Finding Forgiveness at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

For Hawaiians in old Hawaii, Pu’uhonua O Honaunau was considered to be a place of refuge. It was where you went, or attempted to go to, if you committed an act that went against the kapu system (the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct). In modern Hawaii, residents often complain about the $250 fine when caught using mobile devices in their vehicles. In old Hawaii, however, entering an area reserved for chiefs, or eating forbidden foods, would cost you your life. The stakes were much higher back then. But, there was a way out. If you could somehow Jason Bourne your way into a puuhonua, or place of refuge, your life would be spared.

Today, visitors enjoy the stunning views of the western Kona coast and gawk at the pristinely preserved ancient ki’i (you might know them as tiki). This place of refuge, however, has much more to offer. Pu’uhonua O Honaunau is indeed a sacred place. I began to sense this as Hale O Keawe came into view when I visited last November. Feelings of forgiveness, gratitude, and peacefulness also permeated the area. I am not surprised that the mana (Hawaiian term referring to spiritual energy) here is strong, considering that the hale is home to the bones of past Hawaiian chiefs.

On Forgiveness..

The act of forgiveness is fascinating to me because, although optional, I’ve come to learn that it’s critical to achieving a healthy well-being. Some of us choose to forgive others, some of us don’t, while some might forgive with exception or stipulation. I admit to being notorious for holding on to grudges. I think part of the problem is the Type A personality that dominated my youth. Forgiveness is something that I’ve been trying to work on as I move further into my thirties. Below are three crucial ideas that have helped me to become better at forgiving:

1. It is irrational to hold on to a grudge and to not forgive. Holding on to a grudge means that you are clutching to a sense of resentment and this can be very stressful. Your body responds to stress by releasing a cascade of neurochemicals that help to alleviate the stressful experience. In some instances, this hormonal reaction can be especially useful, such as when you need to push through a tough exam, or give an important speech. Grudges, however, are often long lasting, causing your mind and body to be in a state of chronic stress. The effects of chronic stress has been shown to be physiologically overwhelming and can manifest over time as heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Instead, it is a more logical and rational choice to forgive. By forgiving, you not only release the lingering ill feelings of holding a grudge, but also avoid the long term effects of chronic mental stress that would have been caused by the experience of holding on the grudge.

2. Forgetting is not a requirement of forgiving. The act of forgiving will allow you to move forward and form new memories that will have an overall greater impact on your life in a positive way. Over time, the compounding effects of these positive and impactful moments will naturally allow the memories of the negative experiences to naturally fade away.

3. Forgiving involves accepting the reality of the situation and then living in resolution. Part of the resolution may be to make the decision to not include certain individuals in your life moving forward. And that is okay.

What are your thoughts on forgiveness?