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If you wish to cleanse the world, cleanse yourself first. If you wish to cleanse the world by fire, then know that this fire can, must, and will work in and through you as well.
–Mark Stavish

I was drawn to process philosophy because Whitehead’s cosmology makes sense to me. One of the essential components that appealed to me was Whitehead's concept of prehension. For Whitehead, the term "prehension" indicates that the observer incorporates parts of what it  perceives into itself. We prehend the previous occasion of our experience as itself a subject prehending other occasions. The many experiences of the past, whether within our awareness or not, become part of the immediacy of our present.

With this in mind, I started to wonder about trauma. What can we do about traumatic memories and painful prehensions? They existed in our ancestors; they exist now in our current lives and on our planet. Intense pain from the atrocities of the past such as the Holocaust, American slavery, and the decimation of indigenous peoples is still vibrating through our world. Animals are going extinct, and the climate is changing. In this country military veterans are suffering from PTSD, and many forms of violence and racism are an enduring problem. We feel the pain of a thousand wounds, and when they go unaddressed, there can be a snowball effect, with pain and resentment building and adding to the wounds.

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There is an indigenous healing practice that fits perfectly with process philosophy and speaks to the pain in our world. It comes from ancient Polynesian wisdom; the healing and forgiveness prayer known as hoʻoponopono. There is an entire philosophy behind the prayer that I will overlay onto process philosophy.

If we break down the word hoʻoponopono we can see what the prayer aims to achieve.

Ho’o: to make

Pono: Right and congruent with ourselves

The repetition of the word pono means to make doubly right.

Ho’oponopono originated in the village and clan communities of ancient Polynesian culture. The practice differed a bit from island to island. I studied ho’oponopono with Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, who was a student of Morrnah Simeona, a kahuna lapaʻau (healer) in Hawai'i. Simeona taught her modernized version of hoʻoponopono throughout world.

Because the ancient Polynesians understood that we are an interconnected web of life, the hoʻoponopono Prayer helped heal their world, so it was communicated by the whole village and it was addressed to the spirits and to the gods:

We are responsible

We are sorry

Please forgive us

There is only Love

Thank you

Morrnah Simeona was a Christian, as is Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, so they have incorporated Christian theology into it. It is easy to see how this prayer fits with a Christian understanding.

Dr Ihaleakala Hew Len taught me that we are born as a clean slate, but right away we inherit ‘memories’ from our ancestors, and with every moment we are alive we accumulate more ‘memories’ or ‘data,’ much of it unhealthy. This is similar to Whitehead's concept of prehension. There is a divine source that gives us inspiration. This inspiration is a "lure" to beauty and better circumstances. But first we must do some ‘cleaning’ of the unhealthy data. We do this by saying the healing prayer as we recall negative situations in our lives. But the prayer works on many levels, all the way down to cleanse even memories that we are not aware of. The cleaning affects not only us but other people, the land, animals, plants, and everything in our environment. Memories are stored in our cells. God transmutes the pain when we work in tandem.

I am responsible

I am sorry

Please forgive me

There is only Love

Thank you

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I learned in my study of hoʻoponopono that we are comprised of experiences, and that we interpret the world through our memories based on these experiences and the collection of all experience that affects us. We see, hear, and think through our memories. The memories are in control, so it is important to clean them to make room for inspiration. We will have a difficult time hearing the lure of inspiration if our memories are too loud. We don't ignore them or pretend like they never happened. Instead we allow love to wash over our pain, even the pain we might not be aware of.

I am responsible

I am sorry

Please forgive me

There is only Love

Thank you

Dr Ihaleakala Hew Len emphasizes that we must take responsibility for ourselves and any pain we have caused, known and unknown, intentional or unintentional. Just by living in our American culture, we damage the environment. The United States represents just 5 percent of the world population. But we consume disproportionately larger amounts than any other nation in the world. We live as if there are no consequences for our lifestyle, but we are an interconnected web, so we are affected by everything we do. Process philosophy teaches this as well. We must do the environmental work, but when combined with this prayer, we embody the interconnectedness.

I am responsible

I am sorry

Please forgive me

There is only Love

Thank you

I am interested in finding ways to practice a process as a spirituality. I look for the ways that I can bring it to life, out of the books and into a practice. There are things we can all do, such as adopting a greener lifestyle, voting for positive environmental initiatives, and volunteering for environmental causes. I also want to incorporate gratitude and love.  I want to layer these practical actions with spirituality, with prayer and ritual. I think I have found my prayer.

I am responsible

I am sorry

Please forgive me

There is only Love

Thank you

I try to be kind, but sometimes I miss the mark. Usually I can identify those instances and make amends. What saddens me most is all the harm I cause that I am oblivious to. Feeling goes all the way down to the depths of reality, and that includes both good and bad feelings.

I am responsible

I am sorry

Please forgive me

There is only Love

Thank you

If every person in the world said this prayer, we might heal the traumatic prehensions, hear the lure of inspiration, and change our world for the better. I would like to offer this to the land, the animals, and every person on this earth, and especially to you:

I am responsible

I am sorry

Please forgive me

There is only Love

Thank you

  • Kathleen Reeves is a member of the Board of Directors at the Cobb Institute, and leads the Institute’s group for Spiritual Integration and the Arts. She also serves on the communications team and oversees the Institute's social media messaging.