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Stanford’s Fred Luskin Preaches Health-Inducing Gospel of Forgiveness

‘Forgiveness is one of those ways where we wipe clean a major threat to our well-being. That causes the body to have more time to repair.’

© iStockphoto.com/hidesy
© iStockphoto.com/hidesy

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.

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Tim Gega March 04, 2014 at 09:29 AM
Sounds like Dr. Fred Luskin and I “Preach” (nay) Teach the same message of Neuroscience and the “Proof” that we can heal ourselves and the world with what we put into our own minds and hearts. It’s been my 37 year experience that most Religious folks believe that only God can “Forgive,” (which in fact negates) the whole reason Jesus died on the cross. They refuse to believe how much healing power that Forgiveness really has within our own bodies. I have come up with my own Concepts regarding “Forgiveness” which may be of help here: 1) Instantaneous Forgiveness, (instantly, wholly and completely): 2) Pre-Forgiveness, (knowing the other persons characteristics): 3) Post-Forgiveness, (forgiving after the fact.) But, I don’t stop there. I believe that Gratitude must go hand-in-hand with Forgiveness. Now that’s a recipe for healing. The deeper one goes in Gratitude, the higher one goes into Heaven/Health. ~TG
Tim Gega March 04, 2014 at 09:31 AM
BTW Dr. Fred, Good Luck in Canada. Namaste and Aloha
Tom Joynt March 04, 2014 at 10:11 AM
“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen
Eric Nelson March 04, 2014 at 07:29 PM
Well said Tim and Tom!
Laura R March 05, 2014 at 02:01 PM
Unfortunately, Fred Luskin may not be the person one might hope. We went to see him speak and were curious about his many platitudes and contradictory remarks. After the talk, he smugly refused to speak with anyone who was not buying his book. Gratitude and forgiveness are, of course, very important in life, but perhaps the real Fred Luskin does not quite practice what he preaches.

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