Ho’oponopono (excerpt from A Smoke and a Song: A Memoir by Sherry Sidoti)

Ho’oponopono (excerpt from A Smoke and a Song: A Memoir by Sherry Sidoti)

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

I commit to repeating this mantra forty times a day, for forty days straight, just as one of my teachers suggests I do. I write it with Sharpie on all the mirrors in our yellow home, so that I read it while washing my face or brushing my teeth. I pencil it onto a yellow Post-it that I stick to the glass of water I leave by my son’s bedside table, because he needs it too. I teach it to my yoga students. 

Ho’oponopono, the ancient Hawaiian forgiveness prayer, means “to make things right.” The first part of the prayer, “I’m sorry,” is based on the idea that we must first accept responsibility for our own healing by forgiving ourselves for anything that happened to us and for any subconscious, self-sabotaging habits that have been developed as a result. We may not be at fault for them, the prayer suggests, but we are accountable for our healing them. We apologize to our body first, then our minds, and then our spirits for any harmful choices we’ve made toward ourselves. The second part, “Please forgive me,” is to remove harm we’ve done to others, so that we may receive redemption and repentance. “Thank you,” cultivates infinite possibility for new beginnings with the healing power of gratitude. “‘I love you,’” my teacher says, “always accelerates the healing process.” 

Ho’oponopono was made popular by Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, a psychologist who was tasked to counsel incurable patients in a criminally insane ward at the Hawaii State Hospital in the 1980s. Dr. Hew Len never practiced talk therapy with his patients. Instead, he would read through their files and then chant ho’oponopono to himself. Studies report that within months most of the patients were taken off medication, and within a year those that were shackled were allowed to walk freely. Without ever seeing his patients face-to-face, Dr. Hew Len healed the entire ward by meditating on the mantra. Over the course of four years, all the patients were released back into society. Without patients to cure, the hospital closed its doors in 1987.

I am chanting this prayer in hopes to heal my past, in hopes that it may trickle down and improve my relations. I can’t seem to figure out why I put so many barriers between me and the people who try to love me the most. I’m what you call overly “boundaried” now. Especially with my husband. 

When I went to my teacher for guidance, I said, “I’d expect my marriage to get better with my spiritual practice, but everything seems to be getting worse.” 

“Just chant.” 

That’s all he said.

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

I don’t want to admit I’m losing my attraction to him ever since he started using my coconut-vanilla body lotion, nor that I am agitated when we are together and lonely when we aren’t, not to others or to myself. We are the perfect yogi couple, a sweet family of three; we have a great life. Why can’t I just be satisfied with what is?

I push my doubt away. It bounces back to bite me. This is what psychologists call retroflection: that which is not expressed on the outside turns against itself. When I am with my husband, I become someone I don’t like. I’m hard on him, and I’m hard on myself for it.

When I call my teacher on day thirty-nine to tell him it’s not working, that I feel worse, he says, “Do another forty days. And another forty if you need after that. Keep chanting.” 

I restart the count.

If Dr. Hew Len could heal an entire ward of criminally ill patients with the prayer, who is to say I can’t help my marriage by chanting?

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