This is part of the Compassion in Action series. If you just found this and are wondering what’s going on, click here for chapter 1.
Chapter 4 – Ho’oponopono
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” – Rumi
Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len is a Hawaiian psychologist who practices and teaches a powerful healing process called Ho’oponopono. In the Compassion in Action group, we spent quite a few sessions practicing this technique, and many of the participants felt very drawn to it, seeing results in themselves immediately. Before we get into how this works, let’s consider what Dr. Len himself has accomplished with his practice of Ho’oponopono.
Dr. Len worked at the Hawaii State Hospital for four years, from 1984 through 1987. He focused on a ward for the criminally insane, which was a very difficult place to work. The inmates had to be heavily medicated, and some of them were shackled. You’d have to be careful to walk with your back to the walls, so that someone wouldn’t reach through the bars to grab you from behind. Many employees simply quit due to the toxic nature of the working conditions.
Dr. Len had an office during his time at the hospital, but unlike a typical psychologist, never actually saw his patients face-to-face. If the hospital hired him under those conditions, you can imagine how desperate they must have been. Instead of the typical, “Sit in the chair and tell me about your father,” approach to psychology, Dr. Len employed something very different.
He would look at his patient’s files, and would spend his time working on them by himself, using Ho’oponopono. As he did that, the patients he focused on started getting better. Their medications were reduced, and those that had needed to be shackled got to the point where they were allowed to walk around again. When patients didn’t respond, Dr. Len didn’t give up but would simply practice more Ho’oponopopo on them.
One by one, his patients got better, and eventually he had healed the entire ward. All without seeing a single patient in person. Eventually they decided to close the ward down, because they didn’t need it anymore since all the inmates were behaving themselves. It’s an amazing story, and there are some great interviews with Dr. Len that you can find online that describe his work in much more detail if you are willing to dig a little.
If you’ve read any popular books on spirituality, you’ve likely come across the phrase “You create your own reality,” or as it is alternatively referred to, “The Law of Attraction.” This concept has shown up in countless self-help books, and has been the focus behind a number of successful movies. My parents even went on a Law of Attraction cruise once, where they got to stay on a ship and visit interesting sites, but also were able to attend classroom sessions on techniques for manifesting abundance.
It is popular concept because, at its core, there’s a very powerful truth there. Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood, and instead of being used to expand consciousness and help others, it is presented as a sort of get-rich-quick scheme. After all, if you have the power to create your own reality, it follows that you should use that power in order to summon cars, and houses, and all the other trappings of material success. Getting more stuff is the whole reason we’re alive, right?
Ho’oponopono, and many other spiritual traditions, would agree with the statement that you create your own reality. There are a couple differences though, when we compare those traditions to popular self-help / get-rich-quick-through-enlightenment schemes. One of the biggest differences can be found when we consider the meaning of the word “you”, in the phrase “you create your own reality.”
The popular notion of “you” is what we have been referring to as your ego. You are this individual person, made up of many lists and definitions, and everything outside your own skin is someone else. When that little you stumbles upon the idea that it can create its own reality, it immediately spins off with dreams of endless consumption and sense pleasures. That’s because, being an illusion itself, it only knows how to grasp for other illusions.
On the other hand, Ho’oponopono has a different definition of “you”. When we say “you create your own reality”, Ho’oponopono considers that everything you experience, have experienced, and will ever experience is actually part of yourself. You are not just in your body, but outside of it as well. Yes, there is a bag of skin that holds together all your senses, but that’s not the edge of you. You are bigger than your body. In fact, you are so large that everything in creation is contained within you. There is no “out there” to speak of.
The other difference has to do with exactly how far the power to create our own reality really goes. The little ego sees itself separate in a world awash with other little egos. All those other little egos also create their own realities, and so what you experience in a day is partly what you have attracted to yourself, but also mostly just randomness that is falling over you, which is a side effect of all those other egos attracting their own desires and creating their own realities. This is the only way to reconcile a small ego separate from everything with the idea that it can also create its own reality.
So when that sports car that the little ego has been diligently attracting to itself finally gets purchased, the ego can pump its fists triumphantly and declare, “Yes! I manifested this!” But when the little ego drives home and passes the homeless person with the cardboard sign begging for money, it’s easy for it to just ignore that person. The beggar created their own homeless reality, so it’s their own fault if they are suffering. Why didn’t they read the book like everyone else?
This is where Ho’oponopono really diverges. You don’t create some of your reality, you create all of it. It’s not just the ability to bend the Universe to your will in those moments when you need to acquire more stuff. Everything that comes into your experience, inside and outside your body, without exception is your creation. The homeless person is not responsible for their situation. You are. You are 100% responsible for all of it.
That’s a huge shift from the popular self-help formulas. The average person is going to say “huh?” when presented with a concept like that, which is why they don’t make movies about it. But if you meditate for a while and have had any experiences of non-duality as a result, this will totally jive with your own personal experiences. The yogis would say you are awareness itself, extending throughout the Universe and all time. Awareness itself exists in all beings simultaneously. The illusion of separation is there so that we can experience a reality with others, but ultimately it’s all you.
So does that mean you’re God, existing everywhere, and responsible for everything that happens to everyone? Turns out that the answer might be yes! How about that? Of course, saying something like that and actually realizing the truth of it are two completely different things. You aren’t getting out of your meditations that easily!
Given this mindset, when we look at any suffering in our reality through the lens of Ho’oponopono, we realize that this suffering has been created by us. We are responsible. In order for us to change this suffering, we must focus on its source. That means looking within ourselves and healing that part of us which allowed the suffering to manifest.
Now you can see how Dr. Len was able to work on his patients without needing to see them. All he had to know could be found in their files. He is there, and is reading those files. He is aware of the crimes, and the great suffering these people inflicted both on others and themselves, so this is now all part of his reality. He has created this reality. That means that some part of himself is wounded and needs to be healed. Otherwise, this suffering wouldn’t exist. So he focuses within, and practices Ho’oponopono on himself, and makes right what is wrong. In the process of healing himself, he also healed an entire ward of criminally insane individuals. We’re all connected.
It’s a beautiful concept, and it makes it impossible to ever blame anyone for anything. You have to take 100% responsibility for everything you see that you don’t like or want to change in the world. It’s very easy to blame the politicians, or the terrorists, or society, or the IRS, or any number of other individuals or entities for the problems you see in the world. It’s much more difficult to take responsibility for those problems yourself.
The version of Ho’oponopono that we practiced in the Compassion in Action group involves four steps:
- I Love You
- I’m Sorry
- Please Forgive Me
- Thank You
I’ve seen shorter versions of this, just involving the first two steps, and I’ve seen longer and more complicated ones. In my experience, these four steps are just right. More importantly, this recipe works. Let’s go through the instructions on each step so you can see what a complete meditation would look like.
We will practice this to help someone we know heal from what is ailing them, or to give them help in a difficult situation. Ho’oponopono can actually be practiced on anything, from your own personal issues all the way up to events on a global scale, but in the beginning it’s good to keep it simple and just focus on someone you know and care about.
As in the Metta practice, sit quietly, in a comfortable position that lets your body relax, but keeps your spine straight. You can sit on the floor, or in a chair. Close your eyes, and begin to quiet your mind. Take a few deep breaths, and turn your attention inward.
Think of the person you want to provide healing for. Imagine them in front of you, and hold the thought of them closely in your heart as you move through the four steps:
I Love You. Tell that person you love them. Feel your love for this person. You are not focusing on anything else right now, just the love.
I’m Sorry. Apologize to this person. Feel compassion for them. You don’t want them to be suffering, and it pains you to see that they are. You are not only telling this to them in your visualization, but you are legitimately feeling sympathy for them in their situation.
Please Forgive Me. Ask for their forgiveness. The suffering they have experienced has some cause within your own self, which is how all of this came to be. You are the creator of this reality you witness, and due to your own negligence, you have created a situation where this person has had to suffer. Now you are asking for them to forgive you for allowing it to happen. Here is where you take official responsibility.
Thank You. Thank the person for forgiving you. Thank them for being a part of this story with you. Feel gratitude.
After spending some time on each of the steps in that order, you can either stop, or you can repeat the sequence again. When Dr. Len reviewed his files and saw that a particular inmate wasn’t responding right away to his work, he would just do more. There is no limit to the number of cycles, but doing it one time through with sincerity is better than doing it a bunch of times in an intellectual way without any feeling.
This is very simple and straight-forward, yet very potent. If you consider the emotions you are evoking in each step, you can see why this can be as powerful as it is: Love, Compassion, Forgiveness, and Gratitude. If you are going to create a recipe to heal the world, those are going to be the ingredients to use.
One of the participants in our meditation group commented that if someone you were in an argument with called you up and simply said those four steps (I Love You, I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me, Thank You), it would almost guarantee an end to whatever the argument was. How could you continue fighting with a person who said that? On an energetic level, it’s not possible for negative patterns to exist in an environment when those four ingredients are present in any material way. If the ego, the little you, can use it to mend the wounds it takes responsibility for, you can imagine the power behind those words when the big You takes responsibility and says it, from its perspective as creator of reality.