“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” ~ Michelangelo
“I find it really interesting how Fred Luskin turns forgiveness into something simple that we can all work on.
1. Becoming more grateful, which is (for me) an idea that we always should have in mind.
2. Manage the stress about the situation, to keep a control on it.
3. Changing the story you tell, ‘when you change your story to something else, you give your body different pathways to function and your mind different pathways to open to.’
4. You cannot prove that life owes you something else, ‘Prove that it was an error and you didn’t deserve the mother you got.’ I interpret it like : things that happened to you, you can only accept it, see it differently, and change your mind about it.
Also, forgiveness isn’t only about conflict resolution; if you can put your body enough open to be ready to forgive, you’re also more open to be ready to accept things, and see them with a brand new look.”
Thank you for coming back to comment on that excellent video on forgiveness by Fred Lushkin. As you say, he succeeds in breaking it down into the specific parts you precisely list, making the process both more understandable and immediately applicable. But beyond that, as you so rightly point out, the attitude of forgiveness is not just about conflict or the past; it is a personal state of open readiness to accept things as they are, an essential “Yes” to life as it is unfolding, which completely changes the quality and the possibilities of any given moment.
I wrote some years ago, and believe it even more so as I get older, that forgiveness is an essential skill that is imperative to learn in life. And it starts by recognizing that it’s not about letting the bad guy off the hook; it’s about this:
Forgiveness is really about absolution: to set free. But if you look carefully at the dynamic, the one you’re setting free is yourself.
And setting free is not an exaggeration. When we don’t forgive, we continue to carry an unnecessary, debilitating weight and underlying, immobilizing hostility that permeates our perspectives more than we realize. This is true even if it’s something we’re not consciously aware of. But perhaps even more significant is that we close down our access to subtle forms of serendipity – being in the right place at the right time. Which then gives us a permanent excuse for why so much of life feels like an uphill battle: “I can place the blame right there.” The impact, over a broad spectrum of experience, is enormous and in many cases life-defining. It’s big boy and girl stuff, and fits right at the core of recent conversations on this blog in Cultivating Great Character and finding a religious outlook on life.
A friend and I were recently talking about the idea of serendipity (a term coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, in The Three Princes of Serendip, in which the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”). And we were discussing how it comes into play. There are a number of other words that point to this phenomenon, but the basic idea is that circumstances alter for the benefit of the individual once he or she is free from prejudice, resentment and fear – the runoff impact of dragging the past into the present by an unforgiving willfulness to not let it go. Such serendipity could be because of mystical elements at play (as certain religions claim, such as Christianity’s state of grace), or it could be because there are always these natural generosities available to us but we can only find them once we rid ourselves of the self-created chains to our presumed unjustly crippling past. In any case, the process leading to freedom is the same.
Mr. Lushkin delineates that process so concisely, and then comes to a moment when he honestly admits that these steps take one to the probability of freedom but that he does not know exactly what happens after that; there’s some mysterious alchemy that can occur but often doesn’t, in which an internal transformation can happen and the encumbrance is released. My own view of what stops us short of this mysterious alchemy is that the forgiveness has not been fully absorbed by all four of our bodies. We may have gone through the steps in our head, or felt emotional willingness to forgive, or understood the spiritual significance…but we’ve not yet committed ourselves to letting the absolution seep into and clean out the dark nooks and crannies of our angry self-righteousness. (Even just a full awakening to the objective reasons to be grateful should already be enough for that.) Some part of us is still lagging back, wondering if we really want to give in and let the blame go. An aspect of that hesitation is funny in some ways: it’s as if we know that by abandoning our vehement victim story we wouldn’t know what else to be, what other, grander story we may have to learn to live up to.
My favorite part of Mr. Lushkin’s presentation, which for me puts the entire issue into context:
“For each of us, our contribution to this world is our presence and the way we comport ourselves… how did you respond to the unkindness that was sent your way?”
I’ve known a number of very successful persons, including some working in personal betterment fields or as therapists, who rely almost entirely on their unforgiving hostility toward their parents, some other authority figure, or an ex-loved one for motivation – “I’ll show you, you asshole.” And this works up to a point, especially if they keep focused on external successes that are recognizable and sought by others (although you have to choose your friends and clients carefully to make sure they fall into that category). I’ve watched these stories unfold, and I’m still watching some of them, curious to see if they’ll find the courage to take all that talent and skill and direct them to getting over the big hill into a new, more expansive, reconciled and adventurous life story. The very top of that hill will almost surely involve a genuinely humble request for forgiveness for how ruthlessly unforgiving they have been.
And I think this holds true for all of us to at least some degree, the daily decision to either go into battle to fight off all the inequities and abuses, and those who cause them, or to move into the day in the spirit of “This is what I have to work with; how playfully creative can I be?” We cannot really play when we’re covered in armor and our arms are full of weaponry. Nor can we be creative when much of our attention is on our reiteration of how unfair the past has been to us (spoken to ourselves or anyone who will listen).
Coming back to your “ready to accept things, and see them with a brand new look”…none of us as humans have the ability to do this as impeccably as a dog can (interestingly, and probably pertinent, dogs have the biggest heart per body mass of any living creature), but we can find some cool examples if we look around that show us how it’s done. One pet example that I like to watch is Roger Federer when he plays tennis. If you get a chance, I’d recommend taking a look. The most remarkable skill he has is not his obvious grace, precision or versatility that no one else in his field of work can match, but his constant concentration on eliminating the indulgent gap between his mistakes and the next moment. It’s like a constant practice of already-reconciled absolution – just accept it, learn from it, and move on into the brand new look – that serendipitous right place at the right time. For the next moment is already here.