The Mits Aoki Legacy Foundation perpetuates teachings on healing and accepting death
By Pat Gee Star Advertiser firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 06, 2014
As a counselor for many terminally ill patients, he held their hands and walked them through that journey without fear or denial.
“He would call it ‘living your dying,'” says Alan Gamble, a longtime devotee of Aoki, who was a popular religion professor at the University of Hawaii. Aoki was a mentor and “almost like a hanai dad” to Gamble, a clinical social worker and president of the Mits Aoki Legacy Foundation.
On Thursday the foundation is holding a dinner, which will feature remembrances detailing how Aoki’s “teachings and life influenced each of us with his light, love and wisdom,” Gamble said. Speakers will also discuss the organization’s ongoing work.
Reservations are no longer being taken, but 80 people have signed up for the 5:30 p.m. celebration at Natsunoya’s Tea House near Kamehameha Heights.
The organization is a continuation of The Foundation for Holistic Healing, founded in 1983 by Aoki. Gamble agreed to become its leader before Aoki died at age 95 in 2010.
He’s now focused on archiving his teacher’s class notes, writings and his acclaimed 2003 documentary, “Living Your Dying.”
A United Church of Christ minister since 1944, Aoki spearheaded the creation of the UH religion department in 1956. Gamble became one of Aoki’s students in 1974 and later worked as a teaching assistant.
“We think that he taught over 40,000 students over 40 years,” Gamble said, adding Aoki was a dynamic “master teacher.”
Due to the professor’s popularity among students, he held classes in the old Varsity Theatre on University Avenue. Nicknamed the “cosmic dancer,” Aoki was known to underscore a point by jumping onto a tabletop and making mock tai chi moves. He would grin as his startled students erupted into giggles, according to several sources. His lectures prompted nodding heads and audible “aahs” as students in the packed venue glimpsed a bit of enlightenment.
“He knew his material so well, he embodied it. He could personalize his message so everybody could resonate to it, wherever they were coming from. He had that gift. Plus, he was very entertaining. He loved to tell jokes and make people laugh. He was a very joyful man and knew laughing was also healing,” Gamble said.
Born in the plantation town of Hawi on Hawaii island, Aoki attended the Chicago Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary.
Aoki’s documentary, screened at the Hawaii International Film Festival and shown periodically on PBS Hawaii, is about counseling four courageous people who faced death, including his wife, Lynne, and their families. In it he shared his own near-death experience in an auto accident in the 1960s and how it made him realize that understanding death was the key to self-understanding.
“Death puts us in touch with our deepest feelings, both anxiety and hope,” Aoki once said. Aoki was instrumental in the formation of Hospice Hawaii and trained hundreds of lay and professional counselors of the terminally ill, many of them cancer patients, Gamble said.
“There’s sometimes a taboo in our culture (to talk about death) because we’re so into denying suffering and death,” said Gamble.
Aoki helped people cope with physical and emotional pain, obtain spiritual understanding, mend relationships and help resolve situations.
“Mits would say that death makes all the manini, inconsequential things fall away” and prompts focus on “what’s important in life,” Gamble said.
At his teacher’s funeral, Gamble’s compared Aoki to “a diamond” with thousands of facets that were like the relationships he had with people.
“When light shines on these facets, it creates these wonderful rainbows. Mits had his own way of shining light and creating rainbows in other people’s lives, and he was also able to channel the light of God.” He added, “This wonderful, precious diamond we were able to have in our lives for 95 years in Hawaii, and his energy he shared with all, still remains.”
THE REV. MITS AOKI, A LIFE OF SERVICE
Remembrances of the late United Church of Christ minister will be shared at a dinner Thursday hosted by the Mits Aoki Legacy Foundation.
Donations to the foundation can by made at MitsAokiLegacy@hawaii.rr.com