In this episode, we explore the second principle of Friendly Mind—thinking empathically when we are in any kind of pain or suffering. We learn to develop the capacity to think and follow friendly, realistic, grounded thoughts that care for us no matter our feelings or circumstances. Friendly Mind acknowledges and faces feelings without suppression. It oftentimes guides us to relate to both our feelings and the situation in a way that supports both.
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 12.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
Can you find situations in your life and identify the specific feelings you’re going through so that you can find the motivation for the best direction? You can guide yourself.
Awareness That Heals is a podcast that helps its listeners become more at peace with all states of their mind. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He’s coined the term Awareness That Heals to help you develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when you’re most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we’ll explore how to become caringly aware of our challenging feelings and how we can use our friendly mind to respond and help care for these difficult feelings to live a better, more inspiring life.
Robert Strock: (01:00)
I’d like to give you a heartfelt welcome again, to Awareness That Heals. And this episode again, is going to be a very important continuation of the depth and hard to understand the combination of simplicity and complication of each step. Because to the mind it looks like it’s pretty easy to understand, but when we’re suffering, it’s not only not easy to understand. It’s hard to even remember. So what really going to try to do our best to give a grounded set of principles that include all of our life experience. And today, both Dave and Shelley are joining us again. And as you’ve likely heard, which I’ll give you the short version of today, Dave is my 50 year closest friend co president of the Global Bridge Foundation. And Shelley is a therapist and board member of the Global Bridge Foundation, very dear friend. And we may also hear from Mark’s Spiro, who is the engineer and happens to be truly dedicated as you will have heard in the prior episode of friendly mind in his wide open sharing.
Robert Strock: (02:39)
So in the last episode, we covered the first principle of friendly mind, which really begins where all of us are facing our greatest challenges emotionally or situationally and how it is not only to become aware of those challenges or that challenge, but even as we develop instead of going, Oh, I feel afraid again. Or I feel angry again, or I feel anxious again, or I feel depressed again. We gradually can develop the ability to go, Oh, good. I’m aware of myself and now I have a chance not to just be stuck in this and can learn how to link to friendly mind or its equivalent in whatever way you conceive of the universe, which is guiding ourselves when we’re really suffering. And we’ll be looking to really explore the fundamental principles of friendly mind because without this understanding, we definitely will not be able to take full advantage and to be even more realistic, the understandings 10%, it’s practice, practice, practice.
Robert Strock: (04:18)
And then it’s when we’re suffering, it’s practice, practice, practice. And I don’t say that to make it seem like work. I say it, hopefully you can get a sense of it that yes, at first it might feel like work and very likely will, but as it becomes clear, you realize you’re learning to guide yourself and it becomes more like play. It becomes more like a gift, but you don’t want to rush there. And this is part of the subtlety of really understanding not to get ahead of ourselves and not to give up. So the second principle of friendly mind is thinking empathically when we feel really stuck or even thinking empathically, when we just don’t feel good, it’s a particular importance when we’re stymied, when we’re in a feeling where there’s no way we’re getting out. Now, some of you as you’re listening to this will say, Oh, I don’t have that problem.
Robert Strock: (05:42)
The odds are pretty good, you’re under 60, if you say that, but many people actually feel that way from the time they’re born because they have altered chemistry. And so it’s so important, no matter which end of the aging process you’re in or the chemical process you’re in or the trauma process you’re in or not in that, the key is we’re learning with friendly mind to think empathically toward ourselves when it matters the most, when our challenging emotions can take us over in a way that we’re conscious of, or in a way that we’re not conscious of. Some of you likely have heard the origins of the conception of friendly mind, but I received a kidney transplant 21 half years ago from my brother. And that’s usually a time for tremendous celebration, but the transplant medications, my body received a speed, so I slept an hour a night for the first six months. And I was a mess. I was chronically exhausted, agitated, not that much fun to be with if you tuned into my energy.
Robert Strock: (07:20)
And I couldn’t feel the good feelings that I had been able to feel, especially in my last 30 years of my adult life, to quite a bit of my childhood, couldn’t feel gratitude. Even for my brother giving me the kidney, couldn’t feel joy, couldn’t feel inspiration, couldn’t feel tenderness that was more familiar to me. So then I asked myself, which was the origins of friendly mind? What can I do? How can I be if I can’t be what I belatedly came to a deeper realization of, if I can’t be my identity of feeling good, of feeling loving, of feeling caring, of feeling compassionate, how can I be? So what started to come to me about an hour after I slept, in the first month or two of not sleeping more than that was, I can still find my wisdom as long as I remember I want to, because I didn’t feel like it.
Robert Strock: (08:41)
I could develop my, my wish to care for myself, which I framed as intention to heal or healing intention. And I could channel that to guide myself, to feel or more accurately, to think more caringly toward myself that this wouldn’t be easy for anyone. Show me anybody in the world that this would be easy for. And of course, so many of you out there have a parallel version of this. That’s probably kept dominantly private, or maybe you have one or two people, a therapist, a best friend, maybe a lover, family member. If you’re fortunate that you share it with. So that question of how can I think about this? How can I guide myself, given that my identity can’t be any longer based on how do I feel, or I was screwed. Now that led me to keep asking that question cause I had a lot of time on my hands.
Robert Strock: (09:57)
How can I care for myself? Not so much emotionally, like feeling caring because I couldn’t, but I could think, and I, I knew I wanted to feel better. So wanting to feel better, remembering to keep asking myself, how can I feel better, was the origins of friendly mind and for each of you, it’s so important that you see the paradox that I would encourage you to view it in a similar way to the way I viewed it, which is that was the time where I earned my stripes. I’m much better off now. I still have very difficult mornings, but when you don’t feel good and you can still find some guidance for your life, that’s heroic for any of us that can do that because absolutely that’s the time where we want to fight or flight where we want to just get angry at the world, angry at ourselves, or just run away from it all and disassociate.
Robert Strock: (11:14)
So can you ask yourself right now, as you hear this A does it make sense to you that that’s the most heroic time for you when you feel the worst and more importantly even, B do you feel the motivation to develop it and practice it and see how important it is, which I assure you, if you’re lucky enough to age and you don’t have an early death that you’ll have an understanding of losing capacity and too many areas to mention, and that will lead to feelings of inadequacy, depression, or depressive illness, anxiety, anger, helplessness, and much more. I remember saying to myself over and over again, you are doing the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life, and you’re getting the least results that people can notice or will ever be able to notice . . . notice, notice that this is the hardest work of your life. Having no sense that I’d ever be able to really feel good again, but knowing whether I felt good or not, I was going to dedicate myself to being aware of how horribly exhausted I felt with about 10 constellation of feelings from there.
Robert Strock: (13:08)
And that I wanted to guide myself to still be able to see my clients, to still be able to acknowledge where I was and am, but still be able to relate to the rest of the world, still stay open to other’s worlds and not follow my feelings, follow my friendly mind. So the question is, can you hear this for you? Can you apply this to you? Can you find situations in your life and identify the specific feelings you’re going through so that you can find the motivation for the best direction you can guide yourself. And again, as I have a few times before, I highly encourage you to go to awareness that heals.org and get a free copy of the Introspective Guides that have a list of the 75 most challenging feelings that we experience in a list. That’s not meant to be God’s gift to lists, but it’s a good comprehensive list when we’re suffering. And then 75 healing qualities or actions that are likely to be some of the directions you’re going to guide yourself when you’re stuck in this way.
Robert Strock: (14:57)
Now, understanding is a great beginning of this is my suffering. I want to feel better, or I at least want to do the best I can if I can’t, if I can’t feel better, what can I do? And as we went into the last episode quite a bit, what are the steps I can do? And how can I be in whatever situation I’m in, whatever feeling I’m in to optimize a sense of well-being, not in, not in terms of feeling, but in inner knowing that knows that requires more to be centered when you feel like shit. And there’s a part of you that’s centered, and it may sound a little schizophrenic or weird even at first that you had to split yourself in these two ways. But if you drop down into your challenges, you’ll realize that it requires great devotion, great practice to really develop this capacity.
David Knapp: (16:19)
Thank you for sharing your story and having been your friend throughout that time, um, and I’m identifying with a few of my own situations in my own life, but I, I will say there was, there literally was nowhere to go, and there was no steps to take at that time to move away from the state, the feelings. And so it was remarkable to see and remarkable now to have you talk about and, and to see where this has come and how much benefit is provided by creating another healing influence inside of yourself, towards yourself. And recently for me, which is what I want to share about me in a different way, because it was, uh, uh, a cancer with my wife, um, that took because of the pandemic a lot of time between all the different elements of trying to figure things out a lot of time between things. And during that time, there was nothing I could do. And I felt anxious in ways that I could not find reassurance from within myself to allay those feelings of anxiety. I could not find reassurance externally because there were too many unknowns, too many tests, too many steps that were still outstanding, for me were going in slow motion. And it was for me among the most challenging times. And I’ve had, I’ve had quite a few back, as you mentioned before, over 60, somebody sent me something yesterday that said being over sixties, like driving a car for the rest of your life, that has the check engine light on. And, and it feels that way sometimes. And so it’s, it, it, it does feel like I’m, I’m being introduced to, and, uh, you know, hello again, here I, here I am. Uh, and, and I’m going to be reintroducing myself to this aspect of life because it’s the nature of things.
David Knapp: (18:53)
And it was friendly mind. It was sometimes friendly mind saying, Hey, just watch a movie. Or as, as simple as that, or call a friend, listen to them, get out of whatever it is that’s going on with me. And it wasn’t avoidance. It was a, uh, to me, I experienced that as healthy distraction from something that was impossible to move out of for me. And it did change the feeling to some degree, of course, when left alone, when, when left to my own devices and silence when going to bed at night, sure. There was the gravitational pull to go back to the feelings, but I found these to be ways I could deal with those things. And eventually, uh, just as I said, introducing myself to this part of life was also part of what was helpful. And just knowing that there isn’t a person, whether they’re aware of or deep in it, or however they handle it that is not going to go through these types of things in their life. And I felt the universality of it. It didn’t comfort me. It didn’t take away the fundamentals, but it helped.
Robert Strock: (20:20)
Thank you for that, Dave. Um, the flip side of that is to have a truly close friend. You can’t explain how deep that is. Mirror an energy of love towards you, that you can’t feel is the greatest catalyst to help develop from the mind, from the outside, because I couldn’t feel you, but I knew you and I knew the feelings were coming. And I knew my system was just blocked off, but that helped that more focused, narrow channel to be evolved. And it was utterly ironic because one of the tip-offs for me led to developing friendly mind was my mainstay of communication, which some people would say is my, my first name, my last name and my middle name. And not always flatteringly. It, It really allowed me to see that communication with friends wasn’t creating the relief that it always did. I could say I feel exhausted, but guess what, when I was done, I was still the same exhausted. And say, I felt depressed. And guess what? I still felt the same depressed after I was depressed and saying I was depressed. But the key point being, if you’re lucky enough in this situation to go to a counselor, if you don’t have a best friend that can do that is a great way to catalyze friendly mind. And I wanted to just echo one thing that you’ve said, which easily could be misunderstood, even, even when you covered it, of calling it a distraction. Uh, at times that that’s a wise thing to do, rather than stay consumed in a feeling it’s kind of a conscious distraction to help yourself not stay in the stew.
Robert Strock: (22:36)
One of my prior teachers said to me, when you feel your worst, go cook some eggs. And I was bewildered the first second. And then I realized he was saying, man get your attention off as fast as you can, because you’re not doing yourself any good to have your mind be absorbed in it when you’re especially at the worst of it, when it’s tolerable, then you can more directly relate to it. And you can start asking questions of how can I can care for myself, but there’s a stage when you’re in the bottom pits of it, where it’s not really a distraction, it’s a wise attraction to help you balance yourself, to shimmy your way up, to be playable, more playable with friendly mind. So that’s where it gets so subtle, as to, am I at that place where I can even ask myself questions. And as we’re going to be talking about in the next stage, it’s also very important to realize that friendly mind is in a way, not the perfect definition, because friendly mind isn’t meant to imply that you can be friendly toward yourself in the thought, it’s the content of the thought that’s friendly. It’s the wisdom and the thought that’s friendly, but we’ll go more into that in the next principle.
Shelley Pearce: (24:07)
You know, I just like to share, um, it’s, it’s extraordinary being able to witness this conversation. And for me having the benefit of being such close dharmic friends through these years and feeling relatively friendly toward myself for most of my life, but having an experience just recently that was an overwhelm that I had never actually felt before. And it was the, the, the day of the protests. And I, you know, having, I was dealing with some physical pain, I had slept poorly for at least three nights, if not longer, that morning helicopters were buzzing around Santa Monica for hours. And I hadn’t read the news yet because I wasn’t feeling well and I didn’t know what was going on. And, um, there was no time for friendly mind. It was just, it was just complete overwhelm. And I, um, and I guess I would suggest this or for anyone who doesn’t have their own friendly mind to find a friend to be that friendly mind, but being able to, um, go to you, Robert and say, I’m, I’m overwhelmed.
Shelley Pearce: (25:33)
And I, and I, you know, it’s, this is I’m having a hard time handling it and just have you noticed and embrace just, just a warm, present hub that completely settled in my system. And, you know, something that few people know the timing, feel comfortable doing that, certainly asking for it is, is most people don’t feel comfortable doing that either, but it’s deeply healing. And so if, if so, so that’s, that’s one place that I feel is so important for people who are not necessarily, um, let’s say ruminators in general, they just kind of experienced something and it’s, there’s not a lot of cognitive thought about it. It’s just, it’s just the energetic pattern, but also as it relates to, um, I think one of the biggest things that, uh, in my rights that I’d struggled with a few things that, um, had to do with, um, really feeling a profound sense of guilt and remorse and, uh, being able to, um, talk about it with you, Robert, um, and have, uh, a genuine experience of empathy and rational rationale and we frame, and, um, maybe even a little, uh, comic relief, it’s incredibly healing, incredibly healing.
Shelley Pearce: (27:24)
So, um, so that’s, that’s how I experienced and don’t experience friendly mind. And, uh, I think it’s really worthy of sharing because it, it, you know, it does come from a depth of friendship and trust and, you know, ability to be open to that. And so I thank you for that.
Robert Strock: (27:47)
Shelley, thanks so much for, uh, that tender acknowledgement and especially the vulnerability that, again, you’re sharing with the audience and people that are listening. And it makes me think of two things. One is the feelings that you were dealing with, the remorse and the guilt. One of the subtleties, which again, we’ll be dealing with later in the other principles is the key to being friendly mind was being in present time and not trying to solve something that you had guilt and remorse for from the past, because we have a tendency when we have a feelings, we just want to do them over. You know, we’re not thinking of what’s the most I can do right now to really deal with guilt and remorse. And then the second part that is so crucial, and we’re not going to be able to go into it enough to give it the depth that it deserves is that if friendly mind and passing that around is a key element of friendship, then instead of having your friend agree with you and disagree with your husband or your wife, or, or always be on your side, friendly mind is interested in facing the truth and making the very, very best of it.
Robert Strock: (29:20)
And those friendships are sacred because they’re not just trying to say, Oh, you’re such a good person. Oh, you’re so loving, Oh, he’s an asshole saying how you best going to take care of yourself and the other involved and as friendships go, that adds another dimension that just needs to be talked about more and more.
David Knapp: (29:49)
One, one thing to add. And because it’s so obvious, uh, inside me, but I just, I just want to reflect to you that, uh, I, I hope I have been there nearly as much as you have been there for me, um, and end amplifying that and amplifying what you just said to Shelley about being in the present. For me, guilt and I have, I have no shortage. I’ve earned it. Yeah. I just, I just, I, in fact, I deserve it in some cases, but ultimately guiding myself to where it’s possible to the, to the original innocent intention, even if I’m in the midst of guilt, even if I’m tormenting myself, even if I’m in trauma over acts and things that happened. Looking for, seeking out, again with my thoughts at the beginning and hopefully eventually more, what was my original motivation? Was I really, really just a bad seed? Or was there something more, was there something I was looking for that had some wholesomeness in it? And can I find that now to give up, to put an overlay on what happened
Robert Strock: (31:24)
And what you’re saying is so profound in that you’re not trying to short circuit the guilt, there’s a part of you that’s even laughing. And that shows that there’s some real healing and being able to look at the guilt and remorse of our life in present terms and going back to the past and remembering where we were then, and not having the advantage of 2020 hindsight is the only way to heal it because there are original motivations that we had at the time, because we were in altered motivations, altered situations, altered needs. And we forget that. And so as you and I went back, it became very clear where a lot of your deepest innocence, truly deepest longings of your life were a big part of it. And that’s a very important teaching for all of us. And again we’re not going to be able to give it full justice because it deserves more of that. And the other thing is, yes, you have been there for me every step of the way, like nobody else in my life. So again, I’m very happy or pleased that we’re dignifying how difficult this is because we’re going through friendly mind step by step slowly, and it can’t be too slow. So I thank you for your rapt attention. I would encourage everyone to ask themselves where do I need to think most empathically not feel empathic? Where do I need to think most impactfully about my life, where it’s a really hard situation, because then you’re setting yourself up to remember it and to catalyze the awareness of the situation and the response to those situations. So I look forward to you joining us in the next episode, as we continue to deepen the breadth of understanding of friendly mind. Thanks so much.
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