Asked how he became the poster child for what he refers to as “forgiveness therapy,” Forgive For Good author Dr. Fred Luskin says, it all goes back to his desire to have a better understanding of practical spirituality.
“I’ve had a longstanding interest in spiritual matters,” said Luskin prior to teaching a class at Stanford Health Library in Palo Alto. “I’ve been reading spiritual books since high school, but I’ve always wanted to know if this stuff is true. Is it teachable? Does increased spirituality lead you to be a better person? Does it improve your health?
“From my point of view, if something is true, it’s true. It’s not going to be true on a theoretical level and not be true on a physical level.”
Some 20 years later, Luskin, a Stanford-trained psychologist who spent 10 years doing research on preventative cardiology, is convinced that increased spirituality, including the ability to forgive, does in fact make you a better person and improve your health.
“Forgiveness is one of those ways where we wipe clean a major threat to our well-being,” he said. “That causes the body to have more time to repair. Immune function goes up, blood pressure goes down.”
Luskin backs up his claims with plenty of data. His “Forgiveness Projects” – an ongoing series of humanitarian workshops – have afforded him the opportunity to test his methods on a variety of populations exposed to extreme violence in places like Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone, as well as the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. In March he is headed to Northern Canada where he will provide forgiveness training for the native population in Inuvik.
During last month’s class in Palo Alto – a course Luskin has been teaching under the auspices of Stanford Hospital since 1998 – the focus was less on health and more on our innate desire to “do a little peacekeeping in the world.”
“There are billions of people telling themselves that somebody was a real [jerk] all day long,” said Luskin. “That’s really easy for human beings to do. That’s swimming with the stream. To create peace, you need to swim against the stream sometimes, in fact, often.”
Of course, changing directions mid-steam is usually easier said than done.
“The idea of forgiveness still makes people edgy,” he said. “They’re afraid of giving up the resentment, like somehow they’re not safe, if they can’t resent and hate and dislike. They think that some of their weaponry or their protection is being removed.”
Luskin also notes the need for good examples.
“There’s very little encouragement to practice forgiveness or compassion,” he said. “So we don’t get to recognize what they’re like in ourselves.” Asked to offer up a positive role model or two, Luskin was quick to respond:
“Not to be ridiculous, but Jesus would be a hero of mine.”
An obvious choice, perhaps, but one that is too often forgotten in a culture cluttered with what Luskin describes as “one dimensional action [figures] who shoot people.” Recalling the Amish group in Pennsylvania who, in 2006, responded to a violent attack on their one-room schoolhouse with an outpouring of forgiveness, he said, “They actually believe that it’s their responsibility to practice what Jesus says.”
The good news, according to Luskin, is that such a response – and the benefits that go along with it – is not reserved for the Amish but is accessible to all of us.
“I believe that whatever there is in us that is touched by the spirit, or Spirit, or God or whatever it is,” he said, “that it is active, separate from what we call it. That’s just what I believe.”
Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.
When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.