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Ho’oponopono: Digesting Pain and Inviting Forgiveness

Ho'oponopono praying hands holding light

Getty/ipopba

Address your spiritual wounds with the traditional Hawaiian cleansing practice of ho'oponopono of taking responsibility and seeking absolution.

Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian practice of both forgiveness and of taking responsibility. It is a spiritual cleansing practice that is meant to make things right between individuals and within the community. Ultimately, it is about freedom, and unravelling yourself from the web of disharmony that you think was caused by others.

In the context of lomi lomi, ho’oponopono begins to address the spiritual wounds that are often at the core of physical pain. Many people first heard of Ho’oponopono through the book Zero Limits by Joe Vitale. He shared a version that essentially is built on four phrases:

  • I love you.
  • I’m sorry.
  • Forgive me.
  • Thank you.

This is just one version of ho’oponopono, one that comes from a particular lineage. It is a modern take on a traditional practice, but it is oversimplified; easily accessible, but missing some of the deeper roots.

Native Hawaiian massage and physical therapy practitioner Jeana Naluai, describes ho’oponopono as the practice of being in alignment with yourself, with others, and with the divine.

“As we go through life, we are faced with different challenges; we bump up against each other. Through that process, over time, we can smooth out some of the rough edges of life’s learning curve. One of my teachers said it means to make right more right.”

Naluai continues: “We are constantly evolving in our being: learning, growing, and expanding. Every situation and obstacle that comes along, no matter how challenging, is actually still perfect. It’s already right, but it can be improved. An elder can always be learning from a child, no matter how many years they have been wisdom keepers.“

Naluai grew up in a family that used ho’oponopono to address conflict. The family would gather. One person was the leader, the mediator. That person was spiritually connected and thought to be a medium between the realms.

“When someone had something that was upsetting them, there was the understanding that we are just a product of a continuum—backwards and forwards—not just the people who are in the circle. We would open in prayer and invite our ancestors in because sometimes the burdens we are carrying belong to them. We want to invite them in to have that lifted away as well. Often when conflict occurs it’s because we are bringing past hurts, either from this life or things passed on from our ancestors.”

Naluai explains that after a prayer, each person would share their perspective on the problem, “how to get to the source of the work.” Only then would each person share what they thought was a reasonable solution.

“This could take a long time because you would go around the circle until everything had been said,” she remembers. “You would also ask for forgiveness, an aspect of taking responsibility.” A period of silence allowed everyone to think, but also was “a symbol of your commitment to never speak of it again outside of the circle, so the energy you’ve released don’t just jump right back in.”

“Then we would close with prayer,” she says, “and it would close the time of the sacred. Food brings you back from the spirit place, and since we had opened the portal for the ancestors to be with us, we would close it by eating together.”

[Also read: “Breath as Prayer.”]

“Aunty Mahilani Poe Poe,” Naluai says, “who was my primary teacher and my foundation in this work, would share that where your thoughts go, energy will flow. When we share outside of the ho’oponopono circle, or when we continue to tell the story of our trauma over and over, it perpetuates disharmony and gives mana or more life force to our discontent.

Ho'oponopono can also be practiced by individuals as a way of “looking at what you have taken in that you have not yet digested.”

Naluai explains, “When you are feeling irritated with something, it’s because you have something you’re carrying that is still as of yet undigested. You need to take a look at it and clear it out.”

She shares a shortened version of the parable of the bowl of light from a book called The Tales from the Night Rainbow by Pali Jae Lee and Koko Willis:

Each child is born with a bowl of perfect light. If the child tends the light, it will grow in strength and he can swim with the sharks, fly with the birds, and know and understand all things. But if he goes upon his path of life and becomes envious, jealous, fearful, or angry, each of these emotions is like a stone that he places in his bowl of light. As a result, some of the light goes out because the stone and the light cannot hold the same space. If he continues on this path, he becomes heavy like a stone; a stone cannot move, and a stone cannot grow. But if at any time he tires of being a stone, all he needs to do is turn his bowl upside down, the stones will fall away, and his light will shine once more.

Naluai explains that the bowl of light is “your spirit, your spiritual connection. It’s you and all of your gifts.” As old, undigested stories age within the bowl, they become more powerful, heavier and heavier. “It has to do with what you’re carrying, and not the other person,” she emphasizes.

Bowl of Light Meditation

Jeana Naluai has brought the wisdom from this story into a meditation that she shares with her students.

Visualize that bowl of perfect light shining bright with all the gifts of your spirit. Take a look inside and see if there’s anything you are carrying that doesn’t belong there. Is there anything that is unresolved that perhaps it’s time to release or let go of?

If there is, eject that stone from your bowl of light and surround yourself, the situation, and whoever else was involved, with aloha. Send it out to the universe or the deep ocean, and ask for help from the ancestors and from spirit. Now you have this empty space in your bowl of light. Rather than leaving it open for the same stone to return, put something in there that you desire, that you want. What is the opposite of what you were carrying?

If you were carrying impatience, release it and bring in a knowledge and a trust that everything is happening in perfect right timing. Keep telling yourself that, because it’s a practice. Over time, the things that would have bothered you no longer do. There’s no room for that energy to be around you. You’ve raised your vibration with the light that you’re carrying, and the stone and the light cannot hold the same space.

Read more about ho'oponopono: “Ho'oponopono Every Day.”


About the Author

Kalia Kelmenson

Kalia Kelmenson is a curator of wellbeing and has been in the health and wellness...

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