I’ve been reading Dr. Luskin’s book called Forgive for Good, recommended to me by a friend who found it interesting because of his approach to forgiveness for health. As a health professional, I was also intrigued. I’d never heard anyone talk about it like that before, the need to practice forgiveness as a means to better health. As I read on, it kept confirming everything I’ve studied about the nervous system and how we react to stress, and how chronic levels of stress are so harmful to our bodily systems.
Holding on to a grudge, playing it over and over in our heads, creates a physiological reaction in our bodies; our negative thoughts create a stress response. But – now, check this out – our bodies do not understand that the grievance we are replaying in our mind is not happening again in this very moment. Therefore, our body reacts to the negative thoughts we replay in our mind as if we are preparing to defend ourselves from that past situation again at this very minute. And so, our fight-or-flight response is activated, and there go our stress chemicals, spiking. Thoughts are powerful. The Peace Pilgrim, Mildred Lisette Norman, said, “If you knew how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative one.”
On Dr. Luskin’s CD that details his 9 Steps to Forgiveness, he gives a description of what forgiveness might look like using an air traffic control analogy. This visual especially helped me, because the idea of circling in a plane and not being allowed to land gives me a minor wave of panic and claustrophobia (thoughts are powerful, see!). Letting those pesky planes land, finally halting all the negative thoughts, the grudges, the past hurt dwelling in your mind for years, frees you. Letting them land and clearing your screens makes space inside of you for peace to come back in. Your mind, body and health can begin to return to balance.
Oh, by the way, the grudges you’re holding on to might be against yourself. You might be simmering a pot full of regrets from your past about ways you wish you would have done things differently (hand raised over here). If you don’t have regrets, you’re super-human! These grudges against yourself might be the first wave of planes you want to try to land. The past cannot be changed and dwelling on how we wish it was different has no productive value in the present. We can strive to learn from our mistakes and hope that we’ll do things differently in the future, but it’s irrational to expect that we will ever do life perfectly. Remember that Cheryl Cole quote, “I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I’m thinking of making some more.” Have mercy; let those regrets go.
Below, I’ve transcribed the air traffic control example from Dr. Fred Luskin’s CD “Forgive for Good.” (Track 1; minute 39:34)
“The image I like to leave people with, about forgiveness, is an image of an air traffic control screen. On that air traffic control screen are airplanes. And, each of us has our own little air traffic control screens and the airplanes are the stuff we think about. And they go buzzing around and they land and they circle, and they do what airplanes do. Now, our grievances, or our grudges, are the planes that are on our air traffic control screen that sometimes circle up there for years, that sometimes take up our precious mind and hurt our precious bodies by keeping them up in space and by forcing our air traffic controller to constantly monitor them.
I define forgiveness, or I display forgiveness, as letting those planes land, of taking them off the air traffic control screen, allowing the planes to land and letting the passengers go. If you want to picture what it’s like before you forgive, it’s planes circling and circling and circling. After you’ve forgiven, after you’ve practiced PERT, after you have changed your story, and after you’ve started to look for what’s good in your life, then those planes land and your screen is clear. That is the incredible power that forgiveness has; it wipes your screen clear.
Now, it doesn’t mean that you’re not careful and it doesn’t mean that you don’t look out for yourself and it doesn’t mean that you don’t try to avoid painful situations. You have to do all of those. But, forgiveness means that your slate is clear. Even before this hurt happened it was possible that it could happen, and even though you’ve forgiven a new hurt may occur. But, once you get in the habit of forgiving and once you get in the habit of telling your story as one who has coped and survived, the next time it happens you’re not thrown for as big a loop, and you know what to do. You know the 9 Steps to Forgiveness, and you know that if you practice those steps you will forgive. And you know that if you practice those steps you will feel better and you will feel more confident. And, research shows that your health will likely improve, and your relationships will likely improve.
What I will leave you with is the exortaton to try this, to take these nine steps and work with them, on something in your life; to practice. And, if you find that there are one or two things in your life that are big and they’re hard, practice on something small. Practice on something manageable. The key is, through practice, find the place in yourself that is forgiving. Find the place in yourself where forgiveness just waits to be unlocked. Find the place in yourself where you are naturally peaceful, naturally open to life. When you do that, you become so much more powerful, so much more peaceful, and you will have forgiven for good.”