Robert shares his journey, with Dave by his side, as he learned to coexist with the deep discomfort, pain, and imbalance of his kidney transplant medication. Feeling good was inaccessible for 10 years. Through this path, he developed a deepening of his practice inquiry by asking questions of what was truly possible given his state of exhaustion from sleep deprivation, which was due to an unusual reaction to the transplant medication. Following the inquiry, he received guidance that led him to focus on what was truly possible.
You are encouraged as always to see your own challenges in Robert’s story and begin to cultivate your own inquiry and wisdom. This can lead to best thoughts, actions, and more time spent caring for yourself with the intention to move toward well-being and keeping your mind as an ally even in the most challenging of times.
Our best selves include not only compassion, love, trust, strength, wealth, and success, but also acceptance of fear, anxiety, anger, impatience, and intolerance. Being aware of that and at the same time not letting it control us is really our best self. A best self that is one-dimensional is not reliable. Continue to cultivate these awareness tools with Robert and The Introspective Guides, which can be found at awarenessthatheals.org.
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.
Awareness That Heals Episode 79.
Robert Strock: (00:03)
We’re doing this so that we can deal with what’s most difficult and optimize the chance to be able to support ourselves, which will also allow us to support others that are close to us.
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: (00:58)
A very warm and passionate welcome to Awareness That Heals where we are really focusing on bringing heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges. And we start again and again with being aware of what is most difficult for us. And it’s very paradoxical why we’re doing this. We’re not doing this to be masochistic, we’re doing this so that we can deal with what’s most difficult and optimize the chance to be able to support ourselves, which will also allow us to support others that are close to us. And it’s very, very important to recognize that these difficulties are universal as a part of being human. And even though we’re not usually taught that from a very young age, even as children, I as a parent, I would say, didn’t do the same job I would do now, which is really to spend significant time teaching our kids that we’re all going to be dealing with this from a very young age and not trying to make them feel so good all the time.
Robert Strock: (02:04)
That actually is making facing life in a more adult way, or a more profound way, even as a child, it’s not even as an adult. It’s a more balanced way to prepare our kids for life. And most of us as parents want to give our kids a base of love to bathe in. And at one level that’s great. At another level, we want to make sure we don’t overprotect them from the challenges that they’re facing and that we really go through this even at a young age. And this sets us up for the ideal conditions to be fulfilled in their lives and also to contribute to the world by finding and living from our best selves. And our best selves does include not only compassion and love and trust and strength and wealth and success, but it also includes fear and anxiety and anger and impatience and intolerance and being aware of that. And at the same time, not letting it control us. That’s really a best self.
Robert Strock: (03:16)
A best self that’s one dimensional isn’t as deep and isn’t as reliable. And today we’re going to be focusing again on the introspective guides and on my story where in my life for 10 years, I was in a state, for lack of better words, of being profoundly fucked at one level. And it really forced me to dig deep to find another simultaneous path where I could coexist with being in a state where I couldn’t feel any good feelings for 10 years. All I had access to was developing a certain kind of guidance that I would call wisdom or best thoughts. And that leading to best actions, focusing on what was possible rather than what was impossible. And for those of you that don’t already have the introspective guides, the introspective guides will help you immensely with this by identifying 75 of the most challenging feelings, which I assure you some of the very most difficult challenging feelings will be on that list, which I would encourage you to circle.
Robert Strock: (04:26)
And then 75 of the qualities and needs and actions and thoughts that will support us most when we’re in either our deepest challenges or any kinds of challenges. So hopefully you will have those in front of you. I’d like to start off by introducing Dave, who’s my dearest friend for the last 50 years, and also my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation.
Robert, thank you again. And as always the story, there’s so much to say about what you went through after your transplant and onward from there, but it is so readily identifiable across the board to different life circumstances, and I really appreciate the opportunity to revisit that territory.
Robert Strock: (05:14)
Thanks Dave. And Dave of all people is the only person I would want here today because when I was in my deepest hell, he was by far the person that helped support friendly mind that I’m going to be going in depth today, helped my heart even though I couldn’t feel it, helped my body, helped me maintain my practice, helped me maintain my sanity, help me deal with my medications that I had to take when I had my kidney transplant and the side effects of that, and way more than I’ll be going into. So, I’m going to briefly go into what we really focused on in the last episode so that you have a sense of that in case you skipped the last episode. And if you did, I would highly encourage you to go back and listen to it at least once, because it gives the foundation of how you can deal with, how we can deal with, how I did deal with when I was in my state of deepest hell in my life.
Robert Strock: (06:10)
And it starts out like all of them and all the episodes that we’ve been talking about with a stabilizing awareness of our most challenging emotion. And that’s not to be snickered at because none of us were taught that from an early age. So congratulations. If you just get there, I can stably be aware of my most challenging emotion and hopefully be able to articulate it to someone else that would be able to support me with that. And hopefully we’ll have one person at least in our lives. And if we don’t, we have a guide or a counselor, a therapist, a minister, or somebody that we can have that will support us with that. After that awareness is stabilized, we, and maybe even before it’s stabilized, we then pivot to recognize, even though I’m in this very difficult state, I want to care for myself. I want to do what I can to support myself.
Robert Strock: (07:07)
And as we talked about last time, it may not be in the form of the heart caring, it may be caring thoughts. And that would be the second stage, the intention to care, the intention to heal, the intention to move toward wellbeing. And then we would move toward the third step, which would be really asking ourselves questions that would move toward what is really possible given the feeling that we’re in and the state that we’re in and the circumstance that we’re in. What would be the way I can move in a direction that’s possible for the next minute to the next hour for the next day? How can I keep my mind as an ally? How can I turn it into intelligence, emotional intelligence or wisdom? And then from there, we’re going to move into something that I would call friendly mind. And friendly mind is a very comprehensive and multidimensional feature where it really is guiding us toward the qualities and actions and needs, and when possible, qualities of heart that will most serve our life when we’re either a little bit challenged or like we’re focusing on today, most challenged.
Robert Strock: (08:33)
It especially is a tool or is a practice that’s to be developed for when we’re in our most challenged state. So friendly mind does not require us to feel friendly, it requires us to focus on the mind and how it will guide us to serve our life in the best way possible. So I couldn’t think of a better word than friendly mind, but it’s important that you understand that we’re really looking for a wise mind that doesn’t have to have affect, that you’re really asking yourself the question with the inquiry that’s the third step before it, which is what are the thoughts that will guide me from exactly where I am when I’m in my greatest challenge? So hopefully that’s clear and it would be a lot clearer if you listened to the last episode if it’s not clear yet.
Robert Strock: (09:31)
Now, as I mentioned, Dave was there when I had my kidney transplant, which was 23 years ago. And the kidney transplant turned out to be very anticlimactic because that was a miracle. My health has been wonderful. I’m immensely grateful. And I had a very, very unusual reaction to the kidney transplant medication where for the first six months I slept for one hour a night. And so, I was in a mixture of being completely exhausted and completely driven at the same time. Now, I don’t expect any of you to understand what that was like to be that exhausted and that driven because the medication, the transplant medication, which I have to take for the rest of my life, my body received as speed. It’s common to have it create insomnia, but I haven’t run into anybody that experienced it to that degree to where they only slept without other medications for a half hour at night. I still today, 23 years later, because I’ve forgotten to take my sleeping medication once fairly recently, I still would sleep for an hour at night.
Robert Strock: (10:47)
And so, I had no choice but to see what chemical solutions were there because I quickly learned that ordinary communication that was healing with friends or a counselor or a guide or a teacher or a therapist had no use for me, because my body was chemically altered. And while I say that, I want to appeal to all of you that are suffering from chronic depression or anxiety, or are dealing with other kinds of chemicals or hormones or anesthesia, any kind of situation that’s rooted in the body, not to try to believe that you can heal it always through therapy, that chemistry is chemistry. And it’s so important that you don’t think this is you. This is your chemistry. Friendly mind will remind you that this isn’t you. This is your chemistry that’s leading you to be depressed or anxious.
Robert Strock: (11:50)
Now, I’m not saying that’s always true. Certainly, there are circumstances where you can become depressed or anxious because of the circumstances themselves, could be bankruptcy, a loss of love. But if you have long term situations, or if you’re going through menopause, or you’re on the verge of having your period, these are all things that are rooted dominantly, if not totally in chemistry. And when that happens, most likely the only solution is going to be chemistry. And the old-fashioned thinking of using chemistry is the last thing I want to do, is a very naive view of life. And I would be very happy to talk with any psychiatrist, psychologist, layperson on the show if they thought that love could conquer all or therapy could conquer all. And I want to support anybody that is suffering from that kind of condition to have compassion and to recognize that utilizing chemistry is very, very important.
Robert Strock: (12:50)
So, when I go back to that early stage of being post-transplant, I not only had the transplant medications, but I also had a medication called prednisone. Now both of those are medications that will make it much more difficult to sleep. And I was in a state of chronic, not only exhaustion and drivenness, but after a period of time, I would say within a month, I was agitated, I was irritated, I was frustrated, I was helpless, I was depressed. So, there wasn’t any difficult emotion that I think I didn’t feel. I know I felt them all. And here I was being a therapist and I had to make a decision, could I still do therapy? Could I still function? Did I just need to go to bed? Did I just need to go through an endless series of chemical experiments? I was a meditator. I had been a meditator at that point for 30 plus years. Was meditation going to work? And the answer was no. Meditation only allowed me–and actually this was helpful–it allowed me not to add on to more thoughts to the difficult feeling.I was in.
Robert Strock: (14:13)
The very first month, I was sleeping an hour a night. I came to a realization that was unquestionably helped by my meditation, not only to come to the realization, but to be able to implement it, that every single thought I was going to think in the middle of the night after an hour of sleep was going to be harmful to me. And so I convinced my conscious mind and even my unconscious mind, I’m not listening to you, my friendly mind started to come into existence before I had given it a name that realized that every thought I was going to think in the middle of the night was going to be one that would be, Oh my God, how am I going to deal with tomorrow? Oh my God, is this going to last for life? Oh my God, I’m fucked forever. That these thoughts were not beneficial. So, I would be able to catch myself at an impulse level of starting to think down the negative fall and stop myself and say, this is not going to be helpful. I’m not going to go there.
Robert Strock: (15:18)
So I was able to keep myself in a relative state of silence and occasionally would be able to think a thought like, this would be difficult for anyone. I’m sorry, you have to go through this. And that was the beginning of friendly mind. And this was something that not only was during the night, but was also there during the day because I was feeling in a state of, for lack of better words, misery, hopelessness, depression, despair. So I was communicating a lot with my closest friends, in particular with Dave. And we started after three or four months experimenting with various medications, maybe two or three months with sleeping medications, which didn’t work on their own.
Robert Strock: (16:02)
And it was only after six months that I had a cocktail of two medications that allowed me to sleep for two and a half to three hours a night. That was a miracle. And I was also in a state of being what I would call pre-nauseous that whole six months. And while I was there, I was developing the ability to say, boy, this would really, really be difficult on anyone. You’re doing the hardest work of your life and yet you’re yielding no results relative to your feelings. And came to the realization after about six weeks that my wisdom and my thought empathy, and even my empathy for others was able to be accessed, but my empathy for myself was not able to be accessed. So I could still be a therapist. And there were certain clients that I was able to share my experience, as a matter of fact, I had to share my experience because all my old clients knew I was going through a transplant because I had to take a two-month break.
Robert Strock: (17:09)
But there were certain clients that absolutely didn’t want to know anything about it. They needed to focus on themselves. And so I never really mentioned anything, and I did everything I could through my friendly mind to alter my facial expressions, my tone of voice. I felt like I was like a ventriloquist. And for those clients, I was there for them and my interstate didn’t matter. I told them something along the lines of, if you sense anything like me being a bit empty or a bit down, don’t worry, it’s not to do with you, it’s to do with me, but I’m fine. You don’t have to take care of me. We’re not here to take care of me.
Robert Strock: (17:49)
And then there were those clients that actually insisted on me giving them a brief report of how I was. So I would report to them on a one to 10 scale how I was doing. And I said, listen, if I’m a two and a half, I’m in really good shape. And if I’m a one, I’d still be okay, but you’ll probably be able to sense me as being a bit down, but don’t worry about it. You’re not here to take care of me. And they appreciated me modeling the transparency and still being able to stay focused on them. And so that’s how I navigated it. And these were things that Dave and I talked about quite a bit. But then early on I started experimenting with different dosages of everything from antidepressants to anti-anxiety to even small doses of antipsychotics, which were not because I was psychotic, but because they can be used for the same principles and changing the dosages on a regular basis.
Robert Strock: (18:46)
And Dave made an Excel spreadsheet for me that included about 20 columns. When I wake up in the morning, or more accurately in the middle of the night. Was I feeling sedated? Was I feeling exhausted? Was I feeling depressed? Was I feeling hopeless? And there were 20 columns. And there were hard to differentiate. Many times I would say, I don’t know which of these four it was, but that helped me guide my next night, or in some cases, my next few days experiments of medications. And through the years, my guess is I went through at least 350 chemical experiments that led me into a state where I was in pretty decent shape. I would say that relative to my past, 10 being my baseline, I was up to a four or a five. I had only lost 50% of my energy.
Robert Strock: (19:43)
And that went on, and ultimately until the last six years, which was 17 years after the transplant, I found a medication, two sets of medications that led to me being in a balanced state except for the morning, my first two hours, I still am a bit of a zombie the first two hours. So I still, on a daily basis, have to deal with two hours of being in an altered state. But that’s a progression of what I went through. Dave, anything that really jogs your memory in particular about that state or anything particularly maybe as it might relate to everybody else that comes to mind?
Well, as you were speaking, what I was reflecting on is all the identification, really examination, looking, trying to use your inner focus that you looked inside yourself and said, this feels like this. This feels like that. I think that it can’t be said enough how valuable that really impossible to move forward without that for you. But I think for all of us, just that hearkening back to the first chapter of Awareness That Heals, just being aware, trying to identify the feelings to move it to the Introspective Guides, which are such an amazing tool, just to not have to find those words, find those feelings verbalized or those states, verbalized from you to you inside yourself. But to be able to see a meaningful list of what for everybody is the most common feelings is just invaluable. And that’s what struck me is just how universal and important that is, but how little we’re taught to do it.
Robert Strock: (21:30)
The thing that comes to me is the role of friendship, the possible role of friendship, the possible role of a therapy relationship, the possible role of a student-teacher relationship. And having you at that time in my life was literally probably the biggest gift in my whole life. Because it really is a cheerful remembrance of having someone that was not only knowing how to advocate for me, and stably doing it, but ready to step up and alter your lifestyle for 10 years to really help me navigate, persevere, have courage to keep experimenting. And the specific biggest one, and literally, it was the biggest ask of my life that I had the transplant in October of 1999, and we had a conference for 250 high schoolers that was called “Being the Difference That Makes a Difference.” And I came to Dave in December, and up to that point, I had been taking on a lot of the role and there were a few other people that were helping.
Robert Strock: (22:46)
And it was a hundred percent obvious that I had zero chance of pulling it off without somebody like Dave’s help in a big way. And if I didn’t have somebody that was going to do the central administration that we, I basically had to give it up. And I asked Dave, with tears in my eyes, will you help? And he said, an unqualified, I’m all in. And he stepped up and really took on, I would say the central role, certainly dominantly, administratively, and personally with me and with the people around me, and really allowed the whole conference to come together that ultimately led to 250 people getting together at UCLA. And I was in such a state of need, the deepest need of my life that I wish that on all of you that are there listening to this, that you recognize the importance of having an advocate, not that you’re very likely to get someone that was as comprehensively able to help you as I was blessed to have.
Robert Strock: (23:58)
But it really is something that when you’re in this state, it is so important to have an anchor that can be like being in quicksand, it’s like having a rope where you can have somebody that you know is not going to keep you on the same level of fall, or allow you to go into those cascading thoughts that are going to bring you down, down, down. And so, the conference was really a key memory for me because it was the most important thing to me. And I knew I was going to not be able to succeed without having that as well as the inner support for me to keep doing what I could to experiment. And this was literally in the first two months after the transplant that this transpired when I was right at the beginning of my worst.
I just want to, first of all, thank you for reflecting on that, and it was in my recollections of our very, very long friendship. One of the lessons for me in that ask, which I’m still working on in myself, is just to be transparent with my needs, which obviously took a lot of awareness and given the self-sufficiency you had been used to that was automatic, that up until the transplant, it didn’t occur to you that you wouldn’t be ever to make that ask in something that was so important to you was huge. And there was no time between the ask and the yes, that’s for sure. But it was also a lesson to me about, which I’m again not very good at, expressing my needs and moments, recognizing my needs even to myself in moments and learning about that. And I think that was a big thing, a big transition at that time.
Robert Strock: (25:59)
And when Dave says he’s not very good at asking for his needs, I think that’s relative to the rest of his emotional intelligence, which is quite expanded. But it’s so important that as you listen to this, almost nobody’s very good at expressing their needs and even recognizing their needs. And that’s why the charts are so important, and I really hope that you’ll join us as we get more into it. Hopefully, you’ve gotten a beginning sense of what friendly mind is and that we really are having to bypass our instinctual tendency to want to feel better. And that’s all that matters and everything else is dog shit. But in reality, it’s a blessing and it is a birth, and it allows us to have the potential, to have the courage to keep working, to keep giving it our best efforts. It actually makes me think of Victor Frankel and The Will to Meaning and how he used his will, and I’m not comparing myself to him because he had the real test. I had another test, but he had the acid test.
Robert Strock: (27:07)
But how he was able to use his will to meaning while he was in the concentration camps and how he inspired other people to do that, that’s a taste of what friendly mind really can be at its best, at its finest. It’s like you use your wisdom to keep looking at what’s possible and letting that lead to the next encouraging thought. And when feelings are available, if they’re available, they’ll be available. But if they’re not available, you’re in some way recognizing that you’re grateful. I’ll say this just quickly as an end, that I was very aware that at that time, even with my brother giving me my kidney, I could not feel the gratitude. I knew how grateful I was. That was the best I could do.
Robert Strock: (28:00)
And it was embarrassing. I felt shame that I couldn’t feel it, even though I had a friendly mind that would say to me, of course you do, but you know can’t do any better. You know it’s there. You know that your feelings have been wiped out, hopefully temporarily, and you’re going to do everything you can to make it so it is temporary, even though you don’t really know one way or the other. So hopefully this will inspire you to want to listen to the story or maybe not even at all about me, but about you, and that you’ll see that this tool or these tools to be able to deal with the very most difficult feelings are essential to be able to have in your tool chest. Thanks so much and look forward to having you join us in the next episode.
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