forgiveness: some notes

One of the most fantastic, endlessly delightful things about living in San Francisco is that if you get interested in a particular thing – genetically modified tomatoes, say, or alternative forms of rocket propulsion, or the massive advances in our knowledge of child psychology over the last 30 years, or how difficult it is to forgive someone who has hurt you – chances are the world expert in the field is living and working within a 40-mile radius, and sooner or later you’ll get to hear him or her speak.

Fred Luskin was just great. I’m writing it down here so I don’t forget.

“It’s been a mixed blessing, I have to tell you. The work we’ve done has helped a lot of people, but at the same time I hear an endless succession of horror stories. I hear so many that I don’t even react the same way any more. Talk to enough people about what hurts them and you’ll learn two things: how difficult life can be, and how downright shitty people can be. I see an inexhastibly supply of people who have been hurt. There is so much unkindness, ineptitude and selfishness in the world. We all struggle. Life is so much harder than we thought it would be.

“But the fact is, we over-dramatize our own stuff. This life is meant for us to figure out how to survive it. If we have $100 in the bank, we’re among the top 1-2% of wealthiest people who have ever lived. If we can have some relationships where we experience kindness, we’re truly blessed. How often, when your car starts, do you stop and think, ‘Thank you’? How often are you genuinely grateful for a meal?

“We have a biological imperative to scan the world to find out if we are safe, and we have a biological imperative to suffer from loss. To counterbalance those imperatives, we have to scan the world for its blessings, too. Our biology dictates that negative experiences register in our whole body, while positive experiences can stay on the surface. We have to offer thanks, and welcome goodness into our very cellular being. When we come home to somebody who loves us, to a child who holds up its hands to be hugged, we have to breathe in that blessing.

“As human beings we are built vulnerable. We are subject to physical decay. All the people we love will die. That sucks. When you go out into the world you underestimate the enormous risks you take. You have to find food, shelter, love, meaningful work, friendship. It’s incredibly hard. And every single thing that hurts us reminds us how vulnerable we are. We can win the game of Monopoly, but when the game is over, it goes back in its box, and so do we.

“When we get angry or upset we invoke the stress response. Blood drains from our prefrontal cortex and into our limbic system. We literally can’t think straight. At the same time, our livers release cholesterol to gummy up the blood in our hearts, just in case we get bitten by a lion and might bleed to death. Getting angry is like throwing Drano through your circulatory and immune systems, that’s how much damage it does.

“Forgiveness means you give the same attention to the things that do work for you as you do to the things that don’t, and talk about them with the same gusto. Life doesn’t owe you more than it gave you. It’s up to you to find goodness in what it gave you. It just takes practice.

“Count your blessings.”

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.