After drifting for an hour in the warm ponds, I’m feeling lighter, more open. Back on land, Aunty Mahealani and I talk in the shade of a coconut palm. Roughly translated, she tells me, hooponopono means "to make right, more right." It developed to help people release self-limiting thought patterns and emotions and become more connected with their highest selves. "You can’t let the manao [intellect] and puuwai [emotions] run amok; they’re destructive," says Aunty Mahealani. "If you don’t train ’em to become skillful parts of you, they’ll lay you right out."
To newcomers to the Islands, hooponopono might not seem too different from advice you’d find between the pastel-colored covers of the self-help books at Borders; at the surface level, perhaps it isn’t. But there are two approaches, Aunty Mahealani explains. "Hooponopono, the modern form, is more influenced by Christianity and Western psychology. Hooponopono keala, which I practice, comes from the time of the original Hawaiian culture, before the Tahitians brought the kapu system, when all things were in aloha lokahi, love and unity." Unlike the modern form, hooponopono keala draws directly on the spiritual resources of the aina, the land, and the wisdom of the ancestors; when Aunty Mahealani teaches or treats a patient, she says, her guides quite literally speak through her for she is an elele o na kupuna, a messenger for the ancestors. "I just show up, and my grandfather, my mother, a bunch of them come. They do the teaching."
Some may have trouble accepting such things, Aunty Mahealani says, but for many Hawaiians, guidance from the spirit world is a familiar miracle. "Our way of talking about it would be to say: Oh, yeah, grandma came to me in a dream and told me this...’ or The honu [turtle] come up from the water and blow bubbles. He look me in the eye and tell me this...’"