This week Robert and Dave continue to look at how we can care for ourselves at crucial times and how we can practically utilize new tools for us to be resourceful in our lives when it matters the most. Robert and Dave will be using the Introspective Guides, which can be found at AwarenessThat Heals.org as a simple way to start on the path toward integrating what is challenging. The hope is, that through the examples offered, you can use the situations presented as guidance as to how to use these tools in your own life. It could be rooted in facing illness, bankruptcy, fear of death, anxiety, depression, or terror but the goal is the same, which is allowing ourselves to stably face our instinctual tendencies of challenging emotional reactions, and at the same time be resourceful and resilient to care for ourselves in whatever way is possible. It sounds simple, but is a profound partnership between vulnerability and accessing thoughts, qualities and actions that support well-being.
In many of these circumstances, it is not rooted in trying to feel better, which can be a hard concept to understand. Sometimes the best we can do is find our wisdom and follow it and the actions of what is possible rather than what we want. You are encouraged on the show as you are listening, to reflect on, what is, or has been, so far in life, your most challenging emotion. Once you have it in your mind, stay with it and not fall prey to judging yourself and focus on what would be most the most caring and grounded thoughts, actions and attitudes to support yourself. The awareness of your experience and your acceptance of it allows you to be so much more resourceful than ever before. Join Robert and Dave as they focus on various strategies and examples that can be used to help move from your challenges toward genuine well-being.
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 78.
Robert Strock: (00:03)
When you are really, really at your worst, that’s when we need to catalyze something that can be supportive of you. And in many of these circumstances, it isn’t rooted in trying to feel better. And that’s a really hard concept or understanding to have, because we’re all so focused and maybe even addicted to feeling good.
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: (01:09)
A very warm welcome again to Awareness That Heals where we focus 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 when I say that, it almost sounds trite, if you really just hear it on an intellectual level. When I look around me, I see that looking at what is most difficult for us is a rare thing. And I ask you to really consider that this is the best starting point for us, especially when we’re following what’s most difficult for us with something that will support us or guide us. And these difficulties are universal for all of us, no matter what country we’re from, what city we’re from, whether we’re wealthy, whether we’re poor and whether we recognize them or not. And we’re looking, especially at how we can care for ourselves at these crucial times, this sets up the ideal conditions for us to be potentially fulfilled in our lives and to contribute to the world by finding and living from our best selves.
Robert Strock: (02:22)
And when I say best selves, I mean, not just the compassion and the well-being and the love, I’m talking about our best selves. It includes what’s difficult and what’s the support that we most need, or for that matter, if it’s somebody else in there, that situation, how we can support them. And today we’re gonna be going and focusing on the Introspective Guides again, as they are the most simple way to start the path towards integrating what’s challenging to us individually. And we’re going to focus on my particular challenges and the most difficult point of my life. And using that as an example, hopefully to catalyze you, to look at your most difficult times and how you can navigate from there. The whole point of focusing on my difficult times, isn’t to focus on me, it’s to focus on you and transfer my challenges to your challenges. So the whole time I’m talking about me, I’m hoping that one part of you will be listening to me. And another part of you will be listening to yourself. And especially at the times that are really, really, really difficult. So I’d like to start off today with introducing Dave, my dearest friend for over 50 years and my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation.
Robert, thank you. And I just wanna say I, uh, the introduction to, what is your story that I lived with you through that time, is uh, quite intense, uh, poignant and lessons are broad, and readily I think identifiable to so many life circumstances. AndI’m really glad we’re revisiting this territory,
Robert Strock: (04:20)
You of all people and I literally mean that, are, are the best person for me to have in the show because you brought friendship to a different level at that time of need. So I’d like to start off with really giving a refresher, a quick refresher, especially as it applies to these challenges, not only for me, but for you to really focus on when you’re really, for lack of better words fucked. And there’s different levels of being fucked. You know, it can be fucked because you’re facing illness. And I say fucked at one level, because the whole point is that when you are really, really at your worst, that’s when we need to catalyze something that can be supportive of you. And in many of these circumstances, it isn’t rooted in trying to feel better. And that’s a really hard concept or understanding to have, because we’re all so focused and maybe even addicted to feeling good, that in many times, the best we can do is find our wisdom and follow it, and actions, and focus on what’s possible rather than what we want.
Robert Strock: (05:33)
I think one of the things that will be exposed in these episodes is how much we focus on wanting the impossible rather than focusing on the possible. So the structure, as we look at awareness that heals is the first thing. And most important thing is to really be deeply and stably aware of what our challenging emotion is. So, as you’re listening to this reflect, ask yourself what is and has been so far in my life, no matter where I am my most challenging emotion, whether it’s fear, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, terror, and give yourself the dignity of not only being aware of it and sensing it, but seeing it, if you can stay there without immediately rejecting it, without pushing it away, without going to some criticism of it. And that is a big deal, to be able to stay with your challenging emotions and not do anything with it other than to support yourself that the awareness of your experience implies subtly an acceptance of it.
Robert Strock: (06:52)
Because if you don’t accept it, you’re not gonna be with it or maybe a better word would be to tolerate it. And then when you’re there, and this is a key turning point that we’ve emphasized on a lot of the earlier episodes, but we can’t emphasize it enough because every time we experience a challenging emotion, there’s almost always an effort to have a hostile takeover where it says, oh my God, I’m afraid. So therefore I’m gonna be afraid for life. There’s a tendency when we’re in our most difficult places to unwittingly dramatize it, and therefore not be as resourceful as we’re capable of. So this second step, after we stabilize our awareness of our challenging emotion, is to find a place inside us that wants to care for ourselves that has an intention to move toward healing. And I don’t mean healing, like making it go away because today we’re gonna be focusing on the very deepest challenges that you have.
Robert Strock: (07:55)
We’re not focusing on, you know, localized challenges that maybe you can resolve in an hour or two hours. We’re focusing on the kind of challenges that may be with you for weeks or months. And in some circumstances for the rest of your life, it would apply to people that are going through facing their own death, mortality, the possibility of that being a case or a loss of capacity that is permanent, like memory or walking or ability to talk. So we’re talking about the stakes when they’re really, really high. And then once you access a part of you, that’s aware of both your challenges and, you know, you wanna care for yourself. And again, that sounds simple enough, but to actually hold those two realities at the same time is almost miraculous because our conditioning is so much to stay with a difficult feeling.
Robert Strock: (08:53)
And then reactions to that rather than really go, oh, that’s right I wanna try to care for myself in whatever possible. And in these circumstances, it usually can’t even manifest as an overt kind of caring. It may, and most likely will be, we have to focus on what our thoughts are, you know, what our wisdom is that can guide us because we’re so immersed in that difficult feeling that the best we can hope for oftentimes is this wisdom-guidance, the thoughts that are gonna most service. And then the third element, third stage in this very difficult circumstance is doing our best to be vulnerable because there can be a tendency when we’re feeling our worst to go into a fight or flight reaction where we’ll either get angry about it, or we’ll disassociate from it. And we’ll be thinking about our next delusional trip to Hawaii or, or some other fantasy to try to escape it. So we’re focusing on, okay, we’re aware of the feeling which may be more of an aggressive feeling, where, where we want to care for ourselves.
Robert Strock: (10:09)
And then we wanna focus on trying to support ourselves to be openly vulnerable and to be able to tolerate that once we’re able to be there. And again, keep focusing on yourself in this situation and see if you did focus on how can I care for myself when you were there? Did you focus on being vulnerable? Then you wanna focus on a fourth step, which are, what are the thoughts, particularly the wise thoughts that would guide you toward the needs and the actions particularly that you need to take that would support you that would best take care of you, even if you can’t feel better. Now, if you have the capacity to feel better, it maybe you would include the qualities like tenderness or strength or passion. But if you can’t, you keep your focus on what are my needs and actions.
Robert Strock: (11:08)
So for example, if you’re dealing with a terminal diagnosis and you are really in deep fear or anxiety, you’re not focusing on gee, I wanna get rid of my anxiety. I want to feel peace or compassion, or self-compassion, you’re focusing on what are the thoughts that would guide me to my actions and my needs that I could do something about like staying in touch with my doctor, taking my medication, resting, eating well, exercising or whatever is possible as the next steps that would move you toward a greater sense of well-being, or at least the best you can do to move to a little bit of peace or a little bit of okayness or tolerability. We’re also gonna focus on the various strategies that we can use that I used and then I’m hoping that you will apply to yourself to help move from our challenges toward well-being.
Robert Strock: (12:19)
And one of the strategies that is very, very key at these times is asking yourself the question, how can I move? What step would I take? What thoughts would, I think that would move me toward well-being, and if it’s possible toward healing and not very likely healing, but toward healing. So that step of inquiry or asking yourself positive questions that are possible is another very key step. That’s an outgrowth of the intention to care for ourselves. But again, like it’s hard to remember to move toward caring for ourselves. It’s also hard to remember to ask ourselves positive questions, but it’s a key and it’s counter instinctual because when we’re in a feeling where, when we’re in a hell realm, it’s very instinctual to switch to the opposite, to move toward healing or toward some kind of caring. And then to ask a question of how can I best take care of myself? What would be the step I would take to move toward well-being? What would be the thoughts that would be most helpful in the situation? What would be the actions that would be helpful in the situation? And these are the kinds of questions that we most need to move toward.
Robert, I just wanna reflect back here that the most extreme circumstance I can imagine is mortality, is loss of capacity things in the realm you’re describing. But all of these very same efforts to move into these spaces and into the kinds of flow that you’re talking about to be of benefit to yourself. Uh, in my life, at least to related to when I’ve had financial adversity, when I’ve had relationship adversity. It’s not uncommon for me to have felt my life is quote, “coming to an end.” It feels like catastrophic. It may not be that I’m dying, but it sure as hell feels very close to that. And I think as the listeners, uh, identify with the flow of what’s going on here, they can envision a variety of circumstances from whatever disappointments with children, with parents, with spouses, with girlfriends, with job situations. Uh, all of it can feel as if it’s that intense.
Robert Strock: (14:56)
Broadening it like you are, is so crucial because what we’re gonna be going into is something called friendly mind, where the emphasis is really on the mind, because the assumption is that we’re not gonna be able to move into a flow. We’re not gonna be able to flow from the current experience that we’re having emotionally and switch to a different emotion. Now we’ve reflected another podcast that it’s a bit like what Einstein said, that you can’t solve a problem at the same level that it exists. So the level that it exists is a catastrophic, as you said, feeling. So we need to move to a wisdom level. We need to move to a level where we’re satisfied with our thoughts, guiding us, which doesn’t require us to change our feelings. And that’s what makes it viable. If we do what we instinctually would be inclined to do, we’re gonna say, God, I wanna feel better,
Robert Strock: (16:00)
I want to feel better, I wanna, I feel so lousy, I wanna feel better. Whether it’s a relationship, whether it’s a bankruptcy, whether it’s a possible, a terminal illness, or whether it’s a fear of an illness, we need to go to thoughts that are gonna be beneficial to us. So you’re exactly right. We need to move away from our instinctual tendencies. So please don’t miss the subtlety that this is not saying you’re gonna flow here. You’re actually gonna need to access a thought state. That is actually your wisdom by asking questions of what would be the wisest thoughts, what would be the guiding thoughts that will take me there? And it’s a little bit like becoming a healthy schizophrenic, cuz at one level your feelings are all over the place or in one place really dark and difficult. And then your wisdom is coming in and it’s focusing on the positive possibility where we can move.
Robert Strock: (17:03)
And that’s why it’s so difficult. So if you just stay with that, you just get that from this episode, you’ve gotten a humongous amount that that challenge is there for all of us and barring the fact that we’re gonna suddenly die, all of us are gonna face this in our life. And most of us are gonna face this 10, 15, 20, 50 times in our life. So the stakes are very high. And if we stay with the normal instinctive tendency and even the tendency of a good friend, which is, I’m so sorry that you feel that way, that’s not that helpful, cause then you have a parent saying, I’m so sorry, reinforcing that you’re helpless. What’s more helpful is how can you best care for yourself, given where you are? What can you think about that will most likely support you? How can I help you think that way?
Robert Strock: (18:00)
Now that’s a hint, if you’re a caregiver or a friend or a family member of somebody that’s going through something very difficult. If you ask, how can I help you feel better? It’s another way of saying, how can I really make it more difficult for you? Unwittingly obviously, even with the best intentions, the key is to move to this other level, this other Einstein and different level of wisdom. And for most of us, we’re gonna receive that as a booby prize. No, I want you to make me feel better. Don’t just make me think better, that’s nothing, I’m in hell. Don’t you see that? Yeah, I do see that. And that’s why I’m focusing on your wisdom, which can guide you to your needs and your actions that are possible. I emphasize that are possible, because I give as an example, a few friends, one that’s suffering from not being able to walk.
Robert Strock: (18:57)
And his first year was focusing on, even with me trying to support him otherwise, I wanna find out how I can walk. Even though he couldn’t walk. Another person was in a beginning stages of dementia and they’re focusing on, I wanna be able to remember, and the third person was on dialysis and other complications and they wanna feel better with their energy. Now in all three of those circumstances that’s a way to compound the suffering. Now, do you get that? Do you really get that? That it’s gonna require you programming yourself the next time I’m in my worst hellish feeling. I want to guide myself toward remembering. I want to care for myself, almost for sure in my thought and in my wisdom. So I wanna ask questions that are leading me to what’s possible and how I can think about it and what I can actually do about it and what my deepest needs are of the moment that are viable, that are possible. And I wanna watch out for the tendency to automatically try to feel better because it’s like a automatic pilot. If you aren’t really aware that you’re wanting to move toward your thoughts, that could be guiding you toward what’s possible. You’re probably gonna be in a circular hell of constellation of feelings.
Just to put a little contrast on that there. And again, I’m relating to myself here at times in my life where I feel like I’m, I’m circling the drain. I feel like I’m flushing myself down the toilet. It isn’t even a question I ask myself of, I should feel better or anything of the kind it’s just I’m, I’m completely absorbed in that. As I said, circling the drain. And then if I’m friendly to myself is feeling more like, hey, this is tough. You know, the beginning of at least having an empathy for me at least has worked to get me to this place you’re talking about where I can activate something that’s going to be moving me in a direction that’s going to be uplifting or at least be, uh, realistic about what’s possible.
Robert Strock: (21:21)
Yeah. And the two tweaks I would give to that would be that the empathy can be empathic thinking, which sounds like a contradiction because you may have empathic thinking and have no empathic feeling, but that’s still the a hundred percent victory. If you’re in the worst state that humans are capable of, which we all will be visiting at times in our life. And the word uplifting is not what we’re looking for. The word uplifting, it’s uplifting thoughts, but not uplifting energy. And again, if it’s a more lower key issue, of course we’re looking for uplifting feelings. And of course we’re looking for feeling better right away, if we can, but we’re really addressing the most severe. So we’re not looking to be uplifted and we’re not looking for feelings of empathy from ourselves. Now they may come, but we’re, we’re guiding ourselves to something that is much more achievable, which are thoughts.
Robert Strock: (22:27)
Like Dave said, you know, where, how can I care for myself or what would be my next step? Or what thought would I think like this would be difficult for anyone, things that don’t make you turn against yourself. Thoughts that are going to allow you to recognize that you’re in the hell realm at this moment. Now, one of the things that will help you identify both the most challenging feelings and the directions that your thoughts would go are the Introspective Guides, which is the main general theme of this series of podcasts. And you can get the Introspective Guides, and I would suggest ideally that you’re looking at them. If you haven’t already identified your feeling. And it’s a list of 75 of the most challenging feelings and 75 of the most challenging needs, qualities, thoughts, and actions that will help guide you to what thoughts you would have.
Robert Strock: (23:33)
So for example, in the chart, that’s focusing on your needs, qualities, thoughts, and actions. It may have a quality of strength. So in this situation, what would be the thoughts of strength that I would be trying to think for myself? Like I’m really strong to even face my feelings honestly, and want to care for myself. So my thoughts are proud of me, even though I can’t feel it. That would be a classic statement of what I’m gonna be introducing as friendly mind. Now take a moment again and look at what is your most challenging emotion that you’ve faced so far in your life. And if you’re in your fifties or sixties or seventies, you’ll probably have something to do with health or some threat of a loss of capacity. If you’re younger, you may not have had to face this yet. This may sound like it’s for the future for you.
Robert Strock: (24:36)
However, most of us, even in our twenties, thirties, and forties have faced a loss of a love that was crucial, or we faced a financial situation or we’ve had a childhood trauma, or we were born with chronic depression or chronic anxiety. We had an abusive parent, we were exposed to somebody else’s addiction or in an addiction. So it really can apply to everybody at any stage of life, but particularly applies to people when they’re in their later years. So in rounding this up as the first episode, even before we got to me, which again, even in the second episode of this and focusing on this, the focus is still gonna be on you, not on me. But the summary of what you’re focusing on is the awareness of the challenging emotion, the intention to care for yourself, and then really asking the question, how can I best care for myself?
Robert Strock: (25:35)
And in most circumstances, what you’re gonna come up with is a friendly mind to kick yourself off and not the insistence on feeling better. And that friendly mind is gonna be like a wise mind, but without demanding on yourself that this wise mind has good feeling associated with it. So I hope that makes complete sense to you because it’s really the structure of what I believe we all would be best prepared for the times that are most difficult. So I look forward to sharing a bit more or maybe my whole story in the next episode, but the focus as always is on you. Thanks so much for your attention.
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