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“When you feel your oneness with all life, you carry that with you everywhere you go. You feel centered. Then whatever you do helps others; it unifies life.” — Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE
I was talking with my friend Virginia about creating “right relations” amidst the minefields of human relationships. Virginia knows stuff; she carries obscure, arcane details in her head that no one else I know has an inkling of. It seems like obscure information until some uncertainty presents itself and insights and explanations roll off the tip of her tongue that save the day or lead you to new understanding. She also loves all things Hawaiian. All this led her to tell me the following story.
In 1983, a ward of violent patients in a State Hospital for the criminally insane in Hawaii were so disruptive the hospital had difficulty retaining guards, kitchen staff, and medical personnel to operate the ward. A psychologist trained in Ho’oponopono (ho-o-pono-pono), a Hawaiian healing technique, came to work in the hospital. He did not meet these patients, did not do any counseling with them or attend patient conferences. He reviewed each man’s file, looked at each man’s picture, then repeated the Ho’oponopono healing prayer with each man in mind: “I love you. Please forgive me. I’m sorry. Thank you.” He loved each prisoner in this manner — murderers, rapist, men of extreme violence — every day for three years.
Over time, the patients underwent a remarkable transformation …
… They stopped fighting with each other, they allowed hospital employees to carry on their duties, many made peace within themselves for the crimes they committed and with the families of their victims. The men became so compliant the hospital eventually closed the ward.
Someone traced the remarkable change in these men back to that lone psychologist. When asked about his efforts, the psychologist simply said, “I didn’t heal them. I just took 100% of the responsibility for everything that comes into my life and healed that part of myself that was them.”
Taking 100% of the responsibility for what comes into your life is a thorny undertaking, one that is intellectually, if not emotionally, hard to embrace.
I said to Smart Virginia, “What if someone does something ugly to me or to you that is totally their fault? I can see forgiving people for their mistakes, but taking total responsibility for what others do? That feels like I’m letting them off the hook.”
“I can’t explain it,” she said, “but you’ll figure it out.” (Virginia thinks I’m smart, too.)
I gave this serious thought during the next few days. My mind kept dwelling on thoughts of “self and other” — He did this, so I did that; she said “x” so I responded with “z.” I was stuck in an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” reality. And I was thinking of “the other” as my enemy. So, I thought about Virginia, about my husband and children, my grandchildren, about the people I love most in the world; how, when I am with them, I feel as if there is no separation between us, that we are one “entity,” one energy, different expressions of the Same Self.
I believe in this Unitary Consciousness. By its very definition — its “all-ness” — it does not exclude things or people I do not cotton to — or even find abhorrent. If “my enemy” is a part of me, and I do not choose to recognize or claim them as such, if I negate them, judge them with anger or shame, I cannot exert any positive influence over them. I can not practice Ho’oponopono with them — offer them my love, ask them to forgive me and apologize for my forgetfulness of our Oneness or extend my gratitude to them for helping me remember and reaffirm our Oneness. I cannot free them or myself from the ties that bind the human heart by the unitary power of unconditional love.
Ho’oponopono literally means “to make right,” to correct the wrongs, to deactivate, to end the disconnection and disharmony that comes when we view the world through the lens of “us and them.” We know our practice is successful not solely by how the other changes or responds to us, but by how we come to accept the other into our own hearts. It’s difficult and beautiful, and difficult and beautiful again. Just like life itself.