Aroha: More than Love, the Breath of Life

Pu ana ki roto
Ki ana ki waho
Ka pu te ruha
Ka hao te rangatahi
I runga i te Aroha
Originating from within
It fills the outer
When wisdom emerges
Transformation occurs
Upon the foundations of Love

Borrowed from and translated by Ruth Makuini Tai

Aroha is a word I quickly embraced as a teenager of Maori descent with little Maori connection.  I used it to sign off cards and letters to friends and family. I used it as the Maori version of the English word “love”.  Over time I have become to realise the word “Aroha” is more than love.  I am learning that our indigenous cultures throughout the world with spoken languages speak each word with poetry and profound depth and breadth of meaning.  I understand that to learn another language we must base our learning on a direct translation of our first language.  My first language is English. Naturally, when learning a new language I want to attach new words to words that I know.  Aroha was love.
In my new season of life as a parent I am experiencing love differently.  I am beginning to understand the true essence of Aroha as its first speakers intended.
The components of the word Aroha when separated into Aro and Ha tell us that it is the “breath of life”.  As wahine we are such blessed creatures for we give the breath to the life of our children when they are born into our world.  This is why wahine are so highly regarded and why we should see ourselves as so.
As our children grow our breath will continue to nourish them.  The intensity of this will be dictated by their emotional, physical and spiritual development.
A practice of being with our children observed and promoted by Rudolf Steiner from the Northern Hemisphere must be one which was practiced by our indigenous people of Aotearoa in the Southern Hemisphere if we are to fully understand Te Reo.  This practice assumes that to grow our children need times of out breath and in breath.

Out breath. Take a moment to breath in. Deeply. Slowly. What do you notice as you breath out?  Hopefully a sense of renewel, energy and freedom.  Your lungs have been renewed of breath.  Energy levels lifted.  And freedom.  For me my focus on my breath during yoga certainly makes my body, mind and spirit feel free afterward.  If you know that feeling then it helps to understand out breaths for children are times to be free, to use their energy, and use the renewel.
Out breaths for children are a time to run, jump, climb, explore.  A time for their physical body to be used.  A time to interact with the abundance in the natural world around them.  A time to move further away from Mum.  Kicking on the mat.  Crawling outside without Mum.  Just beyond the patio or deck.  Out to the grass.  Into the back section.  Off to play with a friend.  Running down to the sea alone with Mum in sight. Off to Kindergarten. Out breaths get longer as do the boundaries of them.

Out breath time is time to play.  It is a time when the child does what they do best.  A time best uninterrupted by big people.  Play is sacred and it is the time children experience their world with all of their untapped potential.  They know just what they need to do.
To breath out we must breath in.  To be able to have the outward flow of energy, renewel and freedom we must breath in.  Can you remember times in your life where you would automatically take a long drawn inward breath?  When you arrived home from school and smelt a cake cooking?  After a period at work or sport outdoors in the cold and wet and you return home to the smell of hot soup or a roast dinner cooking?  Hopping off a plane in a tropical island and taking that first breath of heat flavoured with fragrance of frangipanis?   The smell of your babies skin? These inward breaths bring us closer to a source of nourishment, warmth, love, togetherness, security and a time to relax.  I am more mindful and all of my senses tend to become aware when I breath in fully.
Times of in breath for our tamariki are times to be with or near their significant carer; mother, father, carer, teacher, grandparents.  It is their time for security, warmth and nourishment.  A moment for them to go inward.  In breath time might be a cuddle, meal time, time to play or read beside Mum while she folds washing.  A time to read together.  A time to draw or construct.  This is a time of quiet and being close to a loved big person.
The lengths of breath depend on stage of development.  Remember those times when feeding your baby and they wanted to continue suckling even though they had had their full of milk?  Filled with milk yes and then continuing to comfort themselves with in breath time in readiness to breath out – in their time.  I remember these times extending for longer than I would have liked!  And I remember that if I cut this time short I would often have a “clingy” child.  I now understand why.  Times when my children will play quite happily outside for a lengthy time most often come after a good snack and five or ten minutes of stories read.
Aroha is the creative force that comes from the spirit.  Children are the best illustration of this.  When our babies are born they come with the greatest spirit and in their early years the creativity is immense, often blowing us away, making us smile or at times intimidating us.  A time to create with their hands is in breath time for children.  As long as Mum is nearby my girls enjoy moments to draw.  This creative moment fills their tank and then they will transition off into freedom of play.
Between people Aroha seeks unity and balance.  To ensure our children have times of in breath and out breath brings balance to their day and a sense of security.  Breathing in and out is a natural rhythm and one that can help our children through their day.  If we are their breath we can provide them with time to breath in and out. Observe when your child is happy to play by themselves. Reflect on the time just before this. Did the freedom to play alone follow time when you were together, a time of nourishment?
So what then of tantrums, frustrations, anger, meltdowns?  This is the part I continue to struggle with and that I am working on.
Imagine what it would be like to not be able to breath for some time.  We know what happens if breathing stops. We know too that a person will fight for breath.  They will thrash about.  They will have a surge of strength and determination to get what they need.  Does this sound familiar to the anger, tantrums or frustrations, even fearfulness you have seen in a child?  They need Aroha.
Now I write the following as work in progress.  Whilst I know it, I am still working toward it.
Children when experiencing moments of anger,frustration or melt down need Aroha, more than love.
They haven’t had an in breath moment soon enough, or needed an out breath moment sooner.  My youngest at two and a half spends most of her days with me, sometimes Dad, sometimes Grandparents.  I meet her breath fairly well most days.  Her big sister needs greater out breaths now.  She has transitioned into more days at kindergarten.  She loves it.  My transitioning of her home needs greater attention.
When a child attends kindergarten or day care this time can be considered outward breathing.  When we pick them up we need to give them an inward breath – a hug, holding hands walking to the car or home, a listening and attentive ear, and in my case a nourishing snack for her.  If you are driving home consider this out breath time.  Know that upon your return be prepared for another in breath.  Be present for your child.  They may need more food, your closeness.  Hold them in your mind and try not to be distracted, be beside and near them.  Then when they have had enough inward breathing they will show you they are ready to breath out.
Aroha is generous and abundant.   Often the meltdowns occur when we need to be preparing dinner.  The breath of a wahine when given will create more.  Make the time to stop and be with your child to prevent or heal a meltdown.  If the in breath time is genuine then they will move to out breath time, allowing you the moment you need to prepare the meal.  If more time is needed in breath, try inviting the child in the meal time preparation.  Chopping with you, breaking off stems, setting the table.  Work together to reach what needs to be done.  I have found that when I remember to do this then afternoon runs smoothly and then they disappear to play sooner than I think.
Aside from food we all need the nourishment of Aroha – love and breath.  Consider the power of your breathing and let it nourish your children with moments of in and out breath.

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