What’s an old Hawaiian healing practice have to do with you?

I’ve been learning a little bit about an ancient Hawaiian healing practice called ho’onponono.  (You think it’s hard to say?  Try typing it 10 types very fast.)

One of the core philosophies of this practice is that you are responsible for everything that comes into your awareness.

I’m not asking you to buy into this philosophy.  Just consider what it means.

When you hear stats about homeless people or child abuse, it’s your responsibility.  When a friend is hurt or in an accident, it’s your responsibility.  If you know anything at all about the war in Iraq, it’s your responsibility.

Notice I didn’t say it’s your fault.  It’s your responsibility.  Sometimes things that aren’t our fault are still our responsibility.  This is a hard notion for those of us of 21st century Western society to accept.

You’re also responsible for all the good stuff, too.  Your plane lands safely.  Your child’s new tooth comes in.  You get a tax refund.  You and your partner had swell sex last night.  You’re reponsible for that too.

And what do you do about all this stuff that you’re responsible for?  You pray.  There’s a very special prayer that ho’onopono healers recite, and it involves asking forgiveness, thanking, and expressing love. 

I admit that the idea of praying for forgiveness for something that isn’t even my fault is hard for me to get my head around. 

But just for a moment, imagine what the world would be like if we all bought into this philosophy.

For everything wrong in the world, the masses would say “Oh, we have to fix that.  Sorry about that.”  For everything wonderful in the world, the masses would celebrate, even if there was no connection between what most of these people did and the wonderful thing being celebrated.

This is just me, musing.

If you’re interested, I heard about ho’oponopono in a book called Zero Limits by Dr. Joe Vitale. 

And by the way, if you purchase the book through the link, I don’t get commission or anything.  I lifted the link from Dr. Vitale’s own site, so he’ll get the “credit.”

I talk a little more about ho’oponopono in one of my other blogs, Gifts from the Universe.  This blog reveals my New Agey side and might be a bit much for some people.


Put your own oxygen mask on first.

My six-year-old daughter is a flying veteran.  She’s racked up more in-flight miles in her short life than I did by the time I was thirty. 

If you read my previous post, you know that my family made the journey to my hometown for a two-week vacation.  During the safety demonstration on the return flight, my daughter noticed the instructions to adjust one’s own safety mask before helping someone else.  The illustration on the safety card showed a woman with her oxygen mask in place assisting her child.  She had never noticed this before.  Or perhaps this was the first time she realized the significance of it. 

“Mom, why do you have to put your own mask on before helping me with mine?”

I looked into her beautiful face and wondered if, in an emergency, I would actually do that. 

“Well,” I said, “if I don’t get mine on first, I might get woozy or pass out, and then I wouldn’t be any use to you!  I would get mine on very fast so that I could be all set to take care of you.”

It occurred to me that those of us in the business of helping others would do well to heed this advice.  Those who are involved with a charitable organization, be it as a donor, volunteer, or staff person, know all too well how draining it can be to continue to face the Big Need every day.  If you’re a frontline worker, you’re particularly vulnerable. 

This extends beyond the charitable world, of course.  People who come to mind are health care professionals, teachers, emergency workers, law enforcement officials – the list could go on and on.

It’s critical that we keep our own reserves stockpiled so that we can deliver our best selves to our causes.  We have to get enough sleep, take our vacations, spend our free time doing what brings us joy, take our vitamins, drink enough water, and do all those things that we know we must do. 

 Attending to ourselves isn’t selfish.  In fact, it’s selfish not to.

Consider the addictions counselor who can’t be fully present when a desparate client needs someone to encourage and believe in her.  The over-extended board member who fails to do necessary research, resulting in a poor board decision that costs the organization’s clients access to critical services.  The nurse who is dead on her feet and accidentally administers the incorrect medicine.  The fundraiser who fails to read important non-verbal signs from a potential donor.

Take a quick mental inventory of your reserves.  If you had to pull an all-nighter tonight because of an emergency, how well would you function?  If your campaign appears to be critically short of goal, do you have the energy and the creative juices to maximize all opportunities and be alert enough to recognize last-minute new ones?  Or are you slogging away, hoping for the best?  If the number of clients who walked through your door each day suddenly doubled, do you have the capacity to respond, make fair decisions, ferret out new resources, and take your advocacy work to a new level?  (Better yet, do you have the energy to keep on top of trends to be proactive?)

Are there any changes you could make today?  Could you take a walk during lunch instead of plowing through at your computer?  Eat more vegetables?  Go to bed earlier?  Start kicking the caffeine habit?

Those of you who lead organizations, take heed.  Encourage your staff and volunteers to take care of themselves so that they can be better and stronger.  Read up on leadership so that you can foster the best in your people.  And most of all, take care of yourself.

The plane landed without a hitch, and my daughter was relieved that we didn’t need to use our oxygen masks. 

And in a few moments, I’m going into the office.  It’s my first day back.  I needed this vacation.  And now I need to get back to work!

What could renewal accomplish?

We’ve just returned from a 2-week vacation.  It wasn’t to Hawaii or Acapulco or any vacation hot-spot with a beach and balmy breezes.  We just went to Ohio to see my family.  We also spent time in Windsor, Ontario, visiting old friends (because we lived there for awhile), and in northern Michigan, where my sister & her husband built a luxury chalet overlooking a lake.

It wasn’t the kind of vacation you’d find packaged on Travelocity, that’s for sure. 

What did we do? 

We drank some of the best margaritas north of the Mexican border at a little place called Oler’s in Findlay, Ohio.  (I’ve had margaritas all over the place.  The only margaritas I ever had that were as good as the ones at Oler’s were actually IN Mexico.)

We spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on books in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (The Canadian/US dollar is at par these days, but the Canadian prices haven’t come down to match.  So we went on a bit of a spree.)

With my sister, we took our child and three of my sister’s grandchildren to Chuck E. Cheese’s in Toledo, Ohio.   Yes, we have a Chuck E. Cheese’s here in Calgary, but we don’t have my sister’s grandchildren.

I drank vodka and played Scrabble.

I hugged aunts and uncles and cousins and a whole bunch of really little kids who hadn’t a clue who I was.

You get the picture.

So what am I blathering about, here?  Do I have a point?  Well, yes, I do.

A week before I departed for this vacation, I got snarky with a co-worker.  I found myself becoming impatient and ultimately stuck on projects I was trying to push forward.  I, who generally get along with my colleagues and in fact consider many of them good friends, found myself not wanting anything to do with any of them.  Frankly, I was sick of the lot of them.

I even wondered if it was time to look for a new job somewhere else, with new faces and new challenges.  But that couldn’t be the solution, because the very thought of new faces was annoying to me. 

I really needed this vacation.

Now, here I am, two weeks later, on a Saturday morning, faced with the prospect of going back to work on Monday.  And guess what – I’m looking forward to it!  I’m on a committee for an upcoming event (and it was very annoying and bothersome to me two weeks ago) and I find myself really curious to know if anything has happened with the committee, or if it went on hiatus for the holidays.  There’s a box of papers and files that I spent the entire fall ignoring, and now I want to dig through it and see what’s there.  And most importantly, I’m thinking about what I could get my teeth into this year to really make a difference for my organization.

So now I’m starting to get to my point, and if you’ve read this far, thank you very much.

Let’s think about the people who are so enmeshed in their problems that there is no escape (or not any that is apparent to them, anyway).  Consider a single mother living below the poverty line, trying to make a day’s food last a week.  Consider the difficulties in providing opportunities for her children and the guilt she must feel.  Consider how overwhelmingly exhausted she is at the end of each day, while school and society bombard her with the advice of reading to her children every evening.  Consider how she not only has to work her butt off at some low-paying job, but she has to haul around during her free time to take advantage of this and that service (often at opposite ends of the city), dragging her children with her, to try to make sure they have shoes for school, coats for winter, medicine for an ear infection, and so on.

There’s no vacation from this.

I flatter myself that I’m a reasonably sharp, logical sort of person with self-discipline and direction.  Even I succumbed to some attitude problems and apathy that impeded my efforts just as if the impediments had been external. 

With no vacation in sight, I probably would have burned out, failed to execute, and perhaps even lost my job.

So, let’s go to Fantasyland for just a minute.

Suppose we could pluck that overworked and desparate mother and plop her into a safe, relaxing place for just two weeks.  She could decompress, and maybe even have a chance to get her head around some things.  She would have time to consider her life, make some plans, and allow her creative side to lead her to some solutions.

Imagine we could do this for homeless people, people living in situations of abuse, people with addictions, and so on.

Can you imagine the response to the proposal?  What a waste of money, allowing these people to just relax for a couple of weeks with no expectations on them!  By God, their problem is that they need to take some responsibility, be accountable, step up to the plate, develop some work ethic.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to challenge that assumption and just see what happens if people struggling in dire situations could be given a vacation?

No one questions that those of us living the good life need vacations. 

Maybe those of us struggling on the bottom of the ladder (or those trying to even find the damned ladder) are presumed to already be on vacation.   Stupid bums anyway, right?  Trying to suck off the system.  Trying to get a free ride.  Or maybe they’re just too stupid, which is why they’re on drugs or why they had babies without a husband or can’t get anything better than minimum wage.  So if they’re stupid, in a sense, they’re already on vacation, right?

It sure would be convenient to believe that.

Unfortunately, I’ve met too many people who are caught in vicious cycles, and all they really need is a break, and someone to believe in them. 

And they could also use a vacation.