Take It Easy
By Kelly Sullivan Walden, Award-Winning Dream Expert and Author of A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Warming my hands by the blazing fire, on a hillside overlooking the ocean, my husband and I gazed lovingly at each other from across the flames, surrounded by fishermen friends we’d just met. What a heart-melting ending to an epic journey in New Zealand, I thought wistfully, as I sipped my frosty beer.
Just then, a middle-aged Māori woman entered the scene, glaring. She paced back and forth around the fire, eyebrows knitted together. I wondered if I was imagining I was the object of her rage, and if it was actual steam billowing from her nose.
Why would this complete stranger give me such dirty looks? What did I do to her? But I’m getting ahead of myself… let me take you back to ten days before…
My husband and I arrived in New Zealand, at the urging of a dear friend, to film a documentary about the Waitaha, a matriarchal, nonviolent tribe, not as well-known as the more warrior-esque Māoris. Our friend intrigued us when he said, “The world needs to know about their gentle, yet powerful spiritual lifestyle.” He compared them to Tibetan Buddhists and how the Dalai Lama and the chief of the Waitaha consider themselves brothers.
The next thing I knew, we arrived in the Bay of Plenty region. Our greeting with the Waitaha was right out of a movie, on their Marae—a grassy, traditional gathering place where the community “can stand and belong.” We were led across the Marae toward a tangerine sunset in the direction of their meeting place.
I hadn’t fully comprehended what a rare opportunity it was for us fair-haired Americans to be allowed on such hallowed ground, after the horrible ways their people suffered at the hands of Christian European settlers. In spite of that, not only were we given permission to enter, but we were greeted with a sacred welcome song that brought me to tears, followed by each of the fifty-plus members, one-at-a-time, placing their forehead to ours, while sniffing loudly in and out of their nostrils. This greeting, I learned, is a way of acquainting spirits to one another via breath.
I guess eyes aren’t the only windows to the soul.
To deepen the get-to-know-ya ritual, each member of the tribe took turns singing a “soul song” (a favorite verse or melody) one that brought them comfort or inspiration. Most of the songs they sang were chants I’d never heard before, while some of the younger members of the tribe sang choruses from contemporary pop songs. Then they invited each of us six American guests to do the same.
I shared the song I often sang when pattering around the house or doing dishes, from the musical Hair, by Five Stairsteps, “Ooh child… things are gonna get easier…”
After everyone was done, last but not least, the chief Te Porohau Ruka Te Korako (or Te Porahou for short) sang a song he said was one of his favorites by a band called Champaign. “Some people are made for each other,” he crooned, “some people can love one another for life, how ’bout us?
This sent us Americans into a fit of laughter and tears. Our mutual friend must’ve shared one of my husband’s hit songs with the Chief prior to our arrival and set up this surprise.
After the feast of camaraderie and bonding, it was time to feed our hungry bellies. Fried fish, rice, and baked beans were served in the adjacent lodge where we sat, family-style along wooden tables in their jovial dining hall.
Each moment of our ten-day journey turned out more awe-inspiring than the last, including being ushered into sacred places and introduced to ancient rituals, all the while feeling embraced by the tribe with a depth of trust and… family. On our last day on the Marae, we hugged with teary goodbyes, sniffing each other with foreheads pressed, followed by more singing and promises to stay in touch.
Waving as we drove, blowing air kisses at our new friends, we glided along the road surrounded by a swirling blue ocean, contrasted by jutting rocks, then through the lush green meadows, with shafts of light beaming through. I imagined at any moment I’d see Frodo from Lord of the Rings, reading a book beneath a shady tree on the shire.
We eventually checked into a beachy hotel on the North Island, so the next morning we’d only be an hour’s drive from the Auckland airport. Then, in the spirit of adventure, we stepped out on the town for dinner. I didn’t realize how, because of having been so embraced by the Waitaha, I expected it would be that way wherever we went in this foreign land. I was in for quite a shock.
We ambled into a rollicking bar restaurant and were instantly greeted by a motley crue of fishermen, loudly celebrating their fresh catches. The alpha of the group, sporting the leathery face of someone who wasn’t afraid of the sun, noticed we were foreigners and invited us to their table, which I delightedly said yes to, dragging along a reluctant Dana.
The alpha proclaimed boisterously with gesticulating arms, “I insist that you come back with us to feast and drink around a bonfire and sample the fish we caught today!”
How could we say no? Well, Dana could say no, but not without me overriding him, “Come on, it’s our last night. It’ll be fine.”
We piled into the car with a wiry man, who I realized once we were on the road by his slurred speech must’ve been drinking a little too much. I tensed up and tried to justify we’d be okay by how competent he seemed to navigate the switchbacks up and around the canyons. Maybe he’s used to driving drunk (as if that made it okay).
Eventually, I took a deep breath when we swerved into our destination… at a place that reminded me of Sanford and Son, a hit TV show from the 70s about a family who lived and worked at a junkyard. The lawn was confettied with broken down cars, assorted parts, tires, and engines splayed all over the grass.
Encircled by mixed and matched lawn furniture, there was a blazing bonfire and just beyond perched a crooked shack. I masked my nerves by oohing and awing about the stunning view of the glorious ocean reflecting the sky bursting with stars. Like moths magnetized to the flames, Dana and I let the dancing orange, yellow, and red envelop us in its warmth.
The alpha, taking a liking to Dana, brought him over to the porch on the far side of the fire. Meanwhile, I tried not to think about how far from civilization we were, nowhere near our hotel nor our new Waitaha family on the Marae. So when the fishermen handed us a beer, Dana and I toasted each other from across the fire with a “might as well” gulp, saying silently to him, “It’s been a good ride, partner.”
As I scanned the weathered but friendly faces around the fire, sipping my beer, I finally allowed myself to relax and enjoy being flung from my comfort zone. Just then, the brooding Māori woman I mentioned earlier entered the scene. Glaring wild-eyed as she paced back and forth around the fire, I wondered how it could be that I was the object of her rage.
I smiled at her, hoping to shift her mood by laying on the charm thicker than honey, to no avail. In fact, she continued to pace and grunt and glare until finally plunking herself down on a stump of wood nearest me like a weighted sandbag. Then, disregarding all sense of “personal space,” she moved her face in about an inch from mine, not to breathe in my spirit, but to assert her dominance.
Ever hopeful I might be able to quell the situation, I pretended this wasn’t horrifically awkward, and squeaked, “I’m Kelly. What’s your name?”
“Madge,” she said with angry sarcasm, reeking of alcohol.
“Not Madge, Mauuuuuge,” she corrected me as if I’d just deliberately insulted her.
“Mauuuuuge,” I tried to imitate her, cringing as I clearly got the accent wrong.
Her eyes widened, and I knew from fights I used to get in with my sister growing up, we were at a tipping point—one false look or word from me would send her beyond the point of no return. With my heart in my throat, stomach gripped in a vice, my head felt spacy.
“I seen you before… you were here last week, trying to steal my man,” she accused.
“No, Madge, I’m from the U.S. I’ve never been here before,” I tried to reassure her, “last week we were on a marae with the Waitaha.”
“Naw, I seen you here… you were trying to get with my man!” She roared even louder, certain I was the hussy in question, her nose crowding in, nearly touching mine.
Then, out of nowhere, a bizarre image overtook my mind. It was a memory from years before when Dana and I explored a tourist stop off Highway 66 in Winslow, Arizona. I remembered a mannequin of a sexy woman in the driver’s seat of a red flatbed Ford, while a famous song played on repeat. I struggled to remember the name of the song, so I stuttered aloud and asked Madge, “Do you know… the song… by the Eagles … ‘Take It Easy’?”
Just then, her bloodshot eyes twinkled, as a twisted smile erupted on her previously scary face. As if choreographed, one of the fishermen handed her a guitar, and she began strumming the chords and belting out the song with the loveliest, gravelly voice. In shock at this turn of events, I decided to join her, especially when she got to the chorus, “Take it easy, take it eeeeeeasy!”
The alpha standing next to Dana whispered, “How did she know ‘Take it Easy’ was Madge’s favorite song?”
I had no idea how it happened but “Take It Easy” was not just a message I sent her, so she’d back off and leave me alone, but it miraculously inspired her to express her singing gift. This led to her belting out another song, followed by another and another, all of which the fishermen, Dana, and I sang along to.
Then she got another twinkle in her eye with an even bigger smile, flung down her guitar, and raced inside the house. Soon after, she announced dinner was ready. Even though we’d had an icebreaker moment, I absolutely didn’t want to eat any food that woman was cooking, especially anything she’d be serving me. But the men looked at me with horror saying, “Oh, you have to eat any food Madge cooks. She’ll kill you if you don’t.”
I followed the pack inside the shack, and pretended to eat, employing my tactic for hiding food, like I’d done when I was little, pushing the fish under the mashed potatoes and smearing the food around the edges of the plate.
Dana asked about the concert posters on the wall. The alpha said he had been a concert promoter in the 80s. Dana mentioned he had written a song that was popular in New Zealand around that time with his band. The fisherman asked, “What was the name of the band?”
When Dana replied, “Champaign,” the guy nearly fell off his chair, as Madge jumped up, this time getting in Dana’s face.
“There’s no way you’re from the band Champaign! Don’t lie to me! I fuc#ing love that band. Next to the Eagles they’re my favorite.”
Somebody whipped out a laptop and we pulled up Champaign on YouTube. Madge looked at the keyboard player in the video, back and forth to Dana, seeing that, although in the video he was many years younger, it was, in fact, him. Madge sang along with “How ‘Bout Us” even more passionately than she had sang “Take it Easy.” “Some people are made for each other. Some people can love one another for life… how ‘bout us?”
Then she proceeded to try to steal my man! She hugged him and even tried to kiss him. Luckily, Dana turned his head just in time. She insisted he give her an autograph and thanked me for bringing Dana to her.
The rest of the night was pure delight… until I suggested it was time to leave. Madge’s brow furrowed, and she pleaded with us to spend the night and forget our plans to return home the next morning. “Just stay!” she begged.
On the airplane the next day, I whipped out my journal, and using my OGLE method, I attempted to make sense of what happened the night before:
O: What’s the Offending behavior and/or situation?
Madge thought I’d tried to steal her man—and looked as if she wanted to kill me. It was terrifying. Dana told me that when Madge was in my face, the alpha fisherman whispered to him, “I hope Madge doesn’t punch your wife; she’s known for her violent outbursts.”
G: What is Good about that offending behavior and/or situation?
What’s good is that I didn’t die, didn’t get punched, poisoned, or thrown in the fire. In fact, I made a friend (of sorts) that started off as an enemy.
I was affirmed that my intuition, though sometimes oddly expressed, is there for me when my back is against the wall, or against the fire as the case may be. I can trust the bizarre flashes that pop into my head—even if they don’t seem to make sense at first.
What’s also good is that Madge felt the need to protect what was hers—to preserve her relationship against the threat of someone trying to take or wreck what she held dear.
L: How am I peering into the Looking Glass?
My distant ancestors (or people like them) were, in fact, invaders that took what wasn’t theirs, forcing Madge’s people to adopt the stance of warriors to protect themselves. Who knows, maybe Madge and I were working out past-life karma, reconciling a debt my people owed hers.
E: How will I allow this situation to Elevate me?
What if, as evidenced by the Waitaha and the fishermen allowing us on their sacred ground, they were practicing radical forgiveness for the atrocities my ancestors brought their people? From this perspective, at the very least, I could follow their example and forgive Madge, or anyone else who might make a negative assumption about me. Because maybe, on some level, it’s true.
Additionally, I will remember that no matter how upset I get or what bind I find myself in, music can save the day, calm the savage beast, and at least, help us all to take it easy.
Kelly Sullivan Walden is an international bestselling author of ten books, an award-winning dreams expert, an interfaith minister, a certified clinical hypnotherapist, a practitioner of religious science, an inspirational speaker, and a workshop facilitator. Learn more at www.KellySullivanWalden.com.