Ho’oponopono – Ancient Art of Forgiveness or Powerful Healing Practice?

by: Kathy Best, Intuitive Living Expert, Empath Empowerment Specialist, CNT, CRRC, CHP, RM

December 12, 2020

The Hawaiian Dictionary defines “Hoʻoponopono” as “mental cleansing: family conferences in which relationships were set right through prayer, discussion, confession, repentance, and mutual restitution and forgiveness.

Literally, hoʻo is a particle used to make an action verb from the following noun. In this case, it creates a verb from the noun pono, which is defined as: “goodness, uprightness, morality, moral qualities, correct or proper procedure, excellence, well-being, prosperity, welfare, benefit, true condition or nature, duty; moral, fitting, proper, righteous, right, upright, just, virtuous, fair, beneficial, successful, in perfect order, accurate, correct, eased, relieved…..”

Ponopono is defined as: “to put to rights; to put in order or shape, correct, revise, adjust, amend, regulate, arrange, rectify, tidy up, make orderly or neat.

Distinguished Hawaiian scholar, Mary Kawena Pukui, described it as an Ancient Hawaiian practice of extended family members gathering to “make right” damaged family relations. Her description is supported by oral histories from present-day Hawaiian elders. Pukui described it as a practice. Some families met daily or weekly, to prevent problems from erupting. Others met when a person became ill, believing that illness was caused by the stress of anger, guilt, recriminations and lack of forgiveness.

According to Professor Pukui, Hoʻoponopono corrects, restores and maintains good relationships among family members, and with their higher power, by getting to the source of trouble. Usually the most senior member of the family conducts the event. He or she gathers the family together. If the family is unable to work through a problem, they turn to a respected outsider. The process begins with prayer. A statement of the problem is then made, and the transgression discussed. Family members are expected to work problems through and cooperate, not “holding fast to the fault.” One or more periods of silence may be taken for reflection on the emotions and injuries. Everyone’s feelings are acknowledged. Then acknowledgement, remorse, and forgiveness take place. Everyone releases (kala) each other, letting go of the transgression(s). They discard the past (ʻoki), and together they close the event with a ceremonial feast, which often included eating limu kala or kala seaweed, symbolic of the release.

Morrnah Simeona, May 19, 1913 – February 11, 1992, is recognized as the first kahuna lapaʻau (healer) to create a modern version of this ancient practice. She taught this modern version throughout the United States, Asia, and Europe. Morrnah was a practitioner of lomilomi massage. For 10 years she owned and operated health spas at the Kahala Hilton and Royal Hawaiian hotels. She combine her healing form of ho’oponopono and massage providing her services to a vast array of clients, some of whom were celebrities, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Jackie Kennedy and Arnold Palmer.

In the mid-70s, she was Divinely inspired to modify the traditional process of hoʻoponopono for the realities of the modern day. Praying to the Divine Creator and linking difficulties with reincarnation and karma resulted in a unique, new problem solving process. This new process was self-help rather than the traditional group process. Her new system used hoʻoponopono techniques to create a working partnership with the three parts of the mind (or self), subconscious, conscious and superconscious.

She presented her new modern form of ho’oponopono in numerous trainings and lectures, including: a presentation to the United Nations, almost a dozen states in the U.S., and in more than 14 countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Russia, and Japan. She presented to the universities of Hawaiʻi and Johns Hopkins as well as medical facilities, religious institutions and business. To help circulate her hoʻoponopono process, she founded Pacifica Seminars and The Foundation of ‘I’, Inc.

Dr Ihaleakala Hew Len, was a student who worked closely with Morrnah. He is a well-known therapist in Hawaii who cured a ward of criminally insane patients…. without ever seeing any of them.

In 2005 the following article, written by Dr. Joe Vitale created quite a stir on the Internet, which brought immense attention to Dr. Hew Len and the Ho’oponopono community. Dr. Len is credited with expanding on Morrnah Simeona’s modern version of Ho’oponopono. The following article explains Dr. Joe Vitale’s first encounter with Ho’oponopono and Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len.

Two years ago (2003), I heard about a therapist in Hawaii who cured a complete ward of criminally insane patients–without ever seeing any of them. The psychologist would study an inmate’s chart and then look within himself to see how he created that person’s illness. As he improved himself, the patient improved. When I first heard this story, I thought it was an urban legend. How could anyone heal anyone else by healing himself? How could even the best self-improvement master cure the criminally insane? It didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t logical, so I dismissed the story.

However, I heard it again a year later. I heard that the therapist had used a Hawaiian healing process called ho ‘oponopono. I had never heard of it, yet I couldn’t let it leave my mind. If the story was at all true, I had to know more.

I had always understood “total responsibility” to mean that I am responsible for what I think and do. Beyond that, it’s out of my hands. I think that most people think of total responsibility that way. We’re responsible for what we do, not what anyone else does. The Hawaiian therapist who healed those mentally ill people would teach me an advanced new perspective about total responsibility.

His name is Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len. We probably spent an hour talking on our first phone call. I asked him to tell me the complete story of his work as a therapist. He explained that he worked at Hawaii State Hospital for four years. That ward where they kept the criminally insane was dangerous. Psychologists quit on a monthly basis. The staff called in sick a lot or simply quit. People would walk through that ward with their backs against the wall, afraid of being attacked by patients. It was not a pleasant place to live, work, or visit. Dr. Len told me that he never saw patients. He agreed to have an office and to review their files. While he looked at those files, he would work on himself. As he worked on himself, patients began to heal. “After a few months, patients that had to be shackled were being allowed to walk freely,” he told me. “Others who had to be heavily medicated were getting off their medications. And those who had no chance of ever being released were being freed.”

I was in awe. “Not only that,” he went on, “but the staff began to enjoy coming to work. Absenteeism and turnover disappeared. We ended up with more staff than we needed because patients were being released, and all the staff was showing up to work. Today, that ward is closed.” This is where I had to ask the million dollar question: “What were you doing within yourself that caused those people to change?” “I was simply healing the part of me that created them,” he said. I didn’t understand.

Dr. Len explained that total responsibility for your life means that everything in your life – simply because it is in your life–is your responsibility. In a literal sense the entire world is your creation. Whew. This is tough to swallow. Being responsible for what I say or do is one thing. Being responsible for what everyone in my life says or does is quite another. Yet, the truth is this: if you take complete responsibility for your life, then everything you see, hear, taste, touch, or in any way experience is your responsibility because it is in your life. This means that terrorist activity, the president, the economy–anything you experience and don’t like–is up for you to heal. They don’t exist, in a manner of speaking, except as projections from inside you. The problem isn’t with them, it’s with you, and to change them, you have to change you. I know this is tough to grasp, let alone accept or actually live. Blame is far easier than total responsibility, but as I spoke with Dr. Len, I began to realize that healing for him and in ho’oponopono means loving yourself. If you want to improve your life, you have to heal your life. If you want to cure anyone–even a mentally ill criminal–you do it by healing you. I asked Dr. Len how he went about healing himself. What was he doing, exactly, when he looked at those patients’ files?” I just kept saying, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’ over and over again,” he explained.

According to Dr. Vitale and Dr. Len, loving yourself is the best and fastest way to improve yourself, your life, and your world. It’s not about saying anything to anyone it’s simply invoking the spirit of love to heal within yourself what is creating the outer experience of the circumstance.

To improve anything in your life, look first within yourself.

“When you look, do it with love.” Dr. Joe Vitale

The order of the phrases does not matter. It only matters that you say them as often and as much as you need to remove the internal misperceptions that are causing the external situation. Let your intuition and inspiration guide you in the sequence that feels best to you. According to Dr. Len it isn’t even necessary to say all four phrases. Just saying “I love you” and “thank you” are enough to have the desired effect.

Letting the order of the phrases and anything about them distract or discourage you is another thing to “clean” or “clear”. Ho’oponopono is a simple tool to use for cleaning or clearing your mind and heart. That’s it. Fear of doing them wrong is another thing to clear.

  • This is not intended to be spoken to anyone else.
  • You are saying it to yourself to clean and clear the part of you that’s perceiving an external problem.
  • It’s never about anyone or anything else. It’s about the external trigger that caused you to see a problem and want to change it.
  • It’s not about changing or fixing anything external. It’s about changing the internal perception.
  • You use the Ho’oponopono phrases to do that. You are addressing the Divine – no one else.
  • You say “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me” to yourself for being unconscious. It’s not about regret, guilt, shame or blame. It’s simply about realizing you’ve been sleepwalking through life. (When you bump into someone, you say “I’m sorry,” because you did something accidentally. You weren’t paying attention and did something unintentional while you were unaware.)

Repetition is key.

To reiterate, you don’t focus on anyone else or anything else. It’s not the person, place, or event that’s the problem. The problem isn’t external, it’s in you. Focus on the problem as you experience it, inside your mind and body. You always experience it both in your mind and in your body. Your body is like a giant sponge that absorbs everything you perceive, feel, believe, experience and processes it with pain or pleasure impulses that impact every organ and cell.

Dr. Hew Len put it this way, “Have you ever noticed that when you have a problem, you are always there?” His point is that your problem is in YOU. That’s where you put your attention and direct the cleaning process. You are essentially asking your Higher Power to remove the “emotional charge” that you are feeling inside as you witness the external “problem.”

There is so much “ emotional data” in the world – programming, conditioning, beliefs, misperceptions, fear, negativity – that our task is lifelong. No, this is not a one and done process. You have to continue using this process, daily. But it’s not difficult or time consuming to repeat “I love you” and “thank you” inside your mind. It simply takes practice and intention.

You don’t need to tell anyone else about your internal cleaning practice. Dr. Hew Len has spent over 25 years cleaning himself. He says it’s the only reason he is alive. It makes no difference if anyone else does it. It only matters that You do it, consistently.

If you hear a problem from someone else don’t advise them to practice Ho’oponopono – it’s not theirs to clean and clear, it’s Yours. You should initiate it right then and there. It’s never your job to advise someone else to practice Ho’oponopono. Whatever you hear or witness is yours to clean and clear.

Ultimately, this is about restoring you to your Divinity. In Dr. Joe Vitale’s audio program, The Awakening Course, he states that there are four stages to awakening – victimhood, empowerment, surrender, and divine embodiment. According to Dr. Vitale, most people never leave the first stage of victimhood. Movies like The Secret, What The Bleep, and The Compass have helped many people get to level two, empowerment. Books like Conversations With God, Zero Limits, There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, and A Course In Miracles enable some to attain level three, surrender. But the fourth level, where you awaken to your Divinity and Divine Consciousness breathes through you, is a level that few attain. Dr. Vitale’s Zero Limits program offers one way to clear out all of the mental and emotional baggage that stands between you and your expression of Divinity. It’s about clearing all of the dense emotional data, mistaken beliefs and mental static so the you embody Divine awareness and love.

The single goal of Ho’oponopono, (cleaning), is to help you clear and delete the garbage that’s preventing you from experiencing your true Divinity. The more you clean, the more positive results you’ll experience. You may receive healing or some other benefit, but that’s simply a side effect of doing the process, not the goal. The intention is to get to the space where the Divine expresses through you, as you, effortlessly and unfailingly. When Dr. Hew Len worked in that mental hospital for the criminally insane, he didn’t work to heal the patients, he worked to heal his internal dialogue, beliefs, thoughts that witnessed his patients as criminally insane. Miraculously, it worked.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful transformative tools any of us has. If you aren’t willing to ask and accept forgiveness from yourself, for being and behaving unconscious, you’re probably blocking the flow of good in other areas of your life as well. When Dr. Vitale asked Dr. Hew Len what to tell people who protested about saying “I am sorry,” Dr. Len said, “Tell them they don’t have to say it.”

The world is made up of emotional and energetic forms of data and that’s what needs cleaned. We receive and process all that “data” internally, so that’s where the cleaning needs to take place. In other words, our external perception is really a projection of our internal state. The problems are an internal experience because we choose what emotional data to assign to everything external, so that’s where the cleaning needs to be done.

Here’s the Zero Limits process by Dr. Joe Vitale:

1. You notice something wrong. Triggers can be thoughts, another person, an event, or anything else. This is the stimulus. Before Zero Limits, a problem was always considered “out there.” After Zero Limits, you realize the problem is inside You. Whatever the instance, the first step is noticing how you feel. Maybe you’re angry, distraught, anxious, scared, or any other of a wide range of feelings that could be labeled as unhappy.

2. You start to “clean” on the feeling. You don’t clean on the other person, the thought, the situation, or anything external. You know the real problem is inside yourself. You’re the one aware of a problem, so you’re the one who has to clean it. Saying “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” “Please forgive me,” and “Thank you” is the way to clean. Say the phrases in any order. Say them non-stop in your mind while feeling the problem as you perceive it.

3. You can say each phrase in your mind or you can pick and choose which phrases you wish to use for this specific feeling. The key is repetition.

4. Now let go until you’re inspired to take action. Dr. Hew Len once told Dr. Vitale that he cleans a decision three times. If the answer is the same after three cleanings, he takes the inspired action. This means if you get an urge to do something to resolve a perceived problem, you might clean on it three times before actually taking any action. This way you ensure the action is divinely inspired and not an analytical response.

5. Repeat for each perceived problem. There are no shortcuts for cleaning and reaching Zero point. If you’re feeling frustrated or impatient around the practice that needs cleaned too. Wanting instant gratification is another opportunity to practice cleaning. Your Higher Power has no sense of urgency. Wanting things to unfold faster than they are is another wonderful opportunity to clean. Dr. Vitale says, “I keep cleaning because it makes me feel lighter, happier and healthier; it is a fast track way for me to remove the data in my being so I can get closer to the Divine, and because it’s easy, effortless, and free. Until the Divine gives me another way to clean, I’ll keep on cleaning.”

“Complete responsibility means accepting it all – even the people who enter your life and their problems, because their problems are your problems. They are in your life, and if you take full responsibility for your life, then you have to take full responsibility for what they are experiencing, too.” – from Zero Limits by Joe Vitale and Dr. Hew Len

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