In the Friendly Mind, we learn the value and benefit to ourselves and others of focusing on our responses to challenging emotions and situations rather than trying to change the feelings themselves. Accepting these emotions feels counterintuitive at first. However, with encouragement and practiced dedication, we learn the importance of thoughts, especially those that help us accept our situations and feelings. Acceptance begins a process of learning to independently act from emotions without denial. It also helps counteract the hypnotic effect of the normal instinct to instantly do whatever makes us feel better. However, a Friendly Mind teaches how to slow down and care for ourselves by learning to guide our thoughts, rather than trying to use grandiose measures to unsuccessfully change our feelings.
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 Six.
Robert Strock: (00:06)
So for example, there are a significant percentage of people that were born with a chemistry where they’re depressed their whole life, and they think that’s who I am or they’re anxious their whole life. And that’s who I am, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually, that’s what my chemistry is. That’s what my neurology is that I inherited. But I’m the one who can respond to 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: (01:23)
Thank you very much for joining us again on The Missing Conversation. Uh, as in the past episodes, my closest friend, Dave, my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation and really pervasive friend at so many levels, we don’t have enough time to say over the last 50 years is joining us and Shelley who is also a psychotherapist and closest friend, uh, is joining us. And I’m very, very grateful to have her be with us as well. If you’ve listened to the last several episodes you will know that we’ve just concluded the four levels of awareness. And I hope in particular that you’ve found some great benefit from what it means to be at that fourth level of awareness, where you have the awareness of what the most difficult emotion that you’re in. And you also have the intention to be the best being that you can be to bring an intention to heal, to bring caring to the situation or the emotion that you’re in. So we’re continuing from this fourth level of awareness and going to a concept or a process that is called friendly mind.
Shelley Pearce: (02:53)
Robert, thank you for having us. And, uh, this is a key next I know personally, because I am experiencing the friendliest of my needs right now having been with a medical situation that’s, uh, up close and more personal than I would like. Uh, I have found my way to be as caring as I can for myself. But I will say to you that, uh, the mind still the thoughts, the things that come from the circumstance still create suffering still make it very, very difficult, notwithstanding everything. Uh, and every part of the self-empathy I can find in myself.
Shelley Pearce: (03:44)
In Robert I’m really happy to be here. And also in particular around friendly mind, I’ve really benefited so much from your, uh, good friendship, council in that way. Um, especially when it comes to body image issues and struggles in that area that I can be, um, painfully mean to myself. And so, uh, you’ve helped me a great deal. And I’m looking forward to hearing more about friendly mind today.
Robert Strock: (04:25)
Well, again, I want to thank you both for bringing your real self here. And one of the beauties of friendly mind as you’ll come to understand as we go through it. And the first application is to you, Dave, is that there are so many times where we’re in such pain, fear, anger, emotion, circumstance, we can’t change that. We can’t find the empathy and friendly mind is there. And it’s actually the main distinction between the fourth level of awareness. It’s that when we’re in such deep do-do that the best we can do is sum it up, a wise friendly mind to guide our actions and our thoughts. That’s invaluable because if we’re trying to change our feelings when they’re so primitive and so deep, it’s impossible, but it’s very possible to change our focus and gather thoughts that are going to be wise that are going to be focused on what’s possible rather than something that’s impossible or having a feeling level is impossible. And likewise with you, Shelley, it’s like there are so many women that are suffering from body issues.
Robert Strock: (05:59)
Well, more than half. And so to have the capacity to go, Oh, yuck, look at this fat. And then to be able to say, I don’t want to be that cruel to myself. Now you may not be rippling with sweet surely sugary warmth towards your fat or in your case. Uh, I would even call it fat. I would say your thicker skin. Um, but to be able to know that you have a tool that doesn’t require you to even be friendly, that is just the thoughts that are friendly and that’s enough to not have it be a pile on and by a pile on, I mean, you start off with it, with a feeling like fear or anxiety or feeling like self-hatred, and then you pile it on with more and more thoughts. And then that piles on more and more feelings, it stops the cycle.
Robert Strock: (07:07)
And you do have to be aware still of the feeling and the intention to heal, to move toward the friendly mind. Because if you’re just aware of the feeling, you’ll just stew in it. And if you have the intention to heal, and especially when the intention to heal recognizes that, you know what, I can’t reach this primitive level. So, but I can reach my mind and my mind can be my best friend. And my experience is it’s 10,000 times easier to have a friendly mind than to have a friendly heart when we’re really suffering. And the friendly mind sometimes can be the birth creator of the heart opening up. But the key is not to put that pressure on ourselves and to be content with the friendly mind. So we’re going to learn as we go through these next episodes, how to activate a friendly mind for ourselves when it matters the most, when our emotions are, or our situations are at the very most difficult, and click we remember, Oh, I’m not just one dimensional.
Robert Strock: (08:35)
I’m not just human. I have a capacity to have a little bit, at least of a mind. That’s on my side that knows I’ve lived long enough that I don’t want to just stew in these emotions. I want my mind to be utilized. And it’s a great relief, even though for many people, they would say it’s a booby prize to only have the mind be on our side while we’re suffering from my vantage point. And from my years of deepest suffering, it’s the grand prize because when you have access to your normal vital energy and you feel good enough, and you just have an aberrant feeling, that’s not good. You have plenty of energy. That’s not so hard, but when you’re really facing your deepest suffering, it’s only realistic. And even sometimes it’s not realistic because we forgot to activate this mind. That’s going to give you guidance into the present, into the near future, both in your actions and your thoughts.
Robert Strock: (09:57)
And it’s a wonderful experience too, or at least half wonderful experience to be able to have a friendly mind that you start to relate to as at the beginning, maybe even more important than your feelings. I’m going to repeat that again, because it sounds like an idiot that your friendly mind can actually become more important than your feelings. And when you start to glimpse that it creates the incentive to wake up in the morning, to remember during the day to have it be the last kind of thoughts at the end, I want to have a quality of life. And I want my mind to be my friend. And when that’s my highest potential, that’s when I’m at my most heroic to actually be able to, when I’m in terror to say, it’s okay that you’re in terror. And how can I take care of you? Or this is what I’m suggesting. What do you think? And it begins that dialogue to guide you in the direction that you need to go to best take care of yourself.
Robert Strock: (11:17)
Now, it sounds simple enough. Oh, I’ll just activate a friendly mind and cool I’ll snap my fingers and be able to have the thoughts that are going to move me in the direction I need to move, no matter how in hell I am, but that’s the whole point. The whole point is this is like a lobotomy. Our brains are taught to be immersed in feeling as a matter of fact, we’re taught that that’s our primary identity. How are you doing today? Oh, I’m not doing very good, or I’m doing great rather than a question that might sound a little bit like psychobabble, but it’s more like, how are you doing with how you’re doing now? It requires you to be first aware of how you’re doing, but then the emphasis is more on the response to what you’re doing much more than it is on the original feeling. And I think the sooner we learn that our potential is to deeply and profoundly accept the feelings of where we are, but that doesn’t mean resignation. That means we want to activate at the least, and at many times at the most, a friendly mind that is evoked from the awareness of our suffering and wanting to do the best we can to respond to it, to put us on track. That will be a better track for our life.
Robert Strock: (13:08)
Difficult feelings are like a mast hypnosis. So to be able to activate a mind, that’s on our side is really like a mini miracle. Every time it happens, I’m going to reflect again on my history of the six years after my kidney transplant and particularly on the effect of the transplant medications, which I have to take for life that really profoundly affect my sleep. And therefore, really for that length of time eliminated my ability to feel what I was so familiar with feeling before, which was peace and calm, alive, compassionate. Not that I was perfect, but at least I had that capacity to feel a lot of those feelings. And I was basically a wasteland for, for six years, uh, worst for six months. And so at that time, that’s really when friendly mind became so crucial because I was saying things to myself like I’m screwed.
Robert Strock: (14:38)
I can’t possibly be who I’ve been. And I was measuring myself against my emotional quality of life. And I knew I couldn’t change it. So I asked myself for several months, what can I do? And it became clear that my mind was still okay. And then I was still aware of how bad off I was and that I could focus on my thoughts and my intention and my will, and a bit of wisdom to guide me as to how I needed to be with myself, my friends, my clients, loved ones. And no, I was not as juicy anywhere near as a matter of fact, that was a great understatement. I was about 1%, but I still knew I cared. And so that knowing that I cared, even though I couldn’t feel that I cared seemed like a better definition of who I was, in a fact, I look at it now as being the greatest growth time of my life, which is very, very important for all of us when we’re at the worst off. And I hope as you’re listening to this, you’re really listening to you, not me, that when you’re at the very worst time of your life, and you can come up with thoughts that are going to support you in the present, in the near future, that is utterly heroic, way harder than guiding yourself when you’re in your normal flow.
Robert Strock: (16:32)
So really ask yourself, because if you’re younger, you may not have ever experienced anything that dark. You may never have experienced a suffering. We feel completely out of control, but I assure you that at some point later in your life, you will be feeling something that will be that difficult. So friendly mind can really be the greatest ally in your life when you need it the most. So envision right now, as we’re talking the darkest space that you visited and ask yourself, what would my friendly mind say to me in the next hour, next minute, what empathic thought could I think when nothing else is possible and be careful that you don’t fall into the booby trap of, ah, this is just my mind who cares, recognized that every thought is a guidance. And if there’s any hope for you to move toward feeling, it’s going to be like you’re in the first month of pregnancy. And it may take nine months for, to eventually move toward feeling. But even if it doesn’t, it’s going to guide you to how you can act in the best way to take care of yourself and others.
Robert Strock: (18:14)
And it’s gonna guide you to the thoughts that are going to lead you there. This’ll be a lot easier to effectively practice it when you understand the many caveats that are necessary to utilize it. And when you practice it more, you’ll need to understand that friendly mind is not cheap. For example, you can’t just say, gee, I’m really angry at my wife, but it’s okay. I’m friendly toward myself. It’s not a matter of putting frosting on garbage. It’s not a matter of validating yourself when you’re not being your best self. So friendly mind requires you to earn in your own, most sincere judgment or evaluation or perception. Am I really doing the best I can, which is one of the caveats of friendly mind when we’re doing the best we can. We earn the rights to be friendly towards ourselves, even if we can’t feel it, at least we know we have a mind that’s on our side. So we’re looking for friendly, realistic thoughts that will steer us in the direction we need to think act or respond.
Robert Strock: (20:00)
And it’s frequently almost always because we’re in a very difficult state. It’s not a quick fix as again, we have to be very dedicated to our best efforts. So that means if you, to use Shelley’s example, if you’ve been miserable to yourself 98 times, and you haven’t been practicing the 99th time, when you say it, it’s not going to have much weight. If you’ve done it 51 times out of a hundred, now you’re starting to make some progress where you haven’t been berating yourself. And again, going further into doing the best you can do. I have a metabolic problem? Am I eating chips all night?
Robert Strock: (20:55)
It’s very hard to be friendly towards something. When you know, you’re also underneath acting in a way that’s self-destructive. So it does require us to go through another level of contemplation, which is, am I doing the best I can with this difficult feeling? Is it a feeling that there’s really nothing I can do about it? And that’s when friendly mind is at its most powerful, or when there is something that you can do about it and you are doing what you can do about it, but the feeling is still there in a way that’s even more powerful than the first one. It’s important that we recognize that there are so many feelings like hormones, chemistry, neurology, severe circumstances, out of our control that aren’t at all our fault and this alone can lead to a vast constellation of thoughts. So for example, there are a significant percentage of people that were born with a chemistry where they’re depressed their whole life.
Robert Strock: (22:26)
And they think that’s who I am or they’re anxious their whole life. And that’s who I am, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually, that’s what my chemistry is. That’s what my neurology is that I inherited, but I’m the one who can respond to it. And that takes great courage, great awareness, great humility, finding the intention to heal and going against the grain of what you feel. And recognizing, yes, it’s true, one or both of my parents did come from that kind of chemistry. Or even if they didn’t, I’ve been this way since I was two or three. And that’s how I feel. So I deserve, especially if you’ve gone through that contemplation of, or started that contemplation of how can I be my best self. I deserve my friendly mind. I want to give it to me. And I want to see that this is again the opposite of booby prize, this is true heroism.
Robert Strock: (23:48)
When I was at my worst, I would ask myself all the time. And I’m suggesting that you do the same. Who would it be easy for, to be dealing with exactly what I’m feeling right now? Who the hell would this be easy for, to be depressed, to be anxious, to be in a long-term habit of just suppressing emotions and to try to come back and find that golden middle, I guess it’s gotten middle to, yes to find that middle of feeling the feeling, finding the intention, being your best self within reason. And I would say best self that’s, realistic. That’s possible. We’re not talking about perfection. And so remembering that there are all these outside causes that affect our feeling. And it’s important as we start to unwind these podcasts, that we look at the possibility of defining ourselves as being the response to our feelings much, much more than our feelings themselves. And so for us to be able to even play with a question again, that might sound like psychobabble, how are you doing with those difficult feelings rather than how are you? Very, very improved question. I came back from a, I want to say so-called spiritual community. And I was depressed when I came back, I had been there for three years and I was stabled depressed and my mother would call and she’s saying, how are you doing? And my first reaction was to be annoyed. I was really angry. It’s like, you know how I’m doing? You know, it’s like, I’m doing lousy. I’m, I’m still adjusting. Now. I didn’t act that out too much, but I started asking myself, okay, how could she help me? So I asked her and I’m suggesting that you do the same to make it easier for yourself. You know, I’m going through this. This is the state I’m in. So don’t ask the person, how are you doing? Ask the person in your words, something like, how are you responding to this difficult feeling of where you are, and then be prepared to support them, to develop this ability, to have a friendly mind thought to articulate what would be the friendliest thought, given that this is the feeling state that you’re in. This is the beginning of Really optimizing the hardest part of life. But again, if you are really looking deeply in it and applying it personally, I think you’ll agree with me that even remembering that you want to move toward a place that’s going to help yourself when you’re in your hardest place is hard and to tolerate and accept. Just having a friendly mind at first is not easy because of the tendency to say, but I still feel lousy.
Shelley Pearce: (27:31)
If I can stay here. Uh, going back to what I said earlier in this podcast and the prior one in dealing with a, which I am a medical situation, very close to my heart. And really feeling which I generally tend to do, the first thing I tend to do is activate and research and what conceivable possibilities would be there for me to, uh, make the situation better, eliminate it, whatever it may be, that’s possible for that circumstance coming to the end of that road and being left with a time where it’s uncertain and dealing with the uncertainty. And my mind can vacillate to worst cases to things that are way beyond even what my very, very logical and very, uh, thorough research led me to. But nonetheless, those thoughts pop up and I have asked myself and I have asked the closest people around me when they say, how, how can I, how can I be there or what’s going on with you?
Shelley Pearce: (29:03)
I’ve asked them to ask me, what are you doing to best take care of yourself? What are you doing to best support yourself? And I find that to be the most helpful when I can stay there, which by the way, is hard to stay there. It is really difficult not to gravitate towards the habitual, uh, ringing of my hands, ringing of my emotions, all the things that go with it. And that is really hard. Uh, and I’m, and I’m finding it, um, it’s easier as time goes on. It’s easier just to even hear myself talk about it is, is it helpful, right this moment here and now. Um, but please speak to that.
Robert Strock: (29:54)
Yeah. Yeah. I want to say again, Dave is giving, uh, a real life example of something that most people let’s say go through a version of it. And let’s say you’re dealing with a part of the body where, you know, rationally that your worst case scenario is you may lose functioning of a part of your body or whatever else, but the unconscious goes to death and the unconscious goes to deeper disability and that’s terrifying. And most people just don’t share it because they’re embarrassed or ashamed or whatever else, or they feel like if they talk about it and leave and get worse, I’d be ridiculed. I wouldn’t, don’t be ridiculous. But Dave is giving that and I’m hoping that everyone that’s listening out there, that you’re looking at these very difficult situations and to be able to find that suggestion for friends of how to approach you, which I liked very much how you’ve said it, but also to keep being motivated. It’s like a retreat when you’re in difficult feelings. I think it’s helpful, especially those that are familiar with what a retreat is, but where there’s an intensive focus on how can I be where I really need to be. And in this case, it’s how can I really best take care of myself and even further, how can I really take care of myself best with thinking the thoughts that are going to guide me. That to be able to put those two together, the hardest and the, and the friendly mind is something that can be a tool and really make it clear that we as individuals are not one dimensional, we’re really a process. We have our feelings, now for some of us we just have our feelings, but if we really are optimizing who we are, we’re a process. We have our feelings and then we have a response to our feelings that’s helpful. And when we see ourselves as that, it’s uplifting because there’s no situation where we can’t find a level of dignity. And that’s what Dave and Shelley are doing.
Shelley Pearce: (32:31)
Robert, when I, when I’m in the throes of my self-criticism, which, which by the way could start at the moment I wake up, literally like the, the first, the first thought could be something, that’s some, something about, uh, a, a relationship to my body relationship, to, um, my weight that I’ve struggled with, you know, 35 years now. And it could be in a range anywhere of 20 pounds, and it’s still the same, the same unfriendly voice that comes up. And so I’m just, you know, I mean, part of what I do is say, be gentle with yourself. You know, you, you work at it, you pay attention to nutrition. You’ve been an athlete your whole life, like, just accept who you are, what you are to just be okay with it. But as I said, it’s still been a 35 year struggle and it can still come upon me at any moment in any day. And it, and it’s, it almost doesn’t matter what the circumstances it’s become such a, um, uh, like a, an, uh, neurological highway, but that just comes up with these negative thoughts.
Robert Strock: (34:00)
Yep. I think that for those that can’t see Shelley, which is everybody, Shelley like many women in the world really is not someone that you would think has this issue at all. And that makes it in a way harder because it, it almost could seem from a superficial observer, observer, as ridiculous, but to have the courage, to admit that. And as you said, very articulately that even then, when you’re saying, be gentle with yourself, that you still have feelings of unattractiveness, heaviness, probably even some subtle levels of repulsion. And it’s important for friendly mind to join those feelings that are there, that aren’t able to be reached with friendly mind. And so to be able to go, okay, I see I’m not reaching you. And I see that you still feel some repulsion that you still feel heavy and that you’re not responding. Want you to know? I care for you. I know you’re not doing this on purpose.
Robert Strock: (35:25)
I know this is difficult for you and I can outlast you I’m. I am. I’m an animal. I am so strong that you can keep unwittingly and unintentionally be difficult on yourself, but I am going to support you even when you feel whatever you feel, because you deserve my caring. Cause I know you well enough to know that you are doing everything you can do. You are athletic, you aren’t ridiculous. You’ll have a few potato chips, but you don’t have potato chips all night long. And the idea isn’t to be a fanatic and to try to get over it and be imbalanced in that kind of life. And you’re doing that. And I see that, and you are lovable exactly as you are in your body. And I know you can’t feel me, but we’re going to keep having this conversation because you are doing the prerequisites of doing the best you can. And you do have a medium-slow metabolism, and you’re completely innocent, I’m sorry, you can’t feel me yet, but I guarantee you I’m here for the long haul.
Shelley Pearce: (36:48)
Yes. Okay. Thank you for that. Good to hear. And I will tell you that the super ego voice comes in and says, well, you’re not disciplined enough and you’re not doing enough and you could change this and other people can change it. So, you should be able to, too.
Robert Strock: (37:06)
I’ll try it. And, and thank you for that. That’s a very realistic portrayal of what will happen. And you know that for you to change it, you would have to go through constipation. You, you would have, you would have to go through being a fanatic. You know, you would, you would be, you would be unhappy. Uh, your body, your body would not feel good, even though it would, it would look better in your eyes and maybe the eyes of the world, but it would require harmfulness toward you. It would be a cruel, it would be a cruelty ironically to so-called improve. And that, and you’ve done that, that benefit loss analysis, and you’ve done it accurately. And your friendly mind is letting you know. I see that. And I appreciate that. And I know you still can’t feel me and we’re going to keep going at it. I’m going to be friendly. You might be a little hostile toward me, but I can, I can, I can handle it.
Shelley Pearce: (38:13)
Okay. So we’re double friendly mind.
Robert Strock: (38:15)
We’re double, we’re double, triple, quadruple. We’ll keep going as many levels down the chessboard as we have to. Okay. So this is just the beginning of friendly mind. We haven’t gone into a lot of the subtleties, so I hope that you will hang in with us and keep going on because to be able to incorporate and really earn the greater benefits of friendly mind, it’s important to understand what it is and what it isn’t. So thank you for your attention and look forward to seeing you or hearing you or having you hear me or whatever it is. Again. Thanks so much.
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