A lovely benefit of being the Director of Companions on the Inner Way, one of our church’s ministries, is getting to know our retreat presenters in depth. For those of you who haven’t attended a Companions retreat, we invite a presenter to speak to and dialogue with us in 1-1/2 hour talks each morning and to preach in our closing worship. Between the advance planning and the week of interaction, the core staff and I enjoy in-depth conversations with eminent authors and spiritual leaders. I’d like to share some nuggets of insight from our recent retreat presenter, Dr. Fred Luskin. Fred is the founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project and a primary researcher and speaker in the areas of compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. Out of his international work with people in conflict, in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine, he wrote the ground-breaking Forgive For Good. This book helped me more than any other as I came through a difficult divorce, and I’ve loved getting to know Fred — quirky and wise in equal measure — through his two Companions retreats as the presenter.
My favorite quote from Forgive for Good is as follows: “The one thing no one can take from you is where you place your attention.” He suggests that our annoyances, hurts, and grievances capture our attention as if our mental remote were stuck on the grievance channel, but we can reprogram it. We can learn to pay attention to the beauty channel, the nature channel, the compassion channel, and these will ease our minds and unclench our hearts, leaving us more open to the love of God.
Here’s another of Fred’s messages that I’ve been pondering: “We’re neurologically wired to pay attention to threat. But we can combat the anxiety that gives rise to complaining and over-focus on the negative through practicing gratitude and kindness. Each of us has to choose a platitude to start from and make a central organizing decision. If a Martian came down and watched you for a day, he’d know what you believe by how you behave. If we are ruled by fear, our behavior will look adrenalized, frantically grasping at control. Thankfulness and compassion help us reabsorb the adrenalin that comes in through our anger at not being in control.” I hear a Holy Spirit invitation in those words!
I have to admit that my favorite thing about Fred is how little he resembles an important authority. On our last day of retreat this March, I texted him urgently when it was time for our closing worship at which he was preaching and he was nowhere to be found. His reply text: “Wandering in desert.” If you too feel lost at times, perhaps a Companions retreat or Fred’s book (Companions has copies to sell) might be a healing option. Go to www.CotiWay.org to find out more about our August 7-12 retreat with Dr. Luther Smith, another stellar presenter!
In Community with you,