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Ho’oponopono: What the Paris Attack, Refugees Crisis and #blacklivesmatter Can Teach us About Compassion

picture of a man walking in the streets, his back to the viewer. his shirt reads, it begins with you
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Have you heard of the story of a Hawaiian therapist who healed a ward of mentally ill people but never spent any time in the same room with them or talking to them? His name is Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, and he completed this feat by spending days repeating to himself “I’m sorry, Forgive me, I love you, Thank you”, as he read each patient’s file. This type of healing is a Hawaiian ritual called Ho’oponono, which roughly translates to “to make things right”. Dr. Len explains that this practice comes from the Hawaiian principle that in order to heal the world, one has to to heal himself.

Whether or not you believe in this story or think it’s a tall tale, there is an important lesson we can learn from the wisdom of Ho’oponopono: “We are responsible for and participate in the ills of the world, and an essential part of fixing the world is fixing ourselves”.

In our current political climate of  injustice, what does this mean practically?

it is about making a commitment that every time you witness injustice and point out the culprits, you will spend as much time thinking about how you participate in that injustice toward other people, and how you can fix yourself.

We’ve witnessed a lot of violence throughout this year, the latest being the terrorist attack in Paris. The immediate reaction for me was overwhelming sadness for all the lives lost unnecessarily, thinking of the family members who are receiving the phone call that someone they love just died. The following hours for me turned into a mixture of this same sadness, but also disbelief and disappointment because as a black or brown person, it is often nearly impossible to garner worldwide outrage for our lives lost. We don’t get facebook filters, or safety check, or speeches about how an attack on our bodies is an attack on humanity.

While it is important to point our the disparities in solidarity, I needed to also do some self reflection and think of ways in which I perpetrate the same injustice that I condemn in others. I had to ask myself,:

-whose voices have I silenced, the same way that mine has often been drowned out?                                                                                                                     -Whose life have I devalued, the same way that our lives seem to matter less to others?                                                                                                                        -To whom did I deny compassion, when I’ve been wishing someone would be compassionate with me?

As a Black person, I am immensely heartbroken by the fact that it is open season on black lives, whether through police brutality or systematic injustice. But have I done enough to amplify the voices of transgender women of colors who are killed at an even higher rate than cisgendered black men and women? As a woman who constantly speaks out against injustice, do I have the same solidarity for people living with disabilities? As an African woman speaking out against the damaging stereotypes on African people, do I do enough to speak out against tribalism?

Please note that this self-reflection does not exonerate institutional injustice, it only reminds us condemning the problem in others and doing the work to fix ourselves as well are 2 sister quests that are interconnected. Because failing at self-examination is how we uphold the very same principles we seek to dismantle. it is this failure to check ourselves that allowed  sexism within civil rights movements, transphobia within LGBTQ movements, racism within feminism, bullying from a bullied, abusive relationships from the once abused, lack of compassion with children because your partner is not compassionate. At every possible level of injustice we have the opportunity to break the cycle. Say to yourself, “it stops with me.”

Ho’oponopono is  a peace treaty in which you declare that the space you occupy is a refugee zone, an accountability zone. That all the the injustice you witness in the world is not going to be perpetrated around you or by you. Not only is it about making things right, it is about recognizing the evil of the world within ourselves. To not just point fingers in (justified) outrage, but to also self-reflect by asking “how am I participating in this injustice, and how do I change myself to break the cycle”?

Here is how we can begin the healing process through the Ho’oponopono principles through it’s four mantras. I am sorry, Forgive me, I love you, Thank you

I am sorry: Take responsibility for the problem. I see the way we are selective about whose lives deserve our unconditional support. Have I ever done it to other groups? Do I do the same for homeless people, transgender people of color, schools bombed in the middle east, terror attack in Nigeria and Cameroon? I recognize how I too, have not been as generous with my compassion

Forgive me: Have the humility to admit you have not done enough for others, the  commitment to doing better, and the willingness to recognize the dignity  of the other by asking them if and how they want to be helped. Commit to volunteering your time, money or resources to a group you have otherwise ignored, or even unknowingly participated in marginalizing its population.

I love you: This ability to see that all the bad things you hate in the world also live within you, triggers a sense of common humanity. It will allow you to identify with the very people you criticize. How can I act like I’m better than you, when I can see that I’ve done the same to someone else. Perhaps and understandably, I love you is not exactly what you feel when you witness injustice. You do not have to love, but you can give compassion, compassion for our struggle to be better people, for often failing to see how we’ve done wrong to other because there’s work to be done with the injustices you yourself are facing. It is difficult work but it must be done.

Thank you: This is to recognize that everything is an opportunity to redeem yourself. In witnessing the injustice in the world, it is very easy to grow a hardened and numb heart. When you feel you’ve endured injustice, it is so easy to become resentful and numb. Takes me to the Batman quote which says “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the vilain”.

It speaks of the ways in which continuously witnessing injustice wears out our spirit and we begin to experience numbness and apathy. So by saying thank you, it is gratitude for having had the opportunity to think about yourself and say, “I’m not going to impose this injustice to someone else”. It is a thank you for having one more day in which your heart still remains soft enough to dream and work for a world in which we are desperately kinder to each other.

It does not mean you should start tolerating abusive behavior or giving a pass to institutional injustice. It means that in addition to addressing those issues, you commit to self-examination, you commit to putting to practice that which you ask of others.

Through Ho’oponopono, we must be willing to ask: This injustice  I’m witnessing, How am I afflicting it on someone else, and what can I do to make things right?

I’m sorry, Forgive me,  I love you, Thank you


Dany Isabelle Masado View All

Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.

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