Ho’oponopono: The Art of Forgiveness

Conflict is everywhere. From the family table to the Capitol on Oahu to the Middle East, much of human existence is defined by disputes. Resolving them, of course, is where the difficulty arises—sometimes it seems a peaceful and mutually satisfactory solution is impossible.

Not to Richard and Lynette Paglinawan. Renowned experts and practitioners of ho‘oponopono—the ancient Hawaiian method of conflict resolution—both will appear December 17 at the MACC to discuss ho‘oponopono and its place in modern society.

We asked Lynette, who teaches graduate-level social work at UH Manoa, to talk about the practice and how it has evolved.

For the uninitiated, what is ho‘oponopono?
In the Hawaiian sense, ho‘oponopono is restoring family love and family harmony among family members through prayer, discussion, forgiveness [and] restitution. The broadest sense is to physically straighten up or to put in order something that is in disarray. The ho‘oponopono we share is one learned from Mary Kawena Pukui. We limit this to use in the family because this is how it was taught to us by Kupuna.

What did it look like in ancient Hawaii? How has it changed over the years?
There are many variations to ho‘oponopono, dependent upon the style handed down through time. [There is] the current use of prayer and the Bible. Traditionally, it was used in communicating with the spiritual powers of which there were many and not just one. There were essential attitudes and procedures that family members grew up with and were the foundation for doing ho‘oponopono. There had to exist aloha for one another; there could be no secrets. One participated with humility and without an agenda to win over the other person—no power plays. Each person acknowledges what each did to contribute to the problem…full truth must be disclosed. Procedurally, all communication is directed to the haku [leader]. Participants do not speak to each other except to exchange forgiveness. An earlier form of ho‘oponopono is for a person in need to reveal everything to a ho‘oponopono healer in order to reconcile personal physical or internal difficulties. The individual is reconciled but the other party to the situation is left holding the bag, so to speak. In battle, to reconcile and stop fighting because of the great numbers of the dead, the Ali‘i may send a beloved child [or] relative to the opposing side to seek stoppage to the fighting. Such was the case when Kalaniopu‘u sent his son with the warrior twin uncles to Kahekili of Maui. The ho’oponopono style of Mary Kawena Pukui was modified for use in social service agencies. Not all Hawaiians speak [or] understand Hawaiian. Not all Hawaiians believe in the Gods of old—there is diversity among Hawaiians on their beliefs. When traditionally done immediately, ho‘oponopono could restore love in a matter of minutes or couple of hours. Today, Hawaiians have compounded pilikia [trouble] upon pilikia with some not being addressed for years. Therefore, the process will take many sessions. Not all Hawaiians today have the same quality of values. Ho‘oponopono to some Hawaiians is a chance to force the other person to listen and change their ways rather than admit what you did wrong. It is seen as a chance to put the other person down. These are a few of the differences that necessitated variations to a more traditional model.

Ho‘oponopono has worked its way into the modern Hawaii judicial system. How did that come about, and how does it work?
The Native Hawaiian Bar Association, Hawaiian lawyers, saw the value of ho‘oponopono and believed the custody interests of children with parents going through divorce could best be served when the adults were able to place the needs of their children above their personal interests. Ho‘oponopono places all parties on an equal plane. It is not a time of blaming and retaliation. If parents through ho‘oponopono could meet outside of the judicial process and jointly agree on custody terms, the wear and tear on all parties would be minimal, there would be less time needed for court appearances and for lawyers—resulting in savings of money and court time. The difficulty is that the only records kept are the agreed upon custody conditions. Or when the court orders the parties to do ho‘oponopono, it sets up both sides for a win/lose situation. The traditional ho‘oponopono is a voluntary one where both parties enter into ho‘oponopono with the true intention to work things out—not being forced or coerced to do so.

Are there any conflicts for which ho‘oponopono isn’t effective?
With individuals who use drugs and/or alcohol. The drugs and alcohol control the person and therefore what they say is often not sincere. In ho‘oponopono, all parties are equal. The ones on drugs or alcohol have difficulties with power and control and may give lip service in front of the ho‘oponopono leader, but the family may suffer after the session is over and the leader has departed.

What drew you and Richard to the practice, and what about it do you find most rewarding or intriguing?
Our love and commitment to help Hawaiians. Through ho‘oponopono, we plant seeds and may not see lasting results until years later, if we see them at all.

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