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September 1996


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by kuoha

A typical Ho'oponopono session would begin with the Kahuna offering up a prayer, or Pule, to the family Aumakua for help and guidance with the problem and insight into its resolution. The involvement of the deity assured everyone of the seriousness of the task and helped to keep everyone focused and committed to the process. After the prayer the Kukula Kumuhana, which is the identifying and naming of the problem, took place. The Hala, or transgression, thus identified was the problem to which a solution had to be found. Then everyone was given a chance to speak about how they perceived what was going on and to state their feelings about it. Everyone was given a voice and each person instructed to direct his or her statement to the Kahuna and not to other family members. Once everyone had had a say the Kahuna would ask questions of the various family members in order to clarify certain points or to encourage a member who may be resisting the process to participate more fully. If at any time things began to get out of hand and strong emotions were expressed the Kahuna would order Ho'omalu , a call for silence. All discussion would cease but the participants were still required to stay present. This cooling off time could last several minutes or much longer.

The Hawaiians believed that emotional outbursts clouded the issue and could lead to further harm and in a emotionally free and expressive people, ensured that no further damage was done either to family members or the situation. After a full discussion it would became apparent who was the perpetrator and who the wronged person in the situation. Maybe something had been taken from another member without permission or some unkind or untrue statement made about them. To the Hawaiians, both parties were bound together in a web of negative entanglement which meant that the initial problem had many added dimensions as the initial hurt was followed by many reactions ensnaring the two and holding them fast. If the problem was not resolved they would be held in this impasse indefinitely.

Whatever the cause, the instigator of the problem was then required to fully confess the wrong doing and ask for forgiveness. The act of asking for forgiveness, Mihi, had to carried out with honesty and in an open hearted way and once asked for, had to be granted. Not to do so would be an affront to the Aumakua who of course was always forgiving. The Kahuna would look for genuine signs of forgiveness from the participants such as spontaneous hugging and weeping. Once forgiveness had been granted, the business of restitution had to be discussed and the nature and terms of this agreed upon. After this came Kala which was the loosening of all negative entanglements. Both the person who had confessed and the person who had forgiven agreed to release the conflicts and hurts and then, in keeping with the image of the web or net, the hurts were cut away and the problem released. It was never to be spoken of again unless it was in positive terms to convey how they had resolved the problem confronting the family.

At this stage if there were further problems to be resolved then the Kahuna would call for a Ho'omalu to give everyone a chance to rest before focussing on a new problem and then going through the same process. At the end of the session which could last all day or even several days the whole thing would be closed with the Kahuna giving a summary of what had taken place and a re-affirming of the family's strengths and mutual bonds. Then came the Pule Ho'opau, the closing prayer of gratitude to the gods for their help and guidance and the asking of a blessing on the family and house. Traditionally it was asked that the problem be taken away and buried, never to be brought up again ( the depths of the ocean was a common resting place - the sun being asked to take the problem and drop it into the sea into which it sank at the end of each day .) The whole affair was then concluded with a celebratory feast or luau in which all the family members and the Kahuna took part.

This simple routine is one that we could all follow in the resolution of interpersonal problems. The invoking of a higher power and the acts of forgiveness and restitution are great omissions from many modern therapy rooms. So often the insights gained in the therapeutic process are used as excuses for present conditions or as great sticks with which to beat up others. The act of confession and the owning of our wrongdoings coupled with total forgiveness is not new as we have seen and indeed has always been stated in the Christian Church but as we grow more and more sophisticated and disregard organised religion we often come to believe that these teachings are no longer relevant in our lives. Forgiveness is not a religious commodity but a universal doctrine and whilst to "err may be human and to forgive divine" let us not forget that god is within us all.

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