Forgiveness has a lot to do with freedom from painful emotional states which allows us to live and love well. Recent research studies in psychology have found the beneficial effects of forgiveness on emotional and physical health. The concept of forgiveness is discussed in various spiritual and religious traditions. I came across Dr. Fred Luskin’s fascinating research on forgiveness training, a particularly important topic of intersectionality between psychology and spirituality. Forgiveness skills exemplify the concept of “practical spiritual practices”, which may enhance well being. Thus, I am very excited to present my interview with Dr. Fred Luskin regarding his phenomenal and impactful book, “Forgive For Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness”. Dr. Luskin is the cofounder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. He received his doctoral degree in counseling and health psychology from Stanford University and has done many years of work in forgiveness research. He is an acclaimed scholar, professor, psychologist and has written numerous articles in academic journals.
I found Dr. Luskin to be very knowledgeable and wise with a sense of humor as he discussed his forgiveness research results. I was struck with his discussion that he started research on developing an evidence based skill set for forgiveness as he found that the field of psychology did not conduct much research on this important skill. By conducting his research, he discovered that forgiveness is a set of teachable skills which can lead people to let go of their suffering and pain in response to being wounded and allow people to gain some agency and freedom to navigate life intentionally without becoming prisoners of past hurts. He also clarified the misconceptions of what is forgiveness versus what it is not. Forgiveness is not excusing, forgetting, condoning or minimizing past hurts. It does not mandate reconciliation with the person who hurt you. Dr. Luskin emphasized that forgiveness is a choice that must be made by each individual without any duress. He normalized the experience of emotions, such as anger, frustration, rage, bitterness, deep sadness, anguish and suffering after being wounded. He discussed that these emotions need to be acknowledged and processed through the passage of time in safe places before the option of forgiveness is explored. I also loved Dr. Luskin’s discussion in the book that the wounding process often violates one’s rules and assumptions about life. He described the critical idea of “unenforceable rules”, which we all have, that are grossly violated in experiences of being wounded. Dr. Luskin discusses that when this state of inner emotional equilibrium is disrupted over extensive periods of time by the past wound and we are stuck in anger, we need to explore the option of forgiveness. I also love Dr. Luskin’s description that forgiveness is a resolution of the grief process when something happened that is not wanted or something that is desired did not happen. During the interview, we discussed that the grief process is universal but unique to each person based on diversity factors, like cultural and familial factors. Different people grieve differently. Grief and loss are deeply painful experiences of groundlessness due to intense negative emotions and questioning of the assumptions that we had about our lives and the world before the wounding experience or loss. I agree with Dr. Luskin that forgiveness work is for oneself and a critical process which contributes to “inner peace” and “acceptance of life as it is”.
This post includes my interview with Dr. Luskin. I firmly believe that forgiveness skills should be on the menu to explore in cultivating wellbeing. I very highly recommend Dr. Luskin’s book “Forgive For Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness”. He discusses conceptual models of interpersonal and self forgiveness, practical tools for forgiveness practice, and stages in developing forgiveness skills. Dr. Luskin also discusses the health risks associated with chronic states of anger. He demonstrates vulnerability and compassion as he writes about his own wounding experiences which initiated his research on forgiveness training. I was also struck by Dr. Luskin’s friendship with the late Ram Dass, who is one of my favorite spiritual teachers. I love Ram Dass’s description of the “earth curriculum” that we, human beings, sign up for. Ram Dass characterizes the “earth curriculum” as including deeply contrasting experiences: beautiful, awe-inspiring and wondrous moments versus dark, horrific experiences filled with anguish. I completely agree with Ram Dass. The “earth curriculum” is rigorous and challenging at times, such that, we may sometimes stumble, fall and have to get up again and again. As the biopsychosocial and spiritual model of understanding human beings is prevalent in psychology, I agree with Dr. Luskin that the spiritual dimension of human beings may offer the possibility of great resiliency and strength. Ram Dass (formerly known as Dr. Richard Alpert while a psychology professor at Harvard University) discussed that the spiritual dimension may help people transmute negative and painful experiences in the “earth curriculum” to narratives with underlying meaning and purpose.
Hope readers find this post on forgiveness helpful. Many thanks and much gratitude to Dr. Luskin for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do the interview. Please see the link below for my interview with Dr. Luskin.
The tools of forgiveness can be powerful in allowing us to let go of our pain and suffering to past hurts from interpersonal relationships and give us freedom to enjoy the present moment. Dr. Luskin talks about forgiveness skills freeing us of past hurts so that we can nurture healthy relationships with people who love and care about us in the present. Self forgiveness is a key factor to self acceptance and self love. Forgiveness tools can allow us to live and love well. It allows us to seize the day (Carpe Diem).
The cultivation of forgiveness in self and interpersonal relationships is critical to enhancing the art of “relationship yoga”, coined by Ram Dass. I love Ram Dass’s discussion of yoga of relationship as grounds for spiritual and psychological development. Forgiveness can be an important tool in facilitating the equanimity produced by yoga practices within the context of relationships.
Note: This is not a therapy site. Please seek professional medical and mental health services, as needed.