Dr Jess says: I first came across this forgiveness ritual on a kinesiology course over eight years ago and found it incredibly powerful. Based on four simple phrases, the practice unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes, really resonated with me and the process had an amazing impact on the group of us learning it. I regularly use it both myself and in my practice with clients struggling with difficult emotions or issues from the past.
I have repeatedly found it simple yet very effective. This doesn’t seem to be just for the forgiver, strangely many patients report that the person they have ‘forgiven’ has made contact to apologise or attempt reconciliation. In other cases, my clients have found a resolution to difficult issues such as divorce or financial disputes, where previously there was no resolution in sight.
Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of healing through forgiveness. We can learn a lot about forgiveness from this ancient and powerful tradition. Ho’o means ‘to make‘ and pono ‘right‘ – the double use of pono means with both yourself and others.
Practising this ritual allows you to let go of negative emotions, particularly anger and resentment. The ancient Hawaiians understood that harbouring negative emotions like anger and resentment only hurts the person who can’t forgive. It isn’t about right or wrong, but is a symbolic way to help mentally cut the connection to that event or person that is causing us pain.
It’s a great way to improve our relationships. It can also help to let go of situations, past issues and other wrongs we feel aggrieved about. Long-term resentments and perceived wrongs can damage our relationships with ourselves and with others. We can all think of a painful memory that we feel hurt or angry about, that we still bring up and ruminate on, from time to time. For some, this goes much deeper, with traumatic levels of hurt or abuse. Although this ritual may need to be done repeatedly, it can still help the healing process, however big the trauma. It’s not about apologising to the person who hurt us (although this may be appropriate in some cases), we can also take it as an apology to ourselves and to the child within us, or to a greater force in our spiritual beliefs.
By letting go of these negative emotions that only cause us pain, we can truly heal and be happy. Small-scale studies have shown that Ho’oponopono can help feelings of forgiveness, even after just one attempt.1 It may even help us physically and has been shown to lower blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure.2 Forgiveness is shown to reduce depression and anxiety, and improve feelings of hope.3
A case study with clinical psychologist Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len states he healed a ward of mentally ill criminals by performing Ho’oponopono on their case files. Whether this is a myth or true, this is an interesting use of the forgiveness ritual. Dr. Hew Len is basically suggesting through working on forgiveness in ourselves we can encourage the healing of others. This leaves a spiritual question as to the influence of our connection with others, and whether we believe this potential is possible.
Dr. Jess’s forgiveness ritual, inspired by ho’oponopono
Focus on a specific person or situation that has upset you. It can be now or in the past. The process is to forgive both yourself and others to whom you are connected with negative energy. Forgiveness is not about who was right, or if you have been wronged or hurt, it is about putting unconditional love and forgiveness into the space regardless. Break that connection! Forgiveness allows you to internally let go of that emotional hurt so that the negative emotion that is draining you can be stopped. Once you have brought this situation or person into your space, work through the four steps below, saying the phrases out loud and feeling the meaning behind them.
- “I am sorry.” Say it out loud with your eyes open. Some people find it helps to see themselves in a mirror. This is not about fault – you are saying sorry for holding onto negative emotion, for letting it affect the purity of who you are, and for holding on to whatever emotion you may feel (this could be guilt, anger, sadness, hurt, resentment or shame). It doesn’t matter whose fault the situation was, or even if something awful happened to you or was done to you. This is about the repentance and remorse for the negative event, regardless of responsibility. For the emotions and hurt tied up in it, you can apologise for yourself or even to humanity – whatever feels right. Two simple words can bring tears to your eyes when said properly and show you the depth of emotion and healing power that they have.
- “Please forgive me.” A deeper level of step one – it doesn’t matter who you are asking for forgiveness (your inner self, a spiritual belief, a divine being). Whatever your beliefs are feel the power of these words of repentance and forgiveness, with unconditional love. You can say it more than once. Just remind yourself of why you are sorry and say it and mean it.
- “I love you.” In this space of unconditional love, project it inwards and outwards: Let unconditional love heal you. Love yourself, your body, the air you breathe, the world around us, all of the people within it. Love is a very powerful emotion.
- “Thank you.” The gratitude you are showing is for life, love, the universe and the experiences that shape us. Feel thankful and appreciative of everything you have and for letting go of the negativity.
That’s it! It’s simple, yet amazingly effective. You can repeat and use it as many times as you need. If you have broken friendships and relationships, writing those steps down, and what you are feeling with each, and sending them to the other person can work wonders too.
You may also find it useful to practice gratitude or being thankful, alongside Ho’oponopono too and visit our brain function & mental health toolkit or article on childhood trauma for further resources.
- The Hawaiian Secret of Forgiveness
- Kretzer K, Davis J, Easa D, Johnson J, Harrigan R. Self identity through Ho’oponopono as adjunctive therapy for hypertension management Ethn Dis. 2007 Autumn;17(4):624-8. PMID: 18072370.
- Recine AC.Designing forgiveness interventions: guidance from five meta-analyses. J Holist Nurs. 2015 Jun;33(2):161-7. doi: 10.1177/0898010114560571. Epub 2014 Dec 8. PMID: 25487180.