Robert continues with his story from last week about facing the biggest challenge of his life. He spent 10 years experimenting with medicine to find equilibrium after a kidney transplant. Join him and Dave as he shares the stories and the lessons he has learned with the hope that his journey will help you, the listener, navigate from your challenges into being a true ally for yourself and not compound the suffering with self-rejection. These difficulties are universal, whether they are recognized or not. The Introspective Guides are the simplest way to start the path toward integrating what is challenging and can be found at AwarenessThatHeals.org.
For 10 long years, Robert suffered from exhaustion, depression, fear, anxiety, anger, and beyond. He could no longer feel joy, happiness, or any of the qualities central to his life. However, on another level, he became acutely aware of wanting to care for himself through all of it. If he could not do it through his heart, he had to find a way to transform his experience through his mind. With the strong wish to care for himself and the intention to heal, he channeled his thoughts to find the most important questions and received guidance that would support him through the day. This enabled him to continue his practice as a psychotherapist, and make decisions that were most beneficial to live his life’s potential even though he didn’t feel well. It is possible to develop guidance from inside ourselves with friendly wise thoughts that lead us to what is possible and not let our challenging feelings rule. A wiser mind can be cultivated while we don’t feel well. Join us to see how much you can learn to support yourself when you are most challenged.
Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 80.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
When I say life’s challenges, I really mean for you to look at what is challenging for you. This is not an abstract podcast. This is intended for you to look at your life’s challenges, even though today we’re gonna be continuing with a story of my biggest challenge that I faced so far in my life. Much more important than me is you.
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: (01:14)
I’d like to give you a very warm welcome again to Awareness That Heals where we really work hard at focusing on bringing heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges. And when I say life’s challenges, I really mean for you to look at what is challenging for you. This is not an abstract podcast. This is intended for you to look at your life’s challenges. Even though today we’re gonna be continuing with a story of my biggest challenge that I faced so far in my life. Much more important than me is you. And you applying, when you’re at your most difficult emotional state or most difficult situation in life. How do you navigate yourself from there to be an ally and not compound the suffering? So on this show, Awareness That Heals, we start again and again with being aware of what is most difficult for us.
Robert Strock: (02:24)
And understand that these difficulties are universal for all of us, whether we recognize them or not. And then how can we care for ourselves at these crucial times? I wanna put in a footnote there that of course, if we can care for ourselves at these crucial times, that’s gonna allow us to care for those around us and the maximum potential. So it’s not a self-consumed narcissistic urge to care for ourselves, it’s the exact opposite. It’s bringing our heart and our wisdom to where we are when we’re in difficult times. And that allows us not only to be more receptive to other people, but also really caring for ourselves. Today, we’re gonna focus on the Introspective Guides again, as they are the simplest way to start the path toward integrating what is challenging to us individually and really focus on the essential thoughts, qualities, actions, and needs that will support all of us. So before we begin, I’d like to introduce my dearest friend for over 50 years, partner at the Global Bridge Foundation. And much more. Welcome, Dave.
Robert, thank you. And the amount of time and effort and energy into really delving into these areas, uh, and the Introspective Guides being launching points for so many aspects of our life, uh, is just simply invaluable. And, um, I really, really look forward to, to continuing. Thank you.
Robert Strock: (04:06)
Thanks Dave. So I’d like to give the basic structure of where we have been the last couple of episodes to have a continuity. As with everything, we really have nowhere to go if we’re not really aware of our challenges. And as I’ve mentioned in the prior episodes, we’re talking about me having a serious, very serious reaction to my kidney transplant medication, which I have to take for the rest of my life. And in these first 10 years, I was aware of being completely exhausted, having slept an hour a night for the first six months, which left me in a state that I was aware of, of complete exhaustion. And at the same time, there was an unnatural, speedy feeling. And I was irritable, I was depressed, I was anxious. And as I said to certain of my more, let’s say, developed clients, I guarantee you at one level I’m worse off than you are.
Robert Strock: (05:14)
And, and, but you don’t have to take care of me. I can stay focused on you. I wanna stay focused on you. You’ll let me know if I’m not. But I was experiencing the deepest suffering of my life, and I could add fear, anticipatory anxiety, all kinds of sufferings that were really there, anger that I was no longer able to feel good feelings, I couldn’t feel joy, happiness, all kinds of qualities that were really very central to my life. And so that was really another level of really starting this process of beginning with awareness of those challenging emotions. And then being aware, I really wanna care for myself in whatever way I can. And if I can’t do it through my heart, what can I do it through? And it became very evident that my mind was still fine. So I could use that intention to care, or as I sometimes refer to it as the intention to heal, to channel my mind to attempt to find the questions that were most important that would guide me during my day.
Robert Strock: (06:32)
So for example, if I was with a client, how can I care for this client most? And at another level, I was saying to myself, What level, if any, would be helpful for me to reveal my inner state, A so that I don’t take it personally, or B, if it related to their life exactly where they were, or C if it led to a way of caring for themselves in a very difficult situation, or D, none of the above. I just simply didn’t share it at all. And half my clientele had no idea that I was even going through anything because I was in my intention to heal, not revealing where I was and even modifying my facial expression so they didn’t feel like they had to take care of me. So the intention to heal, the intention to care, led to the inquiry of how can I best take care of myself given the fact that on an emotional level or on a quality level, I was fucked. That I was really not able to feel good.
Robert Strock: (07:39)
And as I say that, I’m asking you to stay with your story, stay with your reality, go back to anytime or if you’re in that time now, really allow yourself to see what was the emotional state, or what were the emotional states, or what are the emotional states that are most difficult for you? And to help identify what those are, I really encourage you to go to the awarenessthatheals.org website. On the top gray bar, there is a identification of the Introspective Guides that identifies the 75 most challenging emotions and also the 75 most essential needs and qualities that also include actions and thoughts that would guide you or me in a situation when we’re at our very worst. And as I, if I emphasize specifically only for the times when you’re worse off, then the inquiry is really asking for, how can I best take care of myself?
Robert Strock: (08:51)
And almost invariably, because at those times when we’re really suffering, we can’t change our emotions, but we can move to a place where we can find guidance or our wisdom or what I’ve called friendly mind. And so the pattern of being aware of where you are, recognizing you want to care for yourself, that leading to the question of how can I care for myself? And then what would be the thoughts that would be the kind of thoughts that would really lead you, me, to really best take care of myself. Now, this is actually a bit schizophrenic, meaning that on one level you’re in hell, and at another level you’re really teaching yourself, how do I think about this as a starting point? So for example, I would say to myself, pretty early on, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. This is the hardest thing maybe I will ever have to do.
Robert Strock: (09:57)
So, I’m gonna have to really earn my stripes to get my thoughts in line when my feelings are all over the place. So how can I care for the exhausted? I, I would say it’s perfectly natural. How can I not be exhausted when I’m chemically altered and I have to keep taking the chemistry every day? Now, for you, you’re gonna be in a completely different situation, but you’re gonna wanna ask, what are the thoughts that are really going to guide me to care for these feelings? So for example, if you’re in a depression or you’re in an anxiety or you’re in a terror or you’re in a severe rage, you’ll be saying to yourself something along the lines of, it’s natural to feel the anger, or it’s natural to feel the terror. And how can I breathe? Or how can I rest? Or how can I communicate if there’s someone to communicate and when could I communicate?
Robert Strock: (10:59)
Or what’s best for me to do, now, in terms of action, do I need to lie down or do I need to use my will to work out? So this beginning part is really the thoughts that are misunderstood as the head, but actually can be wisdom, or as I’ve framed it exclusively for times when you’re at your worst, friendly mind. And friendly mind means you’re being friendly in your thoughts towards yourself, not necessarily that you can even access the friendliness itself because you may be so consumed with fear or anxiety, the idea of being friendly is very, very out of reach when you’re in the severe elements of it. But having friendly thoughts like, I really want to care for myself, I really wanna tune into what I can do now, that is the universal reason why we’re doing these podcasts on my story is to really be an ally for yourself when you’re worst off. And practicing it enough to where you start to become versatile and fluid with being able to know when I’m really bad off, I wanna ask that question that will reveal how I can best take care of myself and keep asking it and keep asking it.
Robert Strock: (12:25)
And then when the thoughts come, you listen to the thoughts and the thoughts themselves will guide you toward actions or qualities. And maybe sometimes you can have an attitude of strength or passion, which that was one quality I still had access to, but you may not have access to any qualities, but thoughts, actions, and intentions are really central that you can guide yourself toward.
Robert, I wonder, you mentioned your practice, uh, your psychotherapy practice. And you mentioned that there’s choices you make about how much to reveal. And are there a couple of examples you could give where this has been a really revealing and beneficial way to have clients or people tap into this part of themselves where they’re just in a state of suffering that they can’t get out of?
Robert Strock: (13:24)
I’m really, really glad you asked that question because the tangible examples will help illuminate what I’m talking about. So I had about two thirds of my clients realize I was getting a kidney transplant. So naturally, of course, when I came back from Johns Hopkins, they were asking how I was, and probably half of that, those two thirds of people wanted to know every time how I was because they knew that I was having a sleep issue. And they really meant it. They were viewing it as being an element of an evolving level of mutuality, even though at another level, of course, I was still their counselor, but I was modeling for them how they could do it for themselves. So for example, I had one client that I would say, one way we could deal with it is I could tell you on a 1 to 10 scale how I am, and a 10 would be my normal best baseline before the transplant,
Robert Strock: (14:26)
and a zero would be, I’m immobile, I’m virtually catatonic. And she would ask me every time, at the beginning of the session, what’s your number? And I would say to her, If I’m a 2 or 3, I’m really fine. If I’m a 1, I can maintain it, but you’re gonna notice because you’re really perceptive and you’re watching me and I’m giving you enough information that I’ll have a level of depression or anxiety or agitation that you’ll see. And I don’t want you to identify with it because that’s not you. And you may absorb those feelings, and by knowing it’s me, you won’t have to identify with it. And by seeing that I can acknowledge that I’m in the state of suffering that’s quite severe, and I can still be with you, it, it really helped her in this particular situation look at her most difficult situations and see that, you know what, you can still function pretty well if you can be satisfied with wisdom or intention and activate that while you’re still suffering at the same time.
Robert Strock: (15:39)
So that was, that was the best example of someone that really got an enormous value and applied it to herself on a regular basis. Sometimes with her as well, she would say, I’m really depressed because I just broke up with this relationship. And I would then immediately say something like, when I’m really depressed, I’ll say something like, of course you’re depressed, you know, you have chemical issues. For you, you would say, of course you’re depressed, you just broke up with your girlfriend. And what are the thoughts that are gonna help you to deal with your depression relating to the depression itself and beyond the depression? How do you live your life so you’re not fixated in your depression? So she would be the best example where I would both help her identify in her life and also have a read of me. And then there were a number of clients that were just interested in checking and seeing where I was,
Robert Strock: (16:34)
and then they just assumed that I was okay. And so I wouldn’t make any mention at all of me, let alone any new clients. I wouldn’t even tell them I had a kidney transplant unless it came up in a context where it was clearly useful for them. So I literally would modify my facial expressions, my tone of voice, and go out of my way not to be noticed so they wouldn’t pick it up. And energetically, I, I fostered this internal intention to be empathic, to be having my eyes and my attention fully focused on them and not being absorbed in my inner world. And so for very likely, more than half, it never came up at all. And the ones that really knew me the best, and I want to go outta my way to say my clientele was a very advanced clientele. So it would’ve been very different if I was dealing with addiction or trauma or people that had more severe issues.
Robert Strock: (17:40)
My clients were generally very high functioning and therefore were very able to have me be personal in some way. And that was already a partial way that I shared where I was with them before the transplant. So one of the things to understand, when you identify a very difficult emotion when you’re in your most challenging states. And again, I’m really asking you focus on you. I’ll mention me briefly, but the key is you, you’re gonna have a constellation of feelings. So when you’re deeply depressed, you know, you might ask yourself, gee, do you like being depressed? And the answer of course is gonna be for almost everybody, hell no, what a stupid question. And so you’re gonna be upset with yourself or critical towards yourself, or angry at yourself, or irritable towards yourself, or irritable toward other people. That’ll be part of the constellation of feelings.
Robert Strock: (18:40)
You’ll have depression and you’ll have irritation. And then you, then you may have fear and anxiety as well, anticipating, god, when is this depression gonna get over? And so being aware of this constellation of feelings, you recognize that every one of these feelings needs to be identified as much as possible from that list. And then it’s gonna need thoughts that are gonna help guide you. First you gonna need to recognize that you want to care for yourself again and again and again. And then you’re gonna want to guide yourself, well, what thoughts specifically would help me? It’s perfectly natural that I’m irritated and angry that I’m depressed, or it’s natural that I have these feelings. Or then you might say to yourself, good for you that you’re not acting this out on, on your partner or good for you that you apologize for just acting it out on your partner.
Robert Strock: (19:35)
Whatever it is you’re attempting to have the thoughts really be moving you to where you can see the actions that you can take and what ways that you can navigate your life. And by recognizing there’s a constellation of feelings, you don’t get fixated on the one primary feeling and you recognize that you’re very likely, if it’s the hardest time of your life, you’re very likely gonna have three or four or five major feelings that are there. You know, self-rejection is a real key because when you are, let’s say in a, let’s say you’ve been raped and you’re, you’re having a flashback when you’re with a boyfriend and you’re, you’re having a traumatic feeling of terror or violation, invasion or guilt, you’re going to have all these feelings. And so it’s gonna be very, very important that you’re able to either talk that through with yourself or go to a therapist that’s gonna help you guide yourself to, how can I be with myself?
Robert Strock: (20:42)
How can I develop my relationship with myself so that I can, I can move in a direction that’s gonna be beneficial toward me? And one of the keys to that is not expecting yourself to feel better. Now, I can’t possibly say that enough because we’re conditioned to always, or virtually always wanna feel better when we don’t feel good. And it’s gonna be viewed as a booby prize when, oh, I have my thoughts to guide me BFD. You know, it’s, it is like I, I I’ve got my thoughts to guide me. But that, that doesn’t mean very much. No, this is the hardest time of your life. If you can guide yourself with your thoughts and recognize that it’s actually your friendly mind or your wisdom that’s guiding you, that is perhaps the most heroic time of your life. And in my situation, just to riff for a second, it took me 15 years to really find a chemical composition that allowed me to sleep and to be in my wakeful state and be, be balanced. And so it was by guiding myself with my thoughts, some of which were persevere, keep chemically experimenting to try to find the balance that will balance the, the sense of speed that you’re going through because of injecting or imbibing everyday the kidney transplant medication.
I want to go back a sec to self-rejection, um, and relate it personally. Uh, although I, I have to be grateful for this moment. I’m not in the middle of one of the, um, things that happens in life and will happen to all of us in life where health issues arise either within ourselves, uh, and mostly in my case with somebody I love deeply, my wife. And my tendency is to be super bummed out, more anxious than depressed. But the self-rejection part that I think is really important because to get to that, I have to also get over being really upset with myself for the repetitive nature of how I continue to go into the feeling itself. And that self-rejection, the, the looking at myself and saying, what the hell, you’re just continuously doing this, it’s of no benefit. And, and I spin in that self-rejection, uh, over a real thing, you know, over a thing that iis hard, there’s no getting around it. But I can’t get to that even unless I get through the circular pattern of why am I continuously doing this to myself? Why and why and why and why?
Robert Strock: (23:24)
Exactly. Well, I’m hopeful that you are listening as you’re hearing Dave, because self-rejection, as we’ve covered in prior episodes, is very much the most insidious, hard to see elements that really creates enormous suffering. And it’s usually unconscious. And so as Dave’s saying, he, he’s rejecting himself for fixating on the anxiety. And that’s exactly where friendly mind comes in. It’s like friendly mind says, ah, Dave, it looks like you’re fixating on anxiety, and I know you don’t wanna do that. Is that right Dave? And then Dave says, yeah, I don’t want to, but I can’t help myself, I just keep doing it, I keep doing it. And then friendly mind says, I’m going to be here and I can outlast your self-rejection. I can outlast you. And what I’m gonna say to you right now is it’s natural to be anxious and what’s the alternative right now?
Robert Strock: (24:35)
What other thoughts can you think right now while you normally keep going back to anxiety and self-rejection? And the thoughts might be something like friendly mind would say, what about I’m accepting that I’m someone that is quite anxious around health, and my wife’s health, and I don’t wanna add on the self-rejection. And then at another level, when you catch yourself, I don’t want to add on the self-rejection for being self-rejecting. And hopefully that brings a little bit of a smile. And then friendly mind is relentless. Hear this: Friendly mind can outlast. Imagine friendly mind being a two-year-old saying, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want. And Friendly mind can be more powerful than self-rejection. It can be more powerful than anything. And that’s what we’re aiming for. And that doesn’t mean it feels its power that means it takes center stage, but it requires enormous practice.
Robert Strock: (25:42)
And you can’t allow yourself to go on and on with one-dimensional anxiety or one-dimensional self-rejection. It needs to intervene. This is not just a concept, this is an alive principle of activating the wisdom of friendly mind. And so you will say to yourself, you will say to yourself, I see that you’re very anxious. I see that you’re somewhat fixated on it. That’s okay, good for you, that you recognized it that gives you a chance to not be as fixated. Do you hear me? Do you hear me? So the key here, the real key here is that friendly mind or this activating the intention to heal and the inquiry. Reaching the friendly mind it can, and it gets to interact with the constellation of feelings that Dave’s revealing that hopefully you are seeing inside yourself and you’re recognizing the reason why it doesn’t seem viable is because you haven’t developed a practice where friendly mind or wisdom or the intention to heal is dominating in your life.
Robert Strock: (26:55)
There’s no shortcut here. It needs to be something that you take on as a life practice. Now, if I had my way this would be taught in school That our ability to develop guidance from inside ourselves with friendly, wise thoughts, that are going to move us away from areas where we tend to fixate on our deepest suffering, that we realize we can always have what I would call this healthy duality. And we start to gain confidence as the frequency of friendly mind gains, automatic position. It has status, you know, inside yourself. I wanna give status to friendly mind. I want to really have that be central. I don’t want my most difficult feelings, what all of us as human beings are gonna have. I want to learn in life that developing the capacity to have this intention to heal this, asking what would be helpful in my thoughts, and then thoughts that are gonna intervene right at the critical times that are always accepting of whatever emotional state you are in. And then it’s gonna do that. And it’s gonna help you focus when the time is right on the rest of your world. So I, I wish for all of you that are listening that again, you’re applying this to yourself, we’re gonna get to my story more and more. But the key again, and that’s why this is going to take as long as it it’s taking, is apply this to yourself. And thank you so much for your attention and especially for applying it to yourself. Not only now, but after the podcast.
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