Forgiveness is powerful medicine, but anyone who has ever been hurt knows how difficult it can be to take. There is a glitch in human psychology–call it pride–that keeps people from doing what is in their best interest, a problem that worsens with age. Take children as an example, who forgive much easier than adults even after being subjected to horrible mistreatment. Once the ego is developed, resentment is a far more common reaction to being hurt. Resentment has been likened to drinking from a poisoned cup and waiting for the other person to die. It not only doesn’t work, but it wreaks havoc in the inner life of its subject. Learning how to forgive—and let go of painful memories—can work healing wonders in the mind and body and empower people to live better than they ever have.
Vishen Lakhiani is Founder and CEO of Mindvalley, an educational company specializing in personal growth. He authored the wildly popular book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed on Your Own Terms. Lakhiani knows a thing or two about forgiveness. Two years ago, a friend, confidant, and high-level employee stole $100,000 from his company and threatened and harassed his family unprovoked. In a lecture, Lakhiani describes the powerful benefits he experienced after transforming his hurt through what he calls forgiveness into love. Perhaps most striking of all is the research conducted on his brain that demonstrated positive changes in brainwave activity following this decision. I have transcribed the fascinating video in its entirety.
Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.Nelson Mandela
Sometime last year, I experienced one of the most awful experiences in my life. I found out that a guy I had hired in my office in Malaysia where we have about 140 staff had been stealing money. Worse, he was a trusted person who was in charge of our operations. He was there to make sure that my employees had proper housing, that air conditioning was running, that the massive office of 15,000 sq. ft. was running well. But we caught him actually pilfering money. He had created a series of fake companies under his own name, a relative’s name, and he was paying his own air conditioning repair. Paying his own cleaners. And in the end he had pocketed $100,000 for himself.
So it was an awful thing, and when we finally caught him, there were threats. Threats that he was going to have gangsters follow me in my car on the way home. He started disrupting our work, sending the fire engine over saying that our office was a fire trap. All of this sh*t started happening, and it was a really really really stressful time. But sometimes the world or the universe or God–whatever you want to call it–gives you these moments of stress so you can rise above them. Michael Beckwith calls these kensho moments. Kensho moments are moments where you grow from pain. Something happens. Maybe your health breaks down and you end up in the hospital. But you grow from that and you learn to appreciate your body. I was about to have a Kensho moment, and that Kensho moment happened coincidentally.
This guy Dave Asperey and his friend JJ Bergen invited me to experience a new type of bio-hacking model that Dave was promoting called 40 years of Zen. So I went to this thing and what they promised was this. What was promised was that you’re going to meditate for 5 days in the chamber. You’re going to have your brain hooked up to all these machines. And the scientists who developed this had found how to reverse engineer the brainwave states of monks who had been meditating for 40 years. So they looked at monks, psychics, billionaires–these are what are in their brains. And they reverse engineered that so that you can hook up your brain and in 5 days, you can develop the brainwave activity of a monk who has been meditating for 20 to 40 years. So it’s a bit incredulous, but I thought “Wow, with a promise like that, let’s try it anyway.”
I went there, and as I went into the chamber with my brain hooked up, Dave was there, too, JJ was there, Joe Polish–some of you guys might know him–was there, too. As well as billionaires and Hollywood actors–it was a very elite group. They finally shared with us the secret, what were we supposed to do when our brains were hooked up? Now it turned out it wasn’t going into an astral-projection or lucid dreaming or going into deep states of meditation. It turned out that one of the biggest things these scientists found to get your brain to function like the brains of monks who have been meditating for 20 years–and, by the way, that’s what the hookup looks like [image on screen]–It was this one thing–radical forgiveness.
And so I had to forgive everything. I had to forgive–I mean I love my kids–I had to forgive my kids for little moments in the past when they irritated me when I was trying to work. I had to forgive my mom and dad for like the slightest thing. I had to forgive every friend I knew. I had to forgive people who genuinely hurt me. I had to forgive everyone. I had to forgive myself–younger versions of myself. I had to forgive myself from 10 years ago when I made a bad business decision that cost me $3 million. I had to forgive and forgive and forgive. And this was 4 days of forgiveness, and finally I came to that one guy–let’s call him Mr. X. That one guy. This had just happened. And I was so angry with him. It was so painful. And I had to forgive him, and I saved him for last. Because I’m like, “No, it’s going to be so tough.” This guy threatened my family, he stole from my family, he was someone who used my trust of him to take advantage of me. And I had to forgive him into love.
Now here’s the thing, it’s not just forgiveness, it was forgiveness into love. That means that at the end of the forgiveness session, you must be able to picture this person who hurt you so bad coming to you. And you must be able to hug them and feel empathy and understanding for what they went through. And so I had to forgive Mr. X. I had to see why did he do what he did. Maybe his parents were poor, and maybe theft was the only way his family could survive. Maybe his wife was sick. Maybe he was ill. Maybe he had an ill child, and that’s why he needed that. Maybe he was abused as a kid. And I had to imagine all the ways why he would justify what he did. And I had to be empathetic to him.
But here’s the crazy thing. When your brain is hooked up like that, it’s measuring your brainwaves. It’s measuring two things basically: alpha amplitude. So they hire your alpha spikes the more monk-like your brain is. And brain-wave resonance. So the more balanced your brain is–that means you’re not alpha on just one end, you’re alpha in both hemispheres. Again, the more ideal your brain. And all of a sudden as a I forgave Mr. X, I heard the loudest beep so far. They use sounds to tell you how well you’re doing. I opened my eyes and there was my score. And it was the highest alpha amplitude score I had ever generated. It was amazing to see with my own eyes what forgiveness could do in my brain. And that was liberating for me.
Now, the next year as I got rid of all my doubts, all of my forgiveness, the next year ended up being the single most successful year of my life. And my life had always been successful, always growing like that [moving hand in a straight line], but the next year it spiked. I had the book come out, the most successful A-Fest [big wellness event] we have ever done. My health, my happiness levels, everything just spiked because I was able to shed 40 years of pain, of things I had to forgive myself and other people around me for. And that’s why forgiveness is so important.
Now the exercise that’s done in 40 years of Zen is super simple. I now do it every morning. Every morning I forgive something. You wouldn’t believe but even a waiter who rubs you the wrong way. That negative energy stays with you so every morning I clear myself of all negativity. Now those of you who do the 6-phase meditation–which is the meditation program I popularized–phase 3 is what? It’s forgiveness, right. And this is basically what you do. Now we won’t be doing it live in this group because some people will break down. Some people will be really really really uncomfortable, but interesting things happen when you practice this.
For example, when I was at 40 years of Zen, we had one fellow participant with us, and this person was having a really tough time forgiving. He had to forgive a family member who had sexually abused him while he was like 10 years old. And that had really really really messed him up. Imagine if a family member does that to you at 10. Now he was having a tough time forgiving this family member, forgiving him forgiving him forgiving him. Now he was in his 50s but still had to forgive for something that happened 40 years ago. And an interesting thing happened the very next morning. So we were on day 2–the very next morning we were heading to the lab. And he showed me a video on his iPhone, he’s like “Vishen, I cannot believe this just happened. Remember I was telling you about that family ember who abused me when I was 10. Out of the blue, the family member just sent me a video of himself apologizing.”
It just happened. It’s as if reality shifted when this man forgave his family member. It happened within 48 hours of this forgiveness ritual. You may think it’s all happening in your head, but perhaps at a deeper level something more profound is happening. That’s why phase 3 of the 6-phase meditation is dedicated to forgiveness.
Now the exercise itself looks like this: you spend a minute or two minutes–no more than that–thinking or feeling the anger. And the anger can be for yourself for something you did in the past, for something someone did to you in the past. You spend 2 minutes feeling that, then you stop. Then you see a younger version of yourself or the person who abused you or wronged you in front of you. And you try to develop empathy for them. Ask them, you know, try to think for yourself. What made them do it? Did they face abuse as a kid? Did they experience something really bad? Were they simply mistrained?
Two ideas have really helped me. One is a quote from Neil Donald Walsh in his book Conversations with God. He says “I have sent you nothing but angels. Every person who enters your life–little, small, or big, good or bad–is a fellow angel there to teach you something.” So I find that thinking about that philosophy helps.
Another philosophy I think of is the phrase “Hurt people, hurt people.” Which simply means that everybody who hurts you is doing it because at some level they were hurt themselves. They’re just passing it on. But you have the ability to cut that cord and stop the hurt. So you don’t continue passing it on. Think about human history, right. How nations fight nations fight nations for generations because of this crazy idea “Hurt people hurt people.” But when we can forgive, we can move on. So in that second part of that exercise, you feel empathy.
Bill Bullard said “Knowledge is the lowest form of learning. Empathy is the highest form of learning.” Empathy means you can see things from another person’s point of view, and really seek to understand them. Empathy is one of the greatest forms of intelligence we can develop. That’s all it takes. Now it doesn’t mean you will forgive someone immediately. For certain acts, it can take years. But this is the first step. And you never know how powerful this can be until you try it.