Awareness that Heals

Caring for Ourselves in Crucial Times – Episode 81

Caring for Ourselves in Crucial Times - Episode 81This week Robert concludes the telling of his journey through the hardest 10 years of his life as he navigated finding balance both emotionally and chemically after his kidney transplant. For many years he could not feel the joys of life. He had to dig deep to further develop his capacity to use inquiry, will, and focus on the intention to find what thoughts would be possible and helpful. Hopefully, as you are listening, Robert’s story enables you to see your most challenging emotions, whether it be anxiety, depression, fear, or beyond. As members of Western society, we simply have not been supported to address these emotions, both inwardly and outwardly. Robert begins the episode with a brief recap of what they have gone over in the previous episodes of this series.  We strongly encourage you to go back and listen to the four episodes beginning this section and utilize The Introspective Guides at

This series of episodes are exclusively dealing with the very most difficult feelings you have ever had and offers tools for how to take care of yourself moment to moment, the next hour, and the next day. Cultivating awareness means seeing it, accepting it, staying with it, and learning how to care for something we usually reject. This is a very viable practice that with determination can help transform our most challenging feelings into wisdom. The key is that wisdom develops as an ally the more you practice it.

Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides

Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. For an exact quote or comment, please contact us.


Announcer (00:00):

Awareness That Heals, Episode 81.

Robert Strock (00:03):

When you love, it’s easy to love. When you feel nothing, it’s impossible to love, but it’s not impossible to be wise. It’s not impossible to purify your intention. It’s not impossible to have inquiry. It’s not impossible that you still wish you could care. And these are crucial, crucial.

Announcer (00:24):

The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock, has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book, Awareness That Heals: Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s challenges, to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges, especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw. Together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.

Robert Strock (01:06):

A very warm welcome to Awareness That Heals, Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges, where we focus on really facing our deepest challenges and how we can care for ourselves. We start again and again with being aware of what is most difficult for us. And I wanna divert a little bit here and say for you as you’re listening to this, please apply it to your current life or the patterns that have gone on through your life and what is really the most challenging emotions or situations that you face, where you know you want to be more of an ally to yourself. And these challenges are utterly universal for all of us, whether we recognize them or not. And even though it seems intuitively obvious, I’m guessing to most of you that are listening, we aren’t taught when we’re in these challenges how we can care for ourselves at these crucial times.

When we do this, it sets up the ideal conditions for us to be more fulfilled in our individual lives and to contribute to the world by finding and living our best selves. Today we’re going to be focusing again on the Introspective Guides as they are the simplest way to start the path toward integrating what challenges you, us, me, individually. And I’m going to be continuing with my story with a major focus on you and how we can, when we’re in these challenging situations or feelings, how we can find our most essential thoughts, actions, and needs, and when possible, our qualities as well. I’d like to start off by introducing Dave, my dearest friend for over 50 years. Uh, we’re so dear that we get to have short-term fights, sarcasm, uh, a whole range of emotions and then come back to care for each other. And Dave is also my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation. And Dave, welcome.

Dave (03:42):

Thank you. Even though I have no idea what you’re talking about,

<laugh> But, I do think it’s important as we work our way through Introspective Guides and the things that are listed in the various emotional and the solution side of those equations. Uh, that there isn’t a person on the planet that I know that hasn’t experienced most of those and hasn’t been stuck. Personally speaking, I can say I’ve been stuck on one side or

the other of many of those challenges, many times repeatedly, over decades, sometimes repeatedly. And there’s nothing more valuable than to be able to really get into that in the way you’re doing and really get into it in a way that is not just acknowledging the problem but getting to the solution or getting to at least a place to meditate and focus on and have tools available that you’re providing. So thank you.

Robert Strock (04:48):

And hopefully, as you’re listening to Dave, you are not thinking Dave and Robert are just weirdos, that you’re recognizing that no, you too have challenging emotions and so do all of us. And we just simply have not been supported to really go forward, with both inwardly, and outwardly how we can best take care of ourselves. So I’d like to just give a very brief architectural structure what we’ve gone through in the last episodes so that you can have a sense, and especially if you’ve just joined us in this episode, which I would encourage you to go back and listen, four episodes before, to begin the beginning of this section.

So, it always starts. And this can’t be said too much because, because we want to feel better, as a lifestyle, being aware of our most challenging emotions is not very exciting for most of us. Most of us would rather ride above them, watch TV, find some other way to go and put our attention. But the awareness itself of our challenging emotions is what I would call really a part of holy ground. And I don’t mean it in a typical religious way, but the foundation, if we’re not aware of our challenging emotions, we don’t have the essence to work with, the raw materials to work with, to really help our lives. And when we’re aware of our challenging emotions, and especially when that awareness is what I call capital “A” Awareness, meaning that it we’re accepting it, we’re seeing it, we’re staying with it, we’re breathing into it, we’re giving ourselves permission.

We also then become aware that we wanna care for ourselves. Now, that might sound very obvious, but for most of us, virtually all of us, that was not part of our teaching, our training even in therapy, the shift of being able to be aware of our challenging emotions and then to want to care, wanna move toward wellbeing, wanna move toward caring and, and healing is something that is an evolutionary state. And when we really realize that desire to care for ourselves while we’re, for lack of better words, fucked, especially, which is what we’re really talking about in these series of episodes, we’re these are exclusively for the worst feelings you’ve ever had or are ever gonna have. These are tools for that. Then inquiry becomes our great ally where we’re asking ourselves the question, how can I best take care of myself? And then finally, exclusively in the book, Awareness That Heals, it makes it clear that friendly mind is specifically the tool that we use to have the thoughts, the wisdom come to us, that is gonna help guide us to the thoughts that will steer us in the moment. How to take care of ourselves and the next hour and the next day.

Dave (08:05):

I don’t wanna give short shrift or skip over something I think that you said that’s really important that I identify with from so many years ago, which is the capital A Awareness that most of us are unaware we don’t even have for most of the time. And I can say personally, the thing you said that struck me was why in the hell would I wanna be aware of these challenges if I can distract myself forever, if I can find a way just to stay busy or be addicted to something or do whatever it takes. Uh, just maybe so many different variations on that theme that we use. I remember my senior year in college taking a psychology class where I ended up, and I, I may have told this in one of the months or years ago, episodes we’ve done, but I had no clue that I had an inner world at all.

And as part of a psychology class I went into a 24-hour marathon where the goal was, share what you’re feeling. And I was looking around at these people, classmates, talking about their feelings. And I was like, what the hell, I had nothing. And came my turn, I had nothing. I’m fine. I don’t get it. And talk about getting piled upon. Of course I was full of shit and didn’t know it, that’s what I mean. I was in the unaware of my unawareness stage, just rock solid. But I got rocked there. And that woke me up to at least be aware, I was unaware. And this can’t be said enough. How many of us walk around unaware, we’re unaware, or at different stages going in and out of these initial steps of what you describe in the first chapter of the book?

Robert Strock (10:02):

Yeah, it, it is so important. And a slightly different angle of looking at that is most of us think awareness means our mind sees something, our mind sees that we’re angry, our mind sees that we’re terrified, our mind sees that we’re depressed or anxious. That’s not capital “A” Awareness.

Capital “A” Awareness means that we honor it, that we see it with some stability, and that we accept it, we recognize it’s part of the human condition, and that we need to then, by seeing it, it allows us to naturally have an instinct or find an instinct that wants to care for ourselves cuz we realize we’re suffering. If we move into a personality and do what Dave’s talking about, which is have a premature transcendence where we’re transcending our feelings as a lifestyle, which is really normal, we won’t have a chance to really have inner healing and depth relationship with ourselves or others.

So, I ask you to start by again looking at where you’ve been most fucked. As I tell you, the states that I went through in my first 10 years after taking the kidney transplant medication that I had a very unusual reaction to, and I still do. And it’s 22 and a half years later. So, the feelings I was going through at that time, which is quite a long list, was primarily exhaustion from not being able to sleep. And then as a result of that anxiety, depression, grief, loss, helplessness, frustration, fear, and those were daily, every day. And not only every day, pretty much second to second one or the other was just vacillating. And so in the middle of the night, you know, one night, probably three or four weeks into it when I was maybe, maybe I’d slept 15 minutes or or so at that time, I became aware that I had absolutely nothing to say to myself in the middle of the night that wasn’t going to be rooted in, catalyzed by one of these terribly difficult feelings.

So, I said to myself, and of course at that time I didn’t know it was friendly mind, I said to myself, there is no way I’m gonna have any thoughts that are gonna be beneficial to me in the middle of the night while I’m lying down and I’m dealing with another feeling that I had as well: frustration that I’m not listening. I’m not listening to what my mind’s gonna be telling me cuz it’s gonna be things like, oh my God, is this gonna be forever? Oh my God, I can’t stand this. Oh my God, that if I can never feel gratitude again, like, you know, I can’t even feel gratitude for my brother who gave me the kidney. And I know I, I know I feel it, but I can’t feel it. And so this inability to feel the joys of life and all the other qualities that are similar, and instead feeling all the excretions of life, all the difficulties of life on a regular basis, led me to what I later called friendly mind.

And that was, it told me, don’t listen to these thoughts, these aren’t gonna be helpful. And then gradually it led me to what thoughts might be helpful. And that allowed me to really find my intention and my will to want to do the best I could do, even though I felt lousy. Now, that might sound philosophical, intellectual to you, but that was all I had. And when you are in your worst state, that is very likely, all you are going to have is to be able to find your intention, your will, what I’ve called friendly mind. You can call it anything you want. I don’t care about the name, but it’s a thought that is going to guide you in the next minute as to how you can best take care of yourself. Now that makes me think of one of my heroes in college, Victor Frankel, who had a book, The Will to Meaning, and a whole psychological field.

And it, and I look back at it and he was in a concentration camp and he found the will to meaning. So for anything you are dealing with, I encourage you to think of Victor Frankel. If he, in the middle of a concentration camp, believing at any moment he was gonna be sent into the showers, if he could not only keep his mind centered on how can we survive, how can we not lose our will, how can we take care of each other? How can we tip each other off? And then he survived and then developed a whole branch of psychology. That’s invaluable. If he can do it, so can you. Now that doesn’t mean you can do it as well as he did, but the key is this is not just an an insight. If this is just an insight, it’s probably dangerous.

If this is a catalyst that’s like you wanna become a really good athlete, and let’s say it’s a golfer and you pick up a golf club and you say, oh, I went to the driving range and I hit a bucket of balls, I know how to play golf. Friendly mind’s the same thing. If you don’t dedicate yourself to learn how to guide yourself with thoughts that are gonna serve you, and if it’s not preceded by an awareness that you have suffering and a wish to care for yourself and, and then asking yourself how you can care for yourself, then it’s not very likely you’re gonna develop this practice. And it doesn’t come cheap or easy. It’s like from my vantage point, I could spend 10% of my day fostering, and I did for years spend 10% of my day just going to what would friendly mind say here?

What would friendly mind say there, for my clients, for my friends, for myself, for those 10 years, it was mostly for myself and my clients. I didn’t have enough energy to reach out beyond that. So really seeing that this is a very viable, but practice, practice, practice, determination, not giving up and recognizing that it is wisdom. If you really apply it. It’s not the head. I can’t tell you how many thousands of dollars I would have if I was given a nickel for every time a client or a friend would say, well, that’s just my head. Yes, it may just be your head right now, but it can be your wisdom. And wisdom is more important from my vantage point than, than even love because wisdom will guide you to love. Love may try to guide you to wisdom, but it may not know how.

Sometimes I think about Jesus and Buddha and I think my god, Buddha was so full of wisdom and Jesus was so full of love. Do I, do I believe, I’m not sure either one could have gotten to the other place as much, but wisdom is at least as good as love. But in our society, we’re so addicted, we’re so addicted to feelings that we don’t value wisdom. But it’s so crucial that we, we move again. The Introspective Guides talk about moving from our challenging feelings to wisdom. That’s what The Introspective Guides will show us. It will show us a lot of other qualities or thoughts or needs that we have that really will guide us when we’re at our very worst situation.

Dave (18:34):

One thing that strikes me so strongly, and it’s been a long time, but as you mentioned, Buddhism in specifics, and friendly mind in specifics, and the occasions and long periods of time, and I mean months, or I mean extended periods of time in my life where I’ve had really hard times and how difficult, really difficult it’s been, not to just be in the feeling.

And both Buddhism and friendly mind to me indicate what I aspired to, eventually, which was to create a space around that feeling., Was to create some type of a, to put it in maybe a more Buddhist sense, a witness to that feeling, and find a way to have a part of me that just wasn’t completely absorbed and immobilized and helplessly immersed. So hard.

Robert Strock (19:37):

Exactly. And when you establish that witness, which is not something that is really encouraged to the best of my knowledge in many Buddhist, let’s say practitioners, is the witness is able to then have a conversation with the challenging emotions. And that conversation is crucial. And especially when you start to identify with, maybe not feel, but your inner knowing knows it’s true, you start to identify with a conversation that’s stimulated out of friendly mind that is guiding you. And it, and again, I warn you, don’t make the prize what you feel. Make the prize be valuing wisdom or friendly mind. And I would say to myself over and over again, if you ever get over this, you’re gonna look back at this time as the hardest you’ve ever worked and the least progress you’ve ever made in how you feel. But you will know. And you know now, even though you can’t feel it at all, that this is the most significant work.

And having gotten 90% to the other shore over this last seven or eight years, I’ve realized that I’m much more trusting and in a certain, hopefully nonegoic way, proud of that time period more than this time period now where things are coming easy to me, the chemistry is balanced. I’m, I’m taking five medications, four for sleep and one for awake that have balanced me out. And I realize when you love, it’s easy to love. When you feel nothing, it’s impossible to love, but it’s not impossible to be wise. It’s not impossible to purify your intention. It’s not impossible to have inquiry. It’s not impossible that you still wish you could care. And these are crucial, crucial.

Dave (21:47):

One of the things also that popped up in me just now is our formative experience at Beverlywood, which is primarily 135 people, more or less schizophrenic. And they certainly, many of them were able to separate parts of themselves easily. The difference is one part was not aware of the other part, one part lived in its own world and then flipped into another part that had no recollection or a distant recollection to whatever the other one was. Whereas what we’re talking about here, contrary to schizophrenia, even though it has, uh, an aspect of witnessing and, and a, you know, a spaciousness if you will, uh, is,

is really what you’re saying. It’s really the wisdom. It’s really finding you as the guide to yourself as best you can with full awareness of both sides.

Robert Strock (22:47):

Exactly. And that’s, that’s really where the conversation comes in, you know, and again, we, we, this would be a time that we could talk about our other podcast, it is The Missing Conversation. The conversation is not there where the friendly mind or the wisdom is talking to us and we recognize it’s the most essential part of us at these crucial times. So continuing with my story that lasted for 10 years, and then over the next five years, it was more like a purgatory. So it became easier to implement friendly mind. And it really became easier during the 10 years when every day I, I had nothing better to do. You know, I said 10% of my time, I believe I was using 25% of my time saying and asking myself, what would friendly mind say here? What would it say there? What would it do with this client?

What would it do with this friend? What would would it do with this emotion? And that’s something you get to do if you really catch the understanding that wisdom is the main priority of life when you’re really in hell. And if you pull it off, you will feel an inner trust that is irreplaceable because then you know, you can afford to face the difficult feelings. And then these last seven or eight years, the chemistry that I found through trial and error, one of them was through a root canal. And I won’t go into the details of what medications I’m using, et cetera. But basically I was able to find a way to sleep eight hours a night with four, four pretty strong sleeping medications and a medication to wake me up during the day. And so the, one of the keys was the friendly mind would say, don’t give up, keep persevering.

You’re doing really well considering the fact you still don’t feel very good. And these days I wake up every morning in a blitz and so I get to practice friendly mind every morning. And so friendly mind said to me, you know, if that would be a pretty good time to gather the hundred favorite songs of your life and buy some good earphones and play them while you’re in that state and look at your plants and your flowers and play those songs. And then you just choose whichever songs would most touch you. Now these days, even the mornings are not as difficult as the first 10 years because I knew for sure I was coming out of it because I had the tool, the medication to be able to do that. And so it’s so important that we do focus on not only our challenging emotion, and not only our friendly mind, but recognize that friendly mind stays with the possible, not the impossible.

It doesn’t go into, oh, I wanna be able to feel better. That’s not friendly mind, that’s a complaint. It’s more like, I wanna accept where I am and then do what I am capable of doing. So again, I ask you to apply this to your most difficult time and recognize honestly you are fucked if you don’t develop a practice to have some wisdom, have some guidance that you throne, not dethrone as just your head. Your throne is your wisdom. You can call it another name. You can call it intelligence, or smarts, or being like Einstein, or whatever else. But the key is that you have a priority inside you that is equal to feelings. And at that time more important than feelings, by far more important than feelings. And I’m hopeful that over these last episodes, by getting a glimpse of how friendly mind was developed, that it motivates you, inspires you, to want to develop this as a practice.

And you don’t have to wait until you’re fucked to deal with this. As a matter of fact, if you do, you’re not gonna be able to do it. You need to develop it by when you’re feeling good saying, what would I say to myself when I’m in this state that would be helpful. That wouldn’t just be patronizing or putting frosting on garbage or just saying, oh, don’t worry about it. No, you need to recognize as a friend of mine who’s worked with people that are, have lost children to sudden death says to them when they ask him, am I fucked for life? And his answer was always, yes, you’re fucked for life. And then he would add at one level and then at another level you’re not fucked for life. But yes, there is a level where you’re fucked for life. Now I’m not even saying you’re fucked for life because these people were dealing with a loss of a child with sudden death in your situation, very likely, unless you’re dealing with that, you’re gonna be dealing with situations or circumstances, what something that you inherited, it might be chemistry, it might be hormones, chemical imbalances. Whatever it is, you want to practice ahead of time. Just like you’re an athlete,

you don’t wait until the tournament to play. You wait until you’re preferably motivated to practice when you’re not in the doldrums of the situation. So I hope that you have taken this profoundly personally, I hope it’s motivated you to develop your practice. And especially this last part that we talked about of developing the ability to converse with yourself. So for example, you might say, do you realize that you are doing the hardest work of your life? And then you listen and your guts are gonna probably say, no, I don’t feel it. And friendly of mind will come back and say, do you realize in your inner knowing that you’re doing the hardest work of your life? And you may say, sort of, and then friendly mind will say, you need to practice. We need to practice, we need to talk more often. And all of us need to cultivate that wisdom more often.

Dave (29:16):

And The Introspective Guides at that moment can be so invaluable in identifying the feeling that friendly mind is using its wisdom to help you cope with. And then the solutions that come with the Introspective Guides, the hints, the clues as to what is possible, what that maybe next baby step or next possible step may be. So invaluable to have the Introspective Guides as you’re using friendly mind.

Robert Strock (29:49):

Yeah. And Dave’s linkage there to the inquiry that you’re asking yourself that comes after you’re aware of your challenging emotions. That inquiry is the step that’s gonna lead you right to the second chart that has the 75 essential needs, actions and qualities and thoughts. And so hopefully you will see that this can be a lifestyle. I’m not asking you to have to follow my list if you like a better list or my words friendly mind.

The key is the meaning. The key is that wisdom is an ally only if you really practice into it, you put your intensity, you put your intention into developing your wisdom. So my wish for all of us, all of you, is that you take this inside your depth. And I’m not saying into your heart, in case you’re in a state right now, but you take it to your internal wisdom. Wisdom will recognize itself. It’s the very part, best part of you that would never wanna create harm, that would always wanna create benefit for you and for those around you. So I thank you for your attention. And even more important, I really have a prayer that you will use the time when you’re not there to support yourself when you are there in your challenging emotions. Thanks so much for your attention.

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