Asked how he became the poster child for what he refers to as “forgiveness therapy,” author Fred Luskin, Ph.D., answered that it all goes back to his desire to have a better understanding of practical spirituality.
Luskin, author of “Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness” (HarperOne, 2001), is director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project.
“I’ve had a longstanding interest in spiritual matters,” said Luskin, prior to teaching a class at Stanford Health Library recently. “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 researching 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 his claims with data. His Forgiveness Projects, an ongoing series of humanitarian workshops, have afforded him opportunities 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 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He recently headed to Northern Canada, where he provided forgiveness training for the native population in Inuvik.
During the class in Palo Alto – a course Luskin has taught 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,” he said.
“There are billions of people telling themselves that somebody was a real (jerk) all day long,” he said. “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 midstream is usually easier said than done.
“The idea of forgiveness still makes people edgy,” Luskin 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 highlighted the need for good examples.
“There’s very little encouragement to practice forgiveness or compassion, so we don’t get to recognize what they’re like in ourselves,” he said.
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) that 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.
“I believe that whatever there is in us that is touched by the spirit or Spirit or God or whatever it is, is active, separate from what we call it. That’s just what I believe,” he said.
For more information on Luskin, visit learningtoforgive.com.
Eric Nelson, a Los Altos resident, serves as media and legislative spokesman for Christian Science in Northern California. The First Church of Christ Scientist is located at 401 University Ave., Los Altos, and the public Reading Room at 60 Main St. For more information, visit norcalcs.org.