The vast majority of healing takes place in the fourth level of awareness. This is awareness that heals. At this level, we are aware of our challenging feelings in the present, but we also experience a genuine motivation to move toward healing. We see and acknowledge our challenging state(s) while at the same time, we care for ourselves enough to respond with actions that take us toward healing and better well-being. This creates a sense of purpose and inspiration to be our best selves.
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Awareness That Heals Chapter Four.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
Can you identify with any place where you’ve been out of control, where you can’t control your feelings or a situation, and it leaves you helpless or distraught or frightened or despondent or something else?
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: (01:03)
I want to thank you again for joining us and truly hope that you, if you have listened, found some new tools and elements that will support you with dealing with some of these first levels of awareness that we’ve talked about. And if you haven’t listened to the prior few episodes, you may want to go back to listen to them, to have an easier continuity, the progression of moving toward a greater healing awareness, which is what we’re going to deal with today. Today, again, with me are my co-hosts Dave, my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation and 50-year closest friend and Shelley, my dear friend from the very moment we met, which is a story that I won’t completely get into, but that was 12 years ago. And she’s also a board member at Global Bridge Foundation. And I psychotherapist, and we’re starting today to really finish this theme in this episode, based on a book that I published last year, called Awareness That Heals bringing heart and wisdom to life’s challenges, and we will be adding our personal touches and experiences to it. So, if you’ve read the book, hopefully, there’s some extra goodies.
Robert Strock: (02:45)
So being aware of our challenges and by challenges, I mean, things like fear, anxiety, anger, grief, helplessness at a time like we’re facing right now, maybe even terror, existential anxiety, really painful stuff. The combination of events going on or saying, I just can’t watch the news anymore. Can’t tolerate the virus or I can’t tolerate the election. And it’s because they’re only experiencing this first state of challenge and not really accessing, how can I respond? Who can I contact? What conversation can I have? What volunteer capacity can I do? Have I voted? Am I committed to keep responding? No matter what happens, can I dig deep enough to, for that faith and that trust and that practicality that I’m going to give my best, no matter what happens now, that might be a little bit too much to ask right off the start, but it really covers the theme of no matter how difficult a situation or feeling that you’re experiencing, being able to be.
Robert Strock: (04:29)
And I want to say ambidextrous, like being able to have on your left hand, the challenge and on your right hand, looking for the healing response is really what this level of awareness is about. And it’s really the ultimate level of bringing our heart and our wisdom to the awareness of our challenges.
David Knapp: (04:55)
Robert, knowing you as I do for all these years and knowing the things you’ve been through, I think it’s really, uh, would be really helpful to share some of your experience about this very issue and what it means to you. As you talk about this personally.
Shelley Pearce: (05:19)
Are you talking about his introduction of me? I would sit that part out.
Yeah, you’ve been a real, you’ve been the real challenge in my life. Screw the kidney, screw the kidney transplant. When I was 50, I was in a state of kidney failure and I was truly fortunate enough to have both a great doctor and a brother who gave me a kidney. So, I never even really had to go on dialysis. And prior to those years, from 18 to 50, I had lived a life that was really fulfilling, never really had a bad night’s sleep. It was able to be doing the work that I loved as a therapist, as a friend. And it was really a life that was very satisfying. And when I had the kidney for most people, that would be the unbelievable, miraculous, good news to be able to give a new, be given a new lease on life. Because at that state, I wasn’t really sick, but I was tired and I was limited. And then I got the transplant, which was really kind of a breeze. The medications, however, were a nightmare to my life. My body received these medications as if it was mainlining speed. And so, for the next six months, I slept an hour a night.
Robert Strock: (07:19)
It’s a really hard thing to fathom and it’s an impossible thing to convey, but I’ll do my best, which is I was in a state of constant exhaustion and speed and anxiety and depression, and was really brought down to my knees. And I was asking myself, what can I possibly do? How can I possibly survive in the world? Because in addition to that, I couldn’t feel the qualities that had made up my life of a feeling state of caring, of gratitude toward my brother for giving me the transplant, inspiration, tenderness, those qualities were wiped out. Now I had the awareness to know that that still was me in my potential, but it wasn’t very reassuring when I couldn’t experience any of them for one second.
Robert Strock: (08:41)
So, I asked myself and this really led to a much deepening of the version of Awareness That Heals. What can I do? What am I capable of? And I realized what I was capable of was I was aware of realizing I was wiped out in a very specific amount of ways. I couldn’t, I couldn’t experience my sense of well-being, but I was able to still access my intention to want to be a value, to be in some way, spreading some kind of goodness, obviously with more limits because my tiredness was a restriction. And I also saw that I still had my will.
Robert Strock: (09:42)
So, there was the intention to heal others and of possible myself, although it seemed pretty ominous. And the key point, which is really hard to convey is within a month or so, I realized I needed to identify more with my intention, wisdom, and will than I do with my feelings. Cause most of us, including me would say, how are you doing, well if I gave my answers to how you’re doing with my feelings, it was always horrible. So, I gradually focused myself on intention and what was my wisdom telling me I could and couldn’t do. And my will. And for those of you that are familiar with it, it really made me think of Victor Frankl because he was in a concentration camp and in much worse circumstances than me, I’m humbled by even mentioning his name, but he found his will. He found his intention. He found his wisdom in a concentration camp. So, a part of me said, well, if you could do it in a concentration camp, maybe I can do it in Brentwood.
Robert Strock: (11:19)
And, and so that was really the focus. And that was really a key part, which was okay. I’m aware of my feelings, which are devastating. And I, the clients that were more aware and everyone knew I had a transplant, but the clients that were more aware would they wouldn’t ask me how I was doing, cause I asked them not to. To the ones that, again, it was only the ones that were really, uh, tuned in that there’s no way I could BS them and act like I was just totally fine. They would ask, how are you doing, with how are you doing?
Robert Strock: (12:07)
How are you responding to how you’re doing? Which was really helpful. So, in that sense, my clients became my allies. And of course my friends even more easily became my ally. As I realized that no longer has been, as had been my whole life, sharing my feelings and then somebody going, oh, that sucks. So that’s really hard. Or I feel for you, I’m so sorry for you. That didn’t do anything. I didn’t feel relieved. I knew that they were being as good to me as they could be, but I still felt absolutely devastated inside. And that went on. Sleeping I resolved in six months to get three and a half hours, but I was still in a partial wasteland for six years and then gradually made it come back.
Robert Strock: (13:06)
And so, in that six years, it really led to refining the practice of, okay, you’re aware of where you are, but boy, that’s, you’re not going to take you anywhere. Really. You stay with that awareness. You’re like saying, why don’t we just go into a quicksand? And the more you think about it, the deeper, the deeper you go. So, the intention to heal and the will that allowed me to focus on the intention to heal really is what guided me. Now, most importantly in this story is can you identify with any place where you’ve been out of control, where you can’t control your feelings or a situation, and it leaves you helpless or distraught or frightened or despondent or something else. And can you imagine staying aware of what you’re experiencing and asking yourself the question I’m not even asking you, can you follow through on the question yet, but can you ask yourself the question: how can I best be with this to care for myself?
Robert Strock: (14:33)
So that was sort of a through line. Now, some of the things that I said to myself, which we’ll be getting into in further podcasts were what I refer to as friendly mind were I would say to myself, you feel the worst day of your life by far, but there’s nobody in the world this would be easy for. Now it’s silenced the critical mind and allowed the friendly mind to predominate. This is something that wasn’t taught in school or in psychology or in spirituality and religion, at least to the best of my knowledge. I’m not saying I obviously I’m aware of everything that’s happened in every region of the world, but in any major, public way, I haven’t been exposed to using the mind slash wisdom to guide you and to trust “that” more than your feelings and to let that be your source of not only guidance, but even identity, more and more than how you feel. Now, if you ask me on a more personal level, was that a booby prize? I’d say, yeah, yeah. Would I have preferred to have gotten to the promised land where I was able to feel the feelings that I felt my whole life, of course, but would I also say it’s the best work of my life? And I’m by far more trusting and proud when anyone who suffered with lifelong anxiety, lifelong depression, a tragedy of trauma, and is able to find a place where they can still guide themselves. It’s utterly moving. And so, what I would call is a booby prize, in a loose way, I would say is the biggest prize of life. And now in these years, I’m a lot better off. I can do a lot more things than I could then, but I certainly would give myself and I’m encouraging anybody else who’s in these states to give yourself a hell of a lot more credit, that you can center yourself with your intention and your will and the wisdom you can come up with way more than just somebody who is easily able to have their feelings be in a good place.
David Knapp: (17:37)
Want to thank you so much for sharing that. Um, even knowing you and having live life as your friend through these times it touches me deeply every time you talk about it, you said one thing there that I’d like to ask you about, about your clients, your friends and how they, instead of giving you what amounts to well-meaning sympathy, they, they gave you something different. They gave you something that sounds like, uh, as I remember you describing it, a capacity for a spaciousness around what was going on with you. Can you talk about that?
Robert Strock: (18:31)
Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s a spaciousness and even more concretely not to dismiss the spaciousness, they were focusing on my response, the response, rather than the experience and that’s something I could do. And I’m not even saying in any way, it was easy, but I was capable of asking myself, how can I respond? What is my wisdom saying? And when they did that, they were validating something I was capable of. Whereas when they say, I’m sorry that you feel the way you do it was just, it was just a reinforcement of a downer.
David Knapp: (19:21)
What you’re describing your clients and friends gave you was not what I would call sympathy. It was not feeling sorry for you. As you said, that gave you nothing of any real value internally to you as well-meaning as it was, but they were encouraging you and supporting you to be a responder to what you were going through and having the space to do that. And that is so hard. It is so hard when you’re in those modes of suffering, especially extreme ones, define that space to find that a capacity to respond to it and not just be identified with it. And that’s what I’d like you to speak to, cause that’s true, it’s transforming.
Robert Strock: (20:16)
I think the key is when you’re screwed, when you’re really, really, really screwed and you have the feeling like nothing matters, I’m not, you’re not even not attached to life at some level because the quality of life is so low that you realize, you may realize. And the whole point of really saying this is to support realizing that there is a crossroad you can go to and say, even though I’m significantly screwed, maybe there’s a chance I can milk something out of this. Maybe there’s a way that I can focus on my intention, even though I don’t feel like it.
Robert Strock: (21:11)
Even though I feel like what the heck I might as well just lie down and die because I’m in this impossible feeling. Now, if people are not, at least in their sixties, they may never have experienced this before, but in a minimal way, it still applies. You know, this is the extreme example of the fourth level of awareness where it’s really severe, but it applies as well to something that’s not quite so catastrophic. But the key is if you can bring yourself to the crossroad and ask yourself that question of what can I do, if anything, and not let your feelings be the source of the motivation, but have your wisdom be the source of your motivation, call it intelligence, call it wisdom, call it your smarts, call it common or uncommon sense. But you also realize I’m either completely good, maybe forever, or I have a chance at something if you can get that far, because I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to pull it off as clients. I wasn’t sure that I was going to even be able to stay caring deeply for my friends. I knew I inside me, I still cared, but the value was harder and it became easier when they, and you converted to ask me the questions that were helpful because it reinforced what was possible, rather than what was impossible.
Shelley Pearce: (22:50)
I can add here, Robert and Dave, I’m just working with students, disabled students at the college. Uh, some of these students, you know, cerebral palsy or, you know, a student who’s blinded indefinite, and they’re dealing with these, these issues that are never going away. And I find that really is the only way it’s like it’s really after empathizing their suffering, being able to validate their resourcefulness and dealing with it. And I would love if–I know you could go on a riff of all, all of the ways you could do that, validate the resourcefulness in someone, in addition to, uh, empathizing with their feelings.
Robert Strock: (23:33)
Yeah. I mean, I think one of the most effective ways of doing it is repeating that you guys are really screwed at one level, but you have a chance to do something that is more heroic. And I love the word heroic, than somebody who naturally can walk or can think clearly or can feel in a certain way. And for you to find a way to be resourceful is much more miraculous and heroic. And so, you really appropriately validate what is so arduous, but at the deepest level, when you’re in a situation that’s severe, there isn’t a very good choice, but most people don’t even bring it to that choice point. So, you’re helping them see by letting them know they’re not being compared to the ordinary public they’re in, they’re in a truly special category. And at the deepest, hardest level, eventually if we live long enough, all of us will be when we’re facing incapacity, terminal illness or dying, that we’re in a different realm of life.
Robert Strock: (25:05)
And so we need to be able to validate a completely different thing, and heroic, you know is just a great word and responding to their lack of being able to take it in is also important because they will not take it in they’ll, they’ll think you’re stroking them. And you’re saying I’m not stroking you. I don’t know anybody in the world that this would be easy for. Do You? It’s one of my favorite things. It’s like, who would this be easy for when, when you can’t walk or you can’t talk, or you can’t hear. So, it’s a mini miracle, even on the lighter levels for any of us to be able to do this because the tendency was suffering is to be all-consuming and to make us lose perspective, make us not believe there’s a path to anything that really matters.
Robert Strock: (26:12)
Cause I just simply want to feel better. I don’t care that much about being a hero. I just want to be able to talk or walk the things I can’t do. And so, you also need to really talk about dealing with the possible, rather than the impossible. And, really, as again, we’ll be getting more into that when we get into friendly mind, but that conversation needs to go in and stay with a conversation as long as possible to where you feel like there’s a chance that they’re going to go to that edge, because there are probably at least three levels of futility and give up, so you have to go through it several times. Now, one of the more difficult things to do is to really identify the feeling states you’re in, and to be able to identify the qualities and actions that would be the responses that would help you.
Robert Strock: (27:18)
So, I suggest for some help that you go to RobertStrock.org and download the free Introspective Guides that will help you be much more specific in identifying 75 of the most difficult emotions that we all face. And 75 of the qualities and actions that are the responses that will support us to be healing toward those challenges. And when, when we really look at what this is attempting to show us how to do, I think it would be beneficial to all of us to see our suffering, it’s like a baby crying where there’s that automatic instinct, where we’re not only hearing the cry, but we’re responding. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about with the challenge occurring and having a healing response. Now in that response, we may find that, oh, the baby just needed to be held or it needed food, needed to be having its diaper changed.
Robert Strock: (28:41)
So, the response has a nuance, but for some reason, probably perpetually, we delusional, we believe it’s just babies have suffering. But guess what we’re all at one level mature babies who have mature suffering and it’s really dignified to be aware of it and to learn how to respond to it. This can also be applied from the micro world where we’re dealing with our personal level to where we’re facing global warming, we’re facing nuclear dangers. We’re facing all kinds of things internationally, where we can feel our feelings there and also look for what kind of responses can we generate that can support us. So, we’re winding down here halfway through the fourth level of awareness that really encompasses the miracle of being aware of our challenges and learning how to respond with some specificity. So, my greatest wish is that you are really asking yourself, not just now, but really on an ongoing basis, what are those challenging feelings and situations and how can I respond as close to simultaneously as possible? Because then we’re setting up our lives to be an endless evolution. And it gives a real sense of purpose just inside ourselves, let alone what we can then bring to the world. So, I thank you for your attention and hope you’ll continue with us as we evolve more episodes.
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