Hoʻoponopono: My Hawaiian Apology


I once inadvertently overlooked a lady I’d just met at an American Girl Doll Luau our daughters attended. Apparently, as I stood serving pina coladas to the children, she asked me a question and I didn’t respond. Indignant at my rude insensitivity, she told Caroline, the party planner, that she almost left because of me.

After I served the snacks, oblivious to her feelings, I stepped out to do a short errand.  In the meantime, this woman raged about me in front of my three little girls, grabbed her child, and stormed out. According to Caroline, my girls were shocked and dismayed, so much so I discovered, that they didn’t want to repeat what she said about me as we drove home. They were, however, curious as to how I would respond.

I told them that in a situation like this there were a myriad of options, most notably:

  • I could “speak my truth” and defend myself in righteous rebuttal.
  • I could get overly emotional and call her names. (They giggled.)
  • I could read her the riot act for speaking so irresponsibly in front of my children, and other children.
I apologized to them for this grown-up’s poor behavior, and told them that my instinct was to do none of these things.  I would instead follow hoʻoponopono, the ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, used by healing priests, family elders, and even legal mediators as a means of restoring and “making right” broken relationships. Doing so would include writing a letter apologizing for my oversight, committing to being more conscientious, and acknowledging her feelings with sincere love. Which is exactly what I did when I got home.
Rich with historical Hawaiian meaning, the common simple translation of hoʻoponopono in English is as follows:

E KALA MAI IA ‘U = (I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me)
MAHALO NUI LOA = (Thank You Greatly)
ALOHA NO WAU IA ‘OE = (Aloha To You, “I Love You”)

When I expressed to this woman that I am sorry, would you please forgive me, thank-you for this new insight, and I love you, I felt instant peace. I also had an a-ha.

What if all those times we think people are quietly judging or snubbing us, they are actually admiring our beauty, our talents, and our darling children?

Because when I met this woman, that is precisely how I thought about her. I thought how she and her daughter, a miniature of her mama, were both beautiful. I could sense this woman’s creativity, and I thought how kind she was to serve and help at the party.

The woman never responded, but I did read my letter to the girls. As I did, they seemed deeply satisfied and resolved. I noticed confidence rising through their bodies. I saw them relax. No emotional drama. Mama was not hurt by these allegations. Mama understands that people are struggling and human. Mama can stand strong and soft, even when she is misunderstood. And because they are a reflection of Mama, they can do the same.

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