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The Hawaiian Secret of Forgiveness

Ho‘oponopono can help anyone let go of resentment.

When it comes to learning to forgive others, it turns out we can learn a lot from ancient indigenous people such as those who inhabited Hawai'i before the coming of Westerners. They understood on a gut level that to harbor resentment against others hurts the person who refuses to forgive.

As I've explained in recent posts, ho‘oponopono, the Hawaiian forgiveness process, allows us to cut the aka connection (essentially clearing out preconceptions in how we view others) to create new connections and rejuvenated relationships. In Huna, the ancient Hawaiian discipline of energy and healing, the ho‘oponopono process is essential if we want to be pono (right and congruent with ourselves). This makes sense. After all, how can anyone feel good about themselves and their own life when they walk around stewing over how they been wronged?

The Hawaiian word ho‘oponopono comes from ho‘o ("to make") and pono ("right"). The repetition of the word pono means "doubly right" or being right with both self and others. In a nutshell, ho‘oponopono is a process by which we can forgive others to whom we are connected.

Practicing Ho‘oponopono allows you to cut the aka connection in a very positive, loving way, knowing that you can make the connection brand new. When you become right with others, you become right with yourself. My own research has validated this approach.

Over the years, people have said to me: "Ho‘oponopono sounds great, but where is the proof that it works?" So when I went back to school to pursue my Ph.D., I picked ho‘oponopono as my research focus. I wanted to verify how it works because ho‘oponopono is more than just a concept that I teach. It is a part of my family lineage and how I live my life.

I gave a lecture to a Hawaiian studies group at the University of Hawaii about my Huna lineage and about ho‘oponopono. I started the talk by describing my lineage and my particular kumu (teachers). At the very end, I mentioned I had researched ho‘oponopono for my doctoral degree. I intentionally shared in this particular order because, though Western thinking focuses on proof and statistics, in the ancient culture, lineage and practice were more important. The fact that my research validated the process was simply "icing on the cake," as one of the professors said.

Within the state of Hawai'i, we have four counties, each having city and county governments. The reason for breaking Hawai'i into four counties dates back hundreds of years when there were four kingdoms, the kingdoms of Hawai'i, Maui, O‘ahu. and Kauai. There are smaller island kingdoms as well, but the four big ones were the most prominent.

If the kings of these kingdoms didn't happen to like each other, there would be no communication between the islands for hundreds of years. So even though the islands were close together geographically, each island's culture grew in a slightly different direction. In fact, when the missionaries arrived early in the 19th century, the Hawaiian language sounded to them as though there were four different dialects.

This helps explain why the process of ho‘oponopono is practiced differently on the different islands. As described by Victoria Shook (1992), ho‘oponopono was conducted face to face in many families. On some islands, if you have someone with whom you aren't pono, you ask another person to facilitate a meeting between the two of you, usually someone in the family. The facilitator allows each person time to express themselves, to get whatever the issue is off their chests, let it go, and then move forward together—to become pono.

At the other end of the spectrum, ho‘oponopono can be a process you experience individually, within your mind only. You disconnect then reconnect, if you choose to do so, internally.

There are a variety of methods of ho‘oponopono between these two variations, but the approach from my lineage that I share in my trainings occurs within the mind. The research I conducted validated the ho‘oponopono process itself and how individuals benefit by doing the process within their own minds.

My study included a test group (a group who experienced ho‘oponopono) and a control group (the group who did not experience the process). The research measured unforgiveness (defined in psychology as motivations for revenge and avoidance).

Participants were surveyed on their feelings before using the process, immediately after, and two weeks later, then their answers were compared with those of the control group. Simply put, the research showed that the group who practiced ho‘oponopono experienced a statistically significant reduction in unforgiveness compared to the group who did not.

While my study focused on people practicing ho‘oponopono once, it is important to remember that this is an ongoing process, not something you do just once. I'll be sharing more of the "how-to" in posts to come.

Got questions? Please respond here or get in touch with me through my Facebook fan page.



Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is president of Kona University and its training and seminar division The Empowerment Partnership, where he serves as a master trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), a practical behavioral technology for helping people achieve their desired results in life. His new book, The Foundation of Huna: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times, details forgiveness and meditation techniques used in Hawaii for hundreds of years. He carries on the lineage of one of the last practicing kahuna of mental health and well-being. To reach Dr. James, e-mail him at

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