A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain. Samuel Johnson
Our human lives are kaleidoscopes of joy and pain, happiness and grief, ecstasy and suffering. We share together the highs and lows of existence. One of the negative experiences we all share as human beings is suffering.
Suffering takes many different forms, and comes from many different sources. The suffering focused on in Forgive For Good: A PROVEN Prescription for Health and Happiness, by Dr. Fred Luskin (HarperCollins Publisher), is pain caused us by other people, and the suffering that often follows from our reaction to what others have done to us. Pain is unavoidable in life; but suffering? Ah, that is another story.
Suffering is workable. Suffering can be limited. Suffering can even be considered optional, according to Dr. Luskin, and in this little book he leads readers steadily and surely to a place beyond suffering: a place of inner peace, gratitude, appreciation of love and beauty, a place of serenity amidst suffering, a place called forgiveness.
So many things that happen to us seem unforgivable. The pain of personal betrayal by a loved one, a spouse, a trusted friend, a business partner, a boss or coworker. The act of betrayal causes pain, but the memory of the betrayal often lingers in the form of grudges, painful wounds that never seem to heal, leaving emotional and psychic scarring.
Perhaps we feel that in principle we have to oppose the injustice caused us. This opposition can turn into a grudge that goes on and on, because the requirement for the opposition to injustice to end is the guilty party making amends or apologizing. Sometimes that happens, but more often the guilty party moves on, oblivious to our silent outrage, an outrage that turns into a grievance that never ends. It causes us to become oblivious to the beautiful things in our life, and even causes health problems that can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
So we can get stuck in our suffering. It is not our whole life, of course. But the past can cast a veil over the present. Preoccupation with grievances overshadows the genuinely beautiful and happy things happening in our lives. Dr. Luskin talks about all this and offers very practical , easy to use techniques to lessen the suffering in our lives. He divides his book into three parts: creating a grievance; the science of forgiveness; and forgiveness techniques, what could be called the art of forgiveness.
First, we need to realize we have a grievance causing suffering in our lives. Luskin says forming a grievance has three steps:
- an exaggerated taking of personal offense
- blaming the offender for how you feel
- the creation of a grievance story
According to Dr. Luskin, the “careful feeding and nurturing of a grievance story keeps hurts alive forever:”
“Although there may be a infinite number of ways people can be unkind to you, the mechanisms by which a deep hurt is created are the same. No matter what caused the pain, the three steps of the grievance process can be clearly dissected. Understanding this process will lead to the wonderful experience of forgiveness.” (page xiii)
A grievance is formed when we lack the skills to confront the reality of things not turning out the way we had hoped. When we deal with our experience well, a grievance can be avoided. When we handle the situation poorly, a grievance is usually the result.
Bad things happen in life. But we don’t need to dwell on them. Luskin recommends spending as much time searching out beauty, gratitude, and love in our lives as we spend nursing our wounds. He likens this to a remote control that can change channels from the grievance channel to the gratitude, beauty, nature, or love channel.
Another metaphor is the air traffic controller. The planes in the sky are our grievances, and the more we hold onto grievances the more they fly around without ever landing. Luskin says:
“Your grievances are the planes that will not land. They fill up your screen, they occupy your mind, and they make it harder for you to appreciate the things in your life that are wonderful. Missing the beauty in our lives is the unanticipated damage grievances can create. We just watch one TV channel at a time and what we tune in to often can become a habit.”
“It saddens me to see countless people who fail to pay attention or be grateful to those they love because they are either thinking of people who have hurt them or feeling sorry for their loss. I am not saying to ignore problems in your life or deny that people hurt you. But focusing too much attention on a hurt makes it stronger and forms a habit that can be difficult to break. You do not have to dwell endlessly on the painful things in your life.”
The science of forgiveness consists of numerous rigorously conducted studies on the physical and mental and emotional benefits that flow from forgiveness; not least is enhanced appreciation of gratitude, faith, and care that all have a positive impact on cardiovascular functioning.
Many studies show that anger and hostility are harmful to cardiovascular health. People who have difficulty managing anger have higher rates of heart disease and suffer more heart attacks.
But the forgiveness studies conducted by Dr. Luskin specifically proved that people who completed his forgiveness training reported “a significant decrease in the symptoms of stress” and even maintained this improvement in a follow up study done four months later.
Luskin gave forgiveness training to Protestant and Catholic families who had lost family members to violence in Northern Ireland. They were families trying to cope with senseless violence that had forever changed their lives. In two studies, called the HOPE Project and HOPE2, those who received forgiveness training “showed statistically valid increases in physical vitality and well being, and decreases in anger, stress, and grief.”
So what is forgiveness training? Here we move from science to art, albeit a very practical art. Luskin outlines a series of small techniques to use, slowly and gradually, to first get ready to forgive, and then to actually start forgiving. The funny thing is, when you forgive you don’t let the perpetrator off the hook – you let yourself off the hook.
And you don’t have to forgive. Forgiveness is, according to Luskin, one option in a menu of choices you have to respond to the hurt in your life. He presents a variety of techniques for healing: changing the channel, breath of thanks, heart focus, and PERT, (short for positive emotion refocusing technique).
The workshops Luskin leads have resulted in much anecdotal evidence that the techniques Luskin advocates are more than temporary feel good gimmicks. The results are demonstrable in people’s lives. Luskin elaborates:
“Forgiveness is the practice of extending your moments of peacefulness; forgiveness is the power that comes from knowing a past injustice does not have to hurt today. Forgiveness is available anytime, completely under your control. It does not rely on the actions of others; it is a choice you alone can make.”
“Forgiveness is only one response of many you can choose from when you are hurt. Forgiveness is a skill you can learn. Forgiveness takes place by undoing each of the steps of the grievance process. We learn to balance the impersonal aspect of hurt with the personal, we take responsibility for how we feel when someone hurts us, and finally, we change our grievance story to a forgiveness story, where we become the hero instead of the victim. (p. 65)”
Forgive for Good is a very practical book taking you step by step through a healing process that helps you get relief from your suffering. The techniques are simple, and they really work. This writer speaks from personal experience. I have tried the suggestions in the book. They do work. That is why I am happy to recommend this book for anyone who wants to heal.
Forgive For Good: A PROVEN Prescription for Health and Happiness, by Dr. Fred Luskin (HarperCollins Publisher).
Fred Luskin, Ph.D. is the author of Forgive for Good and Forgive for Love and one of the world's leading researchers and teachers on the subject of forgiveness. He is the director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects, a series of research projects that investigate his forgiveness methods. He holds an appointment as a Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford and is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. He lives in Palo Alto, California.