Ho'oponopono has a rich tradition of restoring harmony in families experiencing conflict -- and it long predates Christian missionaries ever visiting Hawaii.
Traditionally, the practice required gathering the entire family (including children!) together for an extended and honest discussion of their difficulties, in the context of prayer, sincere listening, repentance, and forgiveness. A family or community elder guided and arbitrated the process, making sure that explosive emotions were contained. Otherwise, the proceedings themselves could traumatize the group further. All layers of feeling and action were examined, though. And as needed, contrition and restitution were encouraged, planned for, and carried out.
You couldn't just dismiss someone's feelings about you -- you had to truly take in and consider them, and see how your own behavior was impacting others. I am sure many of these sessions brought out painful feelings, as each person took responsibility for his or her contributions to the problems. There was a releasing of ill feelings that might have been held for long periods. Not necessarily a "forgetting" of what had happened, but a letting go of hard, entrenched attitudes and grudges against each other.
Despite requiring lengthy, challenging sessions, these methods proved effective in remedying (and even preventing) family discord over time. In the widely quoted book, Nana I Ke Kumu (Look To The Source) psychiatrist E.W. Haertig MD says,
"Ho'oponopono may well be one of the soundest methods to restore and maintain good family relationships that any society has ever devised."Producing this effect required ALL parts of the Ho'oponopono process, though -- not just one or two. Clearly, the internal attitude carried by each participant was important, as was the intention and experience of the elder arbitrating the process.
It was far more than a matter of saying 4 phrases and calling things "done." Describing the complexity of such family issues, Victoria Shook uses metaphor very skillfully:
"The metaphor of a tangled net has been used to illustrate how problems within a family affect not only persons directly involved but also other family members. The family is a complex net of relationships, and any disturbance in one part of the net will pull other parts. This metaphor reinforces the Hawaiian philosophy of the interrelatedness of all things." -- Victoria Shook, Ho'oponopono: Contemporary Uses of a Hawaiian Problem-Solving ProcessEnter the current publicity about Ho'oponopono, which has exploded since Joe Vitale published his book Zero Limits with long-time Ho'oponopono teacher Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len (who was trained by and taught with Morrnah Simeona for over 10 years). Much of the book seems to quote seminars and conversations with Dr. Hew Len, who has said publicly that he hasn't even read the book. This makes me wonder how much of Zero Limits he actually wrote himself, if any.
Morrnah is said to have updated traditional Ho'oponopono for modern times. She noticed that it was difficult to physically gather everyone who might be involved in a family or group issue, and meditated on "how" to make the process an internal one -- between you and Divinity.
I did not know Morrnah Simeona personally, as others I've encountered did. Some have questioned the Ho'oponopono phrases attributed to her ("I'm sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, I love you," etc) -- because they say she never mentioned those phrases in her teachings. They describe concerns that use of these phrases by themselves, may be an over-simplification of the very rich, deep Ho'oponopono process -- reducing it to a type of magical thinking, essentially.
It can also be a kind of New Age misappropriation of something which rightfully requires its entire context and culture, to be fully appreciated.
People often object to the specific phrases "I'm sorry, Please forgive me." They ask why they should "have" to apologize to anyone, when they feel they're the ones victimized? And is it also possible to end up inadvertently "punishing the victims" further, by using this "updated for modern times" Ho'oponopono -- without honoring its complexity? ("Oh, you say you were raped -- what did you do to cause that?" etc). Of course, all this can happen -- in the service of human self-protection and defensiveness.
In response to such reactions, I've often heard Dr. Hew Len talk about human arrogance and alienation from ourselves. After all, if all parts of us are in alignment, things would already be "pono," or "right." We would see that our own "stuff" is part of the presenting mess, so to speak -- and we would take responsibility for it without shame or guilt. We'd do what is right and perfect to do about these things, and then move on. The process of Ho'oponopono is about doing what it takes to set things right, when they're askew -- to untangle that fish net of interrelatedness mentioned above. It might even go all the way back to the beginning of time, if our minds could encompass all that.
"Today Ho’oponopono is just like family therapy. This has been really influenced by the Christians. But I’m talking about the real Ho’oponopono from before they came. [Back] then the Hawaiians didn’t need to talk anymore. They could go straight to the Light. This is very ancient. It goes back to the start, because that’s where Hawaiians came from." – Dr. Hew Len, Shamanic Wisdomkeepers
This is where the going gets rocky, between the shoals of over-intellectualism (too many "words" and questions) and magical thinking ("just say the 4 phrases and you're good" -- nothing else needed to heal those relationships). Dr. Hew Len has been personally helpful to me in letting go of some of my own defensiveness and intellectualism, and I am very grateful to him and others who have taught me. His suggestion is that even if I do not completely understand all the issues myself, Divinity (who created me) certainly does. So if I am authentically repentant -- assuming responsibility for my own contributions to that tangled relationship net above, and willing to accept help -- Divinity will help sort things out. The process starts with me -- and I can signal my willingness through use of the phrases. Or the use of many other "cleaning tools" shared at Self-I-dentity Through Ho'oponopono trainings. The IZI group specifies that their work is "different from traditional Ho'oponopono problem solving."
Does this use of Ho'oponopono principles, represent magical thinking? I don't personally think so, because my orientation has always been towards caring for the deeper meanings of life. But I've also seen how some seem to glibly toss out a few phrases -- and then give up when these utterances don't seem to "work" (meaning things are not going according to their preferred plans, etc). This sort of expectation DOES seem like "magical thinking." So I can really understand why native Hawaiians are bothered by the "New Age Ho'oponopono" so common on the internet today. I don't want to contribute in any way to the cultural misappropriation of sacred Hawaiian practices -- nor do I want to suggest that Ho'oponopono offers "the cure" for any specific ailments or problems in our society. Nevertheless it has helped me grow as a human being, and to deal with certain issues in my own experience. For that, I can take 100% responsibility.
Will I continue using Ho'oponopono personally, in my own life? Yes. And will I keep being open to more learning and understanding? You betcha.
With love to all,
Peace begins with me