In my daily work with children and families, the theme of forgiveness makes its way into many conversations I have with parents especially. Parents are in a leadership role that they are sometimes ill-prepared for. If they didn’t experience good parenting when they were children or see mentors engaging children with respect, it can be like becoming the CEO of a company you have no previous knowledge of. All of the sudden, parents are expected to launch into a demanding world of care, consistency, and responsibility while operating on very little sleep! This would stretch the capacity of any human being.
In Hawaiian culture, there is a forgiveness practice called ho’oponopono that is passed down through family lineages. Uncle Harry Uhane Jim is a Hawaiian kahuna and teacher. He says of ho’oponopono that it is a “time-evolved practice of managing trauma and transforming chaotic patterns into shapes and vistas of order and profound peace.” What I love about this practice is that it teaches us how to forgive ourselves and others when we inevitably make mistakes, trip, and fall in life. No one escapes conflict while they are in a human body and each of us need a way of moving through our failures–real or perceived.
I approach parenting as a spiritual practice with the families I work with. I coach them to look back on their experiences at the end of each day to see what they need to forgive themselves for, what victories to celebrate (however small), and what they would do differently next time. This can be challenging initially when parents are used to beating themselves up for not meeting their own expectations of themselves. We think berating and shaming ourselves will keep our behaviour “in line” in the future, but these patterns work to keep us stuck. One parent I worked with recently was so used to leaving herself on the hook that it was initially hard for her to come up with victories at all. This was my response to her:
Although I hear that this was rough for you, there were several victories in this experience that I can see:
1. You were able to disengage to calm yourself down.
2. You went back to brainstorm solutions when both you and your children were more calm and resourceful.
3. You continued to reflect after the fact until you figured out what your part of the conflict was. You redefined your boundaries and upheld them.
4. You apologized and promised to change your responses in future and you followed through on that.
5. You took responsibility for your role in the escalation as the parent (leader and guide).
6. You remembered that your children are not adults yet and were conscious of their developmental abilities. You changed your expectations to match what they could reasonably do at their respective ages.
In regards to this piece: When things are not working well, we will stop, sit quietly together and think of a solution. I’ve noticed that this is not always possible when the conflict is really heated. In this case, you could make an agreement that you will all take some space and problem solve when everyone’s calmed down to a resourceful state again.
How does it feel to you to see these experiences–though not pleasant at the time–as valuable learning moments where you get to increase your emotional heroism and level of vulnerability tolerance? What if you re-framed these experiences by looking at all your victories instead of focusing your attention on your failures? This doesn’t mean we don’t reflect on what we could have done differently, it just means that you put more of your energy on the things you did right because I’ve noticed you have a tendency (along with many other parents) to focus on how you are screwing up. The truth is that there are loads of things parents are doing right and paying attention to those things is just as important to keep perspective–especially in challenging moments.
I am not breaking any confidences by sharing my response. I’ve written various versions of this in the past two decades in my work with many families. In the hubbub of everyday life, it can be so easy to forget what is important. Ancient Hawaiian families knew this and infused their lives with ritual because they knew this was a way to keep their mind/heart/body/spirit clean daily. At the end of the day, they sat at their taro mat as a family and did ho’oponopono before bed. This is a ritual where each member forgives themselves for their shortcomings in the day. If there were any disputes, these were handled before bed so they were not taken with them into the dreamtime and the next day to be relived or expanded upon. In this way, harmful patterns were curtailed daily.
This is one of many ways to do ho’oponopono:
Put your hands on your heart and do your forgiveness that way.
I forgive myself for ___________. For as many things as you need to forgive yourself for until it feels complete.
I forgive myself for losing my temper with my sister.
I forgive myself for forgetting where I put things.
I forgive myself for believing that I can’t read.
I forgive myself for forgetting to remember all the things I am good at.
And allow yourself to learn from and let go of your mistakes. If you struggle with forgiveness, I challenge you to try this practice for a dream cycle (7 days) and notice any positive changes you experience in that time.
To watch more on ho’oponopono practice, go to this interview Jennifer Engrácio did on “Real Lives. Real People.” with Shyloe Fayad:
Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.
Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:
“The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”
“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”
“Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing”
For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com