Nelson Mandela said that not to forgive is like drinking venom and waiting for the enemy to die.

Forgiveness is a powerful force. A while ago, in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, I had dinner with the parents of a young graffiti artist, Diego Felipe Becerra, who was shot in the back and killed by a police officer. He was only 16 years old.

Diego’s parents were sharing the ordeal they faced in their quest for justice, when his mother, Liliana, a small but strong woman, told me about the time when in a courtroom she came face to face with her son’s assassin. She told me she had forgiven him and then added a few words that struck me :”I forgave him as a way to cleanse my heart.”

Such is the power of forgiveness. It cleanses your heart and your memory.

In recent days, I deepened the knowledge of a ritual used in Hawaii and known as Ho’oponopono. It’s a healing system allowing for forgiveness and reconciliation.

The notion at the root of Ho’oponopono is both simple and powerful. It consideres suffering a reflection of painful memories, negative thoughts that are dwelling in our mind. These memories need to be reparied and cleansed for us to be whole again and to be in peace.

The wisdom of Ho’oponopono considers also that each one of us is totally responsible for everything that happens to us and around us. This is not far from Carl Jung’s notion that the external world is the shadow of our own inner life.

Therefore, we are not only responsbile for what we say and do, but we are totally responsbile for what everyone says and does, just because they are part of our life. According to Ho’oponopono, this includes even the terrorists, the politicians we blame…. In fact, assuming total responsability doesn’t allow to point fingers or to blame others.

Therefore, a problem as well as its solution is not something to be looked for and found outside of ourselves. Instead, it is to be found only within ourselves.

According to the Ho’oponopono system, if I want to see change it is I who need to change and to heal. In fact, assuming total responsibility means also the possibility for total healing. It is empowering, as it stops the debilitating habit of blaming.

Let me tell you a story, which I first heard from Tony Robbins and then read more about in a book by Joe Vitale. It is the story of a Hawaian psychologist, Hew Len, who healed his patients without meeting them professionally.

They were not just any patients, but criminally insane locked up in a psychiatric ward in a hospital in Hawaii. They were feared and the turn over among the medical personnel was high. One day, doctor Hew Len agreed to review the patients’ files. As he read them, the criminally insane got better to the point that those in shackles were allowed to walk freely.

Doctor Hew Len was operating according to the principles of Ho’oponopono, which are simple, but escape any rational logic (thus, as you read this, you might just give up the intent to understand). Taking full responsibility for the pain experienced in the other, he wondered what part of him was causing that pain. He would ask himself, “What’s going on inside me that shows up as this person’s insanity”?

Doctor Hew Len then would heal that part inside him by repeating the following powerful words:

I’m sorry. I love you. Please forgive me. Thank you.

This is the practice of Ho’oponopono. It’s simple and powerful, if practiced with sincerity of heart. It loosens every knot within you, it purifies painful memories and negative thoughts. It transform a problem into an opportunity, since every time you heal yourself, you also grow.

Personally, the effects of doctor Hew Len’s practice on the criminally insane is the aspect of this practice that interests me less. I am much more fascinated with the notion of taking full responsibility for what’s going on in the world, and seeing it as an expression of something that needs healing within me.

The first time that I practice it, I closed my eyes, I deeply breathed into my heart, and I repeated slowly, several times, “I’m sorry. I love you. Please forgive me. Thank you.” I was thinking of painful memories of the past and the present. I took total responsibility for those situations, letting go of any blame, of any excuse and of any judgment. After a while, I felt overwhelmed with emotion and tears ran from the corners of my closed eyes and washed my cheeks. I experienced peace and strength in a new way.

I am fascinated by the healing force of forgiveness, which is even more powerful when we come to forgive ourselves. I’m attracted by the idea that by saying, “I’m sorry. I love you. Please forgive me. Thank you,” I am able to interrupt history, breaking the reactive chain of hate, resentment and violence. I am intrigued by the notion that peace is not the result of me intervening to fix a problem but emerges from me working on my self, healing my painful memories, my negative thoughts, my judgments. I do believe that if I heal my self there is a an osmotic effect that spills over to the rest of humanity.

The alternative is to continue drinking the poison.

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