Some folks think attending a religious service (like confessing your sins and burdens to a priest) is similar to therapy. After all, they both are designed to help you come to terms with what is most essential in life. But while these two activities might sound similar in theory, what they offer people is very different.
There is a unique nexus between religion and psychology because both help you expand your quality of life, one way or another. Therapy encourages you to explore your feelings and, at its best, helps guide you to your core needs. The most astute religious leaders will encourage you to remain curious — about life, about the world, about the universe itself. This humble curiosity, this drive for mystery, and the questions you ask can help you look at the world in a new and different light.
For a religious teacher, leading their congregation toward loving their brothers and sisters is also a part of their vocation. As Robert explores in this episode of The Missing Conversation, mindfulness, compassion, and generosity are critical teachings in almost every religion in the world. The other side of the coin, therapy, can help people come to terms with their emotions and feelings by unpacking their emotional and behavior patterns to act as a guide to find their needs.
This, in turn, will help individuals reconnect with the world at large, and for some, this might be the motivation needed to expand how we contribute to society in a much broader sense. Both therapy and religion put together can help a person holistically improve themselves, allowing them to develop a deeper connection — with themselves and the world around them.
In his practice, Robert combines inquiry, tone of voice, and awareness of specific essential needs to learn the art of personal development for an individual’s heart and wisdom, and helps the individual stay true to their authentic beliefs.
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
The Missing Conversation, Episode 31.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
Nobody has immunity from life and death. Nobody that we know of, that we’ve seen evidence of in body, has proven the reality of life and doubts itself. So, I believe it’s very, very important that you and I stay in a level of not knowing.
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: (01:07)
A warm welcome again to The Missing Conversation where we do our very best to address the most pressing issues that the world’s facing today. And 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 continue to go more deeply into how we can add benefit to religions and spirituality as students, teachers, and ministers. The greatest potential lies for us focusing as human beings, especially on our values, thoughts, actions, and attitudes. So, to summarize what we’ve just shared in the introduction to The Missing Conversation with spirituality and religion, which by the way, could have just as easily been called The Missing Conversation with Students, Religious Ministers and the likes and Spiritual Teachers. We’re going to look at the key points. We’ve started to introduce number one, it’s so important with, or without teachings to focus on the most essential actions and attitudes.
Robert Strock: (02:41)
Number two, the importance of the challenges being shared by teachers, as a part of their teaching to transform the message, as a form of opening, learning, growing, and not so much on arriving, for compassion or full anything. Number three, growing in the right direction for the nonbelievers, as well, by facing their challenge and looking for healing qualities and actions. And sort of a short number four, we’ll come back to my father as being a great example of someone who really was a nonbeliever and was not someone who focused on his own challenges. I’ve painfully witnessed so many individuals in groups who felt we needed to keep our doubts and disagreements inside to be true to themselves and to fulfill their greatest potential. Hopefully, these episodes and the ones that have proceeded it, and the expose will validate that we might not be crazy or even disrespectful at all to share our truest truth and that almost all students, teachers and teachings have few areas of personal sharings of challenges and how to resolve them. This could involve any denomination of teachers, mindfulness practice, ministers, priests, gurus, sincere evangelists, or any approach to live a life of greater compassion and wisdom. And as we’ve mentioned, this could be true in reverse that we all still have bias against spiritual or religious teachings, and they are disqualified because in that group, many just view it as bullshit. And we are really asking, I am really asking that in that group that there’d be a greater openness to all religions, all faiths and unite, and that’s essential series of attitudes and actions.
You have mentioned the importance, the validity of both teachers expressing their vulnerability, what’s going on with them. And of course, students looking and seeing and asking questions as not only what you have talked about, a practitioner of meditation, a person with elements of all the things you’re describing, but you’re also a therapist. And can you help us understand the distinguishing feature of what they’re doing by expressing those things and how they will handle it and share with their parishioners or students or vice versa and going to a therapist?
Robert Strock: (06:22)
It’s a great question. And we’re on such the same wavelength. Almost every question you’re asking about is something I’m going to really emphasize later. But again, the real reason why it’s not just a ideal combination between therapy and religious teachings or for that matter, even the group of people that don’t believe that are acting and have attitudes that are heartfelt and beneficial to humanity is that therapy is really taught to be values neutral. It isn’t taught to revere and see as mental health, compassion, mindfulness, generosity of the world that’s considered to be laying a trip on a client. You’re taught to help the client to adjust to the world. And of course, I’m only talking about the healthier part of the population, not people that have serious mental health issues. So, it would be violating for 98% of therapists, the oath of staying relatively neutral and not guiding them to the values that spiritual traditions hold dear, where psychology can be incredibly helpful is in facing some of our challenges and adjusting to them well and having more self-esteem and more, a more satisfying life. But I would say fulfillment, inspiration, something out of the box that those are captured in spiritual traditions. So, you have kind of two compartments where one is teaching the essence of values and attitudes. And the other one is how do I adjust to the world so I can feel more okay about myself and feel better about myself and perhaps my relationship. And so it doesn’t really meld, as well as it would appear to.
Let’s get more specifically to you. And as you have said before, seeing yourself as a therapist, slash teacher, and I have to assume knowing you, and I don’t even have to assume, I know that that is not the kind of therapist, quote, you are. And are there more of those types of folks out there that straddle those two worlds or is that rare?
Robert Strock: (09:29)
Yeah, well, as I mentioned, when I said 98%, I was leaving room for the 2% and I do think I’m in the 2%, that absolutely would encourage everybody to go as I have throughout this series to their teachers and to see the values of therapy as being the same values, attitudes, and actions as spiritual teachings. I don’t see adjusting to this world that is so crazy in so many ways as being more than a little bit of help, you have an island that’s a little bit happier. You have an individual, or a couple that’s a little bit, getting along a little bit better, but they’re still in their orbits. They’re still not part of reaching to the greater world and that’s way better than nothing. But when it comes to really looking at the therapist’s role in going beyond that, yeah, there are 2%, and maybe I’m wrong it’s 5%.
Robert Strock: (10:38)
I’m not trying to be scientifically accurate when I ballpark a percentage. Um, but it is a very small minority of therapists that absolutely are trying to a teach the same values, same attitudes, same actions, and would encourage people to be more persevering and to trust themselves and to be true to their own face and mirroring their best selves and rather than trying to help them adjust to the world. So, it can be helpful even though this might seem incredibly intuitively obvious to realize that one of the main reason for a large percentage of our seeking these paths includes trying to deal with our feelings of impermanence. And when I say our feelings of impermanence, I mean, both the recognition that we’re gonna die, the recognition that nobody’s really talking about what the outcome is except for our spiritual teachers and religious teachers. And many of us have seen the fallout in so many traditions and almost every tradition that it leaves us in a quandary. So, there are many people who are wrestling with, what is death? Is there an afterlife? Is there a heaven? Are we dust to dust? What’s the truth.
Robert Strock: (12:32)
And this is incredibly natural, given that to the best of my knowledge, we all find ourselves in a body and don’t know for sure how we got here. Now some of us might have a belief that, oh, I came from a past life it’s obvious and they may even believe their belief is a knowing, is a certainty. Now I happen to be one, then unless I can manifest my body in the next room, or take a vacation without using transportation, or have visitation from my ancestors that are crystal clear and aren’t vague or aren’t intuitive, then I’m not sure. And again, one of the points will be differentiating down. The line is distinguishing between faith-belief and absolutely knowing for sure. And how do we deal with that split inside of ourselves. Now I want to ask you, is it not true for you too? That you’re not absolutely sure how you got here.
Robert Strock: (13:49)
And I’m saying that was a smile holding back a laugh if anyone thinks, oh, no, I know for sure, this is how I got here and not knowing how we got here or for that matter where we’re going for sure. Isn’t that really important? I remember my childhood 6, 7, 8 years old being like many kids at six or seven years old asking question after question of what does this mean, that grandpa went, you know, went somewhere and is no longer here. Where is he? What does it mean that my dog died? What the hell does that mean? And it was like, I was from a foreign lane, land speaking, uh, a stupid language. One that no one was talking about. No one, one that almost no one was interested in, or the couple of people that I talked to, which in that case in those early days would have been rabbis.
Robert Strock: (14:59)
A few years later, they had absolute answers, but I didn’t feel any resolution. In fact, in my earlier years, I would go to sleep and I would wonder on almost a nightly basis, pardon the expression, what the fuck, we’re living in a world and nobody knows how we got here. This is mysterious as hell. And this mystery is more interesting than at least to me, much more interesting than school, much more interesting than success. And it’s not that I didn’t want to be successful. Not that I haven’t been successful, but it was deeply secondary to trying to find out what’s the nature of life and death. And what’s the purpose in living here? How do we find that out?
Robert Strock: (15:53)
Now, one of the things that I’ve noticed, especially in the spiritual and religious world is something that’s normally called spiritual bypassing. And I’ve used the word since I was about 20, of premature transcendence, but the same meaning. And that is that we block these questions with pat beliefs. And that could be a belief in heaven or hell, or it could be a belief in dust to dust or fatalism. And then it has a period and all the questions that are so alive. And frankly, I believe leads you to a common identification with everybody else because you realize everybody else is in the same boat. Nobody has immunity from life and death. Nobody that we know of, that we’ve seen evidence of in body, has proven the reality of life and death itself. So, I believe it’s very, very important that you and I stay in a level of not knowing.
Robert Strock: (17:15)
And this, this is a very inspired state to keep questioning, to stay curious and to keep a certain amount of mandatory humility rather than false confidence. Now, I wonder as I speak these words, does that hit you in a, in a good space? It actually makes me want to say something that I think I, I, I have set to repeat later on where one of my dearest, who’s a Christian minister, his wife said to me, if Jesus turns out to be a fraud, I want to be the last one to know. And I just laughed my ass off. I thought that was one of the most sincere, uh, and quite shocking, honest moments of someone. And I believe that that is the general consensus, mostly on an unconscious level, or if it’s conscious, it’s privately held close to the vest. So, when one really believes that they know they don’t need to deal with the challenges or more accurately, they don’t think they do so they don’t have to be afraid or unsure or angry or helpless or anxious at the same level consciously.
Robert Strock: (18:52)
Now I happen to believe in the therapeutic side of me, that it all goes to the unconscious. Nobody escapes it. It just makes those people more dangerous because they’re more righteous. They’re more certain, they’re more likely to judge others as being the non-believers, the faithless. And that’s why it’s important that we respect the fact that we really don’t have proof. And when we’re asked to have faith, I do have faith. It’s just a faith. If I’m going to get arithmetic, again is 80% of me, but I still have 20% that doesn’t know. And I’m hoping that a lot of you identify with that and are eager to hear where are we going with this? How are we really going to isolate the most healthy integration, inspiration, and life purpose, not only to explore life and death, but also what are the implications, if we’re all in the same boat, whether we’re black, white, red, yellow, brown, we’re all in the same boat, we’re all facing the same dilemma.
Robert Strock: (20:20)
And we all conscious or unconscious, have to face the feelings associated with this. This is part of why it becomes obvious or close to obvious that focusing on universal actions and attitudes is the common denominator. And I’ve mentioned before these actions and attitudes are rooted in unity, interconnection, inclusiveness, empathy, honesty, integrity, and for a full list in the Introspective Guides on awarenessthatheals.org. There’s a list of 75 of those that are something that I aspire to and know well that I will never arrive fully at any of them. But when you stay in the humility of not knowing it does have a tendency to lead you to, well, then what in the hell matters if I’m going to be successful for 80 years and then die, is my success more important than my ultimate fate. And even if my ultimate fate turns out to be life, you know, dust to dust, don’t I still want to make my life be something that’s going to be beneficial to others.
Robert Strock: (21:59)
Now, of course, the answer to many people is now I want to just take care of myself and my family. That’s the more common answer. But my view is with the humility of not knowing, it actually helps identify with every part of humanity. So, we’re at the end point of the introduction and about ready to penetrate into nine very important key questions that will allow you to be empowered, to be more of your true self, no matter which camp you find yourself in, my best effort is to not let my identifications limit any starting point that you are in. And we’re going to be asking questions and giving suggestions, asking you to be yourself, to really look at things from specific angles. So, in the next episode, we’re going to be asking more from ourselves and our spiritual and religious leaders to be in communication and to reveal the challenges and not to have it be largely one dimensional. And I hope that being one of the central themes that you leave this episode with an inquiry. I frankly hope you leave every episode with an inquiry that matters most to you. To be most true to yourself, most true to your heart, and hopefully has an influence of being beneficial to the world. Thank you very much.
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