A couple of months ago I did something foolish. I volunteered. A colleague was retiring from my office here in the UK and returning to her native New Zealand. Someone suggested performing a haka at her retirement function. Being a New Zealander, I off-handedly agreed.

Our first rehearsal was a disaster. We couldn’t agree which version of the haka to perform. There was one with easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy instructions on YouTube, but it wasn’t anything like the All Blacks’ haka. We finally settled on a haka from the 2015 Rugby World Cup. That was all we managed to achieve. For any of you that haven’t seen a haka, here it is in all its glory.


I was sent a link to practice the haka before our second and final rehearsal. I forgot about it. So, it turned out, had everybody else. The second rehearsal started as badly as the first one. There was a major clash of learning styles. Some—including me—argued that we should simply follow the leader and do whatever they did, however accurate or inaccurate. Synchronisation was more important than accuracy. Others aimed for perfectionism. Someone listed the actions on a flip chart. Someone else gloomily pointed out every slight divergence from the All Blacks’ well-rehearsed routine. We were heading for disaster.

With none of us willing to compromise on our approach, we flapped about for a quarter of an hour. We stamped our feet, slapped our thighs, beat our chests and uttered half-hearted cries. It was pathetic. None of us wanted to be associated with this travesty that was about to unfold before a hundred of our colleagues.

As I stamped, a shiver ran down my spine, and along with it a realisation. You can’t do a haka half-heartedly.


Then we added the last piece of the puzzle. The haka leader bellowed his cries. “Prepare yourselves!” “Stamp your feet!” As I stamped, a shiver ran down my spine, and along with it a realisation. You can’t do a haka half-heartedly. It felt like everyone else had the same ah-ha moment, because suddenly we were there. There was a palpable intensity, and with it came both synchronisation and accuracy. Our performance at the retirement function received an ovation. We were asked to repeat the performance. A moment I had been dreading was both exhilarating and satisfying. All because of one crucial, even alchemical element: intensity.

Afterwards, I wondered how much of my life I spent living half-heartedly. I knew there were times, both at work and outside of it, that I was intensely engaged with life—those moments when time disappears, everything flows and you’re “in the zone”. I’m sure you know the feeling. Like writing this blog. It just flowed from start to finish (except for auto-correct changing every instance of haka to ‘haha’).

A lesson

I never really thought about those moments, they just seemed to happen. The activity came first and the unconscious intensity followed. Now I wonder, can I consciously make use of intensity to improve my experience of life? Can I summon the intensity first and let the activity follow? How would that affect different activities in my life? What about supposedly humdrum ones like chores? What if I washed the dishes with the same intensity that the All Blacks perform the haka? (I know, a lot of broken plates.)

These are questions I don’t yet have answers to—perhaps you do? But I have received a lesson in intensity, and I am extremely grateful for it.

Image: adidas All Blacks 02 by Natural-Heart on Flickr. Original credit: Jo Caird/RugbyImages. Cropped to 16:9.