How much do we like or care for ourselves when we are being challenged? In this week’s episode, Robert invites us to begin moving from self-rejection toward self-caring and compassion. Are you being anxious on purpose? Are you being depressed on purpose? Do you get the joke? Of course not. When we see that we aren’t, we can sense our innocence and let more compassion in. Robert offers simple and proven practices for creating awareness that heals. These tools can be applied again and again. Creating expansion opportunities even in the face of life’s greatest hurdles and being able to reflect on these moments can help each of us set better conditions in which to bring out our best selves.
Podcast: The Missing Conversation
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 53.
Robert Strock: (00:05)
It’s got to touch a place where you can see yes, I have challenges. I’m part of the human race. I have challenges and yes, I would like to do the best I can to try to move toward caring for myself or tolerating myself, so I won’t suffer as much.
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)
Very warm welcome to you for joining us again to Awareness That Heals where we really give it our best effort to focus on bringing heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges. And in this situation to your life’s challenges, now I say that, and actually that’s only half true because even as we’re speaking, the three of us that are here are also looking at how we can bring our heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges, as well. So, we start again and again, with being aware of what’s most difficult for us because it’s so undervalued in our conditioning. And as you’re listening to this, you probably will not be seeing something else today, where in a certain way, we’re half idealizing, half valuing, half viewing it as a source of inspiration to look at what is difficult and not to be dreaming about how we can just have a good life.
Robert Strock: (02:22)
And we’re trying to counteract the overwhelming conditioning and history as human beings, where we focus on developing a persona and we’re not living in a balance of valuing both, what’s challenging as well as what’s inspiring or liberating. And so, we’re also focusing on how we can care for ourselves at these times of unfulfilled need or challenging situations or emotions. And these are really the ideal conditions, which for better or worse are daily for virtually all of us to be fulfilled in our lives and really by extension to contribute to the world by finding and living closer and closer to our best selves. And today we’re going to delve more deeply into the key practice that has helped thousands of people. And I think by extension tens of thousands of people to make a simple link that is simple to understand, but not simple to practice, but also not impossible to practice between our most challenging feelings and situations we face daily and how to move toward healing and well-being.
Robert Strock: (04:07)
And as I say, these words, please reflect on yourself, please go and ask yourself the question, what is my biggest challenge I’m facing today and this week? And can I get a beginning glimpse of what my needs are? This is a grounded, inspirational way to live. And it starts with authentically facing what’s difficult and naturally leads us to inquire, especially when we remember, how do I, how do we best take care of ourselves? And by extension, again, those around us, this is what I wish was taught. When I was three years old, four years old, five years old, six years old, all the way through life. I wish I started in kindergarten where it was more intuitively obvious that being nice, being good, being caring, sharing the ball, not taking our ball and taking it home, being able to cooperate with each other, where those universal needs were more intuitively obvious, until we got conditioned into this world of success and sex and beauty and power and wealth, and got distracted from something much more sensitive, something much more of a potentiating what’s lives in all of our hearts, whether we blocked it off or not, it’s still there as Dave and I ran a residential treatment center many, many years ago from 1974, 1977.
Robert Strock: (06:15)
We, we started our brochure with beyond our defenses. We believe all of us are good and that’s not to underestimate the defenses and how strong they can be. They can be who we think we are. We can think we’re just a rebel. We can think we’re just a cynic. We can think we’re just a white nationalist. We can think we’re, we’re just a hater of government, but we all underneath these defenses that invariably either lead us to fight or flight one way or the other. There is a goodness that when we do these practices or your practices can lead us to a state of well-being and one that’s universal and can help us pass this on to those around us. So, I’d like to start by introducing Dave, uh, who is my dearest friend and my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation.
Thank you. And it is quite a memory to go back that far and even remember the, the words in the brochure for that residential treatment center for teenagers and, and the, uh, almost disbelief I have today, that those words came from us that long ago. Thank you for that memory.
Robert Strock: (07:59)
It’s kind of a joyful past life. Honestly, I, I feel so grateful that we were raised in a place where we had the best of circumstances, meaning we were not raised in a war zone. Like so many people raised in a country where we were starving, where we had no chance whatsoever. They have no chance whatsoever to do anything, but to work for survival. And even that’s a long shot or we’re living in fear or terror being in a country that is ravaged by rape and war. So, in many ways, as I said, throughout the podcast, the greatest credit doesn’t get, isn’t really given to the people that have done good works because that’s relatively easy. The hardest work is when you’re facing challenges that are not solvable flat up. And the best we can do is like a reference to Viktor Frankl in concentration camps, or like a reference to people that are in a country that is dying of starvation.
Robert Strock: (09:14)
And they’re seeing their kids die. The best that can be done in those situations is to dig deep, feel the suffering, and then find a place that can guide us to at least a friendly mind that can say, how can I have the best chance of finding food today? How can I have the best chance of being in shelter? How can I move my legs in a way with my family to have a chance to survive, or people in America who are in similar situations who are food insecure? How can I find the best chance of finding any kernel of food? So, there’s such an honoring of challenges, whether they’re on the most severe end of the spectrum, or whether they’re in the more, let’s say so-called air class problems. And that’s not to diminish people that have wealth or opportunity, but it’s to put it in perspective that none of us are superior and none of us are inferior.
Robert Strock: (10:28)
Now, some of us are more resourceful and some of us are less resourceful and that’s, that’s a framework that we really want to emphasize. So, with the help of many of the tools in this podcast, guided meditations and the book, when you’re experiencing a difficult emotion, you can gain greater access to self-compassion, and care for yourself by asking yourself the question, which may sound really absurd on the face of it, but I’m going to explain it as we go further. Do you like or care for the challenging feelings that you’re most having right now? I’m going to repeat it again. Do you like or care for, or love the challenging feelings that you’re having right now or throughout your life? Now, the reason why this is so critical is because almost invariably when I’ve asked this question to people around me and certainly at various times myself. The answer is an obvious “no, of course I don’t like these challenging thoughts, I hate them. I wish they go away. I can’t stand them.”
Robert Strock: (11:58)
And the reason why that’s so important as we emphasize it in one of the earlier series of podcasts of moving from self-rejection toward self-compassion, is it when we asked this question of ourselves when the answer is no, it’s clear that we’re rejecting ourselves as we are now, as I say that, when you say, no, I don’t, I don’t like this feeling of depression. I don’t like this anxiety. I don’t like this fear. Well, at one level it’s natural or more accurately. It’s normal. It’s part of our conditioning. We want to feel good. We want to present ourselves as feeling good. We always prefer, almost always prefer, and for many of us, it is always to feel good all the time, but that’s like, as we’d covered in the last episode, that’s like believing in a God, that’s going to take care of everything.
Robert Strock: (12:59)
We don’t need to do anything. All else will be taken care of if you surrender. And that will take care of every single feeling you have in this life, every single action in your life, it will give you a life of wealth, it’ll give you a life of faith, it’ll give you a life of freedom. But when we see that, if we don’t care for ourselves and our challenging feelings that, that’s going to lead us into a hell, that’s going to be largely unseen because most of us are not going to ask this question. Do we like or care for ourselves when we’re challenged? And I would encourage you to add that to your repertoire, even though it’s absurd, because it makes it obvious that, oh I’m against myself, oh, I’m rejecting myself.
Robert Strock: (14:00)
And it’s not a matter of just, okay, I’m gonna just gonna plop on top of my challenging feelings. Oh yeah, I liked them. Oh, I love them. I care for them. This is not a cosmetic exercise. This is a realization that when we had a challenging feeling and then we had another layer of a challenging feeling, that’s rejecting us on top of that. We need to deal with both of them. And so, some version of, oh, dear, you’re really being hard on yourself. And as we let this in, we recognize, we, at least to kind of another question, are you doing this on purpose? Are you being anxious on purpose are you being depressed on purpose? And when we see we’re not, we can see our innocence. And therefore, it’s natural to that being a starting point to asking a question of how we can best take care of ourselves when we’re challenged.
I just want to chime in here that, uh, it is so counter-intuitive and so difficult to love, maybe terror, I feel fear, I feel anxiety, I feel depression. I feel, to have in the same sentence, I love it, um, is counterintuitive very insightful, very, very intuitive. But for me, every one of those feelings, really when I connect to it and have practiced this have to include care for myself and loving myself, really in this context means caring for myself, loving the feeling means caring for myself enough to say, wow, I don’t just want to pile on, as you were describing. I want to see if there’s something I can work with here.
Robert Strock: (16:16)
Absolutely, absolutely. The drilling down more deeply, which completes sort of this thread is loving, liking, and maybe caring for is more realistic, but even more realistic is barely tolerating. Even barely tolerating our challenges is enough to then say, I can barely tolerate it. Now. I want to see how I can best take care of myself. And it may be that the answer in many situations is barely tolerating. Barely tolerating is a miracle sometimes rather than just automatic hatred or disgust or rejection or complete ignoring. So barely tolerating is not to be underestimated in the maturity that it requires. And I’m asking the question of, do you like, love just to bring it, make it more obvious, but I’m not suggesting that we’re going to reach a place at least in the near future that we’re going to go, oh man, my anxiety, my lifelong anxiety, I love it so much.
Robert Strock: (17:40)
You know, it’s not that kind of absurdity it’s meant to be a wakeup call and really the most realistic thing, which I kind of am in love with is barely tolerating. And then maybe we might get to tolerating. Now accepting is probably a bit too grandiose, but wherever we are on that spectrum, if we can get to that place to get asked that question, whenever we are challenged, it is a, it’s like a tuning fork to find stuff that’s in the darkness. It’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s a flashlight that’s shining some light on where we normally are left just in a vague undefined darkness that feels bleak. And so how are we expected to love or like, we aren’t, we’re just using that as a catalytic question. And then the aspiration is, can I barely tolerate this enough to where I have a desire or I can find my need to move in a direction that can be, as Dave said, more caring. And again, as I said, more caring might just be barely tolerating.
I want to just add to that the word opportunity. And as you said in prior episodes, the words get to, I do love the opportunity. I do love the chance that my awareness brings me, or sometimes foists upon me, honestly, choicelessly. I can’t turn away because it’s too large. But every time it is an opportunity. Every time I do get to see what I can do with it, and I do love that opportunity.
Robert Strock: (19:42)
I think that’s a really key advanced place because to even know, there’s an opportunity is pretty advanced, but to love the opportunity is very advanced. And what happens is when we really greet, I was going to say, meet, but greet our challenging emotions with some degree of bare tolerance. That is a fork in the road that is a change in our outlook. That is a golden opportunity that all of us really have. And if you’re applying this to yourself, you will be getting at least glimpses. If not starting to get a bit of stability I’ve shared before I’ve had clients that when I asked the question, how often do you do this at the beginning? They said, well, I tried to do it once or twice a week. And I do my best to hold back, feeling agast, you know, to feel like once a week, are you kidding me?
Robert Strock: (21:03)
So, I do my best not to be, um, let’s say arrogant or condescending, even though obviously a part of me is, and I try to say something like really, are you only challenged that little? I, is that really or are you missing a large percentage of the opportunities? And the answer is almost always, well, I can only do as good as I can do. I’m doing my best. And I’m pretty well known for not settling. And so that’s only the beginning of our conversation. You know, the conversation then goes, you know, I actually think you can do better than that. And I don’t want to lay a guilt trip on you. I don’t want you to feel pressure, but I want you to look at what you’re focusing on all week that is so much more important than your quality of life. Is that what you’re focusing on, ignoring the challenges other than maybe two minutes a week, is that really reaping the rewards, even as you’re working, let’s say doing your work or in relationship to whoever you’re in relationship with. Is spacing out on the challenges that are causing suffering from you, is that focus that you’ve had actually giving you more of a quality of life?
Robert Strock: (22:39)
This is not a moral imperative. This is a quality of life imperative. If this doesn’t come from inside you, if you can’t taste or smell or Intuit this and throw it away, this doesn’t make common sense to you or sense to you. Then I would say, you probably are wasting your time listening to me, cause it’s got to hit, touch a place where you can see, yes, I’m, I have challenges. I’m part of the human race. I have challenges and yes, I would like to do the best I can to try to move toward caring for myself or tolerating myself, so I won’t suffer as much. I don’t think that’s a big leap where the bigger leagues come is the frequency of this awareness. And especially the frequency of the awareness when things are challenging.
Robert Strock: (23:43)
So, building what I have called this awareness that heals does include expanding our intention to heal and helping to bring out this best in ourselves. Where again, it’s a big wake up. Can we find our intention to heal our desire, to care for ourselves, as we’ve talked about our desire to barely tolerate ourselves, can we see that this is a setting up our life for increasing expansion until we die, that this is a tool that never gets old. If we’re not going to outgrow this, this is always moving toward a bare of tolerance of what is most difficult. And we’re always going to have difficulties in our life. Now I spend a lot of time these days with foundation heads, with people that are doing good works, with people that are doing meditation retreats, people that are leading meditation retreats. And so often I’m a downer.
Robert Strock: (25:05)
At first, when I asked the combination of questions, which I invariably do, which is what’s most inspiring in your life and what’s most challenging, what’s most challenging in your life. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which one gets the amplification. Now, sometimes people don’t have either. Of course, so I’ll downgrade it from inspiration to satisfy, use a number of different words, but this is almost like an advertising campaign to respect your challenges, for me to respect my challenges. I’m having a good time talking about it because every time I’m saying these words, I am flashing on what my challenges are today. I am giving myself support and I really believe Dave is too. And Mark is too, and I hope you are as well. So, I think I’d like to amplify a bit of what I said earlier about people that are going to retreats and leading retreats and recognize that so many of our heroes have been spiritual teachers, religious teachers, you know, the few political icons that are America is great.
Robert Strock: (26:26)
And the common denominator in most of our heroes sadly, is that they’ve got it together. That they’re courageous, that they’re really not addressing their challenges as a part of their leadership. And I invite you all to go to The Missing Conversation and that will be coming out sometime in the next few months, these episodes that are already done, where it really emphasizes the dangers that are inherent in our leaders, our spiritual teachers, our religious teachers, not talking about their own personal challenges and having that be a key part of the teaching from my vantage point, real leadership involves human authenticity and the courage to work with that. And the openness to share that with the many people, with the, every people that are suffering. Because when we see our heroes, our leaders, our religious and spiritual teachers and ministers really idealizing compassion, mindfulness, greatness of America, we, we invariably will feel worse because we’re one down and they’re one up and they’re not modeling both.
Robert Strock: (28:08)
And it’s so critical that we change the archetype of leadership and every field to not only have the leaders be dealing with their challenges inwardly, but to have that be part of their presentation. This world of presenting a persona is from my vantage point. One of the key sources of war. It’s one of the key sources of projecting our anger on another country, of projecting our distrust toward another religion, to competing against another corporation for a foundation to be really into their work and not merging with other foundations that all of us need to see how valuable it is to be human beings and essential beings and to combine the two. So, I am calling upon all leaders to really include, in a dignified way, whatever challenges they have to help your, your people, your students, whatever it is, your company, your nation, to see that you’re not afraid to say I am wrestling with helplessness because I’m in a double bind, because some of you want me to be this way.
Robert Strock: (29:48)
And some of you want me to be that way and I’m wrestling with it. It’s hard, it’s a difficult time, but I want you to know this is my intention, this is what I’m going for. But at night it hurts or I’m, I have to deal with insecurity because I can’t please everybody. At times it feels like I can’t please anybody, but I’m trying to do something that is good for my constituency and beyond if you are. And so, as we wrap this up, it really is a message for all of us that are living our normal life and all of us that are leaders to really value challenges as being the source of a deeper peace, a deeper trust, a deeper leadership, a deeper compassion. And the more we can share that and recognize that we’re a process, we’re not a persona. We’re a process of dealing with challenges and doing our best to be our, ourself that can be as evolved as much as possible. And my wishes, no matter who you are, that you join with awareness and dignity with your challenges and with your resourcefulness and that you see that as being what I might call the true marriage, you know, that’s the real marriage, the inner marriage that also can lead to an outer marriage. That’s a deeper marriage. So, thank you again for your attention and your retention.
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