It’s been a while since I posted on the Hawaiian method of problem solving called ho’oponopono, but I wrote something on that resonated with the local community so will see what the response is here.

As most of you know, I was blessed to have been mentored for many years by kahuna lapa’au named Morrnah Simeona. She was also accorded the status of a living treasure by the Hongwanji Mission in Honolulu. This all goes back to the 1970s and into the 80s. She transitioned in early 1992. Though I have been fortunate to have had many excellent teachers, from a psychospiritual perspective, Morrnah has my gratitude for imparting some of the most important learning experiences of my life. She was a very quiet person who spoke few words but with a melodious tone and humility that was characterized by absolute integrity. One tended therefore to have confidence in whatever she said. She will live in my heart forever, but in terms of her public reputation, she is most often seen as both the reviver and modernizer of the Hawaiian approach to conflict resolution.

Before I explain the details, I would like to preface this essay by mentioning that it takes immense skill to resolve the issues that arise between individuals as well as what we call “interests” which is basically a term used by those with a desire to protect their assets and power. For most people, the earliest issues that arise are based on the authority of adults over children and this often persists far into adulthood. We are supposedly born with inalienable rights but these do not necessarily protect us from being told what to eat or what time to go to bed or whether or not we can play outside when it is raining or snowing. Each time we acquiesce, we are not just surrendering a slice of our sovereignty but also injuring the part of our inner self that is instinctual and often emotional. Though this form of pressure to modify our behavior is intended to make us fit into the world, there is often a very fine line between training and tyrannizing an individual. In today’s world, nearly everyone has experienced instances of abuse of leverage. Some have acquiesced and some have rebelled, rarely in skillful ways. There are somatic consequences but also issues between the various parts of ourselves, such as the psychospiritual components of ourselves and the ego. In the West, there have been great rewards for people with audacious egos and only occasionally for those who are more psychologically sensitive. Usually, we benefit only if we can turn this sensitivity into a profession such as becoming a therapist or author of a work that is adapted to the screen.

The reality is that each of us not only has relationships with others, including people and animals and plants, but also relationships between the subconscious, conscious, and superconscious components of ourselves. Many people have yielded so much of their individuality that they have, for all intents and purposes, lost the sense of self, at least the sense of an integrated self. My own investigations suggest that we cannot modify the subconscious without help from either our own conscious self or someone else’s conscious self. The reason is not merely that this inner self is subconscious, it is receptive which also means it is reactive and very seldom proactive. When it is not open to influence, its main defense is resistance.

From this, we ought immediately to understand that no problems inside ourselves or with others can be resolved from the reactive state which is why mechanisms have to be created to bridge the subconscious and conscious selves. Anyone who has been grief stricken or driven to fury knows that when having these intense feelings, almost all other awareness is obliterated. This may last seconds, minutes, months, or years. If it persists, one will probably have trouble functioning in an indifferent society so the original feelings can trigger additional complications of alienation and labeling. The authoritarian goal is nearly always submission so the issues that give rise to depression or rebellion are denounced, trampled, and they can, of course, lead to sanctions such as limitations of rights, including those that are constitutionally protected such as our right to free speech or to assemble or to enjoy privacy, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Think about this for a moment.

Ho’oponopono Process

In the traditional Hawaiian ceremony of ho’oponopono, an elder is selected to guide the process. This person must be balanced, impartial, fair, insightful, and sincere. Usually, the victim or accuser is first to speak. He or she is allowed to confront the perpetrator(s) and the others who are present, usually family members and friends of the parties in conflict; all who are present must listen to the complaints and allegations. Obviously, the issues presented ,have caused pain and the instincts of the perpetrator are no doubt to hush up the accuser and to deny the reality of the statements. Stopping the conversation is not permitted nor is anyone allowed to leave the room. It does not matter if the process takes hours or days, it will continue until solutions are agreed upon.

We might say that using a talking stick in a group context has similarities with ho’oponopono, but the difference is that one is not merely talking but committing to a solution. If the consequences for misdeeds involve much more than loss of face but possibly restitution and imprisonment, you can imagine that the accused will resist to the maximum extent possible. There are, however, no rewards for stubbornness since no one is leaving the room until a solution is found.

In any confrontation or negotiation, the mediator is under immense pressure to find a win-win. If there is failure in this critical role, the so-called solution would not be stable and similar issues would most likely arise in the future. This is true whether we are talking about family matters or international relations. In ho’oponopono, there is no agreed upon agenda. If one were to limit the discussion to a short list of issues, the risk is that bigger issues would not even be addressed. So, we cannot put a time limit on either the discussion or content. In short, we could have a litany of grievances going back to the first slap on the rear when born. As primal scheme therapy suggests, this is not unrealistic because some people feel that the journey through the birth canal was the beginning of their feeling that effort is not rewarded or it results in physical abuse. However, if the mother can explain that she couldn’t do better because she was sedated or exhausted, this is perhaps the toe in the door that is needed to lessen the unresolved grievance.

A skilled facilitator can accomplish miracles just as a tactful negotiator can often help in international situations. Once there is an admission on the part of the person who is blamed for causing hurt, some of the conflict is toned down, but will there be reparations? Will the offender seek forgiveness, offer some restitution, do penance, reform, or experience consequences of any sort.

In the past, I have posted about the use of vipassana meditation in some Indian prisons. This is a very hard process. It often involves days of silence and abstention from exercise, food, sunlight, and all familiar routines. Ultimately, the person sees the harm he has caused; and if he is sincere enough, the sentence may be lifted. There are cases in which the criminal decides, on his own, to support the family of a widow whose husband he murdered. With ho’oponopono, the primary consequence is usually that the perpetrator comes to grips with his asocial conduct. Afterwards, he goes to the City of Refuge, a place that is very sacred to Hawaiians. To tourists, it is a beach with carvings of tiki gods, but to Hawaiians, it is a transitional refuge where one transforms oneself from an asocial being to a civilized individual with a sense of responsibility towards others. Once one has shifted within, there can be no further consequences for the previous deeds. No atonement is mandated. The person can re-enter the world and his sincerity is respected by the community, including all those who previously disliked the individual.

Our Present World

Morrnah and I had many discussions spanning years that I treasure above all my experiences in life. One very simple incident tells a huge story. Morrnah asked me about a close friend of mine. Knowing Morrnah as I did, I said, “I assume you are referring to the new object of attention in her life?” Morrnah, said, “Yes, the gladiator.” I said, I had not met him yet, but based on her description, I didn’t really understand the flirtation. Morrnah then said, “Doesn’t she know who she is?” I said, “No, none of us know who we are. We are all waiting for you to tell us.”

Well, fortunately, nothing much came of the gladiator, but I wrote an essay for the local paper about a Toltec. When one is so close to another person with mystical insight and understanding, a world opens up that was not there before. People become multidimensional. They are not defined by the family, ethnicity, education, job, wealth, or any other social identifiers. They are composites of energies existing in multiple frequencies simultaneously; some parts of the expression are almost perfected, and other parts have lots of rough edges, but we see the diamonds in the rough and thus take responsibility for some of the polishing needed.

The 70s was a time when many people were still closely affiliated with the Flower Children movement. Many had dropped out, many were stoned, and most were exploring new religions and philosophies. There was perhaps less domestic stress than in the years when I was growing up, but also more wandering. People were searching but had not found themselves.

International Issues

The failure thus far for negotiators to agree on a cease fire in Eastern Europe suggests that the people at the table are irresponsible. They are still negotiating interests rather that accepting responsibility for loss of life, dislocation, property damage, and other issues. If a two year old comes crying to mom that his big brother took his toy and won’t give it back, the mom does not hand both children guns and tell the kids to go outside and settle the dispute themselves. She has both boys stand in front of her and she gets both to agree on the virtues of sharing so they can learn to play together.

In the present time, there are conflicts in many places, but the press is stirring up sentiments around the developments. No country is displaying excellent leadership and the international organizations are providing weapons rather than arguing for a temporary truce while a plebiscite is conducted among the people themselves. My guess is that had this been done earlier, the vote would have been different than it is now likely. If there are allegations of weapons that are a threat to those beyond the borders, inspections by international experts have to be allowed.

The press is, as usual, complicit, but the point here is that peaceful resolution requires mature and sincere delegates so just how civilized are the people sitting at the table in Belarus? More importantly, who is abusing power and who is pulling the strings of those we see on our screens?

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