Life for me is extraordinary.

It has been for many years, probably all my life, if I am available to notice.

I would like to share with you some of the wisdom and beauty I have encountered since arriving in New Zealand in January this year.

Andrew, my husband had been living here for two years. He has been living on the East Coast, which is almost outback New Zealand. It is remote and coastal, surrounded by hills, crossed by three rivers. Waka ama is a big sport here, and it is being revived all over New Zealand as part of the Māori cultural regeneration, which includes language, Haka and a renewal of indigenous relations to the land and food growing and gathering. The local waka ama club boasts numerous New Zealand and world champions. The rivers and bay are often dotted with teams of 6 or 12 out training, or one or two-man boats out on the water. On our arrival my son and I joined in. My introduction was immediate: I was tipped into the river with six others in order to learn how to right ourselves again. I watched another six drift out to sea as they tried to recover.

We paddled out into the breakers, around an island and caught fish. As we trained we closed our eyes and listened to the swish of paddles in the water, feeling and listening for the sense of rhythm and timing, becoming one in the water and the waka.

The relationship between nature, life and the spirit pervades life here.

Before a waka trip, a meeting, a meal or to close a gathering, a karakia is said. The karakia is a blessing or prayer in Te Reo (Māori language) to gather focus, bring presence and help create a sense of safety and wellbeing.

The interconnectedness of all things is clear.

As part of our experience with waka ama we have met a bunch of very fit, strong and committed tangata whenua (people of the land).

Waka ama, the stories of seagoing voyages and Māori arrival in New Zealand are all intrinsic to local culture.

I have taken up the opportunity to study Māori health and wellbeing, based on the work of Sir Mason Durie  an esteemed thinker and pioneer, offered via the Poupou Pakari Tinana, Te Wananga o Raukawa.

I heard my own truth and some of what I already know from my life’s work, being spoken in another language. I’ve enjoyed a sense of coming home. The wisdom of indigenous knowing. There is a life force, mauri, that lives in everything, which ebbs and flows. It can be supported and flourish (mauri ora), it can be depleted and languish (mauri noho) and we can be in a place of realisation and awakening that mauri is depleted and change is required to shift into abundance (mauri oho). I have learned about the Māori approach to relationships between the physical (tinana), the spiritual (wairua), mental and intellectual (hinengaro), and family–community (whanau).

I have started to understand indigenous concepts of the wisdom of internal motivation, the inner subject that inspires us (kaupapa), what we are called for and the way this will direct our actions (tikanga). Actions and behaviour will flow naturally from our inspiration or subject at hand, compared to having to be told by an external authority what to do or how to live. The motivation and authority can arise from within through our own understanding and learning.

I am here with my fifteen-year-old son Louis. We have been volunteering, making school lunches each week with a project to provide lunches for children who don’t have any. Our team at the Gizzy School Lunches GSL  is dynamic, humorous and keen to see positive changes for Māori. The discussions are lively, culturally relevant and sometimes political.

We planned a journey with some of our lunch crew to a meeting (hui), which was occurring along the coast at a Marae.

The hui was about health and wellbeing, food sustainability, waterways and childhood obesity in indigenous communities. We set off on a Thursday morning, and I was thinking about community gatherings that I was familiar with in Victoria. I was in for something else. Luckily I had read a few library books on Marae protocol and traditions on arriving, and our lunch making friends also helped guide us.

Words feel inadequate for me to convey some experiences, particularly when the experience lives outside my cultural language. An invitation to a Marae is an honour, along with gratitude these sentiments are difficult to express in words.

Before entering we gathered as one people, rather than a group of visitors, and were encouraged to connect our hearts and breath. We were honoured to be asked to carry in a banner of Māori Anzac soldiers. We heard koreo (speaking that is inspired and authentic) and singing, and we sang. We were welcomed by the hosting community with a hongi, our foreheads and noses meeting. Our host was full of mana (dignity), and bore the traditional face tattooing.

The hui was held inside the Marae, with a straw-thatched ceiling and decorated panels for each wall and lined with traditional carvings. Many Marae have been restored in recent years, and this was one of them. The koreo continued with six world-leading PhDs and authorities on indigenous health, food systems, systems theory and traditional cultural wisdom. Advisors to government authorities, World Health Organisation and the UN, leaders in creating sustainable change in their own communities. An extraordinary gathering of knowledge and hope for future change.

Further astounding experiences took place that day but I may lose you if I continue.

Since then each week has brought something seemingly miraculous into my experience.

I feel gratitude and a renewed sense of reverence and awe for the truly sacred and divine nature of all life.

You didn’t come into this world, you came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.    – Alan Watts