Taha Wairua - Spiritual wellbeing

Te Taha Wairua is part 3 of my 5 part series talking about Te Whare Tapa Whā, a holistic Māori model of health that I LOVE. These take a narrative form as I share my own stories and learnings and apply them to hauora. The headings in this article are direct quotations from Te Whare Tapa Whā: Taha Wairua

The capacity for faith and wider communication:

I’ve always been a spiritual person. For as long as I can remember, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were my best friends. I’m not kidding either. I know it sounds funny, especially if you didn’t grow up in the pentecostal church, but I really did commune with these guys on a daily basis. To be honest, I was probably a bit of a loner as a kid because I had such a rich spiritual life. Or vica versa. I’m not entirely sure which came first. I mean, when real life friends let me down, those guys never did.

As I look back, I see a child who had a strong desire to connect to a higher power, and who often confused this with religious dogma. And like oil and water, they don’t mix well. I remember telling a friend in fifth form that I was concerned that she might go to hell cause she hadn’t given her life to Jesus Christ! Aue te whakmā. I cringe hard as I share this memory, but it does help explain my struggles to connect with others early in life, and sometimes even still. I allowed my blind faith to push people away, as I put my religious beliefs between friendships. I now have compassion for fifth form Laura, cause I see the journey that took her there.

My family life was so intertwined with church life that I couldn’t see where one started and the other stopped. Some people see church as a place you go to. Like a whare. Christenings, marriages, funerals. That’s not how I saw it. Church for me was literally my family, my community, my place of worship, and my place to belong.

You see, my dad was my pastor. Most days of the week there was something church related. Small groups at home, youth groups, potlucks, church services Friday and twice on Sunday. Then there were church camps, courses, baptisms, even Christian music festivals to keep us out of trouble. I thought my life was ‘normal’. The ‘right’ way to be. Didn’t everyone grow up like this? Apparently not.

A traditional Māori analysis of physical manifestations of illness will focus on the wairua or spirit, to determine whether damage here could be a contributing factor.

I was bullied as a child and would often have psychosomatic illness. Weeks at home due to a 'sore stomach' and in the end the doctor could find nothing wrong with me. I remember being prayed for a lot, and sometimes my whole body would go weak. I don't know exactly what was happening on a physical level but certainly energies were being worked on and healing was happening. These days I'd probably call it the relaxation response, or increased parasympathetic activity, same same.

And as I grew older I had more spiritual experiences, often when people prayed for me. They’d lay their hands on my head, and ask my old friend Holy Spirit for healing. Sometimes I’d have an energetic response, like shaking or falling down. I’d lie on the floor in what I now know as a yoga pose called savasana for ages, soaking up the warm healing energy. We all did. Dozens lying in savasana while emotive worship music played in the background on repeat and others prayed for us. Normal, right?

This had been happening since I was quite young, so I thought it was normal. I welcomed it and saw it as a positive experience. But when I approached my 20’s that’s when I became self-conscious, and started thinking it was a bit freaky. I ran as far as I could, to Canada with my new husband and joined an anarchist community over there. We attended a liberal church, one with no holy spirit stuff. One that referred to God as he and she, which felt like a relief after being friends with three ‘male’ deities my whole life.

A couple of years later, we divorced, and church stopped feeling like home.

I’m not blaming church people for this happening, it really was an internal process. No one rejected us for getting a divorce. I just had a really strong association between church and family, and now that I wasn’t in a family structure, I didn’t feel like I belonged. In fact, I needed to go off on my own for a bit. I needed to go bush.

Health is related to unseen and unspoken energies.

That summer I left my husband I did one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done. I don’t know if my parents know about this one yet. I went on a tramp deep in the Whirinaki Forest Park, Te Urewera for 3 days on my own. I didn’t see a soul the whole time, and my cellphone died on day 1. To make matters worse, there had been a storm recently so the track was diverted. I kept getting lost and having to backtrack to find the little pink triangles. I felt like giving up, but I was right in the middle of the loop walk, so I couldn’t. I literally had to walk my way out. I dug deep, took some deep breaths, and found the next pink triangle, eventually arriving at the second hut on dusk.

As stupid and risky as that trip was, it helped me discover something priceless. That I can experience a spiritual connection on my own, deep in the bush within Tāne Mahuta. That quiet and stillness is all I need to reconnect to spirit, to a higher power. And that the forest speaks, if you listen.

That trip changed me, and prepared me for the next 2 years of an immersive and healing Te Reo Māori journey with Te Ataarangi. I didn’t know it at the time, but this became my spiritual re-awakening.

The spiritual essence of a person is their life force. This determines us as individuals and as a collective, who and what we are, where we have come from and where we are going.

I hadn’t prayed in years, and hymns were a big trigger for me. We did both every day in Te Ataarangi. Every morning we’d sit in a circle, do our karakia, some of them Christian, sing our hīmene and pass the rākau (stick) around to stand and kōrero (speak). While this was nerve wracking at first, it really was the very best spiritual and emotional therapy I could have asked for. My kaiako Age Peke used to say the big difference between Te Ataarangi and reo courses at uni is wairua, and she wasn't wrong.

I grew to love karakia. The rhythmical ritualistic recital helped settle my soul and prepare me for the day. It didn’t matter what kind of karakia either. I know some people have a thing against Christian karakia, or īnoi, but I learnt them all. It wasn’t so much what was said, but that something was said, with all hearts and minds aligned. Hīmene too. Singing together connected me to my childhood and allowed me to heal my rift with the church. I am most grateful to Te Ataarangi, and Te Ao Māori in general for showing me how many different faiths can comfortably sit side by side under the same roof, and be a uniting force.

My favourite part of the day was when we sung our Te Ataarangi karakia ‘He Hōnore’, while standing in a circle holding hands. The energy was so present and we were all so connected to each other. Call it God, holy spirit, Allah, universe, wairua tapu, wairua, ngao, energy, prana, atua, Io, mauri, the vibe, call it what you will. The name is less important than the tangible experience.

Spiritual wellbeing for me has looked like many different things over the years as I've grown and evolved in my faith. At times its been an inward journey, dicovered out in nature, in my garden, in meditation or yoga practice. And other times its been found in the midst of others. Singing waiata, receiving or giving massage, karakia, raranga (weaving), shared meals, family time, yoga classes, and travel are all places I've felt connected to wairua. And the sense of belonging to a wider whānau or spiritual community that I lost when I left the church, I've rediscovered again in Te Ao Māori, the yoga world, and other communities I am part of.

I've learned that you can't put wairua in box. We all have the capacity to connect to ourselves and others on a spiritual level in a multitude of ways, and that sometimes, names merely serve to divide, rather than unite.

Peace and love,


P.s. I’m not resentful about my Christian upbringing at all. I’m not a Christian anymore (people often ask) but I’m grateful for the spiritual foundation and appreciation my parents instilled in me. At home we still say grace, or karakia kai before eating and I love these centering rituals.

Headings taken directly from:

Ministry of Health. (2017). Māori Health Models:Te Whare Tapa Whā. Retreived from:

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