Creating The Life You Want - Step 1: Release the Negative

The Hawaiian practice of letting go

Posted Jul 22, 2011

I learned so much from my grandfather. Both my mother and I experienced my grandfather as a very forgiving person who would let go of any negative emotion as soon as it happened. Have you ever known someone like that? Or known the opposite? Which one do you want to be?

It is possible to let go of negative thoughts and emotions easily. We can learn a lot about how to do this by studying pre-westernized Hawaiian culture.

When the first westerners arrived in Hawaii in the mid-nineteenth century, they found the islanders had few if any psychological or physiological ailments. Hawaiians viewed mind, body and spirit as integrally related. Letting go of negative thoughts and emotions was seen as a natural and integral part of maintaining health and well-being. This is not to say that bad things didn't happen, they in fact did. The difference was that they had tools and techniques to release the baggage.

The Hawaiian elder Papa Bray taught a beautiful metaphor for one aspect of maintaining a healthy mind-body connection. He taught that when individuals have an experience but don't have the tools to deal with it in the moment, or if they didn't know how or weren't ready to release the emotions connected with it, the unconscious, unihipili, took that experience and put it into a metaphorical "black bag." They then closed that black bag and stashed it somewhere in the body until the person was equipped or ready to release it.

Take for example the death of a loved one. Emotions that death evokes can be overwhelming to handle initially. Every culture has a different view on the appropriate amount of time for grieving and an appropriate form of expression. If you would not or could not release those emotions appropriately for any reason, unihipili stored them in a black bag until the time was right for you.

The Hawaiians believed that at some point, either consciously or unconsciously, you would know that it was time to release the experience that had been stuffed into your black bag.

If the realization is conscious, the Huna system has a process for internal self therapy or higher self release. As they did in ancient days, you can visit a volcano and symbolically take all of your black bags out and throw them into the volcano to be destroyed. This would be an example of an external release. With guidance from your higher self and some focus, the negative emotion can be released and everything made pono within you again.

Sometimes, however, your unconscious mind, unihipili, decides, you're ready to let go of these stored emotions. The bag opens and all of the emotions and experiences are relived so they can dissipate. This can happen anytime. We've all experienced having a good day when out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, sadness bubbles up. Papa Bray said this is a signal from unihipili that "You're ready to let it go."

In ancient times, if Hawaiians felt sad, they would weep; if they felt anger bubble up, they would express it and allow it to dissipate. As they did so, they knew it was natural and expressed gratitude for the release. They had faith that unihipili knew when the time was right and trusted that they had the tools and techniques to handle it.

Unfortunately, in our Western culture we often respond quite differently. When negative emotions surface out of nowhere, we panic. We don't see the upheaval as a positive signal from the unconscious that we are ready to resolve the issue, but rather a signal that something is wrong with us. We medicate, we deny, and we avoid. We push those feelings back down below the surface. This only confuses the unconscious mind. Unihipili is working hard to preserve the body, to release anything that could upset the mind-body balance before it makes you sick.

In Huna, we teach people to purposely let go. If a black bag opens up, we thank our unconscious mind, and honor ourselves by trusting that we have what we need to move through it and let it go.

Growing up, you may have been taught that you can't let go of certain issues or emotions quickly. This is your opportunity to change that belief.

The Hawaiians understood that it goes against human nature to hold onto negative thoughts and emotions. That's because the prime directive of the unconscious mind is to let them go.

It takes an incredible amount of energy to hold onto feelings that are no longer useful for us. Ask yourself: What could you create in your life with the energy that is now dedicated to holding onto what you no longer need? The possibilities are endless.

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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 wellbeing. To reach Dr. James, please e-mail him at