Ho’oponopono and Radical Responsibility

Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian form of mediation, designed to repair conflict and damaged relationships through confession and forgiveness. More recently, it has developed into a New Age spiritual practice, based on the concept that we can find internal peace when we take 100% responsibility for everyone’s actions, not just our own.

Ho’oponopono has its roots in reconciliation

In ho’oponopono, the Hawaiian word for the cause of conflict – the transgression or wrongdoing – is “hala”. “Hala” is also the name of the pandanus palm: edible fruit and leaves ideal for weaving perched on a pyramid of tangled stilt-like roots. This is a fantastic metaphor for conflict, encouraging us to see the wrongdoer and the person who has been wronged as being entangled or bound together, with the productive element of the relationship relying on both for support. It illustrates why untangling a conflict can be such a difficult and emotional process, requiring patience, tenacity, concentration and vision.

Like many indigenous societies, the ancient Hawaiians recognised that the process of dealing with conflict is more likely to be successful if it is viewed through the lens of spirituality. Explicitly inviting the divine to help untangle the emotions and problems involved lifts the conflict to the next level and acknowledges that all conflict has an energetic element. It is easier to maintain equanimity and pursue a peaceful resolution when we bring our higher self to bear, viewing a conflict in the big picture context of our spiritual values, rather than getting bogged down in hurt and heightened emotion.

When we can shift our mindset into an observer role – one who values the needs of all involved – it is easier to view the dynamics of the conflict without judgment, and to acknowledge our part in creating and sustaining the entanglement. Taking responsibility for our role in the dispute without self-accusation or blaming others allows us to get more creative about generating options for meaningful resolution.

Radical responsibility means embracing relativity

It is not difficult to see how this traditional model of dispute resolution evolved into a personal development practice that prioritises the concept of individual autonomy and obligation. Drawing on epigenetics and quantum theory, modern ho’oponopono teaches that everything in our awareness is a reflection of ourselves and our own beliefs. Everything we experience is filtered through our programs and perception, so we, in effect, create our own reality from moment to moment.

If what we see and experience is a projection of our own understanding on the world, then we come to understand how we might bear responsibility for the behaviour of others. Rather than an existential understanding of behaviour as something that objectively “is”, we come to realise that all we can ever see is our own interpretation of that behaviour and how we allow it to affect us.

Continuing down this thought path leads us to recognise that the only person we can ever change is ourselves, which frees us to let go of everything else. This includes our attachment to a particular result or outcome, as well as the need to react from a place of hurt or anger, as opposed to responding calmly from a place of compassion and connection.

Nurture resilience in the face of conflict

The words “I’m sorry” should never be made to carry blame, shame or guilt. At its most pure, saying “I’m sorry” acknowledges that one has engaged in words and actions based on fear, not love. If we accept this, “I’m sorry” opens the gateway to healing through atonement. It begins a conversation of repentance, of mutual contrition, and restoration of relationships.

When repentance is real, we can move towards reconciliation and joyful forgiveness that lifts the burden of fear. Reconciliation has its roots in Latin meaning “to bring together again.” It puts the focus back on the relationship rather than the individuals involved in the conflict. Forgiveness and a willingness to let go of any adversarial attitude is essential to positive conflict resolution. That is not to say it is easy, but it is necessary.

The more we commit to radical responsibility, the more we find that conflict situations untangle themselves at an early stage rather than escalating through aggression and positional thinking to mutually assured destruction. The process of reintegration and repairing relationships moves us back into love, which is the greatest power for healing hurt. Over time, increasing our emotional resilience when dealing with conflict benefits all of our relationships – including our relationship with ourselves.

How I can help

Each May, in my Serenity Connective membership, our mission is to explore how to apologise with integrity, how to stop saying sorry thoughtlessly, and what it means to accept radical responsibility for the actions of others in our lives. You won’t be sorry if you join us!