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Huna Healing & Empowerment Part 1

Before we seek empowerment, we need to define it.

”There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

~ Nelson Mandela

On July 18, the world celebrated Nelson Mandela Day in honor of the 94th birthday of the former South African president. Mandela is a model of what it means to be empowered and to forgive others.

Mandela was held prisoner for nearly 30 years, often in solitary confinement, by South Africa's segregationist apartheid government. He was imprisoned, humiliated, and separated from his family due to his “uncompromising stance and belief in the inherent rights of all human beings,” Mwangi S. Kimenyi of the Brookings Institution said in a recent editorial. Yet when Mandela became the country's president shortly after his release, Mandela “never looked back to the many years of suffering” or sought to punish his tormentors. Instead, he “called for forgiveness and for all South Africans to work together and build their nation,” Kimenyi wrote.

It is no surprise that the stirring call to us to live fully empowered lives I cited above came from Mandela, a man renowned for his capacity to forgive. Yet we don't often think about the relation between being able to fully forgive others and being fully empowered ourselves.

The word "empowerment" is tossed around a lot today in the field of personal growth and development. My students have referred to it as a goal, as a plan of action, or as a state of being. Yet when I have delved a little deeper with some of these students, they seem to have no clear definition of empowerment. One student even said, “I don’t know what it means, but everyone is telling me that I should want it!”

Empowerment is not just a fuzzy notion or the trend du jour in personal growth. It's the very foundation of who we are in the world. It is something that everyone should – and can – have. But before we seek it, we need to define it. The following definition is from my lineage of Huna.

Some of the first Westerners who came to Hawai`i in the nineteenth century kept journals of their experience. In some, there was a description of the state of being of the people who lived here. Native Hawaiians were described as being almost completely devoid of any physical and mental disease.

People have asked me how this is possible, and the response is a lot simpler than you would think. While the weather is great here in Hawai`i, that does not explain the lower – almost non-existent -- incidence of illness. Rather it had more do to with the healing systems and thinking in Hawai'i hundreds and thousands of years ago. There were many systems of health and healing available in the islands, and all shared the belief and understanding of empowerment. In ancient times in Hawai`i, this concept of empowerment did not need to be taught because it was known and commonly accepted.

Now that is not to say that ancient Hawaiians believed anything to be possible. They accepted the evidence of physical limitation. However, there was also a very strong belief that amazing healings were possible. Not everyone knew how to do them. But they knew that, if they found the right person, there was the absolute possibility that a healing could occur.

Empowered Healing
Huna healing is very different from notions of healing in Western culture. There is a vast amount of valuable knowledge available within Western medicine and psychology. But the prevalent attitude in the Western approach is that the person is broken and you need to fight the disease.

In many ancient cultures, including here in Hawai`i, the focus was much different. A person was not broken and did not need to be fixed from the outside. Furthermore, you did not fight disease. These approaches would just perpetuate illness. Quite on the contrary, the individual was seen as empowered to create the change in his or her own life. Sometimes the change would occur with help from an expert, and sometimes it would occur on its own.

This was possible because of the natural state of empowerment. It was readily accepted that within the self an individual had everything necessary to create the change and, in fact, had to be involved in the change. It is the same with forgiveness. Ho`oponopono, the Hawaiian process of forgiveness I teach, makes it clear that we are each responsible for forgiving those who have wronged us. We choose to forgive for our own mental, emotional, and physical health and in order to have healthy relationships with others.

Regardless of the situation, we each need to take an active role in our change. In fact, if there is zero desire for change, there will be zero chance of change. We also need to accept that we have all the power we need within to affect our own change. Like Nelson Mandela, we can choose to forgive for our own health, well-being, and relationships, just as we can accept his challenge to live our best lives to create positive change in the world around us.

Got questions? Please respond here or contact me through my Facebook fan page, Twitter, or my blog.



About the Author: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of 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 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, and is a regular Psychology Today and Huffington Post blog contributor. To reach Dr. James, please e-mail him at or visit his blog at

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