Identity, purpose and destiny in Moana

moana disney wallpaper

I watched this in the theatre with my 7-year-old when it was released. I never said this before: I cried, and HARD when I saw this. Disney is known for their white-centric princess movies, and while their representation of diversity has been slowly improving, Moana was done so well and had such strong themes of identity, acceptance and self-actualisation that I think it’s the most powerful film that Disney has put out to date.

If you haven’t watched it, I’ll try not to spoil it, but the talent behind the movie is stupendous. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics took Disney music to a new high. The villain’s song—you always need a villain song—is so well lyric’d and cast that I was writhing in my seat in hedonistic delight, AND nearly died when I confirmed the voice during credits (Jermaine Clement, from Flight of the Conchords, and my crush).

moana tamatoa

Jermaine’s voice really shone in this one.

I can describe a bit of why this movie hit me hard: I struggled in my child- and teenager-hood to have my interests (art/architecture) accepted and supported as my career path (I wound up not pursuing either as a degree in college, much as they had been my top choices). So watching the dynamics between Moana and her parents hit close to home, even if I hadn’t had anyone like her mother/grandmother in my own life. And that lack has been painful (I blogged here about it) something I don’t want to let my own daughter experience. And for the hour and half that Moana was, I could almost imagine what it was like to have a strong female relative to turn to for support instead of judgment and disapproval. (This was my escapism.)


“I am the village crazy lady,” she says. Crazy, like a fox.

Much of the film has been made about the surprise twist near the end of the movie. But the pivotal point of the film for me was not the “twist” at the end—it was the point Moana conversed with her grandmother. Tala (the grandmother) showed full and unconditional acceptance of her granddaughter’s decision to relinquish the quest that had been so close to her heart. This acknowledgment of a painful wound was priceless. The acknowledgment then lead to Moana diving into the water to retrieve what she had discarded. The wound became part of the path.

moana and the sea

After so much of the movie had been Moana reveling in that the sea had chosen her, it was more important for the fulfillment of Moana’s destiny that she also chose it, right on the heels of failure and with her heart broken open. Much of the film was about female empowerment, not only in taking action, but in accepting the feelings and convictions of other female characters, as at the point Sina (Moana’s mother) helps Moana to defy her father.

The final twist in the story (which I won’t reveal) has the feel of the Sacred Feminine restored and re-given respect, after it was destroyed by masculine pride and ego. Tui, Moana’s father, also plays the stand-in for male authority, enforcing rules and traditions, trying to keep the status quo through force/threat.

But the movie also demonstrates that “the way things are” often falls apart as justification for fear or suppression when you go back far enough in history.

The Force is strong in this one

There are other beautiful messages sprinkled throughout the movie that make it spiritually relevant to me. Those who know me know that I acknowledge a vast difference between religion and spirituality. The latter, to me, is a deep knowing of something bigger than physical reality but that it works without fear or demands for compliance, or submission to external control. It is to walk with a faith that God energy, or Spirit, lives and moves in every thing and every person. 

Part of the exquisite experience of being human is that we can be driven by any combination of things: personal desire, ego, our values, and the inexplicable, whether you want to call it God, Spirit, or destiny. True self-responsibility and self-empowerment is learning discernment between personal will, petty ego and fear, and the ineffable.

moana and the sea

Moana’s wisdom was that she heeded the call of the sea

Wisdom does not discriminate by age. Some children come in with an innate knowing more of their own path than the “elders” (by appearance) around them. Not everyone who is old is wise, and not everyone who is young is foolish. (This directly contradicts Confucianism, which again, anyone who knows me, knows I hate with a passion.)

If we want to believe that children are more newly arrived  from God, then why do we listen so little to them, believing that we adults need to suppress their natural instincts to play, to question, and pursue what they want? We can teach them without suppression, at the same time they help to teach us by challenging our false beliefs, attachments and conditioning.

Moana is a teenager wholly in tune with herself and carries less fear than the adults and the near-immortal demigods around her. The contrast is stark. Moana father’s urge to protect her from the sea is motivated by fear, a fear that she instinctually rejects (but also learns to respect after her own experiences–she just never lets her fear stop her).

Now, how many parents impose their own expectations and fears upon their children? Living in a authoritarian society where there are plenty of tiger mums, religious parents (especially those suppressing LBGT acceptance and LBGT topics in the public arena) and Confucianist (read: thin-skinned) educators and policy-makers, I do wonder.

Identity and Purpose

“Do you know who you are?” Moana is asked. She answers by way of the things she loves. (Again, this was the part I was weeping–spoiler at the link.) Again, if we claim to value love and compassion in society, why is finding/allowing the natural likes and interests of children so anathema to some parents and educators? And could it be that so many adults struggle mid-life with their identity and purpose because they were thwarted, in full or in part, by their childhood experiences? (But the movie provides the answer too. I’ll come back to this.)

She also answers with her lineage. Moana sees the best part of her inheritance, even if the skills that were once in her family were lost. At this point in the movie, she has regained them.

She answers with what she has accomplished. You are what you do and have done. You are that all you have learned. You are all that you have chosen.

She answers with the call she hears. She recognises what she is driven to do, and that it was inside and ineffable, and it was there all along. It persists regardless of the fears, disapproval, and trepidation of the adults around her. Really, Enlightenment is the process of stripping away all that is false. (Even this happens literally in the movie–spoiler at this link.)

When Moana has (1) answered “who am I?”, (2) declared I AM, and (3) chosen, her purpose and path become clear.

The Wound is the Path

No experience is ever a waste, no matter how difficult it may have been, how long it took, or how much it hurt. In the compressed storytelling art form that is a movie, Moana never gets derailed for long, and it is in defeat that her purpose becomes even stronger and clearer.

For those who struggle with their purpose or wonder what their destiny is, I’m tempted to say from my own experience that it is what you keep doing or want to keep doing no matter what challenges have been thrown your way. Whatever wounds that have been suffered in the pursuit, learning to heal them and keep going becomes part of your path, perhaps the one you were meant to walk all along.

You are what you do and have done. You are that all you have learned. You are all that you have chosen.

Those individuals who have big-picture visions should not be swayed from them, just as those who have smaller, different, or uncertain ones can be left to seek their own clarity or just to live life as they choose without hurting others.

moana spiral

On another level, all paths may be spirals. We learn to return to, and create from center.

The best thing we can teach our kids is how to tune into their inner knowing and connection with the ineffable, to have faith in themselves, and that mistakes can always be fixed and learned from. That we cannot protect them from every danger or hurt, but the capacity to heal and share healing will always be there inside them.


It is never said out loud, but Moana, among many things, is a healer who manages to heal herself, her ancestral gifts, and her environment.

This path can be anyone’s, if they choose it.

White Peacock

white peacock watercolor

Watercolors, 8 x 11 inches, completed 2017.

This angel was meant as a fun quick one, but would wait patiently as other projects came up. It was started late last year, more or less bringing me into the Year of the Fire Rooster in Chinese astrology.

(If you’d like more grandiose terms, I’ve found web sites that have declared it the Tibetan Year of the Phoenix, or Firebird—which I cannot verify, not speaking Tibetan aside from mantras!)

While work was still in progress, the White Peacock made a one or two “guest appearances” at my weekly oracle readings, with her main message that false modesty and hiding one’s true self benefits no one. Instead of hiding our strengths and gifts, we can share them, develop them, and teach them to others.

If you’d like to share this painting with a quote, I’ve got that covered:

white peacock quote T. Harv Eker


This painting of Morrigan, the Celtic goddess of death, magic, and war, was commissioned by my friend Yuna. It was meant originally for a book cover, but after that idea was dropped, I was given free rein for a portrait of the goddess, and I ran with the strongest image that came to mind.

Morrigan by Janet Chui

Luckily I had the luxury of working large (12 by 16 inches) and it was another chance to paint labyrinths—to me, they’re oh-so wonderful for holding magic. I paint these in, freeform, at the stage the painting is 80% done. You can catch this in the following video:

Another video was recorded of the painting of her feathered headdress:

One Day (a time-left exercise)

Sleeping with Butterflies

Sleeps with Butterflies, a pencil sketch, 2010. All rights reserved.

“One day I’m gonna write a book…”

“One day I’m going to create a workshop…”

“One day I’m to send a query…”

I like having friends of all ages, and it’ll amaze me sometimes that people who qualify for senior bus passes are still talking about One Day. If I’m in Tough Love mode, I tell them to do it now, or to set a deadline.

Put it on the calendar. Prioritize life around it. Make a list. Break it down into little steps. Sometimes, I’ve been on the receiving end of the tough love, and I’ve always been grateful for it.

Grateful because I recognise that I am responsible for putting in the effort and making what I want to happen, happen. If my friends involve themselves enough to remind me, I can accept that reminder and do something about it.

Either I recognise that the desire I expressed was just pie-in-the-sky dreaming, or it really means something, and I have to follow up. It’s one of those two things.

Ready for a weird story?


Like this but not like this. First, he was male, and second, he was dressed for the office. I know. Weird.

A door-to-door fortune-teller once came knocking, and, because I was suffering from boredom and cabin fever, I entertained him. In hindsight, everything he said probably had been for extracting more money. But one thing stuck: he said that I’d live to 79, and he delivered the news acting as if I should have been disappointed with that number.

I didn’t know why he expected disappointment. The figure was average for women (in first-world countries). In fact, with my health history, I thought the number was quite satisfactory, even if it wouldn’t reach the crazy nineties that my grandparents lived to. I was also well aware of cancer rates, chronic illnesses and how suddenly life could be taken away. Being given over 40 more years of life (if one believed him) was absolutely fine by me.

Especially now that I’ve lost friends and loved ones—talented friends, creative friends—who never reached 40. And a talented writer whom I knew, just 2 years my senior, succumbed to cancer within the last week.

When I’m reminded of our mortality, the words “one day” no longer fly. I set deadlines, even if they’re years ahead. I write them down, I ask for help during meditations, and slowly, I build. (And I do not assume I’ll live to 79. Though it would be nice.)

The Exercise

From the excellent Psychology of Success, it starts off with a simple diagram that will take 2 seconds to draw. Assuming you’ll live to 80, you shade the boxes to represent the time you have left to do whatever you’ve been pushing to One Day. Sleeping, eating, working and entertainment time get subtracted as well.

Time exercise from Psychology of Success

The above exercise is one I go back to whenever I’ve lost motivation or think I have time to spare. It may be exactly what some of us need. Whether it’s a dream vacation, degree, career or business idea we want to pursue, I think such exercises force us to weigh which wants are Burning Desires, vs Nice Daydreams. (And it’s OK to have daydreams, but it helps to know whether they’re temporary indulgences, vs continual distractions that we’re clinging to to Avoid Failure.)

Not Yet vs One Day

If you’re ambitious (or crazy like me) there may be several big things you want to get to. I don’t let the combined enormity of them keep me from starting. Instead, I line them up like dominoes. I see one step leading to the next, and though I know the going may not be that simple, imagining them as steps at least lets me focus on one thing at a time.

If all goes well, ten years from now, I’ll get to the fifth thing on my list. Having the time frame is different from One Day.

Have you started, or are you still hesitating at the first step?

If you’re still hesitating, when will you start?

If you’d like to work with me as part of my soon-to-be-launched creativity coaching program, do subscribe below or shoot me an email.

Get all my updates via email

Creativity can be tough, and I want to share my stories and sources of inspiration. Subscribe to get all web site updates in your inbox!

The Festival du Féminin in Singapore

festival du feminin poster

The Festival du Féminin® links women from all over the world together to connect with each other. The Singapore edition is launching soon, taking place on the weekend of 1st & 2nd April 2017 at SCWO (Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations). Created and started in Paris by the Centre Tao, this registered trademark festival is rapidly developing internationally (India, USA, Colombia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong).
I will be conducting a session on Day 1 of the event.

Story Keepers of the Family by Janet Chui

story keeper program excerpt

Excerpt from the Festival program

The Singapore Festival du Féminin program

For more information about the program, the session schedule and facilitator details, you can view the PDF program below. Registration details are also in the PDF (see below), or can be viewed at the FaceBook event page. You can also register by email.