Ho’oponopono – the act of forgiveness

The other day while walking the kids to school, another parent and I were chatting about life and she asked me what I did for a living.  I mentioned that in addition to teaching at the local college, I was the author of the Ekahi Method book and seminars.  After explaining the meaning of Ekahi, Sandy asked me if I have ever heard of ho’oponopono.  Having never heard of this beautiful Polynesian word, I was excited to do some research when I got home.  


Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness.  Traditionally, it was practiced by healing priests on someone who was sick.  The practice is very similar to other forms of healing on other Polynesian islands.  It was believed that the source of a person’s illness was related to an error of their ways or guilt associated with wrong doing.  Ponopono literally means  “to put things right” or “put things in order”.  Long after the Europeans expunged the ancient Polynesian practices from the Hawaiians, many continued to practice their own forms of ho’opononpono through family meetings and prayers.  Hawaiians believed that illness could also be the result of someone who broke spiritual laws (kapu).

This practice of forgiveness to help heal a person was usually led by the senior most person in the family.  He or she would start with a prayer and then the transgression committed by the family member was openly discussed.  Each member of the family had a chance to be heard.  Finally, the person who had committed the act, was given a chance to confess, repent and ask for forgiveness.  The family would then release all their negative feelings and break the tie to the past.  The ho’oponopono would conclude with a feast which included eating seaweed.  

In the late twentieth century, the courts in Hawaii began experimenting with using ho’oponopono to resolve some disputes.  The ceremony would be led by a court-appointed, trained person in the practice.  The idea that punishment for a crime might be best dealt with by involving the family and the victim(s) is gaining popularity on the mainland too as shown with programs such as Restorative Justice.  Many indigenous cultures have forms of ho’oponopono or Restorative Justice.  The Mohawk First Nation in Canada practice a form of Restorative Justice when one of their members is found guilty of a crime.  The Mohawk have found that the Canadian legal system is too adversarial and is not best serving the Mohawk people.  

Dr. Joe Vitale who starred on the extremely popular movie, The Secret, has written a book on using ho’oponopono to attain success in life.  Dr. Vitale’s approach using ho’oponopono is essentially teaching people to let go of the past so a person can dedicate more energy to the present and to creation.  By cleansing our minds and asking forgiveness for our past errors, we free ourselves from the anchors which have been dragging us down.  I strongly believe in Dr. Vitale’s idea that not only do we need to forgive others who trespassed against us (as in the Lord’s prayer) but we also need to forgive ourselves.  In fact, it could be said that the person that needs the most forgiveness is ourselves.  

There is no doubt that the guilt and negative self-talk that predominates most of the sub-conscious chatter in our minds is stealing precious energy away from creation and may in fact contribute to illness.  Imagine for a moment what it would feel like to release (kala) all the energy from the past (‘oki).  How much more free would you feel.  Maybe today is a good day to forgive and try to kala ‘oki through the act of ho’oponopono – the only thing you have to lose is the anchor of the past weighing you down in the present.  



3 Responses to “Ho’oponopono – the act of forgiveness”

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