Pono: The State of Unwavering Congruence



Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dr. Matthew B. James on how to practice your pono and feel right with the world.

Dr. James helps CEOs, coaches and trainers, military veterans, and elite athletes and professionals reclaim the meaning, joy, and excitement of life.  He is a Certified Master Trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and an expert on Huna.  He is also the author of the book The Foundation of Huna: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times. The book details forgiveness and meditation techniques used in Hawaii for hundreds of years through Dr. James’ lineage to one of the last practicing kahuna of mental health and wellbeing.

>Dr. James combines Huna, NLP, and cutting edge therapeutic techniques to free people from self-imposed limitations and move them to new heights of health, happiness, and personal fulfillment.

I’ve always been a fan of using ancient wisdom to improve personal effectiveness so I was especially curious about what Huna has to offer.  According to Dr. James, Huna is an ancient Hawaiian discipline of energy, consciousness, and healing.  As one of his students puts it, “Huna … allows you to align yourself to your ‘higher self’ so you can be more effective in the real world.”   Dr. James has been chosen by Hawaiian elders to carry on a Huna lineage of 28 generations: “Our work is to understand who we really are then demonstrate that balance, power, and connection in our work, our relationships, our every moment to create lives of exuberance and meaning.” That’s powerful stuff.

I’ve asked Dr. James to share some insights and actions that readers of Sources of Insight can use to improve their work and life.  Without further ado, here’s Dr. James …

That Feeling of Being Right With the World

I’ve come to believe that we need to be a heck of a lot less tolerant when it comes to embracing our authentic selves.  Tolerance, when it’s focusing on other cultures, religions, races, or points of view, is certainly a virtue we need to cultivate. But when we apply tolerance to being less than our authentic selves, it’s not. In fact, it’s a quality that is very self-destructive.  We need to embrace intolerance.

To me, being our authentic selves isn’t about enlightenment or perfection. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, a sense of knowing who you are, and feeling at ease with it. The Hawaiians call this state pono. Though there’s no perfect translation of pono in English, it’s that feeling of being right with the world or the state of unwavering congruency.

Fine is Not So Great

But I think a lot of us have gotten too tolerant of feeling not right, not comfortable in our own skin, not feeling at ease with who we are. We wake up in the morning feeling out of sorts and we cope with that feeling the whole day, trying not to blow up or say something stupid at work. We feel a little “off” about a decision, but we go ahead and make it anyway, hoping that it will turn out okay. We stay in relationships that feel phony or imbalanced. We stay up late though our bodies are craving sleep. We pretend that the stresses in our lives aren’t really so bad. And when anyone asks us how we’re doing, we say, “I’m fine.”

But our “fine” is not so great. Why do we tolerate that?

These days, I’ll admit that I feel pono pretty much all of the time. It takes some work and I can certainly get knocked off my game. But for the most part, I feel like I’m solidly “on foundation.”

But I definitely remember when this wasn’t the case. I remember feeling that I still had lots to prove and lots to defend. I remember being in a seemingly perfect relationship that was a mess behind closed doors. I remember being in a career that fit like a suit that’s two sizes too small. I remember walking around in a physical body that was overweight and out of shape – and treating it like my worst enemy, not my best friend. And I remember tolerating all those things.

Why? Hard to say. Maybe because I wasn’t certain it could be different. Maybe because it hadn’t gotten unbearably painful yet. Maybe because we live in a world where “fine” is all we expect.

Reject Fine and Go for Great

But the ancient Hawaiians considered pono the norm. When they were not feeling pono, they treated it as a sign that something was amiss and needing fixing. They didn’t tolerate that slight discomfort; they didn’t just cope with it. They knew that discomfort – large or small — was a call to action. So what actions did they take?

  • Forgiveness – Okay, you’ve heard this a million times. But it’s true: forgiveness is often the key to getting right in the world again. It isn’t so much for the person or situation that caused the need to forgive. It’s about really clearing yourself of the negative emotions that have you in their grip. It’s about reconnecting with who you are and getting back into the flow of life without that immobilizing fear, anger, and resentment.
  • Gut Check – Ancient Hawaiians firmly believed in the wisdom of the gut, the intelligence of intuition. But modern Western culture worships at the altar of the left brain with its logic. We get trapped into making decisions or staying in situations that don’t feel quite right – but we can’t come up with a good rational reason to do otherwise. If something feels off, it probably is. Respecting the wisdom of the gut can often bring us back on track.
  • Tell the Truth – Hawaiians believed in ‘oia’i’o, which means a level of truthfulness that does not hold anything back. It starts with telling yourself the truth about a situation or how you are feeling. “Fine” is rarely the full truth when you really take a long hard look. Then that truth you find often has to be expressed somehow, either in words or in deeds. Staying in un-truth or not expressing a truth you’ve discovered blocks your energy and obstructs your creativity. That old saying really is true: the truth will set you free.

Are you fully comfortable in your own skin? Do you feel completely pono and right with the world? I’d suggest that you take a tip from the ancient Hawaiians and become totally intolerant of those times when you feel off or out of sorts.

Reject “fine” and go for great!

About the Author: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where he serves as a master trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a practical behavioral technology for helping people achieve their desired results in life. Dr. Matt has also immersed himself in Huna, the ancient practices of the Hawaiian islands of forgiveness and meditation for mental health and well-being, and he carries on the lineage of one of the last practicing kahuna. In his most recent book, Find Your Purpose, Master Your Path, Dr. Matt melds the ancient wisdom of Huna with modern psychology to assist us in leading conscious, purpose-driven lives. He contributes regularly to The Huffington Post and Psychology Today blogs. For more information and to receive the first training lesson toward your NLP Practitioner Certification for free, visit www.NLP.com


  1. Fantastic guest post! I’m keenly attracted to the concept characterized by pono, “that feeling of being right with the world or the state of unwavering congruency”.

    The close of the post couldn’t be more perfect:
    Reject “fine” and go for great!

    Indeed, I think I will—thanks for the encouragement.

  2. Love the Hawaiian concept of Pono. The three steps from fine to great are so simple, yet absolutely perfect. An authentic life needs Pono. Love that word. Takes effort that is so worth it.

    Thank you, Dr.James.

    Thank you so much JD. You always bring a fantastic message that makes my life better.


  3. Funny, someone was just saying to me today that something in her life didn’t feel “pono”. I live in Hawai’i! I really like the emphasis on truthfulness. If we are not truthful with ourselves, how can we ever feel congruent or right with the world? These are wonderful aspirations to live by!

  4. What a great post.

    While he might say “modern Western culture worships at the altar of the left brain with its logic”, that in itself is actually an illogical behavior. What a conundrum!

    The logical path would be to balance pono and logic. Trusting your gut (intuition) should be the very first signal that we need to look for other more logical indications to confirm our thoughts. Somehow we like to rationalize intuition away with logic rather than allow the one to build on the other.

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