When it comes to solving problems in one’s life and community, the first place to start is within, according to the indigenous Hawaiian practice of ho’oponopono. Ho’oponopono is an ancient ritual for conflict resolution among native Hawaiians.
Today it is also taught as a spiritual practice to heal personal problems and ailments.
What is ho’oponopono?
Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian problem solving process. The word ho’oponopono means to correct a mistake or to make right. It comes from ho‘o (“to make”) and pono (“right”). Repeating the word pono means “doubly right” – being right with oneself and with others.
Ho’oponopono is a traditional Hawaiian practice for forgiveness with origins in the island’s indigenous culture.
Author and teacher Joe Vitale has helped to popularize ho’oponopono in his book Zero Limits: The Secret Hawaiian System for Wealth, Health, Peace, and More. Vitale says the goal in ho’oponopono is to take personal responsibility for one’s own perceptions. “In ho’oponopono there is no blame because they look at the outer as being a kind of mirror, a kind of illusion.”
According to the Hawaiian ancient traditional system, ho’oponopono is a code of forgiveness first of oneself. It’s a common belief in many Polynesian cultures that a person’s errors (called hara or hala) are the source of one’s problems and even illness. Ho’oponopono is a recitation and process to atone for errors.
Ho’oponopono has been used as a conflict resolution method as described in seven case studies in Ho’oponopono: Contemporary Uses of a Hawaiian Problem-Solving Process by Victoria Shook. The book describes how the age-old Hawaiian process of family problem-solving can be adapted in innovative ways and applied successfully today to situations ranging from social work with Hawaiian families to drug abuse.
Vitale teaches a method of ho’oponopono on an individual level, where one disconnects and introspects in order to forgive and connect.
The process of ho’oponopono
Vitale learned ho’oponopono from a teacher he sought out in Hawaii, Ihaleakala Hew Len. Vitale heard that Hew Len was a therapist using ho’oponopono with criminal offenders with mental illness. Vitale studied ho’oponopono with Hew Len and together they wrote the book, Zero Limits.
At the heart of the ho’oponopono method Vitale teaches are four phrases one says to a higher power. The simple meaning of the four ancient phrases is the following: “I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you.”
The goal of the four steps of ho’oponopono is for the practitioner to realize that healing starts from within one’s own mind. “If you want to change anything out there, you’ve got to go inside and take 100 percent responsibility,” says Vitale.
Vitale breaks the phrases down like this:
1) I’m sorry: The first step is to say sorry for everything that has happened or any wrong that you witnessed. This makes it easier to move forward once you have the courage to say sorry. I’m sorry for any way in which I’ve knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the creation of this event.
2) Forgive me: Once you are able to say sorry the second step requires you to ask for forgiveness. Ask for forgiveness for anything you or your ancestors have done wrong that help create the situation that you’re perceiving.
3) Thank you: The third step is to show gratitude for everything that has happened in your life. This way means appreciating everything big or small in life. Thank you for healing it, cleaning it, clearing it, deleting it and making it right.
4) I love you: The last step is to show your love and say I love you to everything that is yours. This way you will learn to love everything related to you. I love you for the life you gave me. I love you for this process. I love the higher power, which pulls us back to connection.
The phrases are spoken internally and repeatedly as a kind of mantra, petition or prayer.
Putting ho’oponopono into practice
Most people are inclined to assume that the problems we see are outside of us. Vitale says the opposite is true. “The problem that we need to heal or make right is inside of us.”
Vitale put ho’oponopono into practice in his own life during events big and small. On one occasion his mother was in the intensive care emergency room. He and all his family were called home to say goodbye. He describes feeling confused and angry before sitting down to say ho’oponopono. “I sat at the side of her bed and I started doing, I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you. It’s important to realize I was not trying to heal her. I was trying to heal myself. I looked inside myself and I realized I am not at peace at this moment. I’m mad at God, I am mad at myself, I’m mad at my mother. I am mad at the situation.”
After some time he started to achieve some inner peace before visiting hours were over. The next morning his mom was sitting on the side of the bed. She was released and lived for another four years.
“Now, did ho’oponopono heal her? I don’t honestly know,” says Vitale. “Ho’oponopono healed me. And maybe by healing me, that healing energy went out and touched the people that were the closest in the room including her.”
“When you look at everything that needs to be changed and you realize it’s all in you, this gives you enormous power to transform the world.”
Using ho’oponopono to solve problems
In any given situation, each person responds based on their lived experiences. “When something happens at any moment, we go through the wiring in our brain to ﬁnd out what’s the appropriate response. And that response is coming from memory.”
Instead, Vitale recommends using ho’oponopono to shift a challenge from a negative response to a more positive one. “In the ho’oponopono the goal is as the word says – to make right.”
To do this, Vitale says to aim the four phrases at the troubling feeling or challenge. A mantra would go as follows, says Vitale, “I’m sorry I don’t know what in me or my ancestors contributed to the creation of this, but please forgive me and them for our beliefs, for our memories, for whatever aspect helped create this. Thank you for healing it, for removing it, for releasing it for deleting it. I love you for this process. I love you for this healing. I love you for taking care of this issue with all of my ancestors and all future generations.”
This practice can bring a person to a neutral or even more positive state of being, says Vitale. “You’re looking for that state of feeling that I’m at peace with this.”
Ho’oponopono isn’t a substitute for other means to resolve a problem, conflict or illness, says Vitale, but it compliments that effort.
Vitale recommends posting the four phrases on sticky notes around the house or setting a reminder on the phone. Do this long enough and it becomes a lifelong ritual. “Then when you’re really struggling, this becomes a part of your life.”
On an everyday basis, Vitale says ho’oponopono paves a smoother path through life. “It can get rid of mountains and bumps and holes and hills before you ever get to them. You go through your life and there’ll be a breezier quality to it because what you might’ve hit was already released.”
Vitale offers three tips for reciting ho’oponopono
1) Recite the phrases in any order.
2) It’s okay to recite the phrases without believing them. “My own experience has been, as you say it, you will move in the direction of feeling it. So if you’re saying, I love you, but you don’t really feel love, once you say it enough times then it starts to engage.”
3) You don’t have to say ho’oponopono to another person. This is an intimate conversation between you and your connection to a higher power.
The most important part of ho’oponopono, says Vitale, is that the solution starts with each individual.
“Everything that you want to heal, everything that you want to attract, everything you want to accomplish all begins and ends inside of you.”
Joe Vitale is an author of over 80 books, including bestseller The Attractor Factor: 5 Easy Steps for Creating Wealth (or Anything Else) From the Inside Out. He’s a motivational speaker and a musician who’s recorded over 15 albums.