The Rose Cloud of Unknowing: On (Not) Knowing Why the Four Phrases of Ho’oponopono Work

By Adam J. Pearson

After reading my last article, several people asked me  how or why the ho’oponopono practice of the ‘four phrases‘ works. If I am being truly honest, I’d have to answer that I don’t really know. I have some ideas about how it might work. I see the power in the meaning of the words and know their psychological effect when repeated. I understand Dr. Hew Len’s theory about the superconscious sending a message to the Divine, which in turn transmutes and liberates the memories in the subconscious, which results in freedom in the conscious mind. I know how our hearts have deep needs to feel responsible, forgiven, grateful, and loved and that this practice directly meets those needs.

But I also know that these ideas and understandings are not terribly important. They may be true or they may not. As hard as this may be for our beautifully intellectualizing, categorizing, and classifying minds to grasp, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what we know from experience; the practice works. The four phrases are powerful and change the whole quality, tone, and feel of our lives. Practicing them every day radically shifts our whole way of relating to existence, to people, to events, to places, and to ourselves. We come to see just how much even our experience of other people is coloured by our own memories, judgments, perceptions, programs, and unconscious data. We learn just how often we mistake seeing from preconceptions for seeing clearly. And the four phrases us give us a way of lovingly, gently correcting our innocent mistake.

As this unconscious content gets cleaned by the phrases, we come to see more and more what it is like to see from zero. Seeing from zero is not seeing through prefabricated ideas, but simply seeing what is present before you as it appears before it is ascribed meanings and interpretations by the mind. This is the ‘just seeing‘ of Zen, an intimate meeting of reality without the intercession or intermediary of thought. Life takes on a more vivid, more amazing, more awe-inspiring, and more love-suffused tone than it had before. The constrictions and blockages and resistances within us open up and are gradually released and what remains is a palpable feeling of expansiveness, freedom, and loving warmth.

For me, this love has no clear object; it isn’t fixated on any one thing, and it has no conditions placed upon it. No one has to act a certain way or not act a certain way to be embraced by this love. There is nothing they can do to void their right to it. It simply arises. It bubbles up from within, like a stream from its source. The four phrases of ho’oponopono are in many ways a retraining of the heart. Practicing them cuts through our cynicism and years of practice seeing through our ideas rather than through direct sensation and teaches us how to love again in a fresh way.  This love is itself not a practice, but a fruit of the practice. We don’t have to practice this love. It reveals itself on its own. It is the natural state of an open heart, a heart that has not closed itself off from the world and its suffering.

Ho’oponopono offers us keys for opening hearts that have been innocently sealed off by pain, cynicism, disillusionment, fear, and resistance.  When these things are cleared, simply by working with the four phrases, this natural love reveals itself.  With it, a greater sense of peace dawns within us; we come to know the serenity of the Stoics and the Buddhas. We learn a mature way to relate to whatever we encounter in life, a way that processes whatever we come across through the qualities of responsibility (“I’m sorry), forgiveness (“Please forgive me”), gratitude (“thank you”), and finally, love (“I love you”).  My own mind is naturally curious about science and philosophy, about discovering how things work and why things happen as they do, but this is one realm in which it can release its need to understand and rest in honest unknowing.  The beauty of the practice of the four phrases is that it does not need to be understood in order to work. Simply doing it is enough. Once we set it in motion, the cleaning takes care of itself.

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