Maui Connections

Being here now isn’t as easy as it used to be.

That’s the word from Ram Dass, a guy who should know.

The author of the seminal “Be Here Now” is internationally known as a spiritual teacher. Following a stroke and debilitating illness a decade ago, he has been a Haiku resident. His face now radiates the health benefits of living on Maui. He may speak more slowly from his wheelchair, but his compassion, wit and the twinkle in his eye never left.

When he first came to Maui, he liked it well enough, he said during a phone interview Sunday. But an infection that put him in Maui Memorial Medical Center and limited his ability to fly made him “an island boy.”

The man born Richard Alpert to a prosperous Jewish family 83 years ago in Boston is the subject – along with fellow former Harvard professor Timothy Leary – of “Dying to Know,” the documentary that opens the Maui Film Festival’s Castle Theater screenings at 6 p.m. June 4.

Directed by Gay Dillingham with help from Robert Redford, it chronicles what happened when the driving ambitions of psychology professor Dr. Alpert were entirely rerouted by experiments led by his charismatic, mischievous colleague with a new substance known as LSD.

In fact, society itself was rerouted by those experiments, leading into an era, a renaissance and a mindset known as the ’60s. Leary emerged as sort of an intellectual rascal, half-leprechaun, half-outlaw, who eventually succumbed to cancer. Alpert went off to India and came back a holy man.

“The director, Gay Dillingham, is in Santa Fe,” Ram Dass explained of the film’s origins. “She filmed a meeting with Tim and I. It was the last time we saw each other. So she had that film and provided a lot of background material, then the guy at Sundance – what’s his name? Ah, yes, Bob – he came in and narrated it and helped her clean up the film.”

The chance to catch up with Ram Dass periodically – he’s also one of the interview subjects of a new documentary I worked on with Tom Vendetti and Bob Stone called “The Quietest Place on Earth” – is one of those great things about Maui that’s not in the tour books.

In this case, I was calling looking for some answers. I had been worrying about technology’s increasing role in our lives, pushing what makes us human aside, replacing it with convincing but ultimately fake imitations of life, on one screen after another.

Some liken our embrace of technology to an addiction. In Santa Barbara last weekend, a toxic mix of technology and loneliness turned horrific beyond belief.

“I think it’s harder and harder to be here now,” agreed Ram Dass, “because there’s more distraction, the Internet and so on.”

But there’s an upside, too.

“I think it’s both. I Skype with people all around the world and talk to them about spiritual stuff. And the messages of our hearts get through. That’s pretty good – I can feel my heart and their hearts, too.

“The bad thing is the distraction. Each individual has a here-now of the world and it’s basically a worldly world – worldly facts. I think it focuses people’s attention on the here and now that is not spiritual. The here-now that I wrote about is pretty spiritual.

“When we were doing the psychedelic

stuff, it was the ’60s. The ’60s had an ambiance of getting a chance at creativity – anything goes. You were out of the box. Now, the spiritual here and now is out of the box in our culture.”

Prompting me to ask the dumbest of questions: What does “spiritual” mean? And does being on Maui help?

“Spiritual means planes of consciousness where we are souls. We have access to the universe. It’s subjective. Spiritually we are souls who are living in human bodies. Most of us think we’re humans with souls.

“On Maui, nature rules, and nature is spiritual,” he concluded. “The Hawaiian people have kept the islands with spiritual underpinnings. I think that the land all comes from the volcano. It’s like living in Middle Earth. I found I could study contentment here. I have studied it and have become very content.”

“Awake: The Life of Yogananda,” playing in Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. June 6, brings another message from the East to the festival. Paola Di Florio’s documentary captures “a saint’s life that changed the Western world – the first yoga master to donate his life to non-Hindu humanity,” writes Paul Wood in the festival program

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

That dead space under the preset button on your car radio is about to come back to life.

It’s hana hou for Mana’o Radio.

In fact, that will be the new signature – Mana’o Hana Hou Radio – when KMNO resumes broadcasting June 1 at 91.7 FM. The station’s well-loved founding mother, Kathy Collins, will be on hand to pass the torch to station manager Tony Novak-Clifford to start the next chapter for this cherished, unique and eccentric radio voice of the island.

“There will be some familiar faces and some new faces,” promises Tony, one of the island’s top professional photographers and a familiar on-air Mana’o presence. His other job titles at the station include “secretary of the board of directors, head janitor and staff psychotherapist,” he says.

It’s not faces so much as voices when you’re on the listening end. Bill Best, the voice of the morning, tops the list of returning DJs, all of whom, like everyone else involved in the station, are doing it for love, not money.

Everyone’s a volunteer. Applications are underway to file the new overseeing Maui Media Initiative as a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit. As opposed to the kind of college, NPR or rich-benefactor support little radio stations at the left end of the dial usually get, Mana’o has always been more grass roots.

It’s always been a labor of love, rather than profit, to operate . . . or to be part of. The payoff in my case came with the gratitude of having gotten to share 15 minutes a week on the air talking about movies with Kathy Collins for the last several years.

Even just being a listener, there’s always been a sense of ownership with the little station that could. On June 1, it begins anew.

Don Lopez, who’s been there from the beginning, will be back as a DJ, and will continue to engineer the live broadcasts. Upcountry Sundays at Casanova in Makawao will return. So will Sunday Morning Celtic.

From the 60 watts it started with, the station is boosting its power to 140 watts. With a new transmitter en route from Nova Scotia, KMNO has filed an application to increase its power to 1,400 watts, “which should carry us over to windward Oahu,” says Tony.

John Bruce, “the engineer who has been with us forever,” will continue to man the controls.

A new audio-stream processor is among the $20,000 that’s been spent to get the station back up and running. It will improve KMNO’s Internet presence. Plans are underway for more classical music, as well as more talk content, especially in the Hawaiian language.

As opposed to the friction often attending current Hawaiian issues, “We’re looking for someone who can help bring the Hawaiian community together,” says Tony.

“We’ve got a new guy for reggae who’s a real Jamaican,” he adds.

Seventy-five percent of the staff will be back. Randall Rospond and Dr. Nat will still be holding down their monthly Saturday afternoon guest spots.

Behind the scenes, Tony credits board President Alan Sheps as a key factor in the station’s return.

“Going off the air made people realize what a pain in the a- we are,” concludes Tony, “We hope to be more so in the future.”


There will be some great hometown – or at least, home island – connections when the Maui Film Festival ( returns to Wailea and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center June 4-8.

At 8 o’clock opening night, “SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” will launch the new outdoor Seaside Cinema Music Cafe and Sunset Lounge below the Grand Wailea. This comic, festival-award-winning documentary directed by Mike Myers honors the legendary, visionary showman and 40-year South Maui resident.

The intimate, upscale Seaside venue will be the site for the celebrity tributes this year, and you can get a drink while you watch.

“Dying to Know,” a documentary produced and directed by Gay Dillingham about LSD poster boy Timothy Leary and his fellow Harvard professor Richard Alpert, who went on to become better known as Ram Dass, will have its world premiere at 6 p.m. June 4 to kick off the Castle Theater screenings. Recognized around the world as one of the great spiritual teachers of our time, I think of Ram Dass more as a Haiku guy, a friend who just happens to be a guru by profession.

And speaking of celebrities, the festival will continue its trend of honoring some of Hollywood’s best and brightest – not to mention, most gorgeous – rising stars, including Oscar night’s best story, in the Seaside Cafe. Watch for the story in Thursday’s Maui News.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

Another year, more to celebrate.

Considering that I’ve been to all 22 of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s annual Celebrations of the Arts, what’s amazing is that it’s never the same. There are always new lessons to learn, there are always epiphanies, and almost always rainbows.

After happening on Easter weekend for two decades, the Ritz shortened the activities by a day and moved them to Mother’s Day weekend this year. Pushing back those two weeks meant the morning sky was brighter when we jumped into the ocean at daybreak for the cleansing and renewing ritual of hiuwai. The sun was higher in the sky by the time we finished chanting “E Ala E.”

Then came the awa ceremony for Ritz managers, kupuna, practitioners and a few invited guests, where each of us sitting on the lauhala mat had to declare our commitment to support Hawaiian culture, before draining the bitter yet soothing liquid from the gourd placed in our hands.

In years past, it was kumu hula Charles Kaupu presiding over the protocol, catching me in the crosshairs of his disapproving stare. Now it’s kumu hula Hokulani Holt’s stern gaze I face as I make my pledge.

The awa ritual carries responsibility to the spirits of Honokahua, the ancient burial mound on the Ritz property, explained Clifford Nae’ole, the celebration’s chairman whose soul and imagination set its tone. “It means you’re all in for another year,” he said.

Amid its formal protocols, presentations and hands-on arts projects, the event has also become an annual “same time next year” occasion for catching up with old friends.

There are fellow journalists like Diane Haynes Woodburn and Rita Goldman from Maui No Ka Oi, and Jocelyn Fujii, Lynn Cook and her husband, Richard, making their yearly jaunt over from Oahu. We’re all linked by the ink still running through our veins, despite the shared knowledge that the communication biz is becoming more digital by the day. No paper necessary any more; now the words take root on a screen only temporarily, before disappearing into the ether.

Diane’s husband, Jamie Woodburn, and I talked story about the big news in Kula these days – the rain almost every afternoon for the past several months, and the goats in the pastures of Haleakala Ranch. Some with clanging bells around their necks, they bleat in an almost comical parade under the watchful eyes of shepherds on ATVs and big, barking dogs. They’re living, breathing weed-eaters, literally. The dogs look huge, furry and lovable from my deck, but word is to keep your distance. They’re powerful, single-minded and not friendly to anything that’s not a goat.

Teri Freitas Gorman was there for the opening protocol, and to catch up with afterwards. As a panelist at a past celebration, she taught us that Hawaiian culture and the culture of Hawaii are not the same thing.

There was a happy update from Karen Fischer, whose years at the helm of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center led nicely into her new Pasifika Artists Network, bringing many favorite island performers to audiences around the world. George Allan was on hand with his wife, Janet, signing this year’s poster, soulfully capturing the theme, “Ka makou alanui kupuna – Our ancestral paths.”

I also shared some laughs with film writer-director-producer Brian Kohne, there meeting with the stars of his upcoming film, “Kuleana” – multitalented Keo Woolford and vivacious Lea Krieg.

Along with its artists and presenters, celebration audiences are full of folks trying to express our gratitude for existence here in our own artistic ways. Maui does that to you. Being part of it calls for paying it back, or forward, as creatively as we can.

The Celebration of the Arts keeps finding new ways of dealing with all things Hawaiian – which is just another way of saying, all things human.

* * *

It was at last year’s celebration that I first met Erik Blair, a good guy to know for any number of reasons. He’s a social media maven, an expert consultant and guide in the digital domain. He’s got his thumbs on the pulse of island life on his website. He’s also a passionate pathfinder and champion of new ways of thinking about stuff.

Last time I heard from him, he was posting photos from Keao Shaw and Iwa Hartman’s sleek Kainani Sails 43-foot yacht. Photo visionary Randy Braun was also aboard, flying his camera drones, when they spotted a trio of whales, an exciting rarity at this time of year.

But Erik’s main mission these days is Tiny Houses, possibly a very creative solution to Maui’s affordable housing shortage. Read more about it on his site.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at rickchatenever@ or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

On the eve of the 22nd annual Celebration of the Arts, returning to The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua Friday through Sunday, the resort’s cultural adviser, Clifford Nae’ole, shares an amazing tale.

Clifford is the heart, soul and imagination of this mostly free event that’s as easy to embrace as it is hard to encapsulate.

Is it a weekend immersion program in Hawaiian culture? An art event where YOU create the art? Ongoing performances of hula, music, oli and film? A memorable luau? An illuminating series of symposia on the most current topics in island life. A time for individual reflection about this island we live on . . . and our responsibilities to it?

Yes. All of the above. And more.

My own history with the COA goes all the way back to the first one, shortly after the west side resort opened. As much it’s been a privilege to experience Ritz hospitality each year, it’s also always an educational experience, and a sort of spiritual boot camp. Being the recipient of aloha from the descendants of the first inhabitants of this place we call home only highlights the limitations with which some of us newcomers receive it. But it’s generously shared, nonetheless.

Over the years, Clifford has become my valued teacher, spiritual guide and trusted friend. He’s also the central interview subject of “The Quietest Place on Earth,” the new documentary produced by Tom Vendetti, Robert C. Stone and myself. It will have its preview screening at the celebration Friday night.

The celebration officially begins the following morning in darkness, in the moonlit surf of Honokahua Bay (aka D.T. Fleming Park). Participants enter the roiling black waves, emerging minutes later cleansed of the past before gathering on the beach to chant the sunrise with the hiuwai and e ala e ceremony and protocol.

The protocol is “a time to contemplate, reflect and come to terms with what each individual has done . . . good . . . bad . . . and worse,” Clifford recently explained in a series of Facebook posts counting down to the celebration. Clifford also chants e ala e in our film, which reveals that the quietest place on Earth may be closer than you may think.

“It’s a time to call upon those that were/are loved and have transitioned to the magical plane called ‘Po.’ Once they are called, it’s our responsibility to watch, listen and learn from them as they WILL come. Our hearts and minds have to be open to receiving them and appreciating whatever message comes our way.”

He recently did the protocol for two journalists visiting the Ritz. “They both braved the winds and the absolute downpour,” he wrote. “I had warned them the night prior that this would take place ‘rain or shine’ and they both agreed that whatever happened, it would be their prescription towards wellness.

“We had finished the hiuwai and had just completed the e ala e chanting when out of the mist, a black lab ran down to the beach and right in front one of the journalists. She began to bawl and I panicked, thinking that she was afraid of dogs, especially this large one. But, she was crying tears of joy as she explained to me that she had just lost her beloved black lab of 16 years. He was very precious to her.

“The dog ran circles around her . . . and then ran off into the mist and vanished. No sign of an owner. No leash. She was crying out, ‘It’s my dog, it’s Bandit!’ She was overjoyed and thanked the creator for having another opportunity to be with him. Hiuwai . . . e ala e . . . a spiritual endeavor that is rewarding in different ways for different people. But rewarding nonetheless.”

As much as the Ritz celebration is about art, it’s also about a form of magic – not a tawdry illusion, but a glimpse into another dimension we can’t fully understand, where our spirits soar.

Two years ago, Clifford graciously helped my family honor our father’s memory on the hallowed Honokowai cliffs below the hotel. The lei each of us tossed into the sea formed a heart on the gently rocking water.

A month later, the theme of the Celebration of the Arts was aumakua – the Hawaiian belief that the spirits of departed ancestors return in living form. That Easter morning, I went for a swim on nearby Fleming Beach . . . where I was surrounded by a pod of dolphins.

A coincidence? Or something else, just beyond our comprehension, a glimpse of forces wondrous. Like the black lab running out of the mist.

For a complete schedule and more information, visit

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.