining a table of bards. The stories flowed without end, each person’s memory complementing the others. Night after night, the neighbors invoked a web of shared references: cousins, grandparents, employers, long-dead pets and broken-down trucks fondly remembered, earthquakes and hurricanes collectively survived, weddings, funerals, and other notable events. They also talked about current events—who was putting in a new lo’i, or taro pond, who had gone to the last meeting about the road, and so on.

Sitting under the monkeypod tree, we shared fruit and other snacks, developed inside jokes, and made plans to help each other out with homestead projects. How could I have been so blind? It was clear to me now that the “work” taking place at pau hana was far more important than sneaking in a last round of weed-whacking. By placing appropriate limits on work, my neighbors had carved out space for social bonding, celebration, and the pure enjoyment of life.

Throughout history, humans have relied on community rituals to mark the division between work and rest. In India, people gather by the banks of the Ganges for aarti, ringing bells and chanting at sunset to mark the end of the day. In Spain, siesta is a non-negotiable block on the daily calendar. In elementary schools, the ringing of the bell announces recess—a time to let loose, bond with friends, and generally direct one’s attention to anything but work. These unmistakable divisions allow us to truly relax and let go, which in turn replenishes our souls (and our ability to be productive when the moment calls for it).

Whether you live in Hawaii or elsewhere, you can embrace the spirit of pau hana by going for a walk or run at sunset, getting together with neighbors, attending a yoga class, or meeting friends at an outdoor café. Socializing with friends and neighbors doesn’t need to be a rare event, but can be a daily source of sustenance and pleasure. Formally acknowledging the end of every work day restores us to our full humanity, reminding us that health, friendship, and the capacity for joy are the true wealth in our lives.

 

 

As an editor at Hierophant, I look forward to helping bring inspiring, enlightening, and life-changing books into the world. By day, you’ll find me poring over manuscripts in my studio—but when it’s pau hana time, I’ll be sitting with my neighbors under the monkeypod tree.

 

Hilary Smith, Senior Editor

 

Cover image for The Grind Culture Detox by Heather Archer

 

 

 

The Grind Culture Detox

If the crushing urgency of work is preventing you from experiencing the healing tranquility of pau hana, check out The Grind Culture Detox by Heather Archer.

Grind culture refers to the false belief that to be considered valuable or worthy in our society, one must be productive. Lurking in the shadow of capitalism, grind culture is accepted as normal, even necessary, and most people aren’t even aware of the harmful ways it impacts us.

In The Grind Culture Detox, author Heather Archer exposes grind culture in all its complexity. Utilizing nontraditional approaches such as somatics, sound healing, herbalism, and more, The Grind Culture Detox is an invitation to experience an inner revolution—one where you recognize yourself as a sacred being and acknowledge you are worth far more than what you produce.

Heather Archer

Heather Archer is a workplace wellness coach with a mission to help others achieve work-life liberation. Learn more about her online workshops, speaking engagements, and sound healing sessions at www.thrivingwithheather.com.

Books by Heather Archer