Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Focus on Forgiveness

The New Year is a perfect time to wipe the slate clean. It's a time for starting over and creating new fresh relationships. We can do this by learning to truly and completely forgive.
Wouldn't it feel really good at the end of 2011 to look back and say "I really did make that relationship amazing. I really did do everything I could to enhance that one connection with that one person" - the person that you want to forgive.

An effective way to do this is ho`oponopono, the Hawaiian approach to forgiveness I researched for my Ph.D. in psychology. Let's start by talking about the two biggest obstacles to wanting to forgive in the first place.

The first obstacle is the idea that forgiveness means you are somehow going to become best friends with that person who wronged you. That's just not the case.
In ancient times in Hawaii, forgiving others was not considered optional. Huna, the ancient Hawaiian system of energy, healing and consciousness, teaches that we must forgive whether or not we plan to continue a relationship with the person who wronged us.

By forgiving, you can make the decision, "do I want to continue a relationship or do I want to move on?" Even if you choose not to continue the relationship, by forgiving you free yourself and the other person from carrying around hurt feelings. By forgiving first, you are wiping the slate clean. Then if you say goodbye, you can say it from your heart, from a positive standpoint.

The second big obstacle to wanting to forgive is the question of why to forgive in the first place. The answer is quite simple and is ingrained in Huna tradition: we must forgive others as much for ourselves as for the people we need to forgive.

When you hold onto a grudge, a feeling of wanting to get revenge or even to avoid the other person, you only hurt one person - yourself. On the other hand, by choosing to forgive you actually enhance your health and relationships.

In my research, I read many other studies on this topic and all of them came to a clear conclusion: Unforgiveness, whether it is manifested by resentment, thoughts of revenge or avoidance, increases stress levels. That affects your body. It is bad for the heart, bad for the immune system. So for your own sake, be ready to forgive.

In Huna, the concept of making things right is called pono. Ho`oponopono, the process of forgiveness that I use and teach, literally means to make something doubly pono. This recognizes that forgiveness is a two-way process.

How does one start that process? Let's begin by resolving for the New Year to stop using the words "I'm sorry." Saying "I'm sorry" is a statement of feeling that requires nothing from the other person. In the ancient Hawaiian language there was no such phrase.
Instead, say: "please forgive me. I forgive you, too." Try that on for a second - in your mind say, please forgive me, I forgive you, too. See how that creates a connection, a movement, an energy? By saying "I forgive you, please forgive me, too," it takes the ball and puts it in the other person's court, then they in turn give it back to you.

Forgiveness is process; it is not something you are going for one time and you're done. A woman in one of my trainings once said: "I have done this ho`oponopono. Now I feel all forgiven. Will I ever have to do it again?" That is like saying "I just ate a salad, I'm really feeling like I have eaten some healthy food. Will I ever have to eat healthy food again?"

The answer is you need to continuously eat healthy. You need to maintain your focus - to continuously focus on who and what you are, why you are here and what you are doing right now.
So take forgiveness as a process and realize that in every interaction you can say please forgive me, I forgive you - even when it may seem there is nothing to forgive. Because you never know when you have crossed that boundary for another person.

Try practicing this way of forgiving in 2011. You may be surprised at how it helps you wipe the slate clean and allows you to become right with yourself, and right with others around you.

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of Kona University and its training and seminar division The Empowerment Partnership, where he serves as a master trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), a practical behavioral technology for helping people achieve their desired results in life. His new book, The Foundation of Huna: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times, details forgiveness and meditation techniques used in Hawaii for hundreds of years. He carries on the lineage of one of the last practicing kahuna of mental health and wellbeing. To reach Dr. James, please e-mail him at

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