Ho’oponopono: What Hawaii Taught Me About Forgiveness and Healing

Ho'oponopono: What Hawaii Taught Me About Forgiveness and Healing

While they may not say so, most people visit Hawaii in order to heal. Different words might be used: “relax,” or “escape.” They’re all synonymous, though, with the fundamental idea of healing. It only seems fitting that the islands are home to ho’oponopono, an ancient ritual of forgiveness and conflict resolution.

Hawaii may very well be my favorite place in the world: A lofty statement, especially from a New Yorker. I’m always seeking an excuse to visit, and when I do, I often go alone. It seems a perfect fit for the solo traveler: Safe, beautiful, quiet when I want it to be, and, if I just need a damn mai tai, there’s never one too far away. But my connection to Hawaii is more profound than cocktails garnished with plumerias. It’s a spiritual, restorative sensation that I experience only when I visit there, and the reason why, when I’m at my emotionally weakest points, I try to educate myself about Hawaiian approaches to mental health. Ho’oponopono is one of them.

I first began reading about ho’oponopono shortly after I graduated from business school, when I picked up Ulrich E. Duprée’s short, lightweight “Ho’oponopono: The Hawaiian Forgiveness Ritual as the Key to Your Life’s Fulfillment.” In the book, Duprée defines ho’oponopono as “love in action.”

“You forgive yourself and others for having inflicted any sort of hurt,” he writes, “or for having failed to help when needed.” It carries a mantra of, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.”

Forgiveness, for many of us, is a rather tall order. There’s an observable tendency in American culture to lean toward blame, whether asking, “Where did I go wrong?” of ourselves, or, “What the hell is the matter with you?” of others. We are not a society to whom grace and compassion come easily. We body-shame. We yell. We’re always in a hurry. No wonder Hawaii is an escapist’s dream.

One of the most common situational instances of fault and blame’s prevalence can be found during a breakup. Often, a relationship’s end is rife with anger, bitterness and resentment; forgiveness is, much of the time, the last thing felt by either party. I should know; I’ve been through enough failed relationships to be an expert. (See what I did there? “Failed.” No self-forgiveness here!) In fact, during my most recent visit to Hawaii, another solo trip for which my original purpose was to write about farmers markets, I experienced what is likely my most difficult breakup thus far. Here’s the weird part: In this particular situation, there was no anger. There was no blame, or bitterness, or resentment. There was only pain, and a lot of it. I wasn’t sure if even Hawaii could heal me.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that, despite my excitement around my travels to the beautiful island, I had largely lost my regard for ho’oponopono. There I was, in the ritual’s birthplace, and I hadn’t even thought to further educate myself about it, or truly put it into practice. My pain became an opportunity. After all, in his book, Duprée notes, “Ho’oponopono is a spiritual-soul method of purification that cleanses us from fears and worries, destructive relationship patterns, and any religious dogmas and paradigms that oppose our personal and spiritual development. It cleans out the blockages in our thoughts and cell structure, for our thoughts are made manifest in our body.” That was it! Even though I hadn’t expected to spend my time in Hawaii on the breakup process, the island was already working on the healing process before I even got there, by clearing my mind enough to acknowledge the truth about a relationship that simply was no longer working.

In the introduction of his ho’oponopono book (which, yes, I highly recommend everyone pick up), Duprée explains the role of Hawaiian kahunas as “guardians of this ancient teaching,” noting that “to know something without then using it really makes nonsense of it, because wisdom is revealed by what a person does, not by what they know.” Meditation is, ultimately, a practice. Perhaps putting forgiveness into practice is the revelation of such wisdom: To others, but just as critically, to ourselves. Viewing pain as an opportunity is a powerful phenomenon: One that allows us to operate with something other than a sense of our weakness and suffering.

It’s as if Hawaii says to us, “Hey! Look around you! It’s pretty beautiful, isn’t it? Sit down, and let it heal you.” Of course, not everyone can physically visit Hawaii when such crises occur, and we never know when one will hit.  That doesn’t mean we can’t rely on the lessons of ho’oponopono, or learn that its regular practice benefits us in a broader sense, and not just when we are in trouble.  If we realize how important it is to forgive, both ourselves and others, and how self-destructive it is to constantly seek blame when things go wrong, each day of our lives can be richer.

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