The long, wooden conference table was surrounded by 12 women, including me. We giggled a bit: Where were the men?
“All over the world, it’s almost always women,” said the first and only man to enter the room, Fred Luskin, PhD, the instructor of a four-week “Forgive for Good” class (presented by the Stanford Health Improvement Program) and founder of a movement to forgive – for your own health. He looked every bit the professor — gangly, with disheveled hair and a shirt sporting an equation.
“Even in northern Ireland?,” one woman asked.
“Even in northern Ireland,” Luskin responded.
I came to watch, to record as an observer, just as I have covered hundreds of events in the past. But in Luskin’s class, everyone must forgive. Even journalists.
It hurt to darken my laptop and separate my fingers from its well-worn keys. I bristled during the initial relaxation session, where we were directed to focus on our breathing. He’s saying things and I’m missing them! Grrrrrr. My heart raced.
“You can’t forgive if you don’t relax,” Luskin said. “You have to quiet down and open.”
I tried to pretend I was in yoga class. I took in a breath. Open. Breathe. Then, the relaxation session was over and I relaxed, once again reunited with my trusty Mac.
But then, as Luskin was mentioning that many women had taken his classes to forgive their ex-husbands – “There’s lots of terrible ex-husbands running around,” he joked – I looked around the table. Here were 11 women, driven to spend four evenings letting go of a hurt that was tearing them up inside. Instantly, my aggravation slipped away. My teensy anger was nothing compared to the real wrongs of the world.
“It’s quick and difficult to be a human being,” Luskin said. “You don’t get a do-over.”
Grieving and suffering are normal, he said. Yet make sure the harm doesn’t dampen the rest of your life. A jerk cuts you off on the freeway? Fume for a second, but one exit later it should be forgotten, Luskin said. A drunk driver leaves you crippled? That takes a bit longer, maybe five years. Dreadful childhood? No one in their 50s should still be stewing about their harsh lot.
“Life is very challenging,” Luskin said. “Do you want to spend years holding on to your part of that challenge? Or can you accept your portion of portion of pain?”
Once the grieving is done, stop talking about the hurt, Luskin said. “We used to call this shut-up therapy… Just shut up and stop driving yourself nuts.”
Then, he said, you can love again, without hiding your heart. That’s a message worth parting from my computer.
-This blog post originally appeared on Scopeblog, the link is http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2014/10/03/learning-to-forgive-with-fred-luskin-phd/ By Becky Bach on Oct. 3, 2014
Frederic Luskin is a professor in the Psy.D. program in clinical psychology at Sofia University. He teaches the clinical assessment sequence, as well as quantitative research methods. He also chairs the research ethics committee and has an extensive background in assessment and research, as well as teaching positive psychology.
Frederic is a senior consultant in wellness and health promotion at Stanford University, where he teaches the positive psychology class. He also teaches forgiveness and stress management to groups around the United States. He is one of the most recognized researchers and teachers of forgiveness in the United States. He has clinical licenses as a marriage and family counselor, educational psychologist and clinical psychologist. He also holds credentials in counseling and school psychology.