Forgiveness Class (Part Five)

Last Class. As I was walking to the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center last Thursday, I felt it was about time to wrap it up.

The week before I went to the American Psychologists Conference in Washington, DC, where I saw movie “Happy” and several other movies about healing techniques used by psychologists and about human mind. That trip reconfirmed that relationships are the most important thing in our life. Overall I felt overwhelmed with all experiences and wanted some rest. With all that I walked in and sat down to meditate with no expectations whatsoever.

We did the same meditation that was in the second class that I missed. It had 3 parts:

1) I ask forgiveness from those whom I intentionally or unintentionally hurt.

2) I forgive myself for intentionally or unintentionally hurting myself.

3) I extend my forgiveness to those who through activity or inactivity, intentionally or unintentionally hurt or harmed me out of fear, pain, anger or confusion.

I focused on my body and my breathing, I wanted to love myself. I remembered one phrase from “The Secret”: “I’ve known myself for 44 years and I love myself, I want to kiss myself”. It was so strange to hear coming from a male, that I remembered it. I was just sitting and concentrating on my body, my organs and cells, craving for more love from me. And suddenly it came, the flow of love inside me for everyone around including me.

In this part of the meditation we had to imagine persons whom we hurt intentionally or unintentionally and ask for their forgiveness. For some reason the person I can’t forgive came to my mind. Don’t I have enough love for them? I thought that I might have hurt them unintentionally and they suffered. I imagined them vulnerable, helpless, trying to find their own inner peace, and acting out on their own discomfort. I only saw a weak person not the offender. Suddenly my heart opened. The block was gone and pain was released. I wanted to extend all my love to them, help them and make them happy. I don’t have to protect myself from them and make sure it doesn’t repeat again. What happened a while ago was just a hurting moment but the rest of my life seems like the Universe or infinity. I can’t poison my body, my life and all around me with negative thoughts and artificially created barriers. I hugged that person in my mind, and I couldn’t stop my tears. I accepted them, the past act, the love between us, and that we are all humans who make mistakes.

Forgiveness Class (Part Four)

I haven’t been doing my homework at all, partly because I didn’t think it would help, partly because I was busy doing other things, like writing this blog, reading books on happiness including The Secret. But at the same time I was open to everything forgiveness related. For example, I found this in the Positive Psychology Conference brochure:

“Forgiveness Solution Interventions: A Transformational, Energetic and Positive Approach to Less Stress and Greater Peace, Love, Joy, Life Satisfaction, Happiness, Well-Being and Relationship Harmony

Philip Friedman, Foundation for Well-Being, PlymouthMeeting, PA, United States

This workshop explores the different practical aspects of my new book “The Forgiveness Solution” (named by Spirituality & Practice one of the best books of 2010) It draws on cognitive, emotional, spiritual, positive and energetic approaches to forgiveness and healing. Participants will have the opportunity to learn transformational forgiveness imagery techniques, positive affirmations and different levels of the Positive Pressure Point Techniques that facilitate forgiveness.

The goal of true forgiveness is peace, happiness, joy, love, satisfaction with life, gratitude and healed relationships. The intervention tools presented in this workshop have been empirically demonstrated in the authors clinical research to rapidly catalyze healing and change using measures such as the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener et. al); The Heartland Forgiveness Scale (Thompson et. al); The GQ6 Gratitude Scale (McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. the Happiness Scale (Lyubomirsky, S. et. al) and the Friedman Affect, Belief and Well-Being Scales (Friedman et. al.) “

What I remember from the fourth class was bits and pieces of famous phrases, profound statements and forgiveness stories.

There was a story about Japanese warriors, who didn’t know that the war ended and were still living in the forests/caves thinking they were protecting their land and ready to fight any moment. Whenever that person was located someone had to do a very special job delivering the news: dress up as a higher rank officer, appear visible and call for the hiding warrior, who then would show up. Then it was important to congratulate the warrior on being a good soldier, talk about hardships and courage of that person and only after some time gently break the news: “The war is over.” Go home, there is peace now. I somehow related to it, as if I was the warrior still fighting something that is long time over. “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes.

The instructor told us that everything changes, that we don’t stay frozen in our state. Nature changes as there are seasons. We are all interconnected, for example, moon influences water, water influences us and our mood, and we influence others. It is all about transformation. If you can’t move on, don’t force it, make one step at the time, but remember that we can change with time, it is scientifically proven that our mind can change, and that we do have the power to make it. “Don’t carry your burden with you; it is that heavy bag behind your back. Release it and travel light.”

We did another meditation and suffering was mentioned as a reason why people hurt each other. I argued that it is not only because of suffering and fear but also weakness (easy way out, no control over one’s emotions, etc.) The instructor said that being weak is suffering too.

Homework #4: Every day to record 5 things we are grateful for, 5 beautiful things and 5 things of suffering.

As we walked back home, I told my friend that this class is not helping me much. She highly recommended starting a gratitude journal as it helped her years ago. I said that I see how gratitude journal may help me in a long run but I don’t expect any major breakthrough because of it. I thought it could help me be grateful for so many things right now, that I may think that whatever happened was not much at all, and I would see life as more positive and empowering. My friend said that these classes made her soften, to put her armor down. What did they make me?

As I heard all quotes and stories in class it felt that I was at school studying yet another subject. My mind followed and agreed that all statements were right, it is my heart that was suspicious. But at the same time there was a glimpse of hope that when the time is right, forgiveness will work on me.

Forgiveness Class (Part Three)

In the third class we did repetitive question exercise, asking each other the same questions over and over again. “What allows you to forgive? What stops you from letting go? What allows you to be whole?” We had to ask each other these questions multiple times, until we exhaust all our answers.

After we finished it, we shared our experiences. I did empathize with a person I was matched with, but at the same time I felt that my own opinion became even stronger. Others explained their feeling as “I hear you, and you feel that too?” Similar reaction, similar pain. One person mentioned, that you think that you have a reservoir of explanations of why you can’t forgive, but then at some point you do run out of excuses.

Another one noticed that we sometimes are torn between erasing the person from our memory or giving a performance speech of everything we think of them. Or something in between, like emailing a question: “Are you dead yet?”. But then erasing or pushing away makes it stronger, just like in “Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind.” The homework was to keep answering all these questions.

HomeWork #3
Repeating questions: What allows you to forgive? What stops you from letting go? What do I really need to be whole?

I also thought of my Loving kindness meditation back in Shambhala two summers ago. There was this great exercise, when you practice your loving kindness on someone who is dear to you, whom you love, then neutral, then someone you have trouble forgiving, then animals, and then the rest of the world. Just imagine that you are doing something nice for them and they receive your gift and are happy. I imagined that I bought ice cream at the local store for all of them together and saw joy on their faces.

Another exercise was just to stare in somebody’s eyes long enough, it scares you that they may see your soul. But it is Ok, because we shouldn’t hide our souls from others anyways.

I was thinking more about love, if we are love, and I’m love and I have abundance of love, why can’t I love that one person? Why do I have limits?

Forgiveness Class (Part Two)

I missed Forgiveness Class 2, but from what my friend told me the most important part of the class was a 3 step meditation with 5 minutes for each step:

1. I’m sorry for anyone I hurt intentionally or unintentionally. I seek their forgiveness.

2. I forgive myself for not being able to forgive.

3. I forgive others who intentionally or unintentionally hurt me.

Second homework was to write every evening 5 things you are grateful for or ask people tell you their stories of forgiveness. Also: 1) Continue observing any resistance to forgiveness; 2) practice forgiveness in daily sitting and in daily life.

My friend alos told me about the forgiveness project, which currently has 92 stories you can get inspired by:

As I was looking for good forgiveness quotes online, I realized that my favorite book of all times is about forgiveness: “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, who is venerated as a saint in the Vietnamese religion of Cao Dai. From the book review: “One of the biggest themes I see is the theme of forgiveness and redemption in spite of all things Jean goes through. Life is filled with hope no matter how miserable things are. There is redemption both in the physical (with the police) and within himself (being better than a thief). The story is the transformation of a character and you see a lot of this kind of ‘renewal’ in Jean over and over in the novel and once more at the end of the novel.” One of the quotes from the book by Jean Valjean: “I order you to forgive yourself.”

And finally my favorite quote, which I discovered in a cobbler shop in Roslindale, MA years ago is:

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
— Mother Teresa

Forgiveness Class (Part One)

My friend told me about Forgiveness class at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. We decided to attend, as we both want to learn wisdom of forgiveness. The course consists of 5 sessions – 5 Thursday classes 7-8:30PM.

This is what class description says:

We can make a choice to cultivate forgiveness. It is the act of not throwing someone out of our hearts. Forgiveness is a way to see, understand and let go of the pain, anger, guilt and resentment that we carry from harm that was done to us or by us. Forgiveness cannot change our past but can change the present.

In this practice group we will explore what it means to forgive ourselves, to forgive others and to ask others to forgive us. We will use formal meditation practices on forgiveness, as well as discussion and reflection.

First session was four weeks ago. There were about 12 people in class. We started off with meditation. Some people were sitting on cushions, some – on chairs. I do have difficulty with managing my thoughts- “flying horses”, and as a result – difficulty to focus on the NOW instead of the past or the future.

The instructor showed up and gave us introduction to what is going to happen. She read some definitions and good quotes about forgiveness, like “Forgiveness is releasing your pain from the past” or “Give up your hopes of a better past.” She also made sure that we know when people should not forgive, which means that there are exceptions (ex. if someone is being abused currently, it is important to find safety first). Then there are other stages of dealing with emotions before you get to the forgiveness step. After we all introduced each other, it became clear that all of us in the room were there because it is not easy for us to either forgive or get forgiveness from other people or ourselves. I felt that I’m not alone, but with people who feel my pain.

When we got the exercise of coming up with definitions of what forgiveness is not, I blanked. The same with stories about forgiveness. I just couldn’t think of any examples of forgiveness stories just because it is not the subject I’m savvy about or comfortable with. That is why I’m in that class! I told that I tend to avoid or exclude people from my life when I think they hurt me. But when it was time to share a forgiveness story, my mind dug through the memory closets and was finally able to pull one story about my experience with Men are from Mars, Women from Venus book. At the end of the book there was a section of suggested exercises and I did one which was a Love letter, that I had to write to someone. I intended to write one about my ex-bf or about my sister, but strangely enough I wrote it to my mother, forgiving her for what I held against her for many years and it did release my pain that was still inside me. I realized that her wish for me to be perfect was because she wanted me to be better and more pretty, more clever, more successful than her, but being perfectionist has its consequences. Or leads to excessive self-criticism and feeling that no matter what you do is never good enough. And it finished with a thought that it is Ok tobe imperfect, to make mistakes, it is ok to be you the way you are.

Later in that first session we did another exercise –meditation with envisioning people we have hard time to forgive. I struggled because there was internal resistance to meditating, as I tried to soften about certain people but it was still hard to open my heart. It was shut. I was not upset about it , I just acknowledged that feeling of resistance. But I wanted if not reconcile with them, at least not to hold that resentment about them.

The instructor told us a story about a Cambodian monk. After the massacre of Cameron Rouge, the monk visited village after village and repeated the same statement: “hatred could never be cured with hatred, but only love”. When he was asked how could he find courage and be able to visit so many places and talk to victims to help them heal, he always responded with the same phrase: “I was just making peace with myself.”

Homework: #1.

Practice noticing what stands in the way of forgiveness. Begin to experience in the body how our willingness or unwillingness to forgive feels. Bring a nonjudgmental awareness to any resistance that arises while you practice forgiveness. We do this to see clearly and enable us to experience resistance for what it is. For example, notice how your body is reacting when someone cuts you off.

Later that night I told another story about forgiveness to my friend and was amazed that I do know stories it is just they are buried inside me, as I don’t practice this topic much. But then I thought about someone important who I can’t forgive and I thought that maybe I did hurt that person too, that is why they reacted certain way I couldn’t forgive for more than a year.

Cambridge Testing of the Formula

There were 17 testers at Algiers Café on Wednesday at 7PM. The weather was nice, and the café was full of people, including some book club crowd downstairs.

Testers completed the forms to calculate the happiness ratio and also participated in the mentoring session (everyone anonymously wrote a question and others answered that question anonymously). I introduced something new this time – a feedback form, which asked how correct the ratio received on the form vs the subjective one in people’s minds on a scale of 1-10? Out of 17 testers, 2 said they have no clue, but others put down numbers. The mean (average), mode and median are 8. The answers varied from 3 to 10/Very scary accurate. Note: It is not impossible that there were some errors, as I manually entered 680 numbers, so please forgive me if an error took place, I did my best to verify all input.

The main idea of the formula is that it is always changing, including your satisfaction and importance of categories. It works better when you take the test several times and see your graphs for overall happiness and for each category separately as well as trend over time.

Another important part is that you can customize your formula (none out of 17 people marked any of the categories as not important=0, but if you did, that would allow you to customize your formula). Example, instead of 20 you would have only 5 categories important to your happiness. In the future you will be able to add your additional category and track it over time.

I also want to include some comments here from the feedback forms. The question was whether all sources of happiness are covered or if some are missing. In the future each category will have subcategories. See testers’ answers and my comments in parenthesis:

– Weather (is in environment, but I’ll have a separate tracking of weather in the tool on the day of your measurement)

– Diet and activity level (are in health category)

– Food (is in basic needs)

– Faith, spirituality (are in values and spiritual beliefs)

– Sense of progress is important (in self-esteem)

– Ask if they have a passion (is in passion)

– Free time (is in basic needs)

– I don’t see inner peace (this is the outcome)

– I think some deeper, more complex elements are missing sort of like unexplainable malaise (is in health and acceptance)

I also want to mention that people who are currently depressed and/or don’t want to take the test are free to skip it and go straight to the mentoring part of the tool. The test is just an assessment that helps you detect areas for change, no matter how hard they are, but everything is possible, read this article.

First comment after the event was over: “It feels so good to give answers to people’s questions… Especially when you read problems you experience yourself.”

Comments from the feedback form: “Really liked the exercise with problems and solutions.”
“ The ability to empathize with people /discuss things has been great.”

“How do I get a higher score?” (it is part of the online tool – collection of all kinds of solutions )

“It is not comprehensive enough”. (It is if you customize it to exatly match your real priorities, btw there is another formula that was created by scientists several years ago, check it out to see if you like that formulabetter)

“Accept facts + stress should not be in the same question” (I’ll look into this one)

“It would be neat if you published the Q&A anonymously on the web or provided the option for people to make theirs anonymous.” (That is the plan so far).

Other comments: “Wait, Isn’t the ultimate answer 42?”

After event was over, I found one form left behind and since it is anonymous, I want to quote from it just to give an idea /examples of what kinds of questions/answers were created:

Q1: How to have better relationship with brother despite large geo separation?

A1: If you have access to Internet, there email and Facebook, twitter. If not, you write letters and mail them to each other. I lie 500 miles from family and we find ways to communicate.

A2: So I have a brother in LA. I said a month ago I’m gonna to visit. Booked tickets after calling him. He was super pleased. So my advice: call him, plan something that both agree on+get time off+go. This should work, unless he is in jail.

A3: My brother lives 3,500 miles away. I send him silly (as in funny) cards, postcards. Email +text, chat to him on PS3 network.

Q2:How to find a satisfying and meaningful occupation?

A1: I’m in the same boat as you. For now be brave and confident.

A2: Try and try again. Always keep looking even through bad things.

A3: Find what you are passionate about, and what you enjoy spending your time doing and pursue it. You should feel like your worktasts are opportunities not obligations.

A4: I used “what color is my parachute?”+ read up on many different occupations. Even pursued different vocations, but finally settled. I’m in my 40s +finally satisfied. It takes research +$$ unfortunately. But good luck.

A5: Take some online tests or get friends to quiz you about your perfect job – what do you want to do??

Thank You to all who participated, your feedback is invaluable. And thank you to my friend Susanna for helping run the event. I will be making final adjustments to the formula and working on making it available online with all the graphs and cool features that we didn’t have time to go through. There will be a lot choose from: you can do just mentoring or do the test and analyze it in time, do diary, wish maps, gratitude journals, the test on what your meaning of life is and other things.

Stay tuned and be happy! 🙂

My Mail Stop is 42

This is my 42nd post and I want to dedicate it to the girl I met 10 years ago.

In the summer of 2001 three of us were staying in the loft on the second floor of a moving company building in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. One of my roommates was Lena, funny, clever, sincere and charming. That summer she came to the States to work and travel for three months, and was planning to go back to Estonia and continue her studies. Lena was very artistic; she played guitar, sang and composed poetry.

Three of us had summer jobs all over the island: car rental, ice cream shop, hotel front desk, retail store. We were truly happy. Coming to our loft after work, we would always share our experiences. I remember not sleeping several nights at all just because we were talking, laughing, sharing secrets all night. We had long conversations about the meaning of life. Is it about achieving some heights or just having fun? We did crazy spontaneous things, like swimming at night and discovering bio-luminescent beach. We went sailing in Edgartown harbor on the historical museum boat. The more I knew her, the more I thought she was an angel, not perfect, but pure, with good heart and kind soul. Lena worked in the ice cream shop, and I remember buying cones of maple walnut ice-cream from her, which was my favorite. She would go back home late at night on her bicycle. At the end of the summer a friend of mine invited me to visit California, and so I left the island early. Right after I got to San Francisco, I went to Sausalito. It was there that I stopped at the internet café and got the news: Lena got killed by a drunken truck driver while going home late at night after work. It was probably a couple of weeks before her return home to Estonia.

I remember standing in Sausalito, looking at the ocean, at the sky and crying, asking “Why”? Why people with good hearts, full of life, potential and love leave so early? Did she fulfill her mission in her short life time of 2o something years? I was crying so hard that I looked at the sky and asked her (I was sure she could see me from there) to be my guardian angel, to help me live through life and experience what she would want to experience and do things she didn’t have time to do.

It’s been 10 years since then. Did I do what she wanted me to do? Perhaps. I traveled the world. I completed MBA and worked for a big corporation. I had fun. I loved. I was depressed. I read a lot of books.

I’m happy, not crazy happy, but content happy.

Happy that I live in our time, that I’m free and I can do all the things I want to do to. That my parents are still alive and I love them, that I have great friends, who bring joy into my life. That I like my work. That I meet similar-minded people and get more ideas about how to make people happy. That on Wednesday I will organize another group testing of the happiness formula.

That it is still summer and even more beautiful season fall is coming upon us in Boston. That on May 21 nothing catastrophic happened and hopefully will not happen on Dec 21 in 2012. And I still plan to work on this website, the blog and attend the Winter Olympic Games in my home town in 2014.

Thank you, Lena, for guiding me through life to experience everything I’ve experienced and have time and opportunity to work on the things I love.

International Well-Being Study

Aaron Jarden from The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Psychology, Wellington, New Zealand and Canterbury University, Psychology, Christchurch, New Zealand; Todd Kashdan from George Mason University, Psychology, Fairfax, VA, USA

Longitudinal in-depth studies of well-being are few and far between. The International Well-Being Study ( one of the largest and most comprehensive studies in the field of positive psychology to date.

Beginning in March 2009 and available in 16 languages, this study asks participants 208 questions every three months for a year. Measures include 18 validated scales; global well-being scales, component well-being scales, measures of negative symptomatology, and of positive and negative events. To date the survey has been completed more than 10,000 times in English alone.

In addition to its notability for its size and scope, this study is also notable for its collaborative nature, cheap cost, scalable use of technology, and longitudinal design which will also be discussed. There are some very interesting findings in the study data to date andimplications of these findings – for example, that the extent to which participants live their lives in alignment with their values is a stronger predictor of life satisfaction than components currently studied in the field – strengths, gratitude, hope, meaning, etc – , or that satisfaction with time use is also a very strong predictor of well-being.

Resilience Lessons

Applying Resilience Skills for Young People: A Curriculum-Based Approach

Toni Noble from Australian Catholic University, Sydney, Australia

Life is a bumpy journey and everyone experiences setbacks and makes mistakes. All students at times face challenges in learning and in relationships; and some face more major challenges. All students (and teachers) need to learn the skills to be resilient and bounce back. Th is workshop draws on the award-winning Bounce Back program and applies positive psychology principles to educational curriculum. Bounce Back topics include values, courage, positive emotions, relationships, people bouncing back, optimistic thinking, and skills and attitudes for being successful. Practical activities and strategies will be work-shopped to demonstrate ways to embed the teaching of well-being and resilience in the elementary and middle school curriculum. These strategies include the use of children’s literature, cooperative learning, circle time, drama, songs and other activities to help students learn the academic skills, social skills and coping skills to enhance their well-being and resilience.

Children’s Resilience Program in India

Steve Leventhal from University of California, Global Health Sciences, San Francisco, CA, United States:

We present findings from CorStone’s ‘Children‘s Resiliency Program (CRP)’ in New Delhi, Mumbai and Surat, India.

CRP is a 24-week, school-based prevention program that incorporates elements of positive psychology, restorative practices, and social-emotional learning skills for at-risk adolescent youth in developing countries. The CRP seeks to provide youth with knowledge and tools that build character strengths, inter-personal skills, problem-solving and conflict resolution. In 2009 the CRP was piloted with 97 female students, ages 12-18 at a school in a poverty-stricken Muslim community in New Delhi. Teachers were trained to facilitate weekly one-hour support groups (10 students per group). Group sessions included an interactive 20 minute lesson plan followed by 40 minutes of group sharing and problem-solving. Emotional resilience was assessed by levels of optimism, locus of control, and emotional and behavioral difficulties.

Standardized assessments administered at baseline, midpoint and post intervention, showed large emotional and behavioral effects. ‘Normal’ scores on the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) increased from 33% at baseline to 61% at mid-intervention (12 weeks), whereas the percentage of students having an abnormal score decreased from 45% to 6%. Significant decreases in pessimism and external locus of control were found in post-intervention scores. Attendance increased markedly on days when the program was offered. 99% of students reported that the topics were relevant to their lives and that the program provided valuable learning experiences.

An intervention for 1,000 adolescent girl students in slum communities in Mumbai and Gujarat is currently underway, using a quasi-experimental design with 500 girls receiving the intervention and 500 girls serving as a control group.

UK’s Five Ways to Well-being

Five Ways to Well-Being: UK´s Broader Policy Focus on National Well-Being

Nic Marks from New Economics Foundation, Centre for Well-being, London, UK, Action for Happiness, London, UK

The Five Ways to Well-being – five evidence based positive actions for promoting personal well-being and happiness. The UK Government Office of Science from time to time conducts what they call “Foresight Reviews” of issues that are pertinent to the future of the UK. In 2008 their focus was people’s well-being and we at nef´s centre for well-being were commissioned to produce a list of positive actions that would enhance people’s well-being. They had to target the individual, be universally applicable and of course they had to be evidence based. The whole Foresight project was a massive endeavor and it involved over 300 experts and contained over 100 separately commissioned reports and reviews. Our positive actions project started just as all the other reports were being collated, so we could use them as our primary source of evidence. Five action themes were identified that met the criteria as well having the quality of variety: social relationships, physical activity, awareness, learning, and giving.

The Five Ways were then ´messaged´ (drawing on social marketing techniques) as an invitation to people to try them out: Connect … Be Active … Take Notice … Keep Learning … Give…

The Five Ways have had significant pick up in the UK since the Foresight launch in late 2008 and internationally since the TED lecture and the subsequent publication of the book – The Happiness Manifesto – by nef´s Nic Marks.

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