If you think about it, we’re all drawn to people most like us. Call it in-group bias or being ‘hard-wired’ for like-minded people — the fact remains that we can connect best with those we think are similar to us. That’s why, when a celebrity, superstar, or sports person comes forward with a challenge they’ve been facing, we begin seeing them in a different light. Their candor and the fact that they’re also dealing with something you or someone you love have made them more human and relatable.
This also applies to religious leaders and spiritual teachers. In fact, it also works for any of your teachers — anyone you think has the capability to make an impact on you. When teachers come forward with their own challenges and how they deal with them, it has a transformational effect on students. Not only do the students gain a deeper understanding of ‘who’ their teacher is as a human, but they or someone they love might be in a similar situation. Instead of idealizing the teacher, the students can ask questions. How has the teacher been taking care of themselves? What are they going to do to get through whatever they are finding most challenging? Do they need any help? All of this is extremely important. More often than not, when we see our leaders and our teachers, they appear dominantly as fully self-sufficient. We might even believe they’ve arrived—they’re not overtly moving toward healing and awareness like those of us that are. This is also partly because most teachers don’t share their challenges to make themselves be the leader in faith, trust or understanding for their congregation, and how they deal with the part of life that is most difficult.
Robert Strock shares a few examples of how the teachers in his life have fared when it comes to sharing their personal challenges with their students. He explores how compartmentalization of challenges and who we share our difficulties with can be limiting. It stops teachers from being vulnerable with their students, which could forge stronger connections. It prevents students from seeing their teacher in a human way; there’s a lost opportunity for learning and deeper gratitude here. This is because students can take the trust shared by their teacher to express their own biggest challenges, something that they need help with too.
De-idealize your teachers and bring them down from the pedestal you’ve likely unwittingly placed them on. Take a moment to ask them sincerely and humbly about their personal challenges and encourage them to share. This will bring you and your teacher closer and give you insight into how to apply what they’re teaching to your life’s challenging situations. This may be difficult for you, but it is very likely to be beneficial to you, the teacher and the congregation at large.
Mentioned in this episode
The Global Bridge Foundation
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The Missing Conversation, Episode 34.
Robert Strock: (00:07)
In other words, I believe the stakes are incredibly high for our survival and for our fulfillment because religious and spiritual traditions and teachings could be such a leader in helping integrate the world and starting to have a value system that is truly international.
On this podcast. We will propose critical new strategies to address world issues, including homelessness, immigration, amongst several others, and making a connection to how our individual psychology contributes and can help transform the dangers that we face. We will break from traditional thinking, As we look at our challenges from a freer and more independent point of view. Your host Robert Strock has had 45 years of experience as a psychotherapist, author, and humanitarian, and has developed a unique approach to communication, contemplation and inquiry born from working on his own challenges.
Robert Strock: (01:12)
Want to welcome you warmly to The Missing Conversation again, where we address the most pressing issues the world is facing today and where we look for the very most practical and inspiring programs and innovative ideas to support a greater chance of survival for our planet. And today we’re going to, again, stay focused on the way religious and spiritual traditions and their teachers would benefit immensely by facing and presenting their own human challenging sides as a part of the teaching, and to utilize the teaching, to help the students with their own natural, inevitable human challenges. And if you’re a student or part of a congregation, it’s important that we don’t just rely on our teacher to share their own challenges and how they would use their own principles and practices and wisdom when engaging these challenges. It’s also up to us as students to ask our spiritual and religious teachers, leaders, guides, ministers to integrate in front of us, how they face their own challenges to foster a greater healing potential for ourselves and the world. So, I’d like to start off by again, welcoming my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation and 50 year, very closest friend.
Thanks, great to be here. Uh, I really am excited. Uh, and these, these particular conversations, as I said before, are near and dear to me. And, uh, as we dig deeper, uh, I look forward to sharing.
Robert Strock: (03:19)
Thanks. We left the last episode, dealing with the limitations of compartmentalization, whether it’s psychological or spiritual, when we compartmentalize ourselves from our challenges, or we compartmentalize ourselves from our very best qualities, obviously there’s a whole so limitation. And if we really go silent or maybe we don’t even have to go really silent, we can feel there’s an emptiness. There’s something missing that old saying is that all there is, and this compartmentalization has broader consequences. My contention is that compartmentalizing of spiritual development, which doesn’t include the human element has cost the world enormous peace, trust, cooperation, and really has led to war, alienation, competition, endangering the planet with global warming. In other words, I believe the stakes are incredibly high for our survival and for our fulfillment because religious and spiritual traditions and teachings could be such a leader in helping integrate the world and starting to have a value system that is truly international.
Robert Strock: (04:51)
I’ve had various people upset with me for bringing up these kinds of doubts and questions, critiques, wanting to add supplements. What I might call constructive doubt, especially when it has to do with questioning ordinary patterns of the ways that people are teaching the most profound truths of life and the most profound values and actions of life. There are quite a few that have had an aha moment where they go, you know what that really makes sense. And my experience is most of the time it has been a great sharing in the moment, but it hasn’t led to too many teachers, although there are some that have chosen then to be much more upfront about their own challenges and really seeing the benefit in the people that they’re really serving. My true hope is that this will lead to an empowerment for you personally, and also be a benefit to the world because it gives you the courage to see, you know, what, I really do want to integrate it all, or as much as possible.
Robert Strock: (06:11)
And I can see that this could be more inspiring and fulfilling and create a much greater connection to the greater world. So, leading with another example, one of my teachers who was truly gifted at being able to be silent and gentle and bringing me into the moment with caring and I have the greatest respect for this element, because it really helped bring me through a very tough time, after the transplant. He shared with me that he had heart discomfort and felt something was wrong with his heart, but he was afraid of going to doctors, of Western doctors. And when I asked him what he was afraid of, he said, I’m afraid that if they tell me something’s wrong with me, that I won’t be able to get it out of my head and that I’ll be afraid forever. And I won’t really be able to deal with it.
Robert Strock: (07:17)
Now that led to several conversations where I was saying to him, come on you, you want to take advantage of Western medicine, especially if it’s something to do with your heart. And are you telling me you’re not strong enough internally to be able to say, ah, I need to take care of this, or I need you to explore this more, or ah, I don’t believe it, that you actually don’t have that internal strength. And he said, yeah, I actually am saying that to you. And down the line, he was put on beta blockers. And for two years he felt like he was dying. And I was saying to him repeatedly, this could be the beta blockers. I had tried beta blockers. And for those of you that don’t know what that is. You know, it’s a, it’s a hypertension drug. That’s very severe, really slows your heart down.
Robert Strock: (08:22)
And for some very sensitive people, it can make you feel dead. I used it one time and I felt dead. And so, I was saying, try to experiment with other hypertension drugs and talk to your doctor. Well, he was afraid to talk to his doctor for two years. Finally, after numerous conversations, he changed the medications and sure enough, he felt alive, he didn’t feel dead. The drugs still worked. So, it’s so important for us to de-idealize our teachers and recognize they’re human beings. And there may very well be something like this. And then I asked, would you be willing to share this? Because if you share this, this could help. So ,many people not just stay with the alternative healing when they have serious issues, which I’m sure those of us that are in any kind of spiritual traditions, we see how many alternative paths people pursue and how much they reject Western medicine, because they’ve had a bad experience because it hasn’t worked and how empowering it would be.
Robert Strock: (09:33)
And basically he wasn’t willing to do it. Now that led to me losing a level of respect and was part of why I had to move on. Even though he was the very best teacher for helping me be gentle and silent and asking me, how am I doing now? And really brought that out of me. Now, one of the things that he had tried to really encourage in me because he had visited, and this is one name I don’t mind mentioning because it’s so out in the public, John of God. And he had visited John of God a handful of times and would stay there for a month and talk about how peaceful and beautiful the vibe was, et cetera, et cetera. Well, just found out in the last couple of weeks, John of God has gone to jail because he was having hundreds of affairs and that there was extreme doubt about the surgeries that he had done as to whether they were really a hoax.
Robert Strock: (10:35)
So again, with, I don’t expect John of God to admit that, but, but maybe this other teacher would say, ah, I can put all this together and help so many people who are relying on just the alternative paths and how important it is to consider both. I’m happy to say that this teacher has finally embraced Western medicine and now is going to a doctor and at least has done it for himself, but still is not convey that to a students. Can you see how destructive, how maybe transformational this could be? If your teacher, your guide, your minister were to particularly reveal something that was your issue, and they led you to feel more okay with being human, with being afraid, with being, let’s say out of balance in some area of your life, having anger issues, whatever it might be and how they, how they dealt with it, what they learned from it and how incredibly beneficial this could be.
Robert Strock: (11:48)
If they were to model this as being an active being and an active teacher at the same time, I think we can pretty easily see that this kind of openness is rare with leaders in all kinds of fields, politics, sports, corporations, nations, entertainment, even though there are some hopeful trends, particularly I would say in sports and entertainment with Simone Biles, even Chris Cuomo in the, in the news field of admitting post COVID has deep depression. So, there are certainly people that are doing it, but we need to help sponsor that no matter what role we find ourselves in life. So, part of what we’re talking about, a big part of what we’re talking about is changing the ideal as a human being, whether we’re a teacher, minister, student, ordinary person, to be engaging in a healing process rather than having the ideal of arriving.
Robert Strock: (12:57)
This illusion of arriving in a state of peace is kind of like relying blindly on our parents as if they’re gods and the dangers again, of the compartmentalization and the utter evolutionary process of recognizing until we die, we are going to be human. And hopefully we’re also going to be having some values that are really beneficial to humanity. And if we can really lead ourselves to out ourselves and those most sacred guides that we have asking them to out themselves, the chances for our planet to really be able to have benefit because the unconscious won’t be leading them into alienation based on different traditions, based on different beliefs. And instead the sameness of all of us on the planet suffering to try to survive, trying to unite, trying to connect would become more obvious.
Robert Strock: (14:03)
And the dangers of idealization that can come either from the teacher at some level of needing it. But I frankly think it’s more on the students, more on us as students to see that we want to idealize, we want to believe that our teachers have arrived. So, we’re feeding that to them. So, we need to give them different food. We knew he needed to really say, hey, how about you sharing some of this other side of you? So maybe you could pause for a moment and ask yourself, where do you stand with this? Do you have the strength to be able to, with sincerity, not from a put down place, but with courage, humility, and sincerity, asking for this to occur. Do You think you’re ready? If you’re in a position where you have somebody that you could go to, and I hope this contemplation is something that will stay with you way beyond this podcast.
Robert Strock: (15:05)
So, it might be beneficial to ask yourself what would be the specific guidance that would have been, or would be the greatest benefit for you in particular, if your teacher were to share. Now, the answering of that question requires you to say, well, this is my biggest challenge. So, maybe your biggest challenge is avoiding medical doctors or not dealing with your anger or not dealing with being withdrawn or whatever your issue, anxiety, fear, not going to a psychiatrist and seeing whether you can get help with medication. What would really help you if your guide were to model this for you and you’d go, oh my God, what an amazing way for me to deal with this. I’m so grateful to be able to have my, my guide, my teacher, my minister, my priest, my rabbi model for me, exactly where my issues are and how I might move forward.
Robert Strock: (16:15)
Do you agree with this theme that the teachings almost always have a brilliance and almost always have some blind spots or limitations, but not always. Now, there are certainly teachings that are balanced. So, I’m not trying to say that this is so across the board, and we’re going to be giving examples throughout of some very balanced teachings as well. It’s probably helpful when you look at approaching your teacher to see what emotions come up and my experience is that it generally is a fear of rejection, a fear of being intrusive, feeling vulnerable, that you might get criticized or ex-communicated, you might feel inadequate, but whatever it is, identify that and see if you can taste the feelings and then see, does it make sense that I want to encourage myself? I want to find the strength. If I feel vulnerable, I want to find the courage.
Robert Strock: (17:33)
If I feel inadequate, I want to find my sense of adequacy. If I feel inadequate and bolster that inside yourself. And if you have avoided this, which certainly most of us have, ask yourself the question, do you really want to have your path lessen your ability to keep inquiring? What is my truest truth? Don’t you want to keep asking what is my truest truth, now use your own words. You don’t have to use my words, but don’t you believe that you being truest to yourself is really where you can be most fulfilled. So, another example of a spiritual teacher really not sharing their personal side is a teacher that had a tremendous amount of monks that they were supportive of. And there were multiple generations of supporting these monks and they’re in a very, very dangerous and perilous situation. And I’m not going to tell a location because I don’t want to give away the actual teacher itself because I have great respect for him.
Robert Strock: (19:01)
And he shared quite openly, which actually I appreciated on the one hand that he felt neurotic pressure, guilt, inadequacy, shame, was having trouble sleeping, because he felt such devotion to fulfill the sense of mission and really was not able to see that it wasn’t so much the devotion that caused those feelings. But actually it was like, we all feel it was a neurotic guilt. It was a neurotic feeling of inadequacy and shame and that if he could share that, that even he who’s so devoted and respected by so many people was suffering from not dedication, but this feeling that has a neurotic base. And how is he counteracting that? For example, it would have been very easy for me to see him say, oh, come on, you’re devoting yourself. You’re doing fundraisers, your life is completely devotional. You’re giving yourself a hard time because a young part of you is laying standards on yourself that are totally unreasonable. And if he could have shared that and came to that realization, how many people would that benefit that are only seeing the so-called spiritual side of themselves? And aren’t really able to identify what really are the challenging emotions and how they worked with them. So hopefully as we give these examples, you can see how much immense benefit you and others and the whole world could have. If these massive influential people lead with their human size.
Robert Strock: (21:11)
Now, a couple of good examples that still let’s say had a limitation, but the limitation was quite benign relative to the great goodness that they’re passing on. My very first teaching when I was 18 years old was really something that the teacher was charging $3 a class, and the whole premise was orchestrate your life around good desires and really line up good desires and see how you could orchestrate yourself toward goodness and let goodness itself really guide your life and see that down deep. Even our reactions have a form of desire. If we’re angry, let’s say a desire to hurt, or if we withdraw, we have a desire to withdraw, but if we can orchestrate ourselves around the desire for good, that was like a second childhood. For me, that was like such a gift to be able to have someone who was a school teacher who wasn’t materialistic, who was good-natured, he would greet you with what good has happened to you this week.
Robert Strock: (22:32)
And he was just really devoted to bring out the goodness in everybody that was there. I loved, I love this man. And I still love this man. He’s not alive anymore. And what happened was the limitation was that part of the teaching was only the good is real. And I would say to him, well, I can understand that if you’re saying, if we’re really living in the truth, only the good is real, but there certainly is a side of us that is not good. That is reacting out of an egocentricity and is creating harm and there’s murders and there’s wars. And he said, those aren’t real. And so, we had lots of discussions and that limitation, which revealed itself also with his relationship to his wife and his kids, where he was a good man. He was always fostering goodness, but she like most women and most people had a lot of emotions and he would just meet her kind of at this level of goodness.
Robert Strock: (23:41)
And she still loves his heart. But for that, the teachings were so severe in terms of not dealing with the emotional side of life that I needed to leave. And I actually asked him, would you be willing to just deal with me on a tonal level because I love your vibe. I love how good you are. And he said that the teachings would not allow him to modify the way he presented things, but it shows how grateful I was to just who he was as a human being. But still there was that limitation. So, there’s another teacher who had a pretty good following. And her way of teaching was to ask on a regular basis. Is that okay? No matter what you were feeling she would ask, let’s say, I feel really angry. And she would say, is that okay? And by penetrating there, she was dealing with how we have a tendency to just reject ourselves.
Robert Strock: (24:49)
And that rejection was utterly destructive. And if we can say, it’s okay, that I’m angry. It then naturally led to, well, how can I best take care of it? So, it was a profound teaching that really, I didn’t have any problem with it at all. It was, I did it as a 10-day group and she was teaching it as a process throughout the world. And there was nothing really I could find of significant fault because it was purely asking you to penetrate into no matter where you are. Is that okay? And when you, when you recognize that’s okay, then the natural one was, okay, now how can we best deal with it? And that was basically the essence of the teaching. It was beautiful. There was another one that was called the enlightenment intensive, where for many, many hours a day, 10 days in a row, you’d be asking 20 minutes at a time with, uh, with, with different partners.
Robert Strock: (25:56)
Tell me who you are and you go into, well you know I’m a therapist, I’m a, this, some of that. Then you gradually get bored because we’re talking about doing this for maybe oh 150 hours over 10 day period, and start to go into silence because you weren’t that interested in your mind’s thoughts and you start to say, well, my heart is sometimes open, sometimes closed. And it just helped you penetrate deeper and deeper and deeper into the essence of who you are, what matters to you, what really is important. And it also helped naturally move you into silence because your mind became boring. Again, this was a really, really valuable teaching. So, another great example of, of a teaching that really didn’t have what I would call major blind spots, but just simply was beneficial. Now there are a couple of other teachers and even a center where the, the teacher and the center are revealing parts of themselves, not all of the teachers, but some of the teachers are revealing parts of themselves.
Robert Strock: (27:16)
And I gravitated towards those teachers. And I gravitated toward this individual teacher where they were revealing challenges, where they were revealing, how they were using meditation to quiet themselves when that was there. And sometimes that led to spontaneous realizations of how they could best take care of themselves. And by doing that, they were integrating meditation and personal development. And for these teachers, again, I don’t have any tweakings or anything to say other than thank you for being exposed in my life. And one of my very earliest teachers, which perhaps is in my top five of all time would say, when you get together with your group of friends, sit together in a circle and open your heart as much as you possibly can and share everything that’s happening. Don’t hold back. Now, look for a group obviously that you most trust, but then respond with as much love as possible.
Robert Strock: (28:36)
And don’t so much give advice as much as ask questions. Like how can you best take care of yourself and let that keep evolving with your closest friends? And that’s creating a sense of spiritual, psychological integrative community. And that’s an option for all of us to really look at who are my closest friends. Can we, maybe we start off with a prayer. Maybe we start off with a meditation, which he would talk about starting off with an intention to bring love and truth out in the open. That’s what he would suggest, but whatever your tradition is, and you just sit with your closest friends and you do that again. I have absolutely nothing critical to say, and I wish that something akin to these last examples were integrated into virtually all the teachings. And so, in winding down in this episode, I hope you’re encouraged to reach out to whoever your spiritual religious leader is and ask them in a humble way, in a sincere way, in a way where you’re trusting yourself.
Robert Strock: (30:04)
And even if you are scared, ask them to share because you believe it would be beneficial and equally if they don’t do it, and you still find it valuable learn from inside yourself, that it’s healthy for you. Even if you end up splitting off into a group like this last example, and there are, there are plenty of good ways in which we can integrate ourselves. If we keep with that question, how do I really stay in my truest truth? How do I become my best self? And I think no matter whether we’re in a tradition or we’re in that group that we’ve talked about throughout the episodes where they don’t believe in traditions, they don’t believe in religion that we can stay with. How do I become the best human being I can possibly be and integrate both the challenges and these beautiful spiritual values. That that is truly my wish for all of us. It’s certainly my prayer for myself and hope that touches you and hope it leads you beyond this podcast. Thank you very much.
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