“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

 Nelson Mandela

The word “empowerment” is tossed around a lot today in the field of personal growth and development. My students have referred to it as a goal, as a plan of action, or as a state of being. Yet when I have delved a little deeper with some of these students, they seem to have no clear definition of empowerment. One student even said, “I don’t know what it means, but everyone is telling me that I should want it!”


Empowerment is not just a fuzzy notion or trend du jour in personal growth. It’s the very foundation of who we are in the world. It is something that everyone should – and can – have. But before we seek it, we need to define it.


Many Perspectives


Uncle George Naope, one of my kumu (teachers), has a favorite saying: A Ohe Pau Ko Ike I Kou Halau. Taken literally, this means, “Think not that all wisdom is in your school.” This was above his halau (school) and it made an impression on me. Uncle George used this saying to remind his students and himself to be open to hearing new thoughts and perspectives. When you give or receive knowledge, it is not about right or wrong. It is about sharing, learning something new, and expanding your own thinking. There are different ways of seeing life. What I share with you here is just one perspective that may help you in your quest.


There is so much information available on our planet, that in a single lifetime, a person could never expect to know everything. In every moment and situation, you may meet someone who knows something that you don’t know. I mention this because there are different ways of defining empowerment. The following definition is from my lineage of Huna.


Huna Empowerment in the Past


Some of the first Westerns who came to Hawai`i in the nineteenth century kept journals of their experience. In some, there was a description of the state of being of the people who lived here. Native Hawaiians were described as being almost completely devoid of any physical and mental disease.


People have asked me how this is possible, and the response is a lot simpler than you would think. While the weather is great here in Hawai`i, that does not explain the lower – almost non-existent — incidents of illness. Rather it had more do to with the healing systems and thinking in Hawai’i hundreds and thousands of years ago. There were many systems of health and healing available in the islands, and they all shared the belief and understanding of empowerment.


As an example, we believe with 99.99% confidence that the sun will come up tomorrow. There may be a very slim chance that it won’t. But all things being equal, we tend to go to bed knowing that it will. Better yet, we don’t even think about it before going to bed, because it is just a matter of fact that it will come up.


Now, what if you had that same belief about your ability to create change, achieve your goals, and maintain your health and vibrancy? Wouldn’t you feel totally empowered with that belief?  In the ancient times in Hawai`i, this concept of empowerment did not need to be taught because it was known and commonly accepted.


Now that is not to say that ancient Hawaiians believed anything to be possible. They accepted the evidence of physical limitation. However, there was also a very strong belief that amazing healings were possible. Not everyone knew how to do them, but they knew if they found the right person, that there was the absolute possibility that a healing could occur.


Empowered Healing


Huna healing is very different from notions of healing in Western culture. There is a vast amount of valuable knowledge available within the Western medicine and psychology. But the prevalent attitude in the Western approach is that the person is broken and you need to fight the disease.


In many ancient cultures, including here in Hawai`i, the focus was much different. A person was not broken and did not need to be fixed from the outside. Furthermore, you did not fight disease. These approaches would just perpetuate illness. Quite the contrary, the individual was seen as empowered to create the change in his or her own life. Sometimes the change would occur with help from an expert, and sometimes it would occur on its own.


This was possible because of the natural state of empowerment. It was readily accepted that within the self, an individual had everything necessary to create the change and in fact, had to be involved in the change.


Examples of Empowered Healing


The late John Kaimikaua taught at our Huna Workshop for over 15 years and talked about some of the greatest healers in Hawai`i.


He told one story of a young boy who was quite ill. The healer brought in to help required three things before she could work with the boy. She needed:


1)    His permission

2)    Him to acknowledge that she was simply a person who could facilitate his healing, and

3)    Him to know that the change came from within.

In other words, she was not going to heal him. She was there to assist him in healing himself.


We also talk about this in my family’s lineage of Huna. In Huna, the individual is responsible for creating change. You need to have permission if you are going to work with someone, because any type of change work is a process that requires the individual’s buy-in. You work with someone to facilitate the shift they desire, remembering that the power to create this shift lies within them.


Huna and Western Thought Converge


The power of individuals to affect their own health is becoming more accepted in Western thinking. Several studies have shown that a patient needs to be involved for treatment to be effective. Furthermore, even in situations where it seems that the doctor or the medicine is doing all the work, it has been found that the patient needs to make a commitment to getting better.


For instance, studies have shown the difference between an “empowered” person who seeks to quit smoking versus one who does not feel empowered. Recent studies have shown that the success rate of any program is doubled when the person wants to quit (as opposed to quitting for someone else). In fact, smoking cessation programs have single digit success percentages where there is no incentive or focus on the individual wanting to quit.


My father told me a story about Daddy Bray, a Kahuna within my family’s lineage. According to the story, Daddy Bray was asked by someone to make her “feel the energy.” His response was simple and to the point. He told her that it is not his job to make anyone do or feel anything. He explained that when she was ready she would feel the energy, and then he could help her work with it.


This same idea, that a healer is a facilitator and that the change comes from within, is taking hold in many practices in Western medicine. When a person has a desire to change, they create the focus and the direction for the change. They are also opening themselves up to receiving the energy for the change.


Now What?


This is interesting information, but what does this mean for each of us? It means that regardless of the situation or the desire, we each need to take an active role in our change. In fact, if there is zero desire for change, there will be zero chance of change. We also need to accept that we have all the necessary power within to effect our own change.


Perseverance and the Power Within


Realizing that we are each the agent of change in our life is one thing. Owning this and taking responsibility for the change is an entirely different level. I believe that at the deepest level, we each know that the “buck stops with us.” However, how many of us own this and utilize it as a means to create the change in our lives?


Many of my students admit that it would be easier to just find that magic pill to fix our problems. With this quick easy fix we wouldn’t have to work at it, the problem would just disappear. The funny thing is that by looking outside ourselves for the quick easy fix, we have lost site of the fact that the quick easy fix comes from within. But while that internal fix may be easy, the work requires patient perseverance and dedication.


A few years back, I realized that if I was going to talk about health, I should be a model of excellence with my health. At the time, I was 65 pounds heavier than I am today. When I sat down to create my health goals, I realized that I had a lot of negative emotions and baggage in the area of my health. I could have stopped at that point and blamed the things that had happened in the past for my current condition. But that would not have changed the situation; it would have only given me reasons for staying unhealthy.


Ho`oku`u and Ho`oponopono


Using the techniques of Huna such as Ho`oku`u (clearing work to release negative emotions) and Ho`oponopono (a process to become right with others and right with yourself), I was able to rapidly release the baggage from the past. Once that was done, though my body was still the same, I had cleared the obstacles to taking action. The quick easy fix that released the negative emotions and limiting decisions cleared the path for me to become healthy. But to achieve my health goal, I had to get off couch and begin to change my habits.


Change does take dedication, patience and knowledge of how to maintain your focus. Yet it still begins with you. Without taking that first step, without making a commitment, or without learning how to change what is inside, you are still in the same place and the same situation.


Huna has taught me that knowing that you are empowered and that you are the agent of change is great — but only if you do something with that knowledge. True empowerment is reflected in living a life that expresses all that you are, moving toward all you can be.


Matt James