How can religious and spiritual leaders connect with their congregation on a human level? (STR) – Episode 32

How can religious and spiritual leaders connect with their congregation on a human level - Episode 32When we look up to someone, often, we tend to place them on a pedestal. We may do this unknowingly, or we may do it because that person behaves in a way that is far from us. Today, as spiritual teachers embody and share tenets of the original teachings, there’s a need for them to go beyond simply listening and responding to their followers.

Whether it’s medication, meditation, or anything else, we all depend on more than divinity and enlightenment to take care of ourselves. Robert and Dave point out that when leaders are open, honest, and vulnerable, it gives others a glimpse into their humanness. It allows students to relate better to their teachers and understand how to approach similar problems in their lives. This act of vulnerability also allows others to see how to intertwine personal spiritual guidance and external help to get through difficult moments.

If you’re a leader or teacher, take a moment to think about how you let your congregation identify with you? Do you include them, or do you not give them a chance to share their support and help? How do you express your challenges to yourself before you share them with the world? What are the steps you’re taking to help yourself through it? The answers to these questions will help you understand how much your congregation has the potential to relate to you. You will connect with them better when they relate to you on your core emotional level.

At the same time, as followers and believers, we must ask for what we need from our leaders and teachers. Being direct in our values and asking questions that encourage our teachers or ministers to share their human experience can help us in our greatest time of need. It also could help us gain self esteem that we could help those teachers and guides who are helping us. At the same time we can stay true to our authentic beliefs no matter what they are while seeking help or insights. Instead of being passive listeners, we would likely benefit enormously by being active participants so that we can share our true selves through our actions and our attitudes. 

Over time, your authentic beliefs, your understanding and connection to your teachers, and your ways of taking care of yourself in difficult moments will help you naturally expand your quality of life. This, in turn, might encourage you to be more supportive of humanity and the world at large — which, after all, also includes you and your loved ones.

Mentioned in this episode
The Global Bridge Foundation

Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast

Announcer: (00:01)
The Missing Conversation, Episode 32.

Robert Strock: (00:05)
How many times have you heard your teachers and religious guys disclose their own challenges in an attempt to help you deal with yours?

Announcer: (00:19)
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: (00:57)
Thank you very much for joining us again at The Missing Conversation where we address the most pressing issues that the world is facing. And when we look for the most practical, inspiring programs and innovative ideas to support a greater chance of survival for our planet. Today, we’re going to stay focused on one question that we’ve touched on in the introduction that I believe could help change the way religion and spirituality and the traditions are taught. And that it might help a much needed integration of spirituality, religion, and facing our human sides and thereby foster a greater healing potential for ourselves in the world. So, the statement is asking more from ourselves and our spiritual and religious teachers and leaders. How many times have you heard your teachers and religious guys disclose their own challenges in an attempt to help you deal with yours? Wouldn’t you find it helpful if your teachers offered personal examples of where they’re challenged and how you could use the teachings to serve the greater well-being of yourself and also help by extension the rest of the world. We can, and I believe we should, look at the responsibility from both our teachers and ourselves. This is something that we touched on earlier with Dave and one of the questions and comments that he made. And as we drill down further, the issues we’ve raised are, or include, we explore the need to idealize from ourselves as a student, and to help us feel safe and secure, not to experience our fear, our rejection and anxieties.

Robert Strock: (03:29)
Second point is the same for teachers. Perhaps they have a need to be idealized and be on a pedestal or to feel secure both in the world and with their students. Third one is, is it that the teachers believe that the students need a hero or an awake one to be inspired. Now you’ll find that third one, actually all of them, have been answers to what the teachers have told me. A fourth area is it might be helpful to ask ourselves, have we thought of it? And are we just treating our teachers as gods, like adult parents to be innocently and treated naive really, as if it’s true, this may be conscious. This may be unconscious, probably unconscious. And do we really believe our teachers have arrived at a clear, clear place? And I use two clears because I don’t mean somewhat clear. I mean, all clear, as generally presented, so much so that we aspire to be like them. That is either absolutely clear or close to it.

Robert Strock: (04:56)
And finally, do we even think these are good and important questions to ask ourselves or our teachers and from the teacher side, and this is informed by conversations, I’ve had that you’ll see later, but many examples of many intimate conversations. Is it because this is the way I was taught in India, Burma, Thailand, or Nepal, is it because they believe that they are in the same state of the Buddha or Jesus. Now not many have claimed that, but it’s more like it’s habit and belief. That’s, that, that is what either the teachers that have taught them want, or that that’s what the students want. And again, similar to what we touch with Dave, to the teachers consciously or unconsciously, believe they need to be on a pedestal for themselves, or maybe they believe the students need someone to believe in.

Robert Strock: (06:08)
There are three teachers that are prominent that have revealed this in private lunches. My experience about these and other questions will be revealed as I share the many conversations and I will be inviting you to join them. Now, one of them, which is particularly poignant and on the theme of this podcast, is one of the more well-known teachers in the United States had very severe back pain. And I only know about this because I was close enough and I had a very close friend that was a best friend. And the back pain that they had was so bad that led to suicidal feelings. And it went on for months and he was in isolation. There was no sharing with the community. And I found this to be tragic. Now I’d ask you to look at your own life right now and see if you’re dealing with any kind of pain.

Robert Strock: (07:22)
And certainly, you know, you’re going to be dealing with pain and how valuable might it be if your teacher said, when I’m in pain, this is how I relate to doctors. This is how I relate to medication. This is how I relate to meditation is how I relate to prayer. This is how I relate to friendship. This is how I relate to what I eat. This is how I relate to how I exercise that they gave you the hint of what worked. This didn’t work that, that worked, this works. Sometimes these are thoughts I told myself that were most helpful. Maybe thoughts, like, I’m sorry, you have to go through this. Maybe it’s empathic thoughts, but the key is again and again, and apply this to yourself. Perhaps they needed more medical attention or medications. And if they would have shared that with their friends or you, maybe yet that will lead you to be more open to medications, because there are so many people that are either on the addictive end of the spectrum or on the spectrum of phobic. And that could be toss, which end of the spectrum are you on it, depending on whether you over here or over here, this is what I recommend

Dave: (08:47)
As you speak, what occurs to me is like any relationship. And I asked myself, as you speak, who taught them what was disclosed to them by their teacher and the odds are, and, and some traditions for generations, hundreds or more years, it’s been taught that you don’t do this, that you really don’t take that position of sharing your personal at all. And it also occurs to me that particularly, uh, in certain traditions, uh, that they feel they’re channeling the tradition they feel they are speaking for, or that they are a vehicle to be spoken through from the original and also preventing them from any kind of vulnerability. Because, of course, from their view, there is no vulnerability back there. And it is like a parent/child, it is like we see in psychology. And as you, as you know, I know, you know, uh, as a therapist and seeing this passed down from generation, generation to generation, I wonder about that.

Robert Strock: (10:12)
I think your point is absolutely right on. I actually think it was a statement more than a question, uh, in the majority of cases that the answers have been. That’s the way we were taught, you know, Thailand, Burma, India, that none of their teachers saw it beneficial to share the challenges. And frankly, it makes me wonder, I don’t, I’m not saying I know this, it makes me wonder whether, was this really also true for the original teacher or perhaps maybe they really did reach a transcendent state where for them it wasn’t necessary. But to me that still doesn’t make sense because if they’re transcended, they know we’re still caught. So, I don’t believe it makes sense to exclude the human side of us. Even if there is an individual that’s reached an enlightened state. Now, sometimes I play with myself, pardon the expression, and think, well, gee, how would I be if I was enlightened?

Robert Strock: (11:19)
And what I come up with is, God, I hope I don’t forget the human side. I sure hope I don’t fall prey to just teaching about what it’s like to be enlightened. And that I joined the experience of the people that I’m with. And I find it hard to fathom that, even though what I think you’re saying is completely true in a large percentage of the situations that the teachers don’t go, you know what that was true 3,000 years ago, cause psychology didn’t exist. Identifying human emotions didn’t exist, identifying distorted thoughts or psychological complexes didn’t exist. And so, it was valid then and they may or may not have had in their expanded wisdom access to that. But they probably would have recognized that giving them the benefit of the doubt that even though they realized that nobody else was gonna realize that they started talking about fear, they would have looked weak and people would have exaggerated it.

Robert Strock: (12:27)
Perhaps, I can give them the benefit of the doubt. But as the pass down goes on, just like in America, when you have slaves and you, you kill innocent people and the constitution ignores it, it’s time for the constitution to be adjusted. Yeah. If we’re threatened with democracy going down, we have to fortify, whatever is needed to stabilize the democracy. Similarly, if we see religion compartmentalizing from actions and attitudes, we need to make adaptations and adjustments. If there is a limitation of the teaching, then that’s fine. Then say, I want you all to know that it’s important that you find a way to deal with the human challenges of life, because we’re not going to do that. I’m okay with that. That would be much better than nothing.

Dave: (13:30)
Are, and I’ve I, I have, uh, again, we’re not mentioning names, but there are teachers that have their story about being saved about, yeah, I was, I had a human side of me before, or I had an enlightenment experience and their story is one from moving from the human to the divine where that no longer is the case. And so, they feel different to me. They feel like they have an element where okay, I can identify with what you’re going through, even though I’m no longer there anymore.

Robert Strock: (14:09)
Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a very good point and a very good distinction that I haven’t made, which is that there are quite a few teachers that will talk about their problems 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, not only the ones that are enlightened, but even the ones that are, that are just ordinary teachers and they consider that being vulnerable. But my experience is now, I don’t think I’m worse off than most people, but my experience is I have challenges every week and usually every day and I have to decide, do I express it this way? Do I express it that way? What’s my tone of voice. You know, how much am I in reaction? How much is my ego being channeled? How much of my unconscious, all of these are critical questions. So, it’s hard to imagine genuinely being a teacher and unless you’re out of devotion to a prior teacher, not wanting to include it because I believe any good teacher will see a critical part of the practice, for sure, as dealing with their own challenges.

Robert Strock: (15:28)
Well, and that’s separate from going public with it. So, I do believe that most, most teachers that are high quality teachers do have a way of dealing with challenges. That’s giving the benefit of doubt. And probably would be more accurate to say, I don’t know, cause I haven’t, I haven’t gone into that depth enough to know whether it’s fleeting or whether it’s stable. But certainly my experience is that none of us escape out of this world without having at least weekly challenges, if not daily, and for many people, it’s minute to minute, as their chemistry’s off or this or that. And for those people, they deserve the most credit to, if they’re moving toward attitudes and actions that are beneficial to other people. Now, if you’re in a situation where you’re not going to get it from your tradition, but you still like your tradition more than anything else you found in your life, then I’m giving a strong encouragement to pursue trying to find a therapist and be directive with your therapist.

Robert Strock: (16:42)
Just as we’re talking about being somewhat directive with your, with your teacher or counselor or your minister, be directive and say, I believe in these values and I want you to help me in this way. This is what I would consider to be adjusting the world, too many therapeutic students or clients treat their therapists like they’re gods. And they don’t reveal all of their feelings. This is the same issue there. So especially if you’re going to go to a therapist or a guide or any kind of a psychic, a healer, a body worker, the talks you’re going to want to reveal what it is that you’re wrestling with a friend, and really try to find the way to develop in the area that your challenged, this will support a much more humble attitude. And as I use in, in the Awareness That Heals and podcasts and guided meditations, developing a friendly mind, which is, the importance of, when you’re challenged, being able to develop a mind that guides you, sometimes call it wisdom, mind that guides you to, how can I best take care of myself, even when I feel like crap and learning how to do that.

Robert Strock: (18:18)
And one thing that’s important to know that there’s a great limitation in getting help when you want to rough it out alone and you can’t ask for help. And there are a lot of people who delude themselves that well, no, I take care of this myself. I do it my own way, or I do it through prayer, I do it through meditation and there’s almost unilaterally a grandiosity and thinking any of us can do it on our own. We’re all human. We’re all going to be benefited by looking for people that are wiser than ourselves that we can receive help from. And oftentimes the truer reality that’s going on at that time is that the individual can’t admit the suffering and ask, how can I best take care of myself and model this for others by being potentially a more open human being. They, they, aren’t going to get to that question. Now, where does this come from?

Robert Strock: (19:37)
Frequently we’re taught sometimes indirectly, and sometimes directly, certainly not to challenge the teachings or the teacher. So, asking the kinds of questions that we have become a sort of taboo or a sign of resistance, and maybe even worse. We’re caught in our ego we’re really betraying the faith. Maybe we’re threatening being, ex-communicated, being seen as an undeveloped student or seeker, he of little faith. I’m sure you’ve noticed that many teachers rarely ask you to look inside at your own sense of integrity or conscience when you disagree with them or the teachings. But instead they ask you to adopt the views that they are extolling. Now I think of and experienced the day that I shared, that was a very primal experience. And I was asked to be a group leader and the group leaders were usually given permission to decide, well, what’s the group that you would like to do.

Robert Strock: (21:03)
And so I said, well, I’d like to do a group based on what are the, what are the doubts that you have about this teacher that are most significant to you and talk it through, talk about the pluses and minuses. Talk about how you could convey that in this community. And you would not believe the horror on the face of my supervisor and the ridicule, rejection, sarcasm that came my way. It was in one way, now I look at it with almost a sort of pride, but at the time I guarantee you, my body got hot and I, and I felt I was endangered. And so, it was with great price that I said that now. Needless to say, they said, no, no chance. Matter of fact, we’re not even sure we want you as a group leader anymore. So, I was a group leader for another three weeks and then I was out and there was no doubt about it.

Robert Strock: (22:15)
Well, that probably would be a common experience. Now, I wasn’t out of the community, and I didn’t make any further statements, but I had to withhold at that point, a certain amount of anger, frustration, difference of views. I even mentioned that, wait a minute, the teacher talks about this as being an important part. Yeah. Teacher talked about, if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him, and if his trust was strictly an inner quality, it had nothing to do with the outside. So, I relayed all that to my supervisor and they were looking at me like, oh, you poor pathetic fool. You know, to think that you’re going to be questioning the teachings. Sometimes this dynamic can be relatively benign. So, it might be much more subtle. You’re asking a question about something like, gee, you generally tell me to meditate no matter what, but sometimes it doesn’t work for me. What would you suggest? Or more often than not, it’s going to be questions that are not threatening to the main teaching itself, but even that requires courage because you’re basically saying what you’re telling isn’t working for me, but you’re not saying I’m going to throw out the whole ball of wax and throw out the baby with the bath water. You’re saying this particular piece isn’t working.

Robert Strock: (23:59)
So, in virtually all these cases where you’re true to yourself, it’s going to be part of your own development. And it’s going to allow you to trust yourself that your sincerity, your view, your deepest and best life that you can see living is being expressed and what more could any of us do. And so, my wish strongly is that we all view that as being our most essential challenge when we’re in a spiritual community, religious community, or in our own integrity and caring that we look for the way to be our best selves and not stay necessarily in our own little box of beliefs or non-beliefs.

Dave: (25:13)
I just want to amplify one thing you said, and I, I had to smile when you talked about doing a group based upon the doubts that the people in the community would have at the same time, the, the garden variety concerns. And again, over the years that were expressed, at least personally, we’re all okay. As long as they could be interpreted, as you need to correct this about yourself, as part of our community. And I would accept that meditation is not working for me. Okay, what do I need to change about me? Not challenging what is the teaching offering? That is a problem generically. And generally that was, that was off limits. And I, and I think that’s, that’s part of the point.

Robert Strock: (26:07)
Yeah, it’s a very important, subtle truth it’s, it’s kind of like a, what we might call an undeveloped parent, who, it makes me think of a colleague of mine who had a client come in and she said, oh, my six-year-old daughter, you know, she is just so needy, it’s off the wall, you know? So, she said, well, what, well, tell me about her. She comes home from school, she opens the door, and she wants a hug right away. And she, she wants to tell me what’s gone on during their classroom. And it became obvious to my colleague that the parent was the problem. And in the end, because it was obvious that the mother was going to drop out of counseling, it was not going to let this go on. Although the therapist was smart enough to catch that and not confront her too much, because she would have been out the first session if she did.

Robert Strock: (27:21)
And she wanted to help the child because she realized the child was really the client, the mother was really the obstacle. So, she asked to have an individual session with a six year old. And the six-year-old was very bright, very sensible, very sensitive, loving. So, she told the child, I want you to know this is going to be the last time I see you. And you can’t tell your mother this, if you do, you’re probably going to get in trouble. You can, if you feel like you have to, but I’m recommending you don’t, but your beautiful, your wise and your mother has some problems and that’s going to be challenging for you. But from what I can see, you’re actually more developed than your mother. And you’ll do what you do, but I want you to know, I love you. I trust you.

Robert Strock: (28:22)
You’re a beautiful kid. And she gave her some of the details to help her understand how natural it was to open the door, want to hug, to want to share her day and how unnatural, and that her mother had suffered, her mother had been abandoned. Her mother had been abused. And that, that in simple childlike language, she said, your mother has had a rough background, so she’s not able to be there in a way that you deserve. Well, in the same way, what you’re describing Dave is exactly, maybe not as dramatic, but in the same way in degree, the mother or the teacher in those situations is not going to look inside and say, well, gee, maybe the teaching needs to expand. Maybe I need to expand, or maybe I need to refer out this person because maybe we aren’t covering it. So, it’s a great way to end this show to really highlight how important it is for us not to lose trust in ourselves, but also not to be passive, not to be unmotivated, to be our best selves and to bring that out in relationship to whether we’re a non-believer or a believer and to just keep activating.

Robert Strock: (29:51)
What’s my true self. What’s my true self. What do I really believe? And how do I do this sensitively and how do I bring this into my actions and my attitudes, and keep expanding throughout my life in a way that’s natural for me to be more supportive of the world around me. That includes me as well.

Robert Strock PhoitoJoin The Conversation
If The Missing Conversation sounds like a podcast that would be inspiring to you and touches key elements of your heart, please click subscribe and begin listening to our show. If you love the podcast, the best way to help spread the word is to rate and review the show. This helps other listeners, like you, find this podcast. We’re deeply grateful you’re here and that we have found each other. Our wish is that this is just the beginning. 

We invite you to learn more about The Global Bridge Foundation—an organization collaborating to heal communities and the world at
Visit our podcast archive page

 Be Part Of The Solution

Receive the latest news from The Missing Conversation Podcast that highlights leaders in the fields of Psycho-Politics, Agricultural Restoration, and Alternative Housing for the homeless.

Scroll to Top