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Women Mystic Series – Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona, Hawaiian Healer

December 6, 2018

Western man has gone to the extremes with his intellectualism, it divides and keeps people separate. Man then becomes a destroyer because he manages and copes, rather than letting the perpetuating force of the Divinity flow through him for right action. – Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona

This month I’m adding to my (very occasional) Women Mystic series. For me these posts are a way to research and share information on women from history who forged their own way within a spiritual or healing tradition. Each time as I’m deciding who I would like to learn more about, I’m drawn to women whose lives reflect questions, or who experienced struggles, that feel relevant to me now.

In the case of this post I chose to focus on a relatively recent woman healer, Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona (1913-1992), credited with bringing a form of the Hawaiian healing tradition of Ho’oponopono to the wider world. Many people experienced great healing and personal growth through the healing system she created, and she was publicly honored as a living treasure of Hawaii in 1983. However, others criticized her for sharing and adapting aspects of this ancient Hawaiian healing tradition for non-Hawaiians, and for combining it with Christian and New Age teachings that she had also studied. These questions of cultural respect and appropriation are very relevant today – what aspects of spiritual and healing traditions should be considered cultural, and if they are, who has the right to utilize them, adapt them, and teach them?  These are questions coming up a lot right now in regards to healing modalities, yoga, and meditation.

Morrnah was born in Honolulu in 1913 to native Hawaiian parents, and her mother was a well respected energy healer and spiritual leader in their community, referred to as a kahuna. Morrnah was herself recognized at a young age as energetically gifted, and selected to carry on this tradition. Throughout her childhood and young adulthood she was trained orally, assisting her mother and other healers. The forms of healing practiced were very energetically based, and often involved words and chanting. They also often involved an entire family’s participation – if one member was ill, it reflected a larger imbalance in the family or even entire community, who all would be included in the healing ritual. Forgiveness and reconciliation were an important part of the process for rebalancing, cleansing, and releasing obstructive energies and forces from everyone’s minds and bodies. This cleansing was considered as much spiritual as physical, with mind, body and spirit within each individual and the larger community seen as one holistic unit.

While Morrnah grew up steeped in this tradition, she was also subject to the social changes occurring in Hawaii as the U.S. annexation of the islands in the 1890s led to an influx of missionaries and U.S. business and governmental authorities. She was educated in a Catholic school, and spent her entire life as a Christian, although she moved away from Catholicism and embraced teachings by other traditions and individuals, including psychic and medium Edgar Cayce, in adulthood. She integrated aspects of all of these personal spiritual influences into her later work developing a healing system.

This work occurred late in her life however, as is common amongst the women mystics I have studied. Morrnah spent her adult life before this as a healer and caring for her family, outside of any spotlight. While most of her healing work was local and private, in her 50s she began to run the health spas at the Kahala Hilton and Royal Hawaiian hotels at Waikiki Beach, which brought her into contact with visiting Westerners. This led her to contemplate the Western psyche, and the specific psychological imbalances that led to stress, violence, and disease. At the age of 63, she began to formally develop her healing system based upon these teachings.

For the remaining 16 years of her life, she worked to bring this system to a wider audience, including speaking to the United Nations and World Health Organization about the imbalances she saw in western civilization that contributed to disease. She created two foundations to further her work, and trained many individuals in her methods. By all accounts this was challenging for her, as she had been known for most of her life as a quiet, contemplative woman. She had not previously sought the spotlight, but now did so, truly driven by the desire to help heal the destructive forces she saw harming her own home and the world. While many lauded her work, and she was publicly honored as a living treasure of Hawaii in 1983, others criticized her for sharing and adapting aspects of the sacred, and formerly secret, healing tradition, and allowing non-Hawaiians to learn and utilize these techniques.

As I read through some of her work, I was struck by the profound insights she had about the modern western psyche, the depth of her personal spiritual connection to the divine, and her strong motivation to help heal the world by sharing aspects of the healing tradition she had been raised in. Her own path and choices mirror questions raised today about healing, yoga and meditation traditions that originated in the East or other parts of the world. If these have been freely passed on by teachers to the West with the intention to bring healing and awakening, is it cultural appropriation for them to be adapted and/or taught to a wider audience? Are these teachings owned by a culture or part of the universal human experience? In the cases of practices such as mindfulness, sourced in rich spiritual traditions, is it OK to teach them in an entirely secular context? In place of the donation or gift systems that might have been utilized in traditional cultures to ‘pay’ for these healings or teachings, is charging as a business in a modern context Ok, and to what extent? What dollar amount crosses the line? To what extent does a person’s or organization’s motivation matter? And can we ever truly judge what does or does not benefit another being? Complicated questions that all of us working in the healing or spiritual arena need to grapple with.

Whatever the answer, I found much to admire and learn from the life and teachings of Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona and hope learning about her will inspire you to deeper contemplation yourself.

 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2018 2:18 am

    Another wonderful post in this series, Lisa. And you’ve highlighted some questions I’ve been asking, myself, lately. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    December 7, 2018 3:37 am

    Hi, a friend sent me this and it’s very pertinent to me right now. I enjoyed learning about Morrnah, but also I have recently been accused of cultural appropriation myself and was pretty shocked. I’ve practiced and taught a form of kundalini meditation for almost 20 years, all authorized by my own teacher, who was himself Indian (now passed.) I think it is hard for westerners to understand the concept of lineage. Mind to mind connection and transmission has nothing to do with a person’s culture or ethnicity. At the same time I am sensitive to cultural traditions being exploited for money. But many eastern teachers have consciously chosen to spread their teachings in the west, as morrnah did, for the benefit of humanity. If we limit that spread, all of us will suffer and some teachings may be lost forever. It is complex though.
    Thank you for raising these issues.
    – HS

  3. December 7, 2018 6:32 pm

    Thanks Cate, glad you liked it. Lisa

  4. December 7, 2018 6:36 pm

    Thanks Anon, for your thoughtful comments. Yes, as someone who also studies in a tradition based on transmission (Buddhism) and in which many Eastern teachers have consciously chosen to continue their lineages here in the west, I get what you are saying. Also, throughout history both healing and spiritual teachings have migrated through different means and evolved in relationship to the culture they met – they are not fixed entities. So of course these teachings are changing as they meet western culture and this doesn’t invalidate them. However, it does bother me that words like ‘zen’ and ‘mindful’ and even ‘meditation’ get thrown on to every kind of business and practice – it seems to cheapen them and potentially detour people from really exploring their depths. Or does it increase their popularity and help more people discover them? It’s a complicated question. Thanks for weighing in. Lisa

  5. Susan permalink
    December 7, 2018 7:18 pm

    Hi Lisa, I found this sweet kids book on moornah Simeona:

  6. December 8, 2018 1:26 pm

    Reblogged this on Not Tomatoes.

  7. December 11, 2018 10:10 am

    Thanks for this very insightful article! I had never heard of Morrnah before, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this interesting woman´s life and work. I´ve often wondered about the above-mentioned questions, and I am still in disbelief sometimes as to how much certain healers charge, or how Yoga teacher trainings for 3000+USD have become the norm…important questions, indeed.

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