The Forgiveness Hypothesis

The ghostwriting client I’m working with at the moment startled me last week. He’s a scientist by training, an entrepreneur by calling, and a disruptive pain in the butt to a very conservative industry.

I had asked him about how he deals with intractable problems and days where he’s fighting internal resistance. I was expecting the answer to be, ‘go to the gym, call my buddy, get some Vit D,’ yada yada.

Instead, he said, “I get up at 3am, which is the mystic hour, and I try to forgive people.”

Uh… what?

He explained that in the Sufi tradition he was raised in, forgiveness is seen as the key to clear thinking and right action. It’s the only way to make progress.

He was very clear that it’s not about excusing or justifying someone else’s behaviour — it’s about letting go of the hurt and anger that lives in you, in order to set yourself free.

I was delighted with such an interesting answer, and then filed it away in my brain under ‘useful stuff to come back to later’.

Yesterday I went rogue and moved everything off my calendar for today so that I could have some uninterrupted time to work on my book — a nice, long stretch of empty hours in which I could just think and get immersed.

But when I sat down to write, all that came out was a whole lot of furious scribble about a particularly painful memory from my divorce a few years ago.

I gave it a few minutes — no harm dealing with some your baggage when it pops up — but after an hour, I was getting mad.

The situation had pissed me off back then, and now it was back to mess with my precious writing day.

Then those words floated up into my ear. I try to forgive people.

3am was long gone, but I decided now was as good a time as any for a mystical experiment.

What would fall out if I unpacked this memory? Why was it suddenly so urgent, so persistent, today of all days?

Could I foster some forgiveness, in the pursuit of a little bit more freedom?

And so for the next two hours I sat and thought and wrote and thought and wrote some more. I took a frank look at the situation, and what role I had played in it.

I examined the threads of anger, which had tangled around innocent bystanders, and if I didn’t get to complete forgiveness, I got at least to some better understanding.

Useful as it was, the whole thing was tiring and sad, so once I felt done, it was time for a long hot shower and a bit of indulgent self care.

But as soon as I got under the water, my brain started firing.

I rushed through my ablutions and raced out, still steaming, to grab a notebook — desperate not to forget a single one of the ideas that had just emerged, fully formed and full of energy, ready to go into the book.

For the next hour I wrote out pages of material, made notes, added details and pranced gleefully around my apartment.

There’s so much to go on that I feel completely reinvigorated about the whole project, which has taken so long to fully reveal itself.

So the experiment proved the hypothesis. As any good scientist will tell you, a little rigour must be applied — after all, the data has to be repeatable if it is to be reliable — but today the result was better than I possibly could have hoped for.

I wonder if there’s a similar experiment waiting for you.