What it means to “Look to Your Source”

“Look to your source, find your truth” is the short and quick English translation I most often use for a Hawaiian value called Nānā i ke kumu.

I have used the phrase “look to your source” as part of my own speech for so long now, I often neglect to explain it to others. The first time this oversight was called to my attention was by my editor for Managing with Aloha when he had asked, “Rosa, give us more. Exactly what is it you mean by that phrase, look to your source?” Up until the time of his question, this following excerpt from my book was missing; it’s now found on page 206:

When I hear the words Nānā i ke kumu, look to your source, it means I need to consider my emotional sense of place as well as my intellectual sense of reason.

When a child is troubled but hesitates to tell her parents just what the problem is, the elders will often say “Nānā i ke kumu.” They are saying to find a place where you can sit quietly, and look within yourself for the source of what troubles you, for there you will also find strength within your inner spirit with which to deal with the trouble.

There’s more. The chapter on Nānā i ke kumu is about 10 pages long, and I talk about sense of place, truth and authenticity, change and growth, vision and one’s personal philosophy of leadership. I ask you some questions about those things you consider your non-negotiables. And of course, we talk about values with Nānā i ke kumu, for today, managing with the values of Aloha is clearly my source and truth.

In the effort to truly understand ourselves, or to come to peace with the decisions we have made, we will often look to our personal values as our source, for it is our values which influence our choices and determine our behavior.

The question for each of us is this:

Which key values create our source, giving us the conviction of deeply rooted belief we will identify as our personal truth?

My additions to the chapter on Nānā i ke kumu worked out very well, for without doubt it has been the single chapter in my book that has surprised me most. I did not expect that so many readers would tell me it was one of their favorite ones, the one they found most useful to them personally. The most recent one it struck a chord with was Phil Gerbyshak; it came up in a review he recently did on Managing with Aloha:

“This [Nānā i ke kumu] is the chapter I just finished, and the one that will stick in my head the longest.”
– Phil Gerbyshak

However I do know that for others, the values connection doesn’t give them a complete enough answer because they are actively seeking to change their personal hierarchy of values as their lives change focus. During these times, it will come up in my coaching that people want some simpler answers to discovering their source of well being as they take their values assessment journey.

The analogy I use in the chapter on Nānā i ke kumu is the one I call the inner wellspring, and I find this helps many people, for we all have one. Imagine you have a fresh, pure artesian well ever bubbling within you; it nourishes you and refreshes you, and you take comfort knowing it will never, ever run dry. It keeps you feeling good. Feeling centered. It is your source. When you Mālama and take care of it, it takes care of you.

What does it look like? It’s different for all of us. I think we feel its effects more than we see it for what it is. The love of our family. The good health we take for granted. The faith we hold but rarely talk about. The friendships that allow us to be silly. We just have to learn to recognize our wellspring by allowing ourselves to feel good when it kicks into gear.

Sometimes, we get way too cerebral about things. We have to learn to give in to those times when what we think simply feels right. I’d bet that those are the times you have somehow physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally “gone to the well” and taken a drink of your internal bubbling spring.

For me, having connected to some sense of place wherever I am is a huge part of my own wellspring. [I’ve written about this before; if you’re curious, take this link: Places, Feelings and Learning. Learning Serenity.]

Learning is another one. Give me a book I will take a new thought or idea from and I feel I have drunk deeply from my well. This weekend I read God’s Debris by Scott Adams and felt like I had gotten enough nourishment to cure a famine. I believe this comes from the wellspring of having clarity. How does one come to clarity? Consider these questions, and jot some things down for yourself:

-How do you think best?
-What are the circumstances that must be taken care of for you, your conditions for fertile ground?
-When is it that you get the most clarity of thought, where things are crystal clear for you?
-When can you have a conversation inside your head, and feel you are giving yourself good, sound answers, the kind of answers you will not hesitate to take action on?
-When have your actions sprung from thought decisions that are not up for negotiation? You are so sure of them; end of story.

My own example: The draft for nearly every single chapter of Managing with Aloha was written in my head on the early morning run I take each morning. The first draft of my entire manuscript was done in less than three months because it was early summer and we had perfect running weather.

However when you understand the answer to this for yourself, you can go to the well whenever you need to, even when you aren’t as healthy in every realm of your life.

When I am feeling less than fit for some reason, walking as my daily morning exercise (as opposed to running) has magnificent benefits. I’m not “in the zone” blanking out everything else in concentration, but now I notice more; I’m more observant. I’m more willing to let creative and completely crazy non-logical thoughts into my consciousness. When I walk I make sure I have a pen and a small notebook with me, for inevitably, I’ll sit on a curb somewhere and have to get things out of my head; thoughts start to bounce around in there like the silver balls in a pinball machine. It’s a different kind of thought process than when I’m running; more whacky and creative, but I am just as sure about things.

The best advice I can give you on this is to give in. Give in to recognizing those times things feel right and good. They are not as random as you may think.


  1. says

    Rosa, I think the key is recognizing when the inner voice is really what you need to listen to or when it is one of the gremlins trying to turn you away from the path.

  2. says

    They are “Visitor Demons,” NOT “Inner Demons”

    The writing of Managing with Aloha was a defining moment in my life. At face value, it celebrated a very long career in management and leadership, succinctly creating this “Hawaiian sensibility for worthwhile work” that has become my mission and

  3. says

    Aloha Joanna, how lucky you are! Yours is a land I have always longed to visit, for I have heard so much about its history, warm people and rich wisdom. We must trade more stories! …virtually for now, but I WILL get there one day!
    Welcome to the Ho’ohana Community, and thank you for sharing your posting with us.

  4. says

    Hau‘oli la hanau to Joanna Young!

    Surely you know Joanna by now too: She is the personification of our Ho‘ohana Community in Scotland! Today is her birthday. Spirit Spiller and Confident Writing Coach Joanna Young. Because of Joanna, I can now spell Edinburgh right the first

  5. says

    Do You Realize The Power Of Your Words?

    As The Boat Comes In V Originally uploaded by Joanna Young Do you realize the power of your words? Vern Lun, The Idea Dude, reminds us thatwe underestimate the power of language whether it is written, sung or spoken. Take