Author Archives: piilanijr

About piilanijr

Sensei. Hula dancer. Outrigger canoe paddler on hiatus. Single mom. Change agent. Superhero.

“Amazing Grace” and a Life of Forgiveness a message from two funerals

Amazing Grace is a Christian hymn written in 1779 and is one of the most recognizable songs in the English language.  With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, the message has crossed over from Christian hymn to more popular folk music.

The author of this hymn, John Newton, lived a life that vacillated between sinner, soldier, sailor and Christian.  At one point, he deserted the British Royal Navy and began a career as a slave trader.  Newton rebelled against his captain and shipmates by crafting dirty songs and poems.  This insubordination landed him in chains, imprisoned at sea and eventually led to his own enslavement and was forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone.  Harrowing circumstances brought near death experiences to Newton, during which his faith in God grew to overshadow his propensity for debauchery and profanity.  He showed a new commitment to God and Christianity and began to craft poems and hymns. Newton’s poems emphasized his love for Jesus, the concept of eternal salvation, a wonder at God’s grace, and joy in his renewed faith.

“Amazing Grace” was a song that we sang at the opening of our dear friend’s funeral this weekend.  No one needed to read the written lyrics, the entire congregation sang the song from memory.  One of the amazing things at a Samoan service is that almost everyone in the church, from the Pastor to the attendees, can BLOW.  The song sounded beautiful, I think I even stayed on key throughout the verse, save for the times when tears were flowing down my cheeks.

The lyrics of the first verse are simple:

 Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

The original song actually has multiple verses that emphasize a message of losing and regaining faith in God or living a less than pious existence throughout one’s life.  It talks of renewal.  It reminds us that no matter what our sins or or bad traits or less than holy actions have been, we can repent and accept God into our lives, for ever-lasting life in heaven.  I write these words as a person who took CCD classes throughout elementary school, not as a woman who attends Catholic Mass regularly.  The messages of living as a Christian are so pervasive in Western society that even receiving whispers and hints of the Word from when I was only six and seven years old have stayed with me.  And the notion that accepting Jesus into your life as Lord and Savior means going to heaven after death on this Earth.  I think one of the speakers or the Pastor said that our time on Earth is just borrowed and only God knows when we will be called.  Dear Pam was called very early from this Earth.  Her death leaves a hole in so many people’s lives and hearts.  And the testimonies and Pastor’s sermon stay with me, after attending the family service last Friday.

A theme that resonated throughout the speeches was one of forgiveness, don’t let petty disagreements fester, especially amongst family members.  The Pastor suggested that a wise thing to do would be to squash any fights or heal bad blood with your brothers and sisters.  No one intentionally wants to leave words unsaid to a loved one who dies.  Imagine the guilt and suffering that may grow out of that.  No one should hang on to petty disagreements, especially with a family member.  The Pastor’s words were to call your brother or sister and just say, “Let’s let that shit go.  Life is too short.”

In the last two months, I have attended two funerals.  Each service included testimonies from attendees and family members.  One service spoke to how the deceased a life in full service to his faith.  The other preached the message that life is short and we never know when God will call on us to leave our worldly existence on Earth.  Both messages have been playing in my head, over and over on a loop.

I have no resolution to these messages as of yet.  I am chewing on this idea of squashing petty shit with siblings and loved ones.  Maybe in a few days I will have worked out a game plan…


Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779



December: Two funerals and a Wedding.

Thirteen days ago, we boarded an early morning flight to Las Vegas.  Sounds like a fun way to spend a Friday and Saturday night, right?  The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas:  five-star restaurants, A-list nightclubs, first class casinos, that all sounds like a decadent way to pass the time with loved ones.  But no, our trip to Las Vegas was all about family.  We travelled there to support our hula ‘ohana who had lost a family member.  And we planned to take time out to visit our dear friend and Uncle who were in the hospital.  Needless to say, I didn’t pack the red stilettos and body con dress.

We arrived before 9am on Friday and were greeted at the airport by our Aunty.  She brought us to the house to pick up our Uncle who had just been released from the hospital.  His health has been shaky for a few months and he was admitted to the hospital for MRIs and other tests.  Uncle felt frustrated about being in the hospital again but the doctors feared that he had been experiencing strokes because he was passing out at work and falling down while on duty.  He is getting up in age and definitely needs to slow down but trying to tell a Grand Master in martial arts is not an easy feat.  This time, it seemed that slowing down was no longer an option, Uncle understood and had accepting it as his new reality.

Because we arrived so early, Uncle was sleeping when we walked in the house.  It took some time for him to completely wake up and his speech was slurred.  When we offered to take him and Aunty to their favorite casino for a buffet breakfast, that woke him up!  We all piled into the van and drove to Arizona Charlie’s, a local casino.  The breakfast buffet was simple but Uncle got his fill and more.  We caught up on our lives to date and shared plans for Christmas.  I was happy to share that Kanoe and I visited with Uncle Joe in Seattle and that he sent his love to them.  It is always nice to have time alone with the elders in the family.  They always share so many stories of training and tournaments in the past, we have to hold on to the values that they founded our martial arts schools upon.  Dojos aren’t supposed to be money machines.  We have a duty to teach our art to students and hopefully grow students who will continue to pass along the knowledge.  Tournaments and belt ranks are fun and somewhat flashy but we need to hold fast to our core values.  The martial arts are about Respect, Humility, Discipline, Leadership, Confidence, Self-Defense and Family.  Family is our foundation.  We are obliged to support our family in everything we teach.

And family was the main reason why we arrived so early.  After breakfast, we brought Uncle with us to the hospital so we could visit our dear friend and her husband.  She had been in the hospital since November because she needed to have a heart valve replaced.  The surgery went well but there were unexpected complications.  We wanted to visit her to show her that we love her and to see if there was anything we could do to support her husband, who is a lifelong friend of Butch’s.  It was such a nice visit, her husband’s daughter was there and Uncle stayed with us while we chatted.  She looked beautiful, the nurses had just washed her long, gorgeous black hair and she was sitting up in the hospital bed listening to music and chatting.  The men, except for Uncle, went for a walk to bond.  Apparently, that is code for going outside to smoke a cigarette.  We stayed in the room to talk.  Uncle shared that he had just gotten out of the hospital and that he just knew that she was going to going home soon.  Our friend’s daughter cracked jokes as she attentively tended to her needs – water, suction, all the little details and needs that pop up when one is recovering from surgery and a long hospital stay.  The nurses came in to check on medications, fluids, etc.  The doctor came in to make an adjustment to one medication and follow-up on tests that were being scheduled.  Everything seemed to be in order and we left to check into our hotel after a couple of hours.

That night, we just had a big dinner and hung out near the hotel.  The funeral was the next morning across town.  We definitely didn’t have a “what happens in Vegas” kind of Friday night that evening.

Saturday morning we grabbed a cab to the LDS church across town.  We made it just in time for to see Uncle S before they closed the casket before the memorial.   His students had travelled from Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, all over the country to say their good-byes.  A few of my hula sisters from California travelled to the memorial because we had learned Maori songs and hula from Uncle S over the last twenty years or so.  We also wanted to support our Kumu Hula, his older brother, who was devastated by the loss.  The memorial was beautiful, filled with music and singing and testimony.  The family is blessed with God-given talent for music, especially singing and their dedication to their Church was evident throughout the memorial.  We went to the cemetery for a final good-bye and a few songs.  It was a lovely memorial for a very special man.

A week later, my niece/second cousin (as if Filipinos care about second or third cousin categories) married her longtime boyfriend.  They have a beautiful daughter together and they are truly dedicated to one another and their family.  I couldn’t attend the wedding but I felt comforted by the idea that life goes on, despite the loss that we had recently experienced.  Marriage and babies show us that life is indeed to be lived all in, every moment of every day.

And today, as we putted around the house this morning, we received a message from our friend in Vegas.  He said he had appreciated our visit when we were in town and that his wife had passed on to her next life that morning.  I called out to Butch, who was just sitting down to have breakfast.  I asked him if he had his phone.  He walked toward me and could tell I was about to share some shocking news.  I read the message to him as the tears welled up in my eyes and my voice cracked with each word.  I broke down and sobbed in his arms, it was not the sort of news I expected to hear about her.  He quickly called our friend and received a cliff note version of what had transpired.  She had passed away just a few hours before and we were all reeling from the shock.

I didn’t have a purpose for writing any of this down.  There are no breakthrough words of comfort that I have to share.  My heart is aching for her, for her husband and for her family.  She and I were talking in the hospital about how important it is for all of us to be committed to a healthy lifestyle.  She said to me, “Sis, after my husband being in the hospital for heart surgery last year, I never thought I would be here one year later.  This is no bullshit.  We have to be healthy and take care of ourselves.  Take care of your man.  You stay healthy.  Take care of your beautiful daughter because this hospital shit is no joke.”   She and her husband had a fierce love that no one could refute.  All she wanted was to be home with him.  We talked about how she would be home soon to recover and how great it would be for her to sleep in her own bed.  How much easier her recovery would be when she was surrounded by her own stuff and nurses and doctors weren’t coming in every hour to poke her and prod her and wake her up.  She just wanted to go home and be surrounded by her family, that became her goal.  We all need to think about what we really need to be happy and healthy.  The foundation of it all has to be family and at the core of the family it must be love.  Rest in Love, Sweet Pam.  We know you’re up in heaven watching over all of us.

Hugs not Drugs vs Better Living Through Chemistry

I have not added an original blog post for quite some time.  This blog usually serves as my stream of consciousness about my life, make-up, TV, working out, etc.  But this year has been an emotional roller coaster.  Every aspect of my life brought me stress or pain and that was too hard and too personal to blog about for me.  Ironic, right?  Blogs are supposed to be a way to share one’s personal experience and emotions.

Today, I’ve decided to reveal one thing that happened this year because I think it is important to share.  Perhaps a reader will find some solace in reading about my experience.  I know there is a risk that someone may relish in my pain and suffering but if they do, Fuck Them.  My life is full and rich and not always perfect.  But I live it on my terms.

2017 started out with quite a few challenges.  At work, team members had begun to move away in droves.  The Torrance office held “going away Happy Hours” and we  raised the revenue of most local bakeries with our numerous “Best Wishes” cake purchases.  A lot of change swirled around at work.  And seeing friends leave the area felt heavy.  Some would be commuting back to California their families for a year or more because their children were seniors in high school or their spouse or partner wasn’t ready to move.  Others just sold everything and left California in their dust, happily trading expensive mortgages on smaller houses for their new Texas properties.  And others made the move with trepidation and dread of the unknown.  The majority of my friends loved their new living situation and enjoyed the change of pace.  Hearing how excited some of them were to have swimming pools and media rooms made me happy for them.

Because of my role, a lot of team members would come to me for advice regarding their decision to move or leave the company.  Although I had made up my mind to about 90% certainty, I did not want to influence anyone’s personal decision.  I wanted to listen and allow them space to wrestle with their own pros and cons.  Most people elected to move to Texas, more than I had expected and more than the company expected, too.  But when I finally announced to my boss and the company that I did not intend to relocate, many people said they were shocked.  Some said they were sad.  Most said that it would be a huge loss to the company.  That felt strange.  It still feels strange.  To hear so many remarks about how my leaving Toyota would leave a hole or have an impact on the diversity work at the company, that made me even more emotional.  My emotions twisted up like a pretzel – some days I felt sad, some days I felt resentful, some days I felt happy, but every day I became more acutely aware that my tenure with the company had begun countdown.  Each business trip felt a bit more precious.  Each conference left me with a yearning to connect with people who have influenced my career and development.  And each of these various emotions weighed on my head and my heart.  Couple these emotions with the prospect of losing my regular salary and health insurance, boom anxiety and depression.  Although I will receive a generous separation package for my nineteen years of service with the company, I will lose my car allowance and health insurance benefits.  That will be a huge change for me.

At the same time, the dojo was hit our six month anniversary.  We were slowly increasing enrollment and hitting our stride with a teaching routine.  Even without a huge enrollment campaign, we found ourselves enrolling new students, one at a time.  Personal referrals always work best.  And, a strong Yelp! presence doesn’t hurt.  Personally, I passed my test in March and that marked my start as Shodan.  I know I have so much to learn as a black belt that I feel pressure to continue my growth and development.  It isn’t second nature to me, like it is for Sensei Butch, so I put lots of additional stress on myself to work hard at being a good teacher.  Then when I take a step back and think about what I do at work and who I am because of that, I try to be easier on myself.  My gift is finding people’s strengths and leveraging those strengths for their growth and development.  Applying that to the dojo seems like a perfect fit.  And putting too much pressure on myself remains a personality flaw that I need to address.

And then, there was home.  My daughter prepared for prom and high school graduation. *GULP* When did she grow up?  I began to question whether or not I raised her to be prepared to leave the house for college.  Would she be able to live on her own?  Manage a bank account?  Pay her bills on time?  Keep her apartment clean?  Trust new roommates?  As a single mom, I know I doted on her a bit too much.  And with her multiple allergies and learning disabilities, I had to insert myself into her growth and development more so than with other children her age.  In some cases, it became a matter of life and death.  But with all that, I did my  best to give her tools to be an adult who contributes in positive ways to our society and the world.  She has shown her compassion and emotional intelligence in remarkable ways.  But I will always worry about her.  Other things happening at home will remain confidential.

All of these emotions and pressures and changes hit me at the beginning of 2017 and I found myself spiraling down into a pit of depression.  Usually my stress manifests as anxiety and it passes fairly quickly.  But this time, there was too much change in my life at one time and my world started becoming dark and lonely.  As an Introvert, I already prefer to rejuvenate myself in solitude.  However, this year didn’t allow me any time alone.  For multiple reasons, I rarely had a moment to myself.  All of the pressure led me to lose sleep, eat poorly and at late hours, stop exercising, and drink too much wine late at night.  I started online shopping for things that I didn’t really need.  Not a good move when I am about to lose my job.  My healthy lifestyle was obliterated by 2017.  It knocked me on my big okole and manifested itself into depression.

After several weeks, I decided to visit a therapist and my doctor.  The therapist allowed me to vocalize so many emotions that I was suppressing.  I realized that I needed some help to get my head and heart back on track.  It felt like I had cloud following me around every day.  I didn’t want to get out of bed.  I didn’t want to engage at work.  I was on edge and sad and angry all at the same time.  The one bright spot in my life was teaching the Togisala Tiger Cubs.  Children have a way of reminding us adults how to live in the moment.  And when we were on the dojo floor, all that mattered was keeping them engaged, teaching them basics, and reminding them of our core values of respect and discipline.  That became a welcome distraction.  But it was not enough to quell the depression.

I asked my doctor for Ativan to help me deal with anxiety and something to get me over the depression.  Actually, the Ativan was just a precaution if I felt like I was going to lose my shit.  I had a prescription for it some years ago, during my divorce.  The smallest dose helped me calm down back then and I felt like I needed it again.  For my depression, the doctor suggested a low dose of Lexapro.  It felt scary to take an anti-depressant but I reminded myself that there are times when our brain chemistry gets thrown off.  If we can’t manage through it naturally, there is no shame in relying on modern medicine.  So off I went to start taking an antidepressant.

When I started taking the new medication, it was suggested that I start with a half dose for two weeks to allow my body to get used to it.  Lexapro is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor used to treat depression and generalized anxiety disorder.  Since I was feeling both anxious and depressed, this medication seemed to be a good fit to help get my brain chemistry back to normal.

Some side effects I had to look out and experienced right off the bat were headaches, increased thirst (I am always thirsty and get dehydrated very easily), and a little bit of fatigue at first.  But who can tell whether the fatigue is coming from the medication or the depression?  A few other side effects that hit me, just for fun, were dry mouth, loss of sex drive (sorry Babe), and insomnia.  A week later I was hit with bloating and a nagging cough.  Once I was on the full dose, I would see mini hallucinations out of the corner of my eye.  For example, I would see a zombie walking across the room or a creature that looked like the Night King on “Game of Thrones” would be staring at me.  I never let these strange visions get to me to badly, I would talk myself out of buying into them as reality.  But they were persistent and irritating while I was dealing with real life stressors every day.

After about four or five months, I had been feeling much more “normal” despite having gained a bit of weight and lost a bunch of sleep.  I only went to one other therapy session but it was helpful and gave me clarity on how to proceed with my life.  The plan was to begin a clean eating campaign, go back to exercising, and get off of the Lexapro.  I recall that the doctor had told me not to just stop taking it, that could be very dangerous.  So I went to the Internet to read about the risks of tapering off of an anti-depressant.  There were risks of extreme panic attacks and tons of stories of people suffering horrific side effects like brain zaps, tremors, convulsions, all scary stuff.  But these patients had been on the medication for years and/or were taking other pills for other ailments.  I decided to go ahead and taper off the Lexapro, without seeing my doctor.  My life was just too busy to go back to the doctor. Many articles mentioned that taking fish oil, calcium, a multivitamin, and B12 would help immensely with the transition. Easy enough for me.  I went for two weeks on my regular dose then cut it to 3/4 the dose for the next two weeks, down to 1/2 for two weeks and finally 1/4 until I was done.  It took a month to taper off but I did not experience the brain zaps or tremors.  Thank goodness.

Now I am working on getting back into shape, eating properly, sleeping more, and allowing myself to be happy.  No more antidepressants, just a lot more time with friends and loved ones.  And having a puppy has really helped with the depresssion.  She doesn’t care if I have a job or if I won an award, she just wants hugs and snuggles.  So let me go on with my non taking antidepressant self for now.  I will fill my days with hugs, not drugs.

Do what I love and love what I do, unapologetically.

What’s Your Ikigai (Reason for Being)?

Wikipedia lends the following definition:

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” It is similar to the French phrase Raison d’être. Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.[1] Examples include work, hobbies and raising children.[2]

The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (wikt:生き?) meaning “life; alive” and kai (甲斐) “(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail” (sequentially voiced as gai) “a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something that] makes life worth living; a raison d’etre”.[3]

In the culture of Okinawaikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. In a TED TalkDan Buettner suggested ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.[4]

The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to one’s economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.

In the article named Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei (“Ikigai: the process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”) Kobayashi Tsukasa says that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”[1][5]

My Ikigai is to stay active and perpetuate the rich API culture through my hobbies – dancing hula, paddling outriggers, and teaching karate.  Working out in the dojo taught me more about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar or MBA could have.  Recently, I opened a karate dojo as my passion project.  We focus on the values of Respect, Discipline, and Self-Confidence to help our students find their Ikigai.

Ikigai JaeRequiro


#TeamTogisala #togisalashorinryu #fitlife #GirlPower #respect #discipline #focus #selfconfidence #selfdefense #dojoOhana #ikigai

lessons learned from a leadership journeys #diversity #leadership

I’ve been asked to speak at a conference this summer.  It will probably be my last national presentation as a leader at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost nineteen years.  As a diversity leader, I can make a presentation and share insights, stories, and experiences with attendees around career development or business strategies.  That is bland and dry as over toasted Wonder Bread.  The sound of the teacher from “Peanuts” would be echoing in my own ears as I spoke on that topic.  Blah, blah, blah, diversity, blah, blah, blah, business impact, blah, blah, blah, leadership, blah, blah, blah.  Instead, I want to tell a story.  I want to share some thoughts on standout moments and lessons learned from my leadership journey as a small business owner, karate instructor and brand-new Shodan.

The conference is by far my favorite event of the year.  It is an event designed to bring together multicultural women from corporations all over the globe.  It takes place in NYC and it provides an outlet for high-achieving and high potential multicultural women to be confident, courageous and take the next steps in paving the way for a stronger, more inclusive, and more trusting environment. The theme for this year’s conference, Race to Trust, reflects an intention to create a conference that inspires higher cross-cultural understanding and explores concerns among women that trust in the workplace is on the decline due to the current cultural and social trends.   My favorite part of this conference is meeting powerful and inspirational women of color from different industries and I have made several friends at the event over the years.

If I think about this opportunity as my last, I have to consider what my legacy will be.  My biggest accomplishment at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost 19 years are employee resource groups.  We started with 2 in 2001, just as pilots, while I worked with HR, Legal, and senior leaders to craft a policy that made all levels of the organization comfortable.  Now there are over 60 chapters across North America, with new groups being created in offices in Canada, Baja, and Puerto Rico.  I was dubbed the “Godmother of Business Partnering Groups.”  Where’s my fairy dust and magic wand???

However, I think that a presentation about 2016 would be more interesting to me.  We discovered that our dojo was operating without a business license or insurance for years, as we were told that we were losing the lease to our old studio.  I elected to become the small business owner created the S-Corp, purchased all the insurance and licenses, found a location, and continue my quest to become an instructor.  During the Summer of 2016, we taught karate in my backyard, on the stiff grass.  It wasn’t until late July 2016 that we moved into the new studio.

Now I am processing all of the emotions that I experienced last year to get the business launched.  All of this happened while I faced the end of my tenure with the Japanese automotive company where I continued to work full time, my daughter started her senior year of high school, and my boyfriend finalized his divorce.  Stress on top of stress on top of change on top of stress.  2016 weighed heavily on my shoulders…  more to come

Cultural Humility

This is a piece released by my colleague, Janet Bennett.  I’ve been so depressed since the election that I’ve needed to take some time to rejuvenate and pull myself out of this funk. My career is founded on creating space for people to bring their full selves, all of their differences and all of their life experiences to the workplace.  Cultural Humility is a critical component of creating an inclusive workplace so I thought I would share this.


Cultural humility refers to respecting the validity of other peoples’ culture


It involves:


  • Recognizing that different, even conflicting, cultural perspectives can be equally legitimate


  • Suspending judgment


  • Questioning the primacy of our own perspective


  • Assuming we may not know what is really going on


  • Clarifying what is expected


  • Allowing others to direct us in appropriate behavior


  • Accepting the creative tension of holding two or more different perspectives


  • Seeking the “third culture” common ground for effective interactions





Adapted from “Cultural Humility: A Way of Being in the World” by Alan Guskin, Antioch Notes, Vol. 59, #1, Fall 1991, Antioch Publications Office, Yellow Springs, OH.



Janet M. Bennett, Ph.D, © 2006