Saturday, October 24, 2009


My Fun Fact for this week's hula class was about an ancient Hawaiian ritual that has in recent years been adopted by the New Agers. It's ho'oponopono, which means "setting things right." The root of the word is pono, which means right, proper or correct.

I don't blame the New Agers for claiming this principle. Basically, its purpose is to prevent resentments, grudges, feuds or even unhealthy, negative thinking to fester or continue. The ritual was performed with whole families participating. It resembles an alcohol or drug intervention, or a court mediation, except that the focus is not on just one person. Everyone in ho'oponopono takes responsibility for whatever they contributed to the situation.

Typically, an elder of the family would lead the process. Or a kahuna, or ho'oponopono practitioner, would be called in. It would begin with a prayer. In pre-Christian days, the aumakua, or family gods, would be called on for assistance. And during the process there would be frequent pauses for silence, or ho'omalu, when participants could gather their thoughts and emotions, before proceeding with the discussion, just to keep everything on an even keel.

Everyone in the family conference would be required to admit their wrongdoing in contributing to the problem, and to ask for forgiveness. Everyone else would offer their forgiveness as each person would "come clean." The elder or kahuna might decide upon some action or chore that would constitute restitution. And then the problem, whatever it was, would be wiped away. No more angst. No more seething resentments. That sounds lovely!

One of my hula sisters told me that she had recently read on a New York Times blog about how ho'oponopono is being used in child abuse cases. A practitioner is sent to the child's home with the task of getting every member of the family to admit to, repent and do restitution for the harm they've done to the child. Talk about a knight in shining armor! There were times in my childhood I would have welcomed a ho'oponopono practitioner with open arms.

There are various self-help organizations that use a form of ho'oponopono. A recent book, Zero Limits, by Joe Vitale, offers a form of the practice. One group suggests frequent intonation of a mantra: "I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you."

But my understanding of ho'oponopono is that dealing with a problem requires something deeper, more thoughtful and more active than reciting a mantra. In fact, ho'oponopono is meant to peel away the layers of an existing problem, get to its very root and then wipe it clean to make a family or group healthy and whole again. It takes full participation and responsibility by all who partake.

1 comment:

Meg Heekin said...

How beautiful. Much of the healing process consists of taking responsibility, finding a workable solution and bestowing forgiveness. It is much better than denial and blame, which seems to be a more popular"modern" method of dealing with difficulties. Instead of extinguishing Hawaiian culture, we should be learning from it.