Never try to solve the impossible—that’s the fifth principle of Friendly Mind. Most of us wish to let our mind get the best of us where we feel secure in a future that we cannot realistically control or desire to be more than we are capable of. When Friendly Mind sees this, it reminds us with the neutral question, “Are you trying to create something that isn’t within your capacity?” When we understand and learn to successfully implement this principle, it usually creates a smile because we recognize how many times we have given ourselves a hard time. For many, it’s often a humorous relief and release of what was always outside of our control.
Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 15.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
The friendly mind doesn’t try to be a master is trying to be a servant.
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: (00:51)
I’d like to give you all a very warm welcome today. As we continue with our deepening understanding of friendly mind. And again, joining us today are two of my dearest friends, Dave and Shelley. Dave is co-president of Global Bridge Foundation. And Shelley is a board member and therapist. And we’ll also be including Mark who’s our engineer, but even more important than that in this case, although it’s important that as an engineer, we wouldn’t have a show, uh, is that he’s developed a deep core relationship to friendly mind and my contribute today as well, because he’s had adept experience, that’s really brought him to a keen appreciation and practice of using friendly mind.
Robert Strock: (01:44)
So in the last episode, we just covered the importance of making our realistic best efforts as it, really central part of friendly mind and really what that means. And what really came out in the last episode is oftentimes we need to start off with a question of, am I really making my realistic, best efforts in this situation when I feel really bad or I’m in a situation that’s really difficult. And it does require us to notice our most challenging feelings, which is what provokes the question, and that’s not automatic in our culture. So this really is asking you, as you’re listening to this, to go into your own inner practice and say, what are my deep challenging feelings or situations? And is this a place where I really have started a practice, a friendly mind, or maybe I’m midway and had been doing it for a while with different names. The other key point that we really covered is friendly mind is definitely not a free ride. It’s not just putting frosting on top of garbage. It’s not just saying, gee, you’re a good guy right after you were not a good guy or girl for that matter or a woman for that matter. So today what we’re going to focus on is a key, key part, also of friendly mind, which is not trying to solve the impossible.
Robert Strock: (03:22)
And it sounds intuitively, probably for most of you out there. Well, I don’t try to solve the impossible too often, but hopefully as you listen to this episode, it’ll be clear just like everybody else. I know in my life, including myself, there’s a strong tendency, especially when you get older and you’re not what you used to be in some area of performance. You’re still laying those standards on yourself and you’re trying to do the impossible and you need to refocus yourself to do what is really doable in the next few minutes, the next hour. And the tendency in life is to go so far in the future that even if you had a friendly mind to access, it couldn’t help you because you’re trying to solve a problem. That’s not going to happen for a year or six months or two months. And you’ve got plenty to, just to deal with on your plate today.
Robert Strock: (04:24)
So one example of that is a woman named Maria who had three spinal surgeries and was very heavy, heavily medicated on fentanyl, which some of you may know is one of the most dangerous killers in our world today, which wasn’t known when she had that surgery. When I had conversations with her, she would say to me over and over again, I just want to be able to walk. And I just want to be able to remember what I could remember before. And I would say to her, you’ve just had three very difficult spinal surgeries. You’re on a very heavy drug. And so can you see that? You’re trying to do the impossible and you might want to focus on when you get out of bed and you have somebody holding you, do you really want to concentrate on the next step, literally as you put your foot on the ground and see if you can take three steps with help or one or five or 10, that’s friendly mind, not trying to do the impossible, but focusing on the present or the very near future.
Robert Strock: (05:56)
Now the two other stories that I’m going to mention that are basically the same theme, but it’s so important because almost all of us and probably all of us that live our full, a full set of years into our seventies are going to face something like this, if we haven’t already, where we lose capacity and what we keep wanting is that capacity back. I want that capacity back and we can’t get it back. So it’s a way of really doing harakiri, it’s like sticking a knife in ourselves. Every time we do it, we don’t think we’re doing it. We think we’re wanting something that’s really good for ourselves. But what we’re really wanting is to change the reality of life. And we absolutely cannot do that. So this second woman had a stroke and all she wanted to do was to be able to talk because she had lost her speech and had aphasia, after having the stroke.
Robert Strock: (07:01)
So we had a number of conversations. Well, well, what can you do? And it would keep going back around, around to that. And finally, we got to, gee, could you focus on your speech therapy? Could you focus on your best efforts? And could you focus on your frustration, your helplessness, your pain, and learning how to have friendly mind care for those feelings, and still instill you to make your best efforts to utter a word and recognize you’re not the same as, as you used to be in your brain because you had a stroke. Do you understand that? And that led to a whole series of dialogues over several years, where he was one of the more successful people at really being able to use her friendly mind with her emotional states and stay much more focused on what was really possible for . . . Third person, again a woman, suffered from lifelong anxiety, was born with it, had a chemical condition, and her response was always, I hate my anxiety.
Robert Strock: (08:31)
I can’t stand it. I can’t believe that I feel this way. And it’s, and I’m just, I’m so off that. I feel this anxious feeling again, trying to solve the impossible. And as you’re listening to this, please apply it to your situation, whatever area of life, where you might have something going on, where it’s difficult, and it’s not quote capital S solvable, but you may be able to take crucial baby steps. And you might be able to say some things to yourself that will support you emotionally. So for her, it was, are you doing everything you can to deal with this anxiety? And the, at first the answer was, I think so. And as we explore it further, she hadn’t explored medications. And then she explored medications and it took the edge off the anxiety. And now she was just a little bit anxious, but she was still upset with herself that she was a little bit anxious. And then she would ask the question after that, am I doing everything I can? And it was, yeah, I actually, I am.
Robert Strock: (09:57)
Can you feel it? Can you feel better? Answer was no, I can’t. I still feel, I still feel a little bit anxious and I want it to go away. And then the next question was, is that realistic? Do you have a Harry Potter wand or magic wand to take away the little bit of anxiety? Because when you experimented with a little bit more mitigations, you are bombed out. So you don’t have any other chemical alternatives. You tried therapy, you tried meditation, you tried acupuncture. And there were no more efforts other than an internal job, which was friendly mind. And after an extended period of time she started to say, you know what, I really am doing everything I can. And I’m sorry that you can’t feel, but I know you intuitively understand, you have an inner knowing that you’re doing everything you can. And then friendly mind would say, is that right? The friendly mind, doesn’t try to be a master it’s trying to be a servant. And he would say, yes, I do understand. And that pretty well became a constancy, which through time allowed her to be a little bit more accepting and certainly a lot less judgmental than she had been.
David Knapp: (11:30)
So, as always thank you for the opportunity to be here, for the opportunity to share. And, and, um, these three stories hit home. Um, and as I relate it to myself, um, and I relate it to the way I evolved, which was more outward, more looking to solve impossible problems, others had, particularly health problems. Uh, what, what, what came to me as you were saying, speaking is my younger brother who was one of the first people in 1980 with what was then an unknown and eventually gay disease ARC, HIV, AIDS, um, illness. And we, we lived in separate parts of the world, eventually separate parts of the country. And when I came into his life, when he was, uh, more or less, uh, about halfway through a very long time, there were from, from no drugs to, to some, some treatments. Uh, it became my mission to see if I could figure this out. I mean, imagine the impossibility, as I look back on it, I, I kind of, um, cry and laugh at my belief that I could actually heal him, that I could actually do something that would profoundly change the course of this illness that was a worldwide issue. And as I did that, I, I mean, this is a time in my life when I, I look back and I have regret, I look back and I say, okay, I, I made efforts on his behalf, which ended up maybe prolonging his life in a way that he didn’t want. Um, and it was prolonged for another 10 years. And of course family members supported it, but I was the main driver of it. And it was impossible. It was, no matter what, no matter what I tried and I, and researched, and again, put myself on overdrive, to solve this serious illness of, of my brother.
David Knapp: (14:04)
There was no way. And that issue for me was very difficult. And at that time in my life, um, I, again was not so much, I was driven, but not so much through anxiety, but through just a desire to be the person that could heal. And, and, and I failed, and I felt like a failure. And I felt, uh, the friendly mind aspect of myself, such as it was then, and this is a while ago, was you’ve done everything you possibly could. You’ve done everything anybody, you know, could possibly recommend. You have made every effort and the outcome is not in your hands, but you made every effort. And please, please recognize that and see if you can find a way to relax into that and not be so attached to this outcome that is just not possible.
Robert Strock: (15:14)
Yeah, and again, I assume that you probably could partially hear yourself emotionally and partially not because you were attached to him staying alive, and that a lot of your feelings were around that and trying to solve that on an ongoing basis. So even though you’re miraculous, that still was not winning the main prize of anyone that’s dying, because you want to help them survive. But one of the things I want to pick up on, though, that you said, which is a crucial, uh, oversight that many people make is you said it wasn’t so much anxiety, it was a desire to help. And to me, that’s another way of saying I suppress the anxiety and I compensated immediately into a desire to help, and I lost sight of it, and I’m still lost out of it. Uh, and so it’s very important that the anxiety be given a lot of attention and care through friendly mind. And I don’t mean caring, vibrationally or energetically. I mean just, Hey Dave, you are dedicating a third of your life now to this, and you’re very anxious. And if we care for you might that help you find your balance more than just doing, doing, doing, and researching, researching, researching the doctoring, doctoring, doctoring, and checking and checking in, checking in. Might that be a more balanced life for you if you consider yourself to be of equal importance.
David Knapp: (16:59)
And of course, looking back there, there just zero doubt. Both of those things are true. Both it’s true that that was a compensation for anxiety, ultimately my own personal fear for myself, mortality and all the things that go with it. And certainly another regret is just the being with my brother, as opposed to doing for my brother and missing moments of just being with . . .
Shelley Pearce: (17:37)
I so appreciate what you’re saying on two levels. One is that, and I, and I think it’s one of, I honestly think it’s a mistranslation in the Buddhist to English, uh, Western world, which is, you know, suffering, the attachment of suffering. And it’s really attachment is, um, attachment to outcome is really what is suffering, exactly what you’re talking about. And as it relates to that space of being with your brother, just being and missing out on that in your attempt to save him, to help him and how I think we all do that too, to a certain degree where we’re just not really completely present with the person in the moment and then subconsciously we know that’s happening. So there’s regret and guilt even as, as we’re trying to help them. And I just, I think what you’re saying right now is a really beautiful thing for people to pay attention to.
David Knapp: (18:39)
Appreciate that. Thank you.
Robert Strock: (18:41)
And I, I underscore that, uh, and want to shift the focus a little bit to more ordinary elements of friendly mind, cause it doesn’t always require a life and death situation as a matter of fact, more much more often than not it doesn’t. So using a more common example. And again, asking you, as you listen, to use your common example, let’s just imagine that you are a noncommunicator or you’re a dumper, and that you have a style of just telling somebody to screw off whenever you feel like it, or you never share your feelings, you don’t share your needs and you do it privately. And you’re in one extreme or the other. And friendly mind is saying to you, as you see a trail of limited relationships or limited quality relationships, any mind saying to you, you know, you’re aware of feeling alone or you’re aware of feeling alienated, frustrated, helpless, misunderstood.
Robert Strock: (19:58)
Any of those feelings could be the baseline challenging emotion that you’d be starting with. And then you’d ask yourself, are you on the end of dumping your feelings in a relationship, or are you in the area of suppressing your feelings? And where is the balance for you? That is such a courageous question. And almost invariably, unless somebody is in an intensive therapy or they happen to just be a guest, the word these days would be woke or a little bit awakened or a little bit of a student, they would be just staying with their tendency until they die. And they won’t be paying attention to those underlying feelings. And then get to that great question of, do I need to communicate more so that I can be more intimate? Not because I should, but because it might add another piece of intimacy or do I need to contain myself a bit when I’m angry or frustrated because I hurt people and then they move away or a third option is do I do both?
Robert Strock: (21:22)
And it depends on the person. And a lot of people, for example, will be very expressive emotionally with the people they’re more attached to in their family or their loved one or their partner. And then with everybody else they’ll suppress their needs and their feelings and that’ll happen. So one of the questions that seems like a universal question that friendly mind would ask us is what’s my communication style? How satisfied am I within relationships, both personal relationships and friendships, family relationships, and where might my balance be? And of course it could be beyond communication. It could also be involvement like Shelley was talking about earlier, you know, am I in balance? And it requires that critical awareness of our challenging emotions going deep enough inside ourselves to even be awake enough to ask the question that is so fruitful, if it’s, if and when it’s sincere and a sign of it being sincere is that it’s not that you ask a question every Sunday morning at nine o’clock it’s, it’s something that really is living with you.
Robert Strock: (22:49)
And you’re really in a quandary. And the hard part about that is that it’s so inbred, our tendencies are so lifelong. We have a tendency to believe it’s normal, and we have all kinds of rationalizations of, well, this works for me. This is just my style. And we don’t drop into the underlying feeling of aloneness or alienation, or very happy to be distant or injuring other people. And so, see where you might fall, not only in the area of relationships, it might also be in the area of money and might also be in the area of success. Are you asking yourself the questions? Am I being the best self that I know how to be realistically in this area? And am I focusing on something impossible? Like, uh, well I just want my relationships to all be better. I really, I really think that my relationship should be better.
Robert Strock: (23:59)
And, and I’m in a dream of an impossible dream, but I’m not dropping to the deeper question that gives it a chance to be realistic. So, as I’m saying these words, I don’t know anyone that for me, I can almost go A through Z and come up with a, a starting point for an area in my life where the question would be worth asking. And when we asked this question, it becomes clear after a while, when you’re practicing friendly mind that it has your well-being. And if it’s even more mature, the well-being of others, and maybe even all others in mind, as to am I trying to do something impossible, or am I asking the question that really gives me a chance to improve quality of life? So I have a friend, for example, that’s living somewhere where he’s really unhappy and he’s constantly either just feeling he’s unhappy or is dreaming about a year from now, but he’s not really staying present with how am I going to maximize my enjoyment this next month, this next week, today, he’s trying to solve the impossible, cause he’s feeling unhappy. He’s aware he’s unhappy, but then it flips to a year from now instead of flipping to the next hour.
Robert Strock: (25:38)
So those are the kinds of situations where friendly mind is invaluable because it keeps bringing you back to the present and the near future and doesn’t have you get lost in an impossible dream of solving your future life. I want my money to be more secure, so I have a retirement, or I want to be more beautiful than I am and when I go online, I want everybody to choose me. So just continue to ask these questions. And then when you get to the question that really resonates with you, see what your response is and the deeper it goes, the more likely it is going to be a series of questions. And then you answer the question and then you ask another question and most frequently, if you really bring it to the near future, in the present, and your best realistic efforts, then you’re no longer in the impossible. So I think that gives us a very good sense of how we can get lost in the impossible and as always super encourage you to look at the situations in your life where your mind has a tendency to dwell on the impossible. Maybe not impossible if you focus on the next hour. But completely impossible if you’re focusing on a year from now, and as you discover it, instead of going, oh shit, there I am doing it again, tell yourself all good, if you can, I’m discovering a possible way that I can improve my quality of life. And when you discover areas where your mind is dwelling on the impossible, or you’re being critical, be appreciative that you have the wisdom to want to bring yourself closer to the present and the near future. So I wish that for all of us, it’s my prayer for me, for you, for everyone, for your neighborhood. And thanks so much for your attention.
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