Sometimes, moments of strife can feel like you’re drowning underwater. Unable to call for help, not sure if anyone, including yourself, can hear you. Learning how to ask questions that can help you support yourself is like equipping yourself with an oxygen tank. You’re not out of the water yet, but you’re able to breathe a little better.
The art of sincere questioning is an experience of love. It’s being able to take a breather in those difficult moments, pause, and ask yourself — how can I best take care of myself through this?
Awareness of your challenging emotions and situations is a critical aspect of learning how to ask questions that will lead you to guidance. Knowing what you feel, being honest about it, and committing to taking care of yourself to support yourself with those feelings is a big step of conscious awareness. This helps you connect better — with the situation, people, and, most importantly, yourself. As Robert Strock puts it, this awareness can “slow down the ongoing stuckness” in those feelings.
Why ask guiding questions at all, you may think. It’s so you know what you’ll need to get through this specific situation. Do you need physical support? To feel the presence of another? Do you need emotional or heart support? Inquiry or asking questions doesn’t mean that you’ll get answers. Sometimes you may just know that you need something, but instead of being frustrated at yourself or others for not having all the answers, you will be able to care for yourself through this moment of confusion. When you practice asking guiding questions, whether to take care of yourself and/or your loved ones, the sincerity of asking is just as potent as any answer you may or may not receive.
Asking questions to take care of yourself can be an everyday thing too. It’s at the nexus of traditional psychology and spirituality. It can help you reach the full potential of your capabilities at work, improve relationships, and help you become the best version of yourself.
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 38.
Robert Strock: (00:05)
So, we have generally a reflex to just react, versus reminding ourselves remembering, oh, that’s right. When I feel lousy, I have something else I can do. Another way I can be with myself.
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: (01:02)
I’d like to welcome you again to Awareness That Heals: Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges. Today, we’re going to continue to go more deeply into one of the most inspiring and flexible underused practices that we can access anywhere. And that is the art of asking guiding questions that are aimed at how we can create well-being, heart, peace, trust, and the qualities that matter most to us, it’s not just random thinking or questioning it’s questions aiming at our own heart and wisdom. And of course, when I say our own, if we reach our own heart and wisdom, it’s going to be the same for those around us as well. I’d like to start out by introducing Dave, who is my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation and endless friend.
Great to be here. I’m looking forward to continuing these conversations and, uh, and particularly this subject, um, we can’t get anywhere without asking those questions and, and digging deep.
Robert Strock: (02:23)
So, as we’ve been exploring, we’ve been looking at the limitations of just feeling and being fixated in a feeling state and seeing the possibility that we can A be really aware of the specific feeling we’re in, that’s challenging, and that we can discern when we’re feeling some kind of suffering, some kind of difficulty that we also have the capacity to ask questions and questions that really can guide us in a direction that our life will be expanded into a quality of well-being that otherwise it wouldn’t be, uh, questioning that we’re talking about questions from the heart, really support our inner seeking our outer seeking our witnessing accurately what’s going on and trusting our own innate hunger to find our potential.
Robert Strock: (03:35)
So, it’s probably helpful right now because I’m doing everything I can to have you listen to you rather than me, and have me be a catalyst for you to inquire inside. Do you see this potential activation of your life really happening yet where you’re in a anger or fear or anxiety, sadness, rejection, insecurity. And then there is that instinct to say, gosh, I want to ask a question. That’s going to help me be with this feeling in a way that’s going to be supportive. And hopefully at the same time, support me beyond this feeling to respond to my environment in a way that’s going to be really helpful to myself and the environment that I’m in.
Robert Strock: (04:39)
So, just ask yourself, where are you on a 1 to 10 scale? Are you at the very beginning of this? Have you not started yet? Do you think it’s a good idea, but you haven’t really employed it in your life? My experience is that most of us spend a good portion of the day where we have challenging feelings, maybe out of our awareness. So, just being aware of it as we’ve covered through most of the episodes is always a starting point. But then to add the capacity, to ask a question that’s designed to help ourselves and others really is truly like a transformational event because it stops the ongoing or more accurately slows down the ongoing stuckness in the feeling that we’re in. So, we have generally a reflex to just react, versus reminding ourselves, remembering, oh, that’s right, when I feel lousy, I have something else I can do another way, I can be with myself.
Robert Strock: (05:56)
And it is having practices for close to 50 years that I forget every day. And it’s, it’s a remembrance and there’s a bit of a, a warmth that comes with it when I realize. And more importantly, when you realize that you’re not just a slave to the feeling you’re in that even if you can’t feel better, you know, you can be this question or this Inquirer that can ask how can I best take care of myself? And that is just golden. When we remember that, sometimes it might be something like, how can I breathe to support trusting where I am so that we find a rhythm, oftentimes results in slow exhales to help relax ourselves with whatever else we’re experiencing and then patiently waiting for a place in your heart where you’re asking that precious question of how can I take care of us?
Just want to reflect on a current circumstance, one that’s been happening the last week for me and, and for my wife. And, um, those of you that have been listening will know that she’s, and I along with her, I’ve been going through a series of health issues. And just to your point, the feelings that were coming up this last week with a big recheck of a cancer she had in her bladder on Friday, we’re weighing really heavily. And our feelings both jointly and individually were of a kind that were so uncomfortable. And so oftentimes I found myself just in them concerned, even if I mentioned it to her, it’s going to bring her down further. Uh, what do I do? Do I communicate, don’t I communicate. And, uh, ultimately I chose to communicate, um, I said to myself, this is, uh, if I’m feeling at this way, she’s being the patient feeling it more.
And where it led to, uh, was us asking ourselves, okay, we’re, we’re really asking ourselves and, and really inquiring and saying is what we’re doing, going in and checking three months out from a surgery, the right thing to do. And of course, of course it’s the right thing to do. And that in itself, recognizing that we were doing the very best we could do to surveil, monitor, understand the condition so it wouldn’t get out of hand, um, along with, and alongside of, of course the uncertainty made a completely different outcome in our feelings. It, it didn’t extinguish the feelings of concern or unknown or unknowable outcomes that could happen, but it was we’re supporting ourselves. We’re supporting the best we can do right now.
Robert Strock: (09:18)
Yeah. And so, your emphasis is on being really smart, uh, with following the doctor’s advice, checking it right, nipping it right in the bud, if it was there. And that gives a sense of trust and being in it together, and a deeper sense of even, if worse comes to worse, at least we’re doing everything we possibly can do. And another level of it, which I know you did, but just didn’t mention fully is coming up with statements with each other or questions with each other, where you’re really supporting yourself emotionally, where you’re saying I’m proud of us, that we’re really doing everything that we can do. I’m proud of us that we’re really in it together. And is there any way I can be more sensitive to you? Do you want to talk about it? Do you not want to talk about it? You know, do, do you need, do you need to be touched, held? And those kinds of questions bring not only the maximum practical healing potential on a physical level, but the same on a heart level.
And just to amplify that exact point, I want to reflect to you the unfortunately 40 minute ride to, it’s not close, to that doctor’s appointment and to a doctor’s office where two prior visits were traumatic. And that was our only experience. And as we reflected on that, which turned out to be really important to, to, to be able to, if not separate, at least recognize that we were going to a place where only news was bad and that we were going into an unknown, we’re going into exactly what you just said, a taking the very best care of ourself and her, especially of course, and me supporting that with, without the just built in baggage of what had come before that was influencing the intensity of our feelings. And it’s just so important to at least make that conscious awareness and connectivity when it’s there and possible. And if that is the case and it was for us, uh, just having that, that conversation mattered.
Robert Strock: (11:42)
And again, the emphasis on developing the direct focus on the feeling states and how grateful you are. Cause I know you are that you’ve become more one, more connected, very likely than you’ve ever been. You’re so committed to the joint healing. At some level, you could even say something like in your words, in spite of how horrible it is, isn’t it cool how together we are, you know, isn’t it cool that all I want to ask is, is there any other way I can take care of you that I’m missing? Because many times people will want to be more silent. They’ll want more affection, they’ll want more conversation, but there’s no way of predicting it. It’s kind of like, uh, having your first sexual experience, you know, where are you watching a Hollywood movie and you think, oh, I’ll just be perfect. Sexually I’ll know everything.
Robert Strock: (12:51)
I’ll know exactly what kind of woman I’m with. If I’m, uh, you know, if I, if I’m me and I’m just gonna know exactly where to touch her, where not to touch your, how hard, what rhythm, how to kiss, you know, et cetera, et cetera. And that’s such a dream that we, we need to be more, more literate on how we can ask those around us, as well as ourselves. The question that’s really going to hit the two spots, the one spot, is the emotion. And the other one is the situation that we’re in. So, we can become so familiar with and invested in the art of questioning that it actually becomes more central to us then even finding the answers we can enjoy. How can we take care of ourselves? That’s an experience of love when we ask it in that way. And a word that really just recently came to me was that most of us are kind of like, if you look at a sex object, most of us are answer objects.
Robert Strock: (14:16)
Give me the answer, be pretty, be handsome, or you’re a loser. And it’s so important that we realize we don’t want to be an answer object. We want to be really revering the art of questioning in a sensitive way, and start to learn that the questioning, the sincere questioning is just as potent and essential as getting the answers. And many times the questioning is going to come up with a not knowing for extended periods of time and that not knowing, especially if you can keep the experience of sincerity and not getting lost in the frustration that may come, or the helplessness that may come, you can see, you can get into the feeling of being lost in helpless, of course, but then you see, you know what I want. I see you, it’s understandable why you feel lost and helpless, but I want to come back to sincerely asking that question. That’s just not something that we’ve been taught how to do.
I just want to say how often what you just said is true for me. And honestly, my own personal experiences, the helplessness is something that I kind of take along for the ride. It’s the, it’s the being lost part that so, uh, for me, at least difficult. And so, inquiring asking these questions really has an impact on my experience of feeling lost. Often, very often, it doesn’t take away from the helplessness because I am helpless. I can’t control outcomes.
Robert Strock: (16:14)
Exactly, exactly. And, and our culture, and this is so important to understand, or else it’ll just hit you in the head. And I don’t like hitting people just in the head. We are taught that if we’re asking a question and we don’t have an answer we’re a failure, and that couldn’t be anything farther from the truth when we’re talking about sincere questioning. Cause just that is a humongous success and not to cave into and be dominated by helplessness and frustration, it’s perfectly natural. As I said earlier, to have the helplessness and frustration, but it’s not perfectly natural to be completely caught up in it or fear or anxiety without remembering, oh, that’s right. I can ask how I can care for myself. And that kicks you into another gear or it can kick you into another care.
Robert Strock: (17:15)
A related theme that we’ve touched on intermittently is confusion. It’s kind of similar to being lost. We can interpret it as gee, I’m really confused, I don’t know what to do and not realize that’s actually a frustration statement versus, you know, I don’t know, and I’m committed to stay with it. I don’t know how to care, tell you to care for me more, or I don’t know how to do anymore to care for my health or care for whatever it is. But I love the fact that I’m seeing myself more and more as the questioner, and I’m not anywhere near as demanding to get an answer because I realize the answers were simple. They’re probably pretty obvious. And the longer we stay in that, not knowing the deeper we’re going. So it’s like being underwater and running out of breath, now, and, and in a sense, when you get the idea of continuing the question it’s like you have an oxygen tank around you, so you can just stay under water for a long period of time, you know, and become like a deep sea diver and, and be hanging under water and being comfortable that, oh, this is exactly where my highest potential is right now.
Robert Strock: (18:55)
And so, this kind of inquiry, when it becomes first nature, and when you have a reflex to remember to ask how we can support ourselves or support someone else, or be transformed or healed or expanded, it can become like a Pavlovian response. And that’s hopefully one of the central priorities of this whole series on inquiry, which is you start to fall in love with the idea, I’m actually more the Inquirer than I am my feelings. That’s a better way to have a sense of my identity than, oh, I’m depressed again. Oh, I’m anxious again, because then you’re not only depressed and anxious, but you’re rejecting yourself for being depressed or anxious versus, you know what, I’m going to elevate this to see what my potential might be.
Robert Strock: (19:53)
And even without challenges, even without suffering, it’s also of great benefit to ask a question like, how am I going to guide my day? Who am I meeting today? What tone of voice might I usually use? Where do I want to direct the conversation to going to a party say, well, you know what, I want to make sure to see this person, this person and this person. And I’d like to really remember to be present, to make eye contact. Yeah. And so, the questioning leads to almost like a prayer or it can, where may I remember to really be present with so-and-so, it doesn’t require problems. No, this is not really traditional by any means. And it’s not really traditional spirituality either. It’s a tweener and hopefully it encompasses both fields. So again, I ask you to check in with yourself, does this seem pretty obvious to you?
Robert Strock: (21:07)
And if the obviousness is there, is the opposite just being just in your head or is it obvious enough that you actually believe as you dive into difficult feelings that you’re going to remember to question, and please remember that this is not a competition. You’re not trying to treat yourself like a performer. Anytime you remember, you snap your fingers and you go, never too late, see yourself exactly as you are. My experience is 99% of people haven’t learned how to be a questioner when they’re in a challenging feeling and the people that are on the path to inquire at the time of greatest need, mostly are in the beginning phases. So, feel like you’re in good company, if you’re in the beginning phases and recognize your hypnosis, your subconscious wants you to forget everything we’re talking about right now, or just leave it at your head.
Robert Strock: (22:21)
It doesn’t really want you to dive in because your identity is dominantly owned by your feelings, not by inquiring into your potential. And it doesn’t have to be some grandiose esoteric potential. You just want to be helpful with yourself, or you just want to be helpful with someone else. And the reason why the question is so important, and again, the positive kind of question where you’re seeking your potential or how to help yourself is because it can lead you to guidance, eventually. And then it becomes incumbent upon all of us to listen to the guidance and do our best to implement it. And as we’ll be getting into it in the next series of podcasts that will lead us into our wisdom or our wisdom-guidance, because inquiry really is asking you for that. And wisdom-guidance is the fulfillment of that. And of course, even if we know what we need to do, we still need to implement it. It’s like being an athlete. We know, we know what to do, but that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to be able to really implement it.
Just want to reflect on the patterns. Uh, I, somebody I know very well that’s very dear to me really had a longstanding pattern, which even though I knew him well, I wasn’t aware of for a long time, and the pattern was to have really like almost a double life, a life where, uh, in a relationship he wouldn’t share his true feelings as he would be completely separated in the relationship from what he really felt. And each time of course that doomed the relationship, but then it was a repetitive thing. And because questions weren’t being asked and because the inquiries of, is this really how I want to live my life, moving from relationship to relationship, because I have this hidden part of myself, uh, wasn’t being asked and it seemed to be working for him. And it just um, this quote, and I want to really put quotes around it, working for him was, uh, not seen and recognized as a suffering to the point where he said, I gotta, I gotta really look at this because this is not intimate. This is not deep. This is not getting me to a place where I can sustain something and feel like I have my whole self and I can reveal my real self to the person I’m caring about. And, you know, obviously, potentially loving, deeply mutually. And so, asking these questions is just, uh, it’s, it’s a, it’s a hard thing to break patterns. That’s what I saw.
Robert Strock: (25:29)
Yeah. And what you’re pointing out is particularly crucial because in order to ask these questions, sincerely, you have to be honest with yourself. So, the question is first, am I being honest with myself? You know, because if we’re being dishonest with ourselves and we’re living a double life and we’re telling ourselves, you know what, I’m getting X here, I’m getting Y there and that’s cool, they don’t have to know about it. I’m taking care of each of them by not letting them know about each other. And you’ve got that rationalization going, as I’ve seen many times in my career, uh, right before I put it on the line, that I’m either firing them or telling them they have to, they have to be really committing one way or the other, and really, really be straight. If it’s, sometimes it’s not being completely straight. If it’s going to create more unnecessary injury, but at least committing.
Robert Strock: (26:24)
But the point being that if someone is really doing something that’s hurting other people and they asked these heartfelt questions, the best they can afford to do is have a fleeting awareness of it because they can’t afford to stay aware of it. They’ll pay too much conflict. So, it’s so important that we’re also committing ourselves to be our best self. And to have that be one of the questions, am I being my best self? Now, there are many people, most people that haven’t really made that commitment. So, in a sense, that’s a pre-requirement of being able to ask inquiry from the heart. Other than you can ask inquiry from the heart, am I being my best self, which I think is a very good beginning, medium, medium, and long-term question to ask. And then you can get into more granular detail. So, if he doesn’t get straight there, it doesn’t matter whether he asks great questions.
Robert Strock: (27:36)
So, some of the questions that we might ask ourselves is how can we be closer to love with our intimate relationship? Now that’s a profound question. And in my experience, it’s one that I could ask any day of any relationship I’ve ever been in and still find it rich because I have never approached, nor I’ve ever really seen anybody that’s approached anything close to perfection. How do I support being in a state of greater trust? And trustworthiness is another question that we can ask ourselves. And as you’re listening to this, see if this is an upper or a downer for you, if it’s a downer for you, it means your subconscious knows, or maybe your semi-conscious knows that you haven’t started to commit to your best self. So, then you really need to start at that very core question and see honestly, where you’re not going for your best life.
Robert Strock: (28:49)
And the goal isn’t to be critical. The goal is to be supportive and congratulate yourself for seeing that. And then to try to develop a stable awareness of, you know, what, I’m actually wasting a lot of time in the ways that I’m spending my life, I’m living in a dream. That’s one of the greatest epiphany’s and could be a turning point, but it’s gotta be deep and it’s gotta be stabilized. And it’s like, requires endless practice. It’s like practice, practice practice, which reminds me of real estate location, location, location, you know, it’s like practicing these various approaches, like friendly mind or inquiry, your, or bringing heart to your awareness of your feelings. All of them require immense practice. Or we can’t really, really have a hope of flowering. You know, which, which makes me think of putting a seed in the ground that has, it’s a flower, and then going off and living a different life.
Robert Strock: (30:08)
And we forgot to see we didn’t water it. We didn’t put sunshine on it. So, the seed doesn’t grow. It doesn’t flower. So, we have to be, we want to be, we need to be very motivated to practice because we recognize it’s an issue of our quality of life. And again, one of the beginning questions could be, what do I need to do for my quality of life? Do I really make quality of life, a priority for me? And if any of these questions resonate for you, really write them down because the key is your question, finding your question that’s going to guide you. And then you start to identify with being, I’m the one that asks the question that matters most to me, nobody can do it for me, and I’m really dedicated to doing it. So, that is really my sincere wish and hope. That is your takeaway as you really deepen your relationship to inquiry. And I thank you for your time and your presence and your attention and your sincerity.
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