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The Healing Power of Forgiveness

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Copyright © Linda Stuart 2013. All rights reserved.

Forgiveness Nurtures Love

The embodiment of Jesus’ love for mankind is found in the words he spoke from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

In Luke chapter 7, we are taught a powerful lesson concerning forgiveness. Jesus is invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee named Simon. While he is there, a sinful woman comes to Jesus and washes his feet with her own tears, wipes them with her own hair, kisses them and anoints them with perfume. The Pharisee, being a self-righteous man, observes the woman’s actions and says, if Jesus were a prophet, he would know “what sort of person this woman is who is touching him”. Luke 7:39

In response, Jesus tells Simon a parable about a moneylender whom had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii and the other owed fifty.

Luke 7:42 “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”

Luke 7:43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged correctly.”

Then Jesus says to Simon, when he entered the Pharisee’s house, Jesus was not given water to wash his feet, nor was he given a kiss, nor was his head anointed with oil by his host. However, this woman who has washed his feet with her tears has loved much, and for this reason her sins, which are many, have been forgiven.

Luke 7:47 “But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Forgiveness Sustains Health

Dr. Frederic Luskin of Stanford University’s Center for Research in Disease Prevention has found through recent controlled studies that forgiveness training can be an effective way of reducing anger and distress associated with feeling hurt. According to the Stanford Forgiveness Project, this may have important implications for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. Research suggests unmanaged anger and hostility can be harmful to, not only a person’s physical health, but also one’s psychological and emotional well-being. In studies involving heart attack patients, research shows that patients whom acted in a more forgiving way were often able to demonstrate less anger and hostility, and thus reduce morbidity and improve overall quality of life.

In his new book “Forgive For Good” (Harper Collins, 2002), Dr. Luskin outlines nine steps to forgiveness. One of the principles central to these nine steps is: “Forgiveness is for you (the forgiver) and not for anyone else.” As Dr. Luskin explains in his book, forgiving someone for a past wrong does not necessarily mean the offending action is being condoned, nor does it necessitate reconciliation with the person who has caused the offence. According to Dr. Luskin, forgiveness is about finding peace for oneself.

Can these two notions — forgiving offenders through God’s example or forgiving for the sake of one’s own health — be reconciled? Perhaps what modern medical research fails to take into account is the healing power of loving one’s fellow human. In offering forgiveness to an offender, we help to mend and strengthen the fabric that pulls all of humanity together. Whether or not spiritual and scientific approaches to forgiveness can be harmonized, one thing is obvious — forgiveness is a powerful act of love that benefits both forgiver and forgiven.

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32 thoughts on “The Healing Power of Forgiveness

  1. I want to point out that forgiveness is not an intellectual debate. It does not involve mental processing. Forgiveness is a spiritual matter. It comes from our hearts, not from the mind. Forgiveness is an act of love that gives us peace. It’s a decision that allows for complete emotional release. It feels good to let go of the hurt.

    I know it’s difficult to forgive a person who has hurt us badly. I get that. I’ve been there. We need to understand that holding onto anger and resentment keeps us from experiencing the love of the Creator and the people in our lives – who love us. Animosity prevents us from forming positive relationships.

    Forgiving our antagonists allows love to flow freely in all directions. You cannot experience true self-love if you are holding on to negative feelings. These bad feelings are the source of your low self-esteem and sense of worthlessness. Holding on to them is not worth the price you pay in sadness and loneliness.

    There’s a saying by Tennyson that I used in applying forgiveness in my own life: “Mine is not to reason why. Mine is but to do or die.” That means you either allow yourself to forgive and love unconditionally and without judgement, or you do not. There is no emotional processing involved in this act. I encourage you to continue working at your forgiveness until it happens for you.

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  2. Ask yourself what you really want for your life. Do want love and happiness? Or do you want anger and sadness? It’s a choice that you make.

    If you truly want love . . . it will be the loudest voice in your head. This mighty voice will overcome the little naysayers who tell you that your offender does not deserve your forgiveness. It’s the voice that no longer wants to be a victim. Break free of the guilt that holds you captive. Listen to it that powerful voice and become it. Just say to yourself that you are worth it, because you know it’s true. Don’t listen to lies. Its that simple.

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  3. Hey David, I think some of us alternate between a position of forgiveness and one of resentment. In the beginning, after a betrayal or whatever, these two extremes can oscillate like crazy. Then, over time, the pendulum winds down, and I guess eventually comes to rest.

    The other issue I think is important to remember is that forgiving doesn’t mean condoning. And in this regard, I think even firm emotion can be constructive in some circumstances. I mean, let’s say some guy or gal bound for hell read the line about “fry in hell.” Maybe that person who read it was not even a person I know in any way. But maybe their reading it made them wake up and smell the coffee. So in that sense, I think firm emotion can have positive uses. But it’s an art. And it’s not unbridled emotion, by any means.

    I remember telling a certain person once that I was mad at him because I actually liked him. His cheesy reply was… “you don’t normally get mad at people you like.” But I realized that he was just completely out of his skull at the time.

    Making any sense? I think a masking of emotion can be dangerous. It’s not real. And it doesn’t solve anything. But, if you are talking about a love that comes from the heart and from God. Then yes, I would agree with you. But for me I think God has to help us. Help to turn us in that positive direction.

    I know you say it’s simple. I’m not sure it is. Maybe it is when it happens fully. But again, I think many folks oscillate. And some superficially “forgive” while still harboring, largely in the subconscious, a lot of resentment.

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  4. Maybe I should have said, some of us alternate between a position of trying to understand, on the one hand, and resentment, on the other hand. Although forgiveness comes into it too.

    Sometimes I feel that these situations can be so complicated, words just can’t do it justice. I usually don’t get into these types of discussions, especially in public. But since I believe you sincerely want to dialogue instead of “win” an argument, I figured I’d make a stab. 🙂

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    • I glad you understand what I am trying say. I’m not attempting to win argument. I’m not even trying to start one. That would only serve to detract and distract from what I am saying. I only want to offer a technique I found helpful when I was having trouble with forgiveness. I realize what I am saying will not work for everyone.

      Thanks Mike!

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  5. I hear what you saying Mike. I would never condone bad behavior. Condoning bad behavior is almost as bad as the act itself. It goes without saying that we should not allow that to continue.

    Yes. I am talking exclusively about love that comes from the heart and with the help of God. That is the only true form of forgiveness. It’s the only kind that will set us free. You are correct. Anything less than that is artificial and not worth the effort.

    It is certainly okay to be angry. Expressing anger appropriately is healthy. Bitterness and resentfulness is what hurts us. Long-term guilt does this too. Those are the feelings we should let go of. Forgiveness will do that for us.

    When is it a good time to let of those terrible feelings? When we are ready to I guess. It certainly can’t be forced.

    I agree with you. Positive action toward forgiving the person is essential. God will help us with that . . . but only if we truly want it. A desire to be free of the hurt can be a motivator toward that end. After all . . . who is really being hurt by these bad feelings?

    Btw – We always get angry at our friends and the people we love. I hope that wasn’t something I said! Please slap me if I did. 🙂

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    • No no. It wasn’t you. I wouldn’t be that indelicate. It’s not important who. It’s just the dynamic that I’ve observed over the years. But this morning I’m thinking, you know, David is right. The solution really is simple. I don’t think we need to take workshops or trundle off to self-help seminars. Ask God for help if needed. I personally think that, for believers in God, it’s always a good idea to ask for help in that way.

      I remember a priest once saying to me at a difficult time in my life, “ask God to heal your pain.” I wasn’t a Catholic at that time. So it really seemed almost weird to talk to God in such an intimate way. I mean, yeah, I believed in God. But “heal my pain”? Well, these days this happens almost on a daily basis. The pain might not even be my own at times. I believe that certain feelings can be transpersonal. But this is something very hard to prove. It’s an area for parapsychology, I guess. I wanted to work on this at the Ph.D. level but realized I’d have to settle for adding the odd footnote here and there. It was just too “out there” for academia to take seriously at the time.

      So yeah, you’re right in pointing out that forgiveness and healing are sort of bundled together. Interesting Dave. As a final point, I don’t think the jilted lover or unjustly dismissed worker needs to get a new partner or job to be able to forgive. A lot of people say that’s the best way to get over a breakup or job loss. I think that’s not necessary. It might help. Or those good things might come after one works through their feelings. But God and one’s willingness. Yes I agree. The main ingredients.

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  6. Hey Mike,

    I think the answer can be that simple and uncomplicated. I also believe that forgiveness can be extremely difficult. That’s because emotions are intense. I don’t think it’s possible to rationalize with them. Feelings cannot be handled like a math problem.

    I’ve seen people spend years and years in therapy exploring their thoughts and feelings without ever making any progress in their recovery. We always want to know “why” a person did the hurtful “thing” to us.

    Even if the offender were to provide us with what might be considered a reasonable answer . . . would that answer be acceptable to us? Would it change what happened? Would we now say “I understand why you did that awful thing to me. I guess that makes it okay. Now I can go on with my life.” Probably not. Chances are we’re still be angry with the person who wronged us.

    Even if the offender were to give us a heart-felt apology . . . will we find it acceptable? If the thing that was done to us was so incredibly hurtful . . . there may be no satisfactory answer or apology that will ever make the situation right for us.

    So I do think the bottom line is that the victim must decide when he or she has had enough suffering and pain. We need to get to the point where we are ready to let go of our bad feelings and forgive the person . . . and most importantly ourselves. Many people look to God to facilitate this process. I think this does work . . . if what we truly want is to be happy.

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  7. I want to add one comment to this conversation. What ended up happening for me was this:

    I started saying to myself “I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want these feelings.” I kept saying that over and over in my head. Then I said “What do I want instead?” Well . . . “I want to be happy.” So I decided what would make me happy. I determined that I could have it. Then I set my mind on it.

    I realized that the only way I was going to get I want is to let go of the negative feelings. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to be happy . . . you have to make room for those new feelings. That means getting rid of the ones that are not serving your needs. Those negative voices have to go in order for that to happen. So in a sense, forgiveness is that simple. It’s a decision that you make.

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  8. Yeah, Dave, nobody likes a grumbler and very few healthy relationships start off with someone feeling incredibly hurt and vulnerable. I think there’s a timeline in these things. It seems like things work out according to a kind of schedule. But it’s not a man-made schedule. It’s just… some would say “the universe” or “God” working things out the right way at the right time.

    That way everybody hopefully learns. Genuinely learns. And are not just reconciling due to some kind of forced morality or social convention. Whenever it’s forced and not genuine, reconciliations probably fail. There’s still too much unresolved material on both sides for little things to not peep out and upset the apple cart all over again. So, sometimes I think we have to forgive but also keep a healthy distance. Otherwise, the old wounds would just be reopened. And that’s no good!

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  9. p.s. This article was originally published some years ago. The author kindly updated the links, just this morning. So they work now. 🙂

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  10. Have you read the book: FORGIVENESS, The Greatest Healer of All by Gerald G. Jampolsky, M. D. ?

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  11. Have you read A NEW EARTH by Eckhart Tolle? It speaks of the EGO and how easily it is offended, and we all know offended people need to forgive the offender.

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    • Hi Lorraine, sorry for not approving your comments earlier. I missed them somehow. That can happen when I get busy. My sister had that book and I looked through it. I know it was huge! Thanks. 🙂

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  12. No. Forgiveness certainly can’t be forced. I guess it’s like the old saying . . . time heals all wounds. Does it? Good article anyhow. I think forgiveness is always a good topic. I think most people can relate to it, since we’ve all been wronged by someone.

    I don’t mind that people see these comments. I know that anyone reading this can relate to having felt bad about themselves at some point in their life. Feelings of inadequacy are part of the human condition. There are very few adults who have not felt the pain of depression and anxiety. Most of us have experienced a personal tragedy or been a victim at one time or another. It’s rare for anyone to be completely happy all of the time. 🙂

    I found that this is true even for counselors, doctors, lawyers, life coaches, and pastors. I know this because for twenty years the professionals paid me as an investigator to solve their domestic situations. They rarely got the outcome they desired. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the skills to help them . . . it was because they didn’t want to participate in cleaning up their own messes. I watched as they created the very situations they were asking me to correct for them. I couldn’t help them understand that they were seeing their internal conflicts being manifested in their lives. That is exactly what our negative thoughts and emotions do. Our outer reality is nothing more than a reflection of our inner emotional state. No amount of money can correct this. Only we can do that. At least if we are aware of our inner conflicts, we can begin to work on them.

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  13. It’s funny that you mention nobody being happy all the time. When i was in college I recall saying to my gfs and friends that there was a “cult” of happiness in Canada, and I guess the US. Don’t know about Europe too much. Anyhow, what I meant was, in my young, juvenile way of seeing things, that there was this forced frivolity in the workplace, in how we greet one another, and so on. It seemed phony to me. But now that I’m older, I find that we can be happy more often than not.

    You know my solution that has brought me to this. I guess everyone has to find that path that works for them. If you have a path or maybe a passion, then you can endure the rough moments, keeping a perspective that it’s just a moment. And your normal happy state will resume. Interestingly enough, Sigmund Freud once said that all psychoanalysis can do is iron out neuroses and thus restore a person to their “normal human unhappiness.” That’s sad. But then, for much of his life Freud didn’t believe in God or the afterlife, which I think contributed to his pessimism. Freud’s stance was like a car salesman saying, “yeah, you can buy this car but it’s never really going work right.”

    Luckily Freud did develop an interest in parapsychology later in life. But I think it all came about too late for him to make a real dent in the field. His brightest student Carl Jung took up the baton and extended psychoanalysis to new borders. Synchronicity, numinosity. These were both terms that Jung used to try to develop some kind of integrated theory for psychology and parapsychology.

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    • Cult of happiness huh? I never heard that before. I find that the people I encounter in my daily travels are generally pleasant. I always try to be genuinely friendly with people. I dislike phonies. It can be insulting when you know a person is putting on an act. It’s so unnecessary. It’s better to say nothing and maybe just smile a little. 🙂

      I was in a “cult of happiness” when I was 18 yrs. old. I believe they use psychological “feel good” techniques to win people over. I recall there were lots of professionals in this organization. It surprises me that intelligent people will fall for that kind of “false love” nonsense. It just goes to show you how desperate people are to capture that feeling. I won’t mention the group’s name out of respect.

      No one needs to be brainwashed into being happy. We can choose to be happy by engaging in the activities that drive our passion.

      That’s interesting . . . what you said about Freud. I did not pay very much attention to Freud in college. I am definitely going to stay away now, especially since you are comparing him to a car salesman! Carl Young I might like. I know a little about synchronicity. There was a reason I chose 23 for my number in this life. I think I’ve gotten past it though.

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  14. Jung was big for me, mainly because I was experiencing things that didn’t fit with the Freudian model. Before then, I was interested in Freud. But only to a point. I think with any system, even when I’m just embarking upon it, I can sense when things are a bit hokey and when they ring true.

    Maybe I told you, maybe someone else. But I now see Jung as a very clever “kindergarten student” when it comes to spirituality. I think he has definite limits. But like Freud, he also has some valuable ideas that can be used for the good, today. However, I agree that we don’t have to buy into any given theory about “origins” to get rid of negativity. By way of analogy, a doctor can heal a wound without knowing what object caused it.

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    • I can’t say too much about Jung and Freud. I didn’t study in college like I should have. I was one of those students that only studied just enough to pass the tests.

      I got first-hand experience with human behavior during my career over the twenty years. I’ll bet I could write half a dozen books based on my experiences.

      No. I don’t think it is necessary to explore your pain in order to be rid of it. Many people do it this way though. I suppose there is more than one road out of hell when it comes to escaping the devil.

      That is a very good point about a doctor healing a wound or illness without knowing the cause. That happens all of the time. You could apply that same principle to relieving yourself of negative thoughts and feelings. I think that’s what you are saying.

      It’s not always necessary to know the “whys” of the your suffering. In fact, the reason(s) can sometimes make matters worse. There is no truer saying than that many of us can’t handle the truth.

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  15. Dave, I get the impression that you are the type of guy who thinks it all independently and then finds out later some notable so and so said something similar. The good thing about your thinking, however, is that it’s always holistic. Or integrative. (I mean holistic in a good way… that term can have different meanings).

    In a sense I’m like you. I thought up some stuff by myself before realizing that so and so philosopher said much the same thing. But sometimes I discover new nuggets from others. It’s always nice when that happens.

    As for great thinkers thinking stuff that you came to independently, I think in psychology there was a school that believed we should focus on the present, and not worry too much about origins. It might have been Fritz Perls and Gestalt psychology. I’m really going out on a limb here because I studied this decades ago and didn’t check at Wiki! But I do remember hearing something like that in psych. class, so many moons ago…

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  16. Thanks Mike,

    I know what you mean about words like holistic. It’s a word that has been overused and abused. I feel the same way about terms like “psychic”, “spiritual”, and “energy”. I don’t like to use them because of the negative connotation attached to them. The problem is that there is no good words to replace them with.

    I doubt any of my ideas are novel. I’m sure they have all been said before by other people . . . and explained better. I guess the reason I like to come up with my own ideas, is because I was under (false?) the impression that I learn best by thinking and discovering what works for me . . . . rather than relying on someone else’s theories. I’ve had to look myself and recognize the limited nature of that thinking. As I’ve matured over the last couple years, I realize that other people’s ideas are worth considering. So I do listen to what people have to say. I understand that I’m not the only one in world to come up with good ideas. 🙂

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  17. Just for the record . . . I have no resentments towards anyone in my life. I don’t like those issues to get in the way of my personal relationships. 🙂

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  18. What luck! i just found the “A New Earth” on my bookshelf. I’ll have to take a look at it. Thanks!

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  19. David, one of my greatest pleasures is when an idea forms in my mind, or when I read someone else say something that I’ve tacitly held in my subconscious or working mind.

    Say I know, for instance, that sometimes it’s better to not know the entire truth, because that could just cause more pain than necessary. This is something you recently said here. And when I read that, a little “light” went off in my mind. I knew it already. I’ve lived by it for years. But to hear another person say it, and in their own way, was pleasurable. Funny huh? I guess that’s why I really enjoyed school and learning. The little lights were going off all the time in my brain. And I liked it.

    When I was a T.A., however, I discovered a whole new type of student. This was the 1990s and the world had changed a lot since I was an undergrad. I remember one young guy who was in my seminar. He told me, with his gaze shifting back and forth between me and his mobile device (whatever was hot back then), that he’d figured it all out. He needed a certain percentage in the course I was T.A.-ing. No more, no less. He had done the math and realized that all he needed was a C+ or something. That way his overall average would be… and he could get… etc. etc.

    I was pretty stunned. I never thought of learning in such a canny, shrewd way. I always just tried my best in all courses, hoping to get marks that would enable me to get funding and keep moving on to grad. school. I never pinpointed a certain mark for a certain course and only tried so hard, accordingly.

    So I realized that I had some learning to do. Learning about what students wanted out of university in the 90s! Or some of them, anyhow. There were some really sincere gems back then too.

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  20. I was wondering that very thing earlier Mike. I sometimes feel like I don’t need to know the truth about certain events. I feel that it can hold a person back. I mean there may come a time for it, but maybe simple forgiveness is necessary in the beginning.

    I never thought of that. I’m terrible with math and numbers for one thing. 🙂 I’m sure it could work though. I’ve always stood by the “as best you can” philosophy. I’m not sure how a person can better than his “best” . . . . if he’s truly making that kind of an effort.

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  21. Yeah, well now that I’m a firm believer, I believe that God lets us know more about unpleasant truths when the time is right. Too soon and it can just disrupt healing and also one’s path (i.e. what we should be doing in life). Too late, and well. I don’t think it happens too late. My GUESS is that we find out a lot in the afterlife, when we’re ready. By that time we’re probably way more tranquil, with an expanded perspective. So we can handle it. And learn from it. Just a guess, but it makes sense to me. 🙂

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  22. I wouldn’t wait until getting to the afterlife . . . to get an expanded perspective. I believe that the lessons are to be learned here in this life. I’ve received plenty of lessons from my friends that were difficult to accept. However, they helped me see things in myself that I otherwise wouldn’t have. This has helped me to improve my character. These are the most difficult lessons . . . they are the one’s we don’t want to hear. These are the truths that we want to avoid.

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  23. Hey David, when I was reading your reply the famous line from St. Paul came to mind.

    1 Corinthians 13:12
    King James Version (KJV)

    12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13%3A12&version=KJV

    It’s been variously translated but I take it to mean that there are wonders and splendors in the next life that we can only imagine here. Or have teeny tiny glimpses of. So I agree that we should learn as much as we can, but I think we can go on, maybe forever and ever, learning new things. And I bet this involves learning about ourselves as we go. 🙂

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  24. Oh I’m sure that there are wonders to be learned in the afterlife . . . just as their are in this life. In mysticism it’s referred to as higher knowledge. I don’t know what it’s called in Christianity.

    I believe we come into this world for a particular kind of knowledge that we can only acquire through our relationships and personal experiences. Some of them we would rather not have . . . but they make us into who we are . . . based on our interpretation of them. I know that remark isn’t all that insightful. I realize I’m not the first person to say it

    BTW – That is a very cool passage. I don’t remember reading it before. I’ll have to look it up.

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  25. Carl Jung said much the same thing. I can’t remember his precise words but they were something to the effect of… living in the body gives a particular intensity and focus to our experience. Jung had a NDE and apparently saw the Earth from space before returning to his body. So I guess this informed his views about the richness and focus of bodily experience. His view differs, of course, from those saints, Christian and otherwise, who disdain the body because they just want MORE of the other-world while still living here on Earth. Jung thought he understood this view. He talked about Origen, who allegedly castrated himself. Jung believed Origen did this to better experience God and the afterlife while still in this life.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origen

    One of the compelling things (for newbies) about Jung’s work is his wide range of interests. He read a lot of stuff. But as I got older I realized that he often blurred a lot of details. Maybe this wasn’t totally his fault as he didn’t have access to the resources we now take for granted.

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  26. That’s interesting facts about Jung. I don’t really have anything insightful at the moment. 🙂 That castration with Origen is a creepy though. To each his own.

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  27. Yeah it is, and if it’s true, he might have found it counterproductive. Most genuine holy persons, gurus etc. say that celibacy is essential. Not because of some kind of neurotic or enforced morality, but, in this case, because males believe there’s increased vitality (that transmutes into spirituality) with retention of the seed, which, of course, is produced in the gonads.

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