Ep. 213: Pau Hana – How to Detach From Work

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I don’t know about you, but I’m often annoyed at expectations that modern humans should be available for work all freaking day and night… and that we’re always reachable. Add to that being an entrepreneur where work is never totally DONE, and it’s even more overwhelming.


When I was a young adult waaaaay back in the 90s,, we used to just finish work and be DONE. It wasn’t even possible to do most kinds of work once you left the office, and it definitely wasn’t appropriate for colleagues to call after hours and expect to discuss work.


It’s one of the reasons I love being in places where there’s no cell service or internet access. I have no choice but to be unplugged!


There’s a concept in Hawaiian culture called “pau kahana,” which means “the work is done” (most people simply say, “pau hana”).


The concept of pau kahana is more than just stating a fact, like “I’m off work now.” I’ve noticed that my

kanaka – Indigenous Hawaiian – friends create a very distinct separation between work and personal life. So it’s not just about stopping work, but also engaging in practices that help us release the day’s burdens and shift gears.


It’s a complete mental, physical, and spiritual detachment from work after the workday ends.


As we dive deeper into this, I want to honor the Indigenous wisdom that protects balanced life instead of looks down on it. 


Of course, modern industrialized society struggles with this due to productivity and profit pressures – which have led to immense suffering in our bodies, minds, communities, environments and the world around us. We have a lot to learn.


Despite these pressures, we can still see real measurable benefits to being able to detach from work at the end of the day. It’s essential for our well-being, because if we’re constantly thinking about it, even when we’re trying to relax, it can lead to chronic stress and burnout. When we mentally disconnect, we give our brains a chance to rest and recover, and that boosts our mental AND physical health. Studies report lower cortisol levels, better sleep, less burnout, and more. Ironicallly, we tend to be more productive in the long-term when we have clear boundaries as well.


So how exactly can we do this – especially in a day and age where we are connected to work more often than not? 


One step is to make sure we have a clear boundary between work and personal time. We can have a specific time we end, or a set number of hours we work before walking away. Then, once work is done, we mentally, physically and spiritually leave it.


This isn’t easy when we love our job. I remember when I was an ER nurse, I’d talk about it plenty and then watch the show ER or Gray’s Anatomy on top of that. So it’s not easy to fully turn off that part of our lives – but we can practice.


We also really want to avoid allowing disturbances during the transition. If you’re out watching a sunset, don’t answer the phone unless it’s an emergency! (and someone at home looking for something in the garage is NOT an emergency).


We can also engage in activities that mark the transition – an evening ritual of sorts. For example, in Hawaii, my friends often have a ritual after work to go watch the sunset or meet on someone’s lanai and just hang out.


This is easier to experience in an embodied way when we have a felt experience of being connected to nature as part of that ritual. Watching the sunset in Hawaii includes feeling the wind on my skin, watching colors shift, hearing the ocean waves. In Alaska this time of year – when the sunset is way past my bedtime – I might take a walk along a coastal trail near the house listening to eagles, smelling the cottonwood buds, and running my hands along the trunk of a paper birch tree. 


Other ways to create an embodied ritual could be hopping into a nice warm bath or a freezing cold shower to rinse off the day and rejuvenate. Or making a special beverage like a little mocktail or tea. There are mantras, chants or songs we can sing, and mindfulness meditations that we can do to mark the transition (more ideas on the podcast;).


All of these help us enforce the boundary that we create, which is more important than ever in today’s world, where people have constant access to us and so many jobs allow for remote work. 


So I want to invite you to think about what your pau hana ritual could be. What are some other ways you could shift to allow you more spaciousness after work, including the elements below?


// Clear boundaries

// Evening ritual

// Connection to nature 

// Social connection

…and more on the pod;)

You will learn:

// How to counteract the pressures of modern industrialized society as work is increasingly enmeshed in our personal lives

// What pau kahana means in Native Hawaiian culture… and how this Indigenous wisdom helps us release the day’s burdens

// The physical benefits of detaching from work at the end of each day

// The key elements for creating our own ritual to help disengage from work



// Episode 96: Unplugging in an Uncertain World


// Episode 194: Work – Survival Dance or Sacred Offering


// Episode 212: Privilege on the Spiritual Path


// Donate to the Hawai’i People’s Fund – an excellent organization supporting Hawai’i based grassroots organizations and fighting systems of oppression 


// I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a review on the Rebel Buddhist Podcast on iTunes by clicking here   


// If you’re not already there, Come join us at Freedom School. You can start the mindset class, get coached by me multiple times a month… It’s amazing! This month, we’re going into writing our life story. You know, the old story that you’re so fucking tired of playing to yourself and hearing yourself. Exactly. Done with that. 


Let’s write a new story. That’s what this month is all about and Freedom School. So come join us. Go to joinfreedomschool.com 

// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist private group, and tune in every Wednesday as I go live with new inspiration and topics.