Many of us are looking to ancient or traditional teachings to guide us in today’s ever changing world. One topic that often comes up is that of forgiveness. On a Dr. Phil show I recently viewed while channel surfing, I saw a guest on the show telling Dr. Phil, “I’ll forgive him, but I’ll never forget.” And as she said it, she was clearly hanging on to negative emotions. Does that sound like true forgiveness to you?


Like all of us, I’ve experienced painful relationships or situations in my life that made me question whether I should forgive the other person or not. But one truth I learned from my lineage of Huna is that there is only one person that you hurt by holding onto feelings of unforgiveness — and that is you.


Three types of “wrongs”


My kumu (teacher) explained to me that there were three types of “wrongs” in ancient times in Hawai`i. These three wrongs– hala, hewa and ino –were a part of the code of forgiveness practiced in many parts of the islands. Hala is to miss the path, or err by omission. Haven’t we all missed the path at some time or other? I have. Often it was crossing a boundary without understanding that I had done so, or neglecting to do something out of ignorance. The wrong called hewa is to go overboard or to do to in excess. I’ve certainly been guilty here as well, especially when I become passionate about a topic and express my enthusiasm without considering others. Ino, the third wrong, is to do harm intentionally to either self or others. Most of us would claim that we’ve never intentionally hurt another, but what about ourselves? Personally, I know that I’ve judged and criticized myself, saying cruel things to myself that I would never say to another.


In all these wrongs, forgiveness was required in ancient Hawai’i. It was required because the Hawaiians knew that holding onto negativity causes harm to the one who won’t forgive. This does not conflict with wise discernment, knowing when the one causing harm is not to be trusted.  As another kumu says, “First time shame on you, second time shame on me.” But my grandfather also used say, “When you point a finger at someone to blame them, there are always three fingers pointing back at you.”  In other words, you may have more to do with the problem than you know.


So how do we balance our approach to forgiveness. How do we (1) forgive, (2) release the negativity, and (3) still learn from the event?


The process I use and teach comes from ho`oponopono, which literally means to make something doubly pono.  Though pono is a word that does not have a specific English translation, the closest word is right, but not as in “you are right and I am wrong.” Pono is the feeling of congruency and calmness that we’ve all experienced at some point. That sense that everything feels “right,” like feeling so at peace with a person or situation that nothing needs to be said. That is pono.


“I’m sorry”


To take the first step in ho`oponopono, we need to rethink the process of forgiveness. In western thinking, when we do a wrong, whether hala, hewa, or ino, we tend to say “I’m sorry.” However, an apology is only one-sided, a statement that asks for no response from the one harmed. Huna understands that it takes two to tango. So the first step is to ask for forgiveness then for the other to give forgiveness.


For instance, I’ve had heated arguments with people that definitely required an apology at the end. But it’s like a meal that doesn’t last: Within a short time after all the apologies and making-up, either I or the other person brings it up again “This is just like the last time….” So even though we were sorry, we weren’t done and complete. Getting to pono is different. When you are pono with someone, nothing else needs to be said or done. You are right with one another.


To become truly pono with someone, you first ask for and offer forgiveness for anything you may have done. Though I’ve had situations when I didn’t really think I’d done anything wrong, I still must say “please forgive me too” to complete the process. Saying, “I forgive you; please forgive me too” brings the other person into the picture and gets them actively involved. Rather than merely “being sorry,” a two-way street of forgiveness is formed.


Saying it All


Next, allow the space for you and the other person to say everything that needs to be said. Unburden yourself and say it all. Express what needs to be expressed without hiding or holding back. When you have both shared your thoughts and feelings, you should experience a sense of “I have said it all, and I am done.” Once again, give and ask for forgiveness from one another. Receive it and give it.


Moving Forward


Finally, move forward. Huna says that we must learn from all of our experiences in life. So once you are pono, ask yourself: What do I need to learn from this event that will allow me to continue to be pono? Learning is positive, about the self and future based. Take this learning with you to help you change your behavior and thinking, make better decisions, and to create the relationships and situations you desire. And though other difficult times may occur again, once you are pono, you won’t bring baggage from the past into new difficulties. You will begin new interactions from a place of being pono, and with the insight from the learning you received.


To forgive and to never forget is to never forgive in the first place. Holding on to the negativity and even the memory of the negativity prevents true forgiveness and only hurts you. We owe it to ourselves to experience true forgiveness – to become pono.