In this episode, Robert and Dave discuss the experience of anxiety that is prominent for so many and highlight what to do when you are experiencing it. Many people’s initial reaction is to distract and run in the other direction, but suppressing anxiety will only make it grow. When anxiety arises, take some time without trying to change it. Let anxiety breathe so you can increase your acceptance and awareness. It is important to dignify the human experience. This allows us to have enough contemplation to realize we want to care for ourselves instead of giving ourselves a hard time for feeling anxiety. This is a great time to bring in The Introspective Guides. This can set a whole new trajectory. Instead of being frozen in anxiety, there is a partner to help care for ourselves, to befriend ourselves as we are. It could be that answers come up like, I need to call the doctor. It is time to stop running away from anxiety and not wanting to deal with feeling threatened. Anxiety for virtually all of us is involuntary and it deeply deserves our caring. That is the internal part where you are continuing to encourage yourself and recognize, over and over again, your innocence. You’re not doing this on purpose. You don’t deserve to be punished. You don’t deserve anything but to support yourself and to do your very best to breathe, bring calmness, keep asking questions and respond in a way that will best care for yourself. This can be done with accepting thoughts, actions and developing different ways of caring for this challenging feeling.
Through Robert’s words, he is attempting to empower you to sit in the seat of your guidance that can look and see what your feelings are and what your needs are. As you listen it is very helpful to have the list of The 75 Challenging Emotions and Essential Needs from The Introspective Guides that can be found on our website.
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 71.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
Anxiety for virtually all of us is involuntary and it deserves our caring. Just knowing that is approximately half of the victory, half of the movement toward peace, toward calm, toward evenness. And many times, many times, the best we can hope for is I’m not gonna be able to get over this anxiety, but I can be caring toward it.
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: (01:21)
A very warm welcome again, to Awareness That Heals. It’s truly a pleasure to imagine just you hearing these messages on the program. And what we’re gonna be talking about again today is something that is so central and such a key to living a fulfilling life and breaking free from the areas which we’re automatically conditioned into, where we really haven’t thought through for ourselves. What is it that I really need? And if I’m the boss, how do I wanna direct my life? And what these guides are attempting to do is to empower you to be your own boss, to be your own guide, to be your own source of wisdom. Now that doesn’t mean that you, as a source of your own wisdom, aren’t seeking others for wisdom as well, but it just means in the end, you want to find a place that you return to inside yourself, where you can discover what your own challenging situations and feelings are, and as quickly as possible, find ways to support yourself while you’re there.
Robert Strock: (02:51)
Now, I think most of you would agree that when you are in challenging feelings, a lot of times not aware of it. And you may not be aware that you’re unaware and that’s part of what we’re attempting to really focus on. And not only the feelings, but really learning, what is it that we need to do to respond to these challenging feelings or situations to be able to best take care of them, to serve ourselves in a heartfelt way. Now that’s not to be confused with narcissism. Narcissism is actually a form of self-hatred, and it’s not sensitivity. We’re talking about refining a sensitivity toward ourself. This is not a new age touchy-feely exercise. This is a facing the reality of what you’re going through and learning how to tangibly care for yourself in your way. Even though I’m speaking, what I’m attempting to do is empower you to sit in the seat of your own guidance that can look and see what your feelings are and what your needs are.
Robert Strock: (04:18)
And for most of us, we’re bowled over by a whole wave of feelings that came from how we were raised. We’re raised to be sexy and we’re raised to be successful and we’re raised to care most about our lifestyle and pretty much reduced to our families. But what about the deepest view? Are there other things? Have we been taught how to deal with our disturbing feelings? Have we been taught how to deal with our mortality, our illness, feelings tthat are left, that are wounds from our childhood or that are left over, present circumstances to do with money, or love, or work that are unresolved? You being able to be at the seat through using the Introspective Guides, the lists that identify your challenging emotions as we talked about last time, and as I hope you’re looking at as we’re speaking. The list is the 75 challenging emotions that you can use your own language to identify them, but they are a very good starting list.
Robert Strock: (05:29)
They may even be a finishing list, but the idea is for you to be your own authority. And then following that is Chart Two, which is a list of essential needs, actions, guidances, as to how you can respond to those. And we’re gonna drill down to not only identifying what your feelings are, with respect, and with being able to give it a little bit of time to breathe into them. And not only to be able to identify what your needs are that will help you, but how to actually implement that help. In my 50 years of being a psychotherapist, in my longer time than that in being a friend, there is nothing as important and simple as being able to identify what it is that really challenges us and how we can best take care of ourselves. That is as, at one level, really simple to understand if we take the time to look at these lists or really honor our inner experience, and then look at how we can best respond.
Robert Strock: (06:45)
Now, it sounds obvious. And probably many of you think you’re already doing that, but I believe if you look at the distinctions that are being made and the subtlety that are being made, that you will find the lists that are free to be your friend. So very strong encouragement to go to awarenessthatheals.org and download these free lists, whether you’re a therapist, a teacher, a minister, priest, a rabbi, just an ordinary person. They’re helpful because we’re in a universal experience. I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t have challenging feelings. I’ve met a lot of people who think they don’t, but I haven’t ever met anyone I believed. And there aren’t many people that associate their own challenging feelings with a path to get to how they can care for themselves. So, I’d like to start off by introducing Dave. Who’s my dearest friend for 50 years and my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation.
Robert, thank you. And, uh, appreciate the poignancy of, uh, all of these challenging emotions really, and I, I can look down this list and honestly say I’ve experienced every one of them. Of course, I think certain of them are more prominent for me, anxiety being one of them. But like you, I also encourage everyone to, to take a look, especially at the sequencing of what to do with it when you’re experiencing it. And I think that is just so important, not just to, we’re not just looking to dwell on what the challenge is, as you said, we’re looking to, how do we, how do we work with ourselves? What do we do with it when we’re there? Other than, as I’ve said before, uh, my initial response many times is to distract, run the other direction. But how do we, how do we really work with ourselves? So thank you.
Robert Strock: (09:01)
Well, honoring where you started from let’s, let’s deal with anxiety as a starter. There are many people that live in a level of anxiety, more than the majority of people, and have at least a low-key anxiety all the time. And they may not even notice it because it’s their baseline. But let’s look at a feeling of anxiety where it bubbles up. And it may be that it comes from long-term or maybe just a short-term situation like a medical situation, or a financial situation, or a love situation, and anxiety bubbles up. And most people consciously or unconsciously will go, yuck, I hate that feeling. I wanna get rid of it as soon as possible. And what we’re talking about first is to be able to say, uh, anxiety is here and I wanna give it some time and breathe with the anxiety without trying to change it at all.
Robert Strock: (10:16)
Let it be, as it is, let anxiety breathe. So you breathe into the anxiety and maybe that’s for five seconds, maybe that’s for five minutes, the circumstances of where you are, your lifestyle will determine how long you actually are with it. But it’s so important to dignify the human experience. Because if we suppress it, it is going to be multiplied. One of the key things that psychologists will agree on, which is not that common, is if we suppress something it’s gonna grow. Also, less understood, is if we just act out it also is not gonna go away. We’re not, we might feel like we’re releasing it, but acting out is not gonna help either. So, being with the anxiety is a big step and being aware of it at the same time. And then the next step, similar or really the same as what we started to go through in the first episode is, gee, would I rather care for myself while I’m in anxiety,
Robert Strock: (11:28)
or would I rather give myself a hard time now? I don’t think there are too many people, if you ask yourself that question that are gonna say, oh, I think I’ll give myself a hard time. So, that leads us to the second step of really working with the charts and the guides, which is, I want to learn how to care for myself. I wanna learn how to move toward healing, which is the intention to heal, as we’ve described it. So once we realize that we wanna care for ourselves, we’ve set a whole new trajectory. Suddenly, instead of just being frozen in the anxiety, we have a partner that we like. It’s a part of us that wants to care for ourselves. And again, we wanna pause a little bit there or more than a little bit there to realize we wanna befriend ourselves as we are.
Robert Strock: (12:33)
One of the key things to understand about feelings is almost none of them do we have a magic wand for like Harry Potter, where we go, gone with you. You know, I’m gonna make you go away. We need to learn how to be with feelings, rather than just trying to erase them. So one of the best ways to be with them is to find, and to partner yourself with this intention to care for yourself, this intention to heal, and the way to move into the third step, which we call inquiry or questioning, is asking yourself a question of how do I care for myself while I’m anxious. Now, just asking the question itself brings up intuitive responses, because it’s likely if you really do this for a little while, it’s probably gonna lead you to breathing. How do I breathe in a way that’s a bit more relaxing.
Robert Strock: (13:38)
That’s gonna be one of the answers all the time with anxiety. Now that doesn’t mean it’s gonna go away. It might mean you’re gonna click 20% off it. And it means that you’re not gonna be hostile towards it. And you may have to keep repeating awareness and the intention to care, cuz you might breathe calmly. And then 30 seconds later you suppress it again. So, it has to become a stabilized process of you’re aware you wanna care and you’re in the active questioning of, how do I care for myself? And then it may be other answers like I need to call the doctor, and not run away from my anxiety and think I’m more safe and be unconscious and not call the doctor. Or it might mean I’ve gotta organize my bills and pay my bills, or it might mean I need to go to a therapist and communicate with a third-party so I can deal with my love relationship issues, or it might mean I need to learn how to communicate in a sensitive way with my partner, so I have a better chance to love.
Robert Strock: (14:55)
But stabilizing the awareness of the anxiety, and in a certain way in the second step of the intention to care, you’re stabilizing a friendly relationship with the anxiety, and in my experience that can take years for many people. It also can take two seconds for someone that’s really sensitive to get it right away and then very likely lose it, and then get it and lose it. But it’s not a very difficult concept to understand. But we need to get over the yuck, or I hate it, or more accurately again not get over it but see that, oh, I’m aware of my anxiety, I go yuck, and then I smile, hopefully, cause I want to care for myself, and I say, okay, I have anxiety and I have yuck or I hate it. I don’t wanna reinforce the yuck, and I hate it.
Robert Strock: (16:00)
I wanna reinforce I’m not getting anxious on purpose. This is not a like, okay, yippy today, I’m gonna reinforce anxiety and I’m an idiot, so I should just punish myself. No, the anxiety for virtually all of us is involuntary and it deserves our caring. Just knowing that is approximately half of the victory, half of the movement toward peace, toward calm, toward evenness. And many times, many times, the best we can hope for is I’m not gonna be able to get over this anxiety, but I can be caring toward it. Let’s say you’re facing a serious medical issue and the goal isn’t to get over it. The goal is to say it’s perfectly natural to be anxious. That would be a result of our inquiry that would recognize, you know what this is not the type of anxiety you’re gonna get over.
Robert Strock: (17:13)
The inquiry would lead us there, but it’s the kind of anxiety that you can recognize is utterly human and natural that deserves our caring. And the caring itself is an active ingredient. And how many of you, as you’re listening to this, and if anxiety is one of your issues can get to a place of fostering, some caring? And even if you substitute anxiety for another emotion, let’s say it’s anger or hurt how many of you can get to that intention to care and foster some caring while you are in your challenged feelings? Like I said, that’s half the healing; that’s an enormous shift from a monopoly of a challenge feeling. You’re breaking up a monopoly by finding the intention to care.
You mentioned maybe the thing to do is to call the doctor and certain feelings that may come up that are anxious and, and you wanna avoid the doctor. There’s an acting outside I have found myself in where I am overly calling the doctor or over doing the research, which is now so available to all of us, a lot of it BS, but a lot of it, you know, from very good sources. And in my life have found myself absorbed for hours, for others, myself, my loved ones. And for me that was acting out anxiety. And for me, that vigilance, uh, that I could not let go of, uh, wasn’t necessarily unproductive, but emotionally it was torture.
Robert Strock: (19:10)
So as we both know, because obviously I’d been a big part of your world, the anxiety can lead to reaching out to a doctor and then a second doctor, and then you have two opinions and you don’t know which opinion to go to, and this one says a test and this one says another test, and then you have two tests. And it can be leading to a lot of extra anxiety in the attempt to reduce the anxiety. So, the fact that you’re aware of the anxiety and the excessive vigilance needs to be held together. And oh, Dave, I see that you’re trying so hard to deal with your anxiety and it’s almost impossible for you not to be hypervigilant. And you know, it’s because you can’t find enough caring and soothing and calming for the anxiety, not to make those extra calls or do that extra research. And realize that that’s not evil,
Robert Strock: (20:15)
you know that’s probably a second-best alternative to being able to go inside yourself and find the calmer or the soother. Ask enough inquiry questions that are gonna lead you, like: how many times have you called extra doctors and in retrospect see that you’ve quadrupled your anxiety? And can you, can you learn from your past enough to see that oftentimes it’s increased your anxiety and you didn’t do it on purpose? It’s not about punishment. It’s not about recriminating. It’s about seeing that this was your most sincere effort to try to reduce the anxiety and sometimes it boomerangs. And in your inquiry, how can I deal with not only the anxiety, but the hypervigilance, because what happens in the inquiry phase is you need to add whatever other elements there are that are extra challenging feelings or actions, and include them, and still have the intention to care for it all wherever you are.
Robert Strock: (21:30)
You know, we might go four levels, you’re going two levels. Maybe we’re gonna have four levels, but we don’t wanna get too complex. So you ask yourself, how do I care for myself? I reflect in the past, how much has it served me? How much has it cost me? How do I breathe in a way that’s calming? How do I think in a way that reflects on the wisdom of the accuracy of my past, how is it worked out for me? Am I actually talking to myself right now in a tone that is calm? Or, am I anxious about being anxious? How much am I finding a place that actually tonally is a calm center, that’s seeing my anxiety or how much is the awareness of the anxiety an anxious awareness. So you may have to, and this is getting a little complex about how much do I need to see that my witness isn’t really my witness, my awareness, isn’t my pure awareness,
Robert Strock: (22:38)
it is my anxious awareness being aware of anxiety. How much can I move towards seeing my anxious awareness of anxiety and smile and breathe and say, oh, I wanna look inside and find a calmer awareness of my anxiety to be part of my caring toward the anxiety itself. And if I can’t reach it, how much do I wanna deepen my contemplation and dedication to find the vibration of calm or on a relative level, it’s not black and white, a little bit calmer. How much can I follow the aspiration to find a calmer witness of my anxiety? That’s the internal part where you’re continuing to encourage yourself, and recognizing over and over again your innocence. You’re not doing this on purpose, you don’t deserve to be punished, you don’t deserve to be anything but supportive of yourself, and to do your very best to breathe and bring calmness and keep asking questions.
Robert Strock: (24:03)
Cuz I know you well enough to know that the dominant aspiration is to bring peace, not only to yourself, but to all the many people that you love. And it’s giving the energy, it’s like one of our earlier teachers used to say, whatever you give the most attention to, you’re gonna get more of. So, you wanna give more attention to the prayer or the longing or the wish to find the relaxed witness. And it may be that you pray for that. It may be that you contemplate to find it. But whatever ways it is internally or externally asking yourself, is there anything I need to do or not do to be more relaxed? Is there a type of anxiety that I need to accept and not try to get over? Maybe it’s a lack of tolerance of anxiety that makes me make some of those calls.
Robert Strock: (25:09)
When my wisdom actually knows the odds are such a small percentile, that if I keep following this level of subtlety of potential illness, the rest of my life is gonna be filled with it. And I’m going to draw new lines. I’m gonna draw new lines because I don’t want to constantly be testing and going under MRIs and, and x-rays and different doctor’s opinions. Not only for myself, but for everybody I know. I need to draw the lines. It reminds me of what your father said to you, which was always one of my most enjoyable things that your father said to you about setting boundaries. Living in Palm Springs, living at 90 years old and said, Hey, Dave, I need to set boundaries. I can’t afford to keep going to four or five funerals a week. I can only handle going to two. It’s like you say to yourself, I can’t afford to keep going to this many doctor’s appointments for chances that are 1% or less, because then I’m gonna be living as much in offices as I am at home. And I won’t be able to follow all my many inspirational places and fulfillment and intimacy and joy and peace and beauty. So I wanna find a place. Maybe it’s to tolerate the anxiety more and you’ll still feel anxious and that’s fine. And it actually will be, you know what, it’s courageous that I’m actually feeling anxious and not falling prey to having to try to solve the anxiety when really it’s to actually have a deeper relationship to it.
As we know each other so well, the kind of anxiety I’m talking about for me relates to mortality, ultimately, and that is an anxiety that for me I believe is not “solvable,” and yet it’s uncomfortable. So the impulse to do something about it, and the context can be medical or otherwise, it can be fear of loss of people that I love. Everybody has their own version of this because everybody is mortal, whether they’re aware of it in their consciousness or not. And it is an acceptance. It is a tolerance that is, that is hard for me. It is. And therefore I do act, and therefore working with that is my challenge.
Robert Strock: (27:53)
I’m so glad that you brought up fear of mortality. This fear of mortality is a universal part of human. And I certainly, as we both know, relate to it deeply and profoundly and have gone through a variety of seeking meditations, prayers, teachers. And the ultimate resolve, up till now at least, is I’m sure that I’m gonna be anxious as a part of my death. And about five years ago, I gave up my illusion of finding enlightenment in this life and a complete liberation from it. And I really came to a deeper peace, that anxiety is going to be a part of my experience floating in and out–hopefully, hopefully not just frozen there. But if it’s frozen there, I’m hoping that I will have the presence to be able to say perfectly natural, I’m ending my existence in this body. I have no idea. Uh, I have beliefs and I have a certain amount of faith, but I don’t know.
Robert Strock: (29:17)
And therefore I’m gonna have anxiety. And the key isn’t whether we have anxiety the key is our relationship to the anxiety, and whether or not we have a deep permission to be anxious or no permission or middle permission or wherever we are. And your example is such a great example. It’s the ultimate example of that we need to find a place that can either tolerate or accept or even appreciate that the anxiety is there because we wanna continue to live. And we’re not sure if we’re going to. So how, how would it not be natural to have these kinds or especially this kind of anxiety? And the issue is not at all getting over it. The issue is coming to a deeper peace with it. And when I came to that five years ago, it hasn’t really changed much in five years. I’ve gotten softer that I’m just gonna have anxiety float as part of the experience.
Robert Strock: (30:26)
And I’m hoping there’ll be a wide variety of also faith and joy and gratitude and other things that are there as well. But knowing that it’s okay, and even more than okay, it’s mandatory that the anxiety is gonna be a part of it. And recognizing if I focus on the anxiety as being key, I’m screwed. If I focus on my relationship to the anxiety, then I have an endless amount of ways to liberate or partially liberate or support myself with it, bringing the caring. And the inquiry for me, that happened five years ago, was do I see any way that I can really get rid of the anxiety? And the answer kept coming back is, yeah, you’ve done as much experimentation as anybody’s done since they were 18, of anybody, you know, and you don’t know. And you’re still having some anxiety. You’re not liberated.
Robert Strock: (31:25)
Now I go to my spiritual meditation teacher, friends and ministers, and oh, they absolutely know. And they believe that. Now one last quick little story. One of those people, who’s one of the strongest advocates of knowing they’re going to have it. Christian minister, and his wife said him, gee, if it turns out that Jesus isn’t who we think he is, I wanna be the last one to know. And to me, I truly believe that’s largely the deeper truth that even for those that say they completely know, they’re gonna be a little surprised that they’re not gonna be absolutely one-dimensional. So, it’s such a great place that you led us to deal with the ultimate. And recognizing that oftentimes our challenging feeling is not really the central problem, it’s our relationship to it and how we respond to it. So, I hope this is clear in that everyone who is ready for it will identify with what you’re saying and whatever other level that you need to relate to your feelings, I hope that you’re going in there and that you’ll continue to follow us as we drill deeper into the Introspective Guides and how to use them. Thanks so much.
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