Something you might not know about me is the degree to which I love Disney movies (and Disneyland, too, actually; but that’s its own post). They’re filled with archetypes, myths, and legends which make regular appearances in my inner work. My current favorite Disney title is Moana, which strikes such a deep resonance that I’m here sharing the details here with you now.
In case you haven’t seen Moana yet (and you really should- it’s on Netflix, so there’s no excuse!), the main story is such: Maui is a demigod who steals the heart of Te Fiti (goddess of life), bringing death and destruction to the earth. Moana is tasked with restoring Te Fiti’s heart, and in doing so she disobeys her father’s orders to remain on their island.
This film speaks to so many truths that I’m just going to go down the list:
The Tension Between Finding Happiness Where You Are and Answering The Call
The first musical number in Moana is a song called Where You Are, and in it Moana’s father tells her to stay on the island; that she can’t find happiness elsewhere. This sentiment echoes perfectly a central teaching in Buddhism, namely that suffering is fundamentally caused by a desire for things to be different than how they are. There’s a teacher named Shinzen Young who puts it into a cool formula: Suffering = Pain x Resistance. So, in order to eliminate suffering (which is the whole point of Dharma practice) one needs to reduce their resistance to zero; or to release their desire for things to be different than how they are. It makes a lot of sense, and for a long time I was on board. And yet…
What if dukkha (a Pali word which roughly translates as the inherently unsatisfactory nature of life; mundane suffering) isn't caused by our inability to accept things for the way they are? What if it’s the result of something else?
Moana is blessed to have a very wise grandmother who has a verse in the same song:
You are your father's daughter
Stubbornness and pride
Mind what he says but remember
You may hear a voice inside
And if the voice starts to whisper
To follow the farthest star
Moana, that voice inside is
Who you are
Moana tries to follow her father’s edict. She sets aside her dreams of leaving the island and studies to become the next chief, but she can’t find happiness right where she is. In the song How Far I’ll Go, Moana sings:
I can lead with pride, I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?
Joseph Campbell writes about the Hero’s Journey, a mythic or archetypal metaphor for the soul’s progression (fun tidbit- the tarot’s Major Arcana also tell the tale of the Hero’s Journey). The first step of the Hero’s Journey is to heed The Call. It’s that voice inside Moana that won’t let her be satisfied with life on that island. And I would even go as far as to suggest that perhaps the answer to our inability to be satisfied with life isn’t in letting go of what we desire; it’s in following it.
Remember Who You Are
And so, Moana sets off on her own iteration of the Hero’s Journey to find Maui and restore Te Fitit’s heart. Moana’s greatest gift is her ability to see people for who they truly are (a gift I think she gets from her grandmother). She discovers that her people are voyagers who don’t belong on a single island. Moana sees Maui’s goodness beyond his magical abilities and the frailty that lead him to steal Te Fiti’s heart to begin with (more on that in a bit). There’s also a key moment when everything seems lost and Moana wants to abandon her mission and her grandmother reminds her who she is. I couldn’t find a clip of that scene to post here, so you’ll just have to watch the film- but it’s a scene that leaves a lump in my throat every damn time. So good.
Then, of course, we have The Big Remembrance. The film’s climax (spoiler alert) is when Moana and Maui battle the fire demon Te Ka so Moana can return Te Fiti’s heart. But — Moana realizes that Te Ka is Te Fiti. The goddess of life was degraded to a hell demon when her heart was stolen. It’s almost too on-the-nose, but I love it anyway. Because really, what happens to anyone when they’re denied their heart, aka expression of who they are? Death and often violence, that’s what. Whether it looks like big bold demonic hellfire, or a quiet withering away, it’s deadly. Moana recognizes Te Fiti in Te Ka, and she begins to soften even before her heart is returned. There’s healing in being recognized, in being seen. Moana sings:
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are
This theme of knowing/remembering who you are appears over and over throughout Moana, and it’s so awesome. Because who we really are is pure light and love — God, basically. We are all aspects of Source and never separate. Namaste, right? And the entire point of going on the Hero’s Journey (aka life itself) is to come to that truth.
Between these first two sections I’ve pretty much covered the big stuff, and alone those would already make for an incredible metaphysical allegory. But Moana doesn’t stop there! There’s also…
Maui as the Ego
I won’t spend too much time on this because I feel like the ego takes a lot of heat already, but I can’t not point out how perfectly the character of Maui depicts the ego. He’s entirely motivated by others’ approval, obsessed with his image, and, as we learn— coming from a place of woundedness and self-preservation. I appreciate that Maui isn’t vilified even though he does a lot of damage. Because really our egos aren’t the enemy; they’re part of us and need to be integrated.
Manifesting Tip: Keep Your Island in Your Mind
Finally, there’s the hidden gem of way finding. Maui teaches Moana the art of way finding and when she reunites with her people they embark to find a new island home. As they sail they sing:
We keep our island in our mind
And when it’s time to find home
We know the way
Which, as it turns out, is how you manifest something. Hold the vision in your mind and when it’s time you’ll know the way. Neat!
So- you see that Moana sets it all up perfectly. We have our hero who answers the call from within her, inspiring us to do the same. We see what happens when we’re cut off from our divine nature (when our heart is stolen). And we see that we can help others remember who they are by recognizing them first. We also get an in depth look at the ego, seeing it’s not so bad after all, and a few light manifesting tips. Do you see now why I love Moana so much?? Thank you for coming along as I enjoyed highlighting my favorite bits and pieces of this wonderful film. I hope you’ll see it in a new light, and if you’re like me and have kids who like to watch things on repeat, I hope it will be more enjoyable for you on the 117th viewing than it would’ve otherwise. Also, don’t forget who you are!
by April b.
I'm the human behind Mind Altering Reality, and this is where you'll find things I've written about me, about life, and about my practice.