Prior to 2013
Heleina was aware of the work going on in Whaingaroa and the workshops available, but she had not engaged closely with the kaupapa. While friends had explained some of the ideas and practices to her, Heleina had not actively applied these in her own family life prior to 2013.
The story of 2013
Heleina came to the kaupapa through her work at Te Mauri Tau. She took up a role helping out with office and administrative tasks. She then became interested in, and involved with supporting logistics and coordination for the 2013 programme around Nonviolent Parenting/ Poutiria te Aroha.
The interest she developed soon extended beyond her professional capacity, and she took every opportunity to learn about the kaupapa and to draw it into whānau life, with her five children. Heleina also took part in ‘Te Reo o te Ngākau’ - the language classes based on this kaupapa which were held at the marae.
Heleina readily embraced the philosophy of this kaupapa, finding that it resonated with other belief frameworks that she holds.
“The beautiful thing is that it fits with my deeper foundations - my faith [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints], and the 12-step recovery work I have been doing looking at addiction. It is the language and philosophy of love. Poutiria te Aroha is the term I prefer to use, because it feels authentic to how I am trying to shift, to these paradigm shifts I am making.”
Complementing the philosophy that sits so well with her existing worldview, the practices and knowledge she has learned have been directly applicable and useful.
“What I find helpful about the philosophy are the workable, practical tools I can integrate into my life. Like the tool of A.R.O.H.A. I am using it for myself, to understand my relationships with my husband, and with each of my children at the developmental stage they are in. The knowledge about the brain was also really helpful – to be able to observe the children and fit that in with the little back story of where their development is at – how the 7 year old is quite different from the 17 year old.”
One of the key concepts that has helped her is the idea that people’s actions are all in pursuit of meeting their basic human needs (known in this kaupapa as ‘oranga’).
“Coming back to the oranga for all people, and acknowledging my own, has been very powerful – being able to see beyond the strategy they are using at the time, to see the need. Before, it was all about behaviour – the emphasis was on ‘stop doing that – cut it out.’ When I am not grounded, that’s where I still go.”
Heleina has found it useful to think about the concept of ‘tū uehā’ which she learned at Te Reo o te Ngākau. This refers to a stance such as that often seen in a haka, where feet are spread wide and knees bent, creating a stable and grounded position.
The concept taught is that by looking after ourselves and having our needs met, we are more likely to be in a stable, grounded place from which to respond to the challenges of parenting. And if we are not in this state, by recognising that fact, we can think about what we need to do in order to cope, and respond consciously to situations. For example, we can stop (tū), breathe (ngāngā), and we can find the things that will help us or our children to come back to a state of regulation or calm.
“It has been so good to have the sentence structures, the self-talk using the words we learned at Te Reo o te Ngākau. I have used it a lot this week with a confronting thing in my life. I can think - how does my child come to tū uehā? And for myself, am I in that state of tū uehā? If not, then what - ki te kore, me aha? Me tū, me ngāngā, me tiki... I don’t have a basket [of regulation tools] but I am aware of what helps my children settle, and what helps me settle. So just to have that moment to ‘tū’, and ask ‘me aha?’ has helped me.
Of course I do go there sometimes, I do snap at people – only now I can acknowledge that. ‘Nā te kore... Me aha?’ What is it that’s going on for me – ‘Wow I am tired, hungry’. I can give myself empathy. ‘OK. Breathe. Aroha.’ Then I can repair the rupture, by saying: ‘Mum was really grumpy. I said some things that weren’t kind.’ But it’s without the guilt associated – because I can understand how I got there. It’s neat not to carry so much baggage.”
She applies the practices in all her relationships. “I use the tools every day. In my interactions with people, with my children, my husband, myself. Huakina te ngākau – open the heart and give empathy. Unless my needs are met, I can’t connect. If I can’t give myself some empathy, or if I am not receiving empathy, then there’s no way I can give it.”
Heleina has developed greater awareness of her body sensations associated with feelings. “Another big thing I have been practising is noticing the feelings when they come into my body. Ruth talked about it. Where do you feel the feeling in your body? This is different for me, because I can get quite disconnected from my body. When something gives me big feelings I’m able to feel them. ‘Wow, that came through my head, it was hot, it sat in my solar plexus’. Now I have words to name them like ‘pukunoke’. I can notice, I can pause - ‘me tū, me ngāngā’, then I can face them.”
At a deeper level, Heleina applies the concepts from Poutiria te Aroha to her spiritual practice.
“I have a better understanding of the Tuakiri and how communication with my Atua happens – I’ve come to the understanding it’s through ngākau [my heart]. If I am holding onto resentment, I can’t get the communication. So I have to be able to process – it comes back to self-empathy. How to get answers to prayers? For me I have to calm my mind. If I get a sense of peace in my heart and clarity in my mind, then I get a sense of Atua communication. And that comes from A.R.O.H.A., meeting needs, oranga, and self-empathy.”
Heleina is enthusiastic about the learning package provided in Te Reo o te Ngākau. “It is so great to come up with the concepts and then give tools to implement it immediately. The use of the rākau, the kinaesthetic delivery really helps the learning, and anchors the tool. It’s not just a lovely discussion, but we are given sentence structures, karakia, waiata. And those are useful too. For instance at home there was a bit of a tussle among the kids at the bench, one was kicking the other. So I sang the song ‘Ehara aku waewae i te waewae whanawhana, ēngari hei tipi haere i a koe e’. They said ‘Oh, Mum’ - but it made them stop. It did. It created a block for them to stop. Then I said ‘Like the song says, our feet are for journeying together you two, not for kicking.’”
The 9-week duration of the language course reinforced her learning. “The benefit of having week-to-week sessions in Te Reo o te Ngākau – getting reo – discovering and working through the process of Poutiria te Aroha. And the power of the group – it was so incredibly powerful coming together as Māma, as parents. We were all different, yet the forum of aroha – where else do you get that? Young parents, older parents. Together.”
Heleina has also talked about the tools with her extended family. “I have shared it with wider whānau. In a calm way – just saying ‘this is what I’m using at the moment’. Sharing my experience without pointing fingers – just ‘this is what I am learning’. I find younger whānau are more open to it, but some others are in a space of fear. When hearts aren’t open and connected it just becomes battling conflicts. You see how important it is to keep our hearts open so we can see each other’s needs. With young parents you can see they are open to it. Maybe they don’t have the deep ski tracks already laid down.”
The practices fit well with, and enhance, the existing family routines that are promoted by their church.
“We have a weekly whānau touch-in - have done for a long time. It is a planning discussion called Family Council, which we keep separate from Family Home Evening. At Family Council we talk about what everyone is doing for the week ahead, plus everyone has a chance to have a say. In the past teenagers have ‘passed’ – they haven’t felt it was a safe place. If they shared with me during the week, I encouraged them to bring it to Family Council, but they didn’t. Now that is starting to shift. Now we focus on feelings. Before it was finger-pointing time – ‘You’re doing this, stop it’. Now the children are articulating their needs more.
One child said ‘I needed to talk to you too.’ Through the process of communication and kōrero, talking through feelings, they are getting more emotional literacy.
Then I showed them the tool of A.R.O.H.A. as ‘spiritual aspect’ for Family Home Evening. We talked about needs – and I gave them the word ‘oranga’. We looked at a couple of scenarios of conflict in the whānau, and talked them through.
We imagined the feelings and needs of the particular whānau member – what they could have been. It was delicate, but we worked it through as a whānau. We talked about our feelings and imagined the feelings of the other whānau member, who heard our thoughts and was able to say ‘Nah, I was feeling like this’. We had quite big discussions, and they didn’t end badly.”
Having introduced the tools, Heleina keeps them at the forefront. “I used chalk markers to put Oranga on the window, and A.R.O.H.A. They are still up there. I am conscious of my language – trying to eliminate the word ‘but’. In terms of turning off the computer at the set time, we talk about it ahead of time and I ask ‘Will you need scaffolding [help] with that?’ When the time comes, I ask ‘How’s it going with keeping to the time we said?’
I use A.R.O.H.A. every day – I love the tool, and it sits well in my heart, to use it actively as a verb. I recognised the connection from the tool given in English as OFNEEDS, but AROHA has been of more benefit – it’s a word I use. It feels natural. It’s creating big shifts for me. Even though I’ve always tried to live with a lot of aroha – I had strong foundations, but the power of itemised tools, sentence structures, things in my kete I can pull out – it all sits so beautifully.”