Join Robert in the final episode of the series regarding spirituality and religion. TMC continues to discuss the role of certainty in our religions and spiritual paths. Robert shares many of his own personal stories with his teachers to highlight some minor and major ways in which he experienced the dangers of certainty. How in many cases, the rigidity and demand for full compliance within the group ultimately led him to turn away from the communities themselves. While you listen, perhaps his experiences resonate with your own. You may begin to ask yourself, how much freedom do you feel you have to add your wisdom to whatever approach you are embarking on?
A power dynamic is created when a leader takes on an almost superhuman quality and does not allow space for humanness and vulnerability. This can translate into anything as benign as the teacher appearing to have it all together or something much more dangerous such as sexual impropriety. You could hold the keys for your community to go to them and say, I would really like you, as a teacher, to be willing to share the human side of yourself. This image of togetherness or a persona of certainty of well-being is not beneficial to the planet because it makes us all try to seek a state of certainty rather than recognize we are all human no matter how spiritual we are. Robert envisions a new representation of teachers who would be vulnerable enough to share what their suffering is and thereby encourage us to openly and safely address our own.
Mentioned in this episode
The Global Bridge Foundation
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The Missing Conversation, Episode 52.
Robert Strock: (00:03)
The reason why this episode is so important is you have the capacity to bring the human element into, or at least to make an attempt, to bring the human element into your congregation.
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: (00:55)
Thanks again for joining us at The Missing Conversation where we do our best to address the most pressing issues the world’s facing today and where we look for the most practical, inspiring programs and innovative ideas to support a greater chance of survival for our planet. So, in the last episode, we ended with a place that I’d like to begin again, which is to have you reflect on whatever path you are on, and look at what degree of certainty is being presented to you, and how much you have ideas or you think others might have ideas that would better serve the planet or better serve you. And see how much do you feel like you have encouragement and permission to respond with what would be beneficial? And don’t have a certainty that you’re supposed to be compassionate, you’re supposed to have pure faith, you’re supposed to be loving,
Robert Strock: (02:13)
you’re supposed to have an understanding of the truth. And it’s so important to ground yourself to see the dangers of certainty and the benefits of having, uh, maybe something unquestionably the greatest value of your life. But that doesn’t mean it’s all of you and looking at how much it might be beneficial to have it presented as this is what our approach is, and we’re open to adding other things. So, it’s viewed as an evolution and as an inclusion, not only to what you might think, but to the greater world and how much freedom do you feel you have and how much freedom do you feel you have had to add your wisdom to whatever the approach is. And I’m going to share in this final episode of The Missing Conversation regarding spirituality and religion, a number of experiences that I’ve had with approaches, most of which have had elements of certainty that have made it impossible for me to continue with it, and don’t have this added element of best gift of life.
Robert Strock: (03:47)
And what else do you have to say that it’s kind of a, either a blasphemy or just simply not inclusive of anything that you might have to add now, as I did, in the last episode, I’m gonna start with a couple examples that were really in the early stages of my spiritual seeking in the late sixties. And the first teacher was a very, very simple man who taught at Whittier High School and charged us $3 per class. And basically I, I made reference to him before in other, in one other episode, but basically he was orienting us toward identifying the desires we had that were good, that were trying to reinforce goodness toward ourselves, goodness, toward our, our family, goodness, toward our friends, goodness toward the world. And there was an emphasis that only the good is really what matters, but actually the way it was presented was only the good is real.
Robert Strock: (05:04)
And as I believe I mentioned in a prior episode, I got into a, a fairly strong conversation with him and saying, well, I can understand that only the good is real in the reality of truth, but certainly there’s a lot that’s not good in the world, in my inner world, in the, in everybody’s inner world. And he went, no, none of those are real. If you stay with the truth, then only the goodness will manifest by saying, well, what about people that are, that are babies that are going on an airplane and the, and the, and the plane crashes. How do you say that only the good is gonna manifest when these kind of tragedies happen? You know, and it was the same kind of answer of, well, we can’t really understand everything, um, but only the good is real. So, I wanted to try to stay with the very essence of that teaching because it was like a second childhood for me.
Robert Strock: (06:06)
Not that my childhood was terrible, but, but it was an upgrade where there was really just such a heart-based element there and a reorientation. And I said, would you be willing to let me hire you individually? You know, it, wasn’t too hard to, when he’s charging $3 an hour, would you be willing to let me hire you individually? Just because I wanna stay around your vibe, just the goodness of who you are. You know, he would meet us every week and say, what good has happened to you this week? That would be sort of his classic line. And he said, well, I can’t do that because it’s against the rules of the tradition that we were following. So, the tradition you had to buy it hook, line, and sinker and in the end they even diagnosed illness, as to if you had a kidney disease, this is the reason what you’re doing wrong.
Robert Strock: (07:01)
If you’re going bald, like me. I’m not going bald, I am bald. But if you’re going bald like me, then, then this is what’s happening, it’s, it’s this issue. And I just said, I can’t, I can’t buy it. I was on the verge of becoming a, a teacher in that tradition at 23, after five years of being involved, I just, it felt like a complete hypocrite. So that was an example of a great gift and the certainty of the approach. Even though there wasn’t an arrogance on the part of the teacher, he actually was humble enough, but he also wasn’t really somebody that shared any of his emotional, uh, life with his wife, with his kids, with his students. So, it was clearly a place I needed to move on, deeply regretfully. And that’s at a very similar time within a year overlapping I had another teacher that was the second most impactful teacher through all my years of being able to help me with my inner life and still had a, a, a strong element of certainty, but not complete certainty, but everybody in the group had to have long hair, be a beard, have a beard, you know, nobody was going to college.
Robert Strock: (08:23)
It was kind of a combination of, of hippie. Um, and, and really before hippies, beatniks. Uh, so it was, it was that kind of situation, but there was an element of certainty and approach. And when, when I attempted to, again, insert, well, why, why, you know, why aren’t you open to coming to off, off the farm where you are and teach in, in other communities, there was no receptivity. And there was just a, a sense of either you were gonna join the farm or you weren’t part of the group. And I was not a farm boy at that point. And so, I ended up having to leave, but I left with incredible gifts of permission to share parts of my heart that were, uh, kept more private. I was able to see elements of my psychology that were undeveloped, uh, and I was able to really orient around a certain compassion and faith and meditation and prayer that were all beneficial.
Robert Strock: (09:34)
Now, those were the couple good examples. There was another teaching that, again, we mentioned in a prior episode where both Dave and I were involved, where it was literally the most brilliant teacher that I’ve ever come across, who was able to be Lao Tzu or Jesus or Buddha. And I could go on and on with the amount of teachers that I had never even heard of. And he would go 10 days in a row where he would give discourse and be able to be that teacher. And it was so brilliant that I learned something every time. And he was the one that I referred to in the last episode, who basically was saying, if you doubt the teacher, then come, come to the teacher and tell them your doubts. Don’t, don’t rely on believing anyone else. Trust is an inner quality that you must savor. And if you trust something, don’t give up your trust to your teacher, come forward with your truth.
Robert Strock: (10:40)
However, in the real world, he was not into that at all. And in fact, he turned out to be not known to the large group of people that were living in this 3,000 person community. And he turned out to be grandiose, mega-manically narcissistic, and very, very disturbed person psychologically, but was able to be the greatest orator I’ve ever heard. And he was certain that he was a representation of a modern-day Buddha and Jesus. And at the same time, there were sexual stories that he was involved with. There were stories that were involved with the law. There were stories with all kinds of corruption that went going on behind the scenes. Now, the correlation between absolute certainty and a certain kind of perversion is what I’m really trying to convey today. In this portion of the episodes, there was another teacher who was even more well-known, who was in the United States and had a, has a university, great meditation teacher, great teacher, a lot of wisdom, you know, that that form of teachings in the Buddhist community was referred to as crazy wisdom.
Robert Strock: (12:12)
That was sort of the, the word that would represent these kinds of teachers. And he was somebody that when he died, he passed on the teaching to somebody else. And this teacher had AIDS. And his, his view was that he didn’t need to, to have any kind of protection. He didn’t even need to let people know when he was having sex with some of his students, but because it was their karma. And as far as he was concerned that it was, it was all a spiritual world. And if, if it was their karma, then it was just natural for them to be able to sort it out. And again, there was such a sense of certainty, and I’m not trying to convey that these are the common elements of most spiritual approaches, but I am trying to convey that the ones that have the greatest certainty are highly correlated to the ones that are most crazy.
Robert Strock: (13:21)
And that doesn’t mean that they aren’t also the most brilliant. So, it’s very, very important to get our mind around the fact that if you’re in an approach that has great certainty, you better keep your eyes wide open. Even minor levels of certainty is a problem, but complete certainty that’s a big problem. Another example of a teacher that was relatively more benign was my last significant teacher who had a tenderness that was greater than any man or woman I had ever met. So, he would largely reflect privately on a one-on-one. He would say to me, something along the lines of how is it now, and it would be a continuous inquiry of what my present experience was mixed with his love and tenderness. And it was absolutely beautiful. And so, I was left with that as an implant, as a part of me, that I’ll be forever grateful for.
Robert Strock: (14:30)
However, he went on to be teaching about realms of existence that seemed so far-fetched that I would say continuously, because I was fortunate enough to be close with him, that I had a private relationship as well as a public relationship to say, would you please eliminate all of these forays into worm holes and other parts of the universe and being out of the body, et cetera, et cetera. Unless you can be outta the body in front of me, I don’t even want to hear about it. And so we, we had a, a kind of a fun, playful relationship where I think he thought he was being flexible with me. And I thought I was being flexible with him. So that was a more benign version of it. Another more benign version of it was a, a teacher at USC that was the teacher of the year, year after year after year, that did a class on love.
Robert Strock: (15:32)
And he was a, a sort of a hugging, loving, affectionate, special education teacher at USC. And one day in the middle of class, he said, you know, would you like to come over to my house? So I said, sure, and I was really honored. It was like a, a really, it was a great gift cuz I, I really, I would say, honestly, I loved him and he came over and we listened to classical music and then suddenly, um, maybe not suddenly, but suddenly in a gradual way, he kind of leaned over and laid a kiss on me. And I was completely shocked. And, and I, and I, and I said, listen, um, I, I do love you, but not in that way, you know? And, and, and he, you know, he said to me, listen, I have a speaking engagement tonight, but I’ll give it up if you’ll spend the night with me.
Robert Strock: (16:26)
So, I said to him, I don’t know how to tell you, but you know, I’ve already said to you that I’m not, I’m not oriented, I’m not gay, and I’m, I’m not wanting that type of relationship with you now. He was so sure of himself, he wasn’t even paranoid of being busted at the college because obviously if the college got word of this, he’d have been fired. And I went to class next day and he treated me like I didn’t exist and making a long story short. I, I went for a walk in the rose gardens and I said, hey, this isn’t okay. You know, I, you know, we’ve had a very loving relationship and suddenly you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re abandoning me. And , you know, and not even willing to look my way, this was after a couple of weeks and to his credit, he said, you’re right.
Robert Strock: (17:14)
And from then on, um, largely because I was speaking my mind and I wasn’t coming out of hostility and I still had a loving feeling toward him. And he wasn’t that crazy to where he was gonna get defensive. He said, you’re, you’re right, fine. I’ll I’ll, uh, I’ll give that up. So, the certainty moved to a level of flexibility, which I would like to believe was his wisdom and not just his protection for his job, but again, he was someone who taught me how to be in my heart. You know, he was, he was so loving that it was contagious for, for 10 years in a row. He was teacher of the year at USC. Now there’s another public teacher who is one of the most public teachers of all time, who probably most of you that have been, that are in your sixties or more that have been in the spiritual world.
Robert Strock: (18:14)
I guarantee you, you know, this teacher and this teacher was, was somebody that wrote a book that was a classic vintage book in the sixties and was popular and actually is still alive. And he, because I know through a number of friends that were, his friends, is gay. And after all these years, 50, some odd years later, he never came outta the closet. He never ever acknowledged that. Now he was presenting a level of humor and lightness and was helping people how to really be present. But he wasn’t willing to be vulnerable because of staying with a certain, certainty of the followers about Buddhism and the, the various tenets of Buddhism, and was obviously afraid to come out and reveal his humanness. To me, that was one of the great tragedies because he was such an extraordinary man. So, continuing the list of relatively benign teachers, another teacher who’s perhaps the most well-known Buddhist teacher in the country today, certainly one of them.
Robert Strock: (19:42)
And one of the ones that I have respected the most through the years was somebody that really articulates the subtlety of Buddhism better than any other teacher. That in least in my experience, and I heard through my closest friend who introduced me to him, that he had had this agonizing back pain that went, that went on for months and he was out of commission and he was in a suicidal state. And basically nobody knew anything about it. And I’m not saying that I think he should have shared his suicidal state, but I certainly think you think about all the people that are in pain that have pain and how do we use meditation? Cuz he was largely his, he was a writer and has written several books too, but he was largely the meditation teacher’s, meditation teacher after all this time, how did he not use this as an example, to be able to share the humanness that he was going through and how meditation helped him navigate the most difficult terrains.
Robert Strock: (21:01)
This example is one where it’s important for you to know as you’re going through your version of teachers, that is your teacher really revealing their humanness. And if they’re not, do you not see that the certainty they’re representing they’re not really practicing, because it was, is one of the tenets of Buddhism to be honest, certainly. And something this major, the tragedy of going through a pain that could universally help so many people, but it not happening. And the reason why this is important to you is because you could hold the keys for your community, to go to the community and say, I would really like you as a teacher, or you as teachers to be willing to share the human sides of yourself. I would like to break outta the molds of the teachers being superhuman. I would like it to be that the teachers would represent uncertain elements of us that are suffering, whether it’s physical suffering or emotional suffering and how this image of togetherness or a persona of certainty of well-being is something that is not beneficial to the planet because it makes us all try to seek a state of certainty or togetherness rather than recognize we’re a process of maybe virtual certainty in some areas, but in other areas we have doubt and important doubts and the doubts may lead to, or will lead to the need to be human.
Robert Strock: (22:57)
Adding one more example of the same kind. There’s another very well-known teacher who is quite obese and he is someone that could help, our country is what 70% obese. Well, he is someone that has been obese for at least the 53 years that I know of. And he’s had the opportunity to say, how do you deal with your obesity? You know, how is that, how do you accept it? Or do you have glanduar problem? How do you deal with people who look at you and wonder whether you, you know, are munching, munching down all night long while you’re in your meditation practice? How do you integrate this? But this sense of creating an image of certainty, togetherness that is I am together.
Robert Strock: (23:59)
I don’t have a deep human side that’s untogether. Now it’s pretty obvious having been through, as I mentioned in the one other episode, of the spiritual circus that the teachers that we’re going to, they have a human side and you have the capacity. I wanna really highlight this. The reason why this episode is so important is you have the capacity to bring the human element into, or at least to make an attempt to bring the human element into your congregation. And if you don’t have, let’s say the courage right now to do that, to at least know that you’re not alone with being human, even though you might be in a kind of teaching that is emphasizing an ultimate state of certainty, the compassions where it’s at, or, or love or understanding the universe and that you recognize that we all have something to contribute to virtually every path.
Robert Strock: (25:11)
I don’t really know of a major path where all of you don’t have, and it’s really all of us, don’t have something of value to contribute, which is our human experience and how we work with that path and not fall prey to the certainty of the underbelly of the tradition that we’re in. I truly believe that when we look at the world and how fragmented it is in opposition, that the next phase of spiritual and religious teachings hopefully is one where it’s an overlapping phase where the preachers, the teachers, and the students. And again, the emphasis is on you. If you’re a teacher or a student to bring in the importance of the unification of all teachings overlapping in their core principles of taking care of our bigger family, taking care of our brothers and sisters, taking care of our planet. And that doesn’t mean all teachings have to become one, but it does mean that there needs to be overlapping circles with this commonality of purpose, with this deep reverence and respect for the whole premise of spiritual teaching, that it overlaps with a human, humanitarian instinct and that if it isn’t that way that you as a student or you as a teacher need to be a voice that’s moving in this direction.
Robert Strock: (26:54)
So I’d like to end with a question that I’m gonna be asking you to ask yourself and the description of which is where do you see yourself and the degree of balance where you either have, or haven’t honored your greatest truth, your greatest insights, your humanness with the path or the religion or God that you’re on and how much have you had it be and how much can you now have it be. And where you have your path and you have your individual truth and you want it to be a marriage and you want your path to be an inclusive path. And you wanted to express that. So let in your most sincere depth of both relative devotion to your path or your truth, and also your individual views of what it means to be the sort of the ultimate in representing humanity, in representing the globe and what that would be.
Robert Strock: (28:15)
So, as we wind down this whole series, I’d like you to ask, where am I with this balance of dedication to my path and also being individually true and most true to myself as well. And in this question, I hope, and I pray that you will enjoy this ongoing question for the rest of your life because when we marry our greatest path with our individual truth, and we include our humanness, that’s the greatest hope for mankind to be able to take care of everyone on the planet and the planet in which we live. So, I hope you’ll join me as we end this series with a prayer for our planet, for everyone on it, especially those that are most challenged and for the planet that we live on to survive and thrive and hopefully be moving toward an age where religions and spiritual paths are coming together and countries are coming together. And that means is overlapping, not some idealistic union, but just a moving together and recognizing that we’re all a process, none of us have arrived, but we have this longing to move toward caring for our brotherhood, sisterhood and the planet on which we live. Thank you very much.
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