Understanding the Perils of Certainty – Episode 51

Understanding the Perils of Certainty - Episode 51This week on TMC Robert focuses on the importance of seeing the dangers of certainty as it applies to religious spiritual approaches or even anti-spiritual approaches. It is like putting on a blindfold and not differentiating between faith and being 100% sure. Being open to inquiry actually expands our ability to create a deeper faith with humility and a greater more grounded sense of humanity. In addition, each of us has the potential inspiration of including our doubts as alternative views of how to love. It gives us the chance to learn how to love our extended world family and live beyond the bounds of our prior views and conditioning. It is not about criticism, but about the more inclusive vision that the doubts inspire. This kind of profound, not knowing approach is the ground that makes virtually every practice grow, stay humble and be curious.

The world is so polarized that we must try to connect even to those that have opposing views. Our leaders are often so concerned about preserving their brand that they will be unwilling to expose their vulnerabilities. Robert candidly speaks about some of his experiences with his teachers and spiritual communities to highlight the frequency in which this occurs. There are real perils in certainty. Perhaps with this respect of both our faith and our doubts as a guide, you may begin to see the naturalness of no one path having all the answers and taking care of all humanity and the planet.

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: (00:00)
The Missing Conversation, Episode 51.

Robert Strock: (00:04)
I say this so that you recognize whatever tradition you’ve been exposed to, this is what’s happening. And, The Missing Conversation is you going to your teacher, you going to yourself and saying, where am I human? Where am I unenlightened? Where am I not compassionate? Where am I not even caring?

Announcer: (00:33)
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: (01:11)
Thanks so much for joining us again on The Missing Conversation where we do our very best to address the most pressing issues that 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. And today, we’re going to focus on the importance of seeing the dangers of certainty and by certainty, I mean, a religion, a spiritual approach, a part of a spiritual approach, or an anti-spiritual approach, and how staying certain about anything like that is like putting on a blindfold and that we need to expand in a way that allows us to also be true to inquiring what’s the deepest truth to me, as it relates to my greater sense of humanity, and the planet and the benefits of going for what is most true, our faith, understanding, meditation, prayer, compassion are limited when we think we have the certainty.

Robert Strock: (02:39)
And we just don’t see this as a part, maybe by far the most important part of our purpose for living. And we see that each of us as individuals have the, not only the right or the responsibility, but maybe more important, the potential inspiration of including our doubts, which really, if you look at your doubts, the really alternative views of how to love, how to love our extended world family and live in that love beyond the bounds of our prior view. So, doubts need to be seen as another form of faith or trust or vision or inspiration. It’s not just the kind of doubts where you’re just putting it down, not those kind of doubts. It’s the kind of doubts that say, oh, wait a minute, we’re only supporting our congregation dominantly. I’d like to support the world. We’re not stopping with just the criticism. We’re talking about the new vision that the doubts inspire, this kind of profound, not knowing if our approach is the be all end all, and everybody in the world should only join us is the ground that makes virtually every approach expanded. So, I’d like to start off before we go deeper into it by introducing Dave, my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation and closest friend.

Dave: (04:33)
Robert, thank you. Um, as, as we move into this and it has been a, a progression, I hope the listeners have had an opportunity really to listen to the podcasts and the, and the episodes that proceed this, uh, because they are organically connected. Uh, they really do move from a look at the world and, and how the world is so polarized and how we try and connect to people, uh, that have opposing views that even see us as their enemy, let alone the other way around and the confusion of what truth is and the, the certainty, but yet the strength distinguishing from certainty. That is the kind you’re about to talk about, the kind that, that denies doubt, uh, but yet having a strength to deal with it, deal with the, the threats that are legitimate and, and to move into this space that you’re about to move into it all goes together. And it’s, it’s been a mosaic that I’m, I’m grateful, you’re filling in.

Robert Strock: (05:49)
Thanks so much. So as we look at the larger and smaller spiritual traditions, religious traditions, there are some, although I would say minuscule, some approaches that have room for the presentation of the core beliefs, the core understandings, the core practice, and, oh, what are your doubts or what are your other views, or what are things that you think would enhance it? Or what blind spots do you think we have? And as I’m saying, this, take a look at the path you’ve followed or that you’re in, or that your family’s been in, your friends are in and ask yourselves, is that part of the presentation or is certainty, or even virtual certainty, being presented without an invitation to say, oh, where, where might you differ a little bit and your greatest vision of how each of us as individuals could love and care, open our hearts, recognize that there’s incredible amount of suffering on the planet.

Robert Strock: (07:25)
And if you’re one of the, one of the people that are in better shape, what might you be able to do? Not only inside yourself, but inside your spiritual community to expand the possibility of, do you mind if we have a group where we say, okay, major tenants, we’re devoted to that, and what supplements might we wanna add? I mean, it could be looked at like a vitamin supplement, a nutritional supplement for any given approach. Who of us, who of our past don’t need potential supplements and who better to do it than you, who are dedicated and devoted to something to recognize your humanness. And in a certain way, we’re talking about maybe your human, divineness, talking about a part of you, that’s human, that has doubts, but the doubts are actually a form of faith or a form of your sense of religion.

Robert Strock: (08:42)
For example, I often say my religion is everyone making their very best efforts, best realistic efforts. And it includes the inner and the outer. I do enjoy adding that to whatever approach I’ve been in throughout the years. And it has allowed me ironically or paradoxically to stay with various traditions longer because I didn’t give myself up. I had the permission if I would’ve had to rigidly follow or even forget rigidly, just devotedly, just follow the traditions. I would’ve had to leave earlier. And as you take a look, just see if you have had this experience with any tradition or in one right now, are you expressing, are you experiencing first, but are you expressing some counter views or additional views? It may not be anything against anything that you’re following, but it might be something that would be, as I said earlier, a supplement, but in the 53 years of looking at too many traditions to mention, although in this episode, I’m gonna mention quite a few.

Robert Strock: (10:10)
There really are only a very small percentage that were interested in, what any other individual had to say, including me, but I wasn’t being singled up. Now. I had a teacher starting with a, a couple elements of good news. I had a couple of teachers along the way. One of which was by far the person that helped me with my inner world, was just pointing out when I was contracting, when I was acting arrogant, when I was acting certain, when I was acting too weak, when I wasn’t expressing my strength, he was someone that in addition to teaching me about silence and compassion, he was also teaching me about my inner world. And then he was also open to me saying to him, you know, I think you’re a bit on a guru trip and we’d have our laughs, you know, and sometimes he would say, thanks for letting me know again.

Robert Strock: (11:28)
And sometimes he would say, oh, that again, and yet, there was such an openness to both learn about the inner and the outer and to still have a dialogue. And I didn’t have to worry about being excommunicated. And then there’s another teacher who’s extremely well-known. One of the most beloved Buddhist teachers in the world who really teaches about staying true to yourself, the importance of facing your vulnerability, not blanketing things with any kind of traditional belief and really modeled her own frailty, our own frailty, our own natural fears, even to some extent, not quite as much as I would’ve liked, but to some extent, yeah, quite a bit open to hear well, what, what’s your truth? So those, those are more of the good news teachers. And there’s a few more that I may or may not mention in this episode, but much more commonly the teachers presented a, a disturbing sense of certainty and requires essential of devotion to that certainty. And if you didn’t follow it, and I’m asking you, as I’m saying this, because your story is more important than mine. So please listen to me at one level, but please go back to yourself and look at your experience. And for some, maybe it’ll apply to a future experience even more than it did to a past one, but keep this with you.

Robert Strock: (13:30)
There was a teacher that I went to see relatively recently, last six, seven years. And he had written a book that is one of the Bibles on dealing with death and after death, and was brilliant. And I was particularly moved to go to a, a weekend retreat because in this book, he talked about the importance of honoring the fear of death. So I was quite sure it turned out to be wrong, but I was quite certain that he was going to be representing not only an enlightened classic Buddhist view, but also honoring the fear of death. So, I was really looking forward to going with a friend. And as I was there, it turned out that he was just for lack of better words, pontificating about Buddhist truths with no regard whatsoever for the human side. In fact, he was so hostile toward the people that were dealing with the cameras and showing off the screens and was saying things like, come on, what’s taking you so long.

Robert Strock: (14:55)
And I ended up staying for about 15 hours on a 48-hour retreat and regretted about 14 hours and 59 minutes of the 15 and said to my friend, if he was president of Coca-Cola, he would be canned in one minute. His attitude is so bad. Only in a religious spiritual tradition could somebody get away with the amount of hostility and arrogance, even the most crass commercial enterprise wouldn’t tolerate this kind of overt attitude, but there’s a certain immunity that for those of you that have been around in what Dave and I have frequently referred to, as the spiritual circus, have seen the entitlement on the part of, of various spiritual teachers, usually the ones that are making by far the deepest claims of enlightenment or certainty, they are the most dangerous. They are the ones that feel an omnipotence and a permission that because of my awakeness, I get to do whatever I want, because it’s all in service of the truth.

Robert Strock: (16:11)
So, I might have to kick your ass a little bit, you know, in, in many cases it’s become more public or maybe I might be giving you what they may call a sexual darshan. Or I may, I may have sex with you in private, but it’s, it’s a blessing to you cuz you get to have sex with, with the Lord. That there’s those kind of teachers that exist out there that it’s important that people know about. And it’s not even that rare, it’s rare, but it’s not that rare. And the common phenomena that is the kissing cousin is the sense of certainty. So, you’re gonna hear true stories of an abundance of teachers or conference leaders for teachers.

Dave: (17:00)
I just wanna add to that element of commonality of certainty to the flip side of that, which is a lack of tolerance for any dissension.

Robert Strock: (17:14)
Yeah. I mean, those are kissing cousins for sure too. It’s like, uh, certainty and the lack of tolerance for any dissension. Those go along with what you might call a certain kind of mind control or hypnosis and the threat of excommunication because of your ego obviously is defending. It’s always your ego. If you, if you disagree, you’re frequently ridiculed publicly. If you show a sign of dissension or privately, if you have a one on one, you’re privately ridiculed. So yes, that’s very important to hear those two sides of the coin. So, I was a part of a conference that was a, a group of teachers that were, was something like the, the East-West teacher exchange or the best, the best of the East and the West or something like that. And the conference leader asked a group of us that were appointed by somebody to see if we could make this conference different than prior conferences and not just have it be an expose of, for lack of better words, certainties.

Robert Strock: (18:40)
So this, as you probably know, by now is right up my alley. So, I was sort of in a state of joy to have that assignment and spent a couple months writing a few pages with some help. And it was asking the teachers at the conference to share where in their teaching was the hardest place for them to be congruent with their own teachings. Where did they have any doubts at all about their teachings? Where were they vulnerable in somewhere in their life that they could use the teachings to show how they dealt with their vulnerability. And the person that was running the conference loved it. And it was all go until the day of the conference. And she passed out the three pages of this request from the teachers. And she came back and said, every single one said, no, not one of them wanted to go there.

Robert Strock: (19:53)
Now this was utterly heartbreaking. And, and I, I gave this person a hard time saying, did you push back? You know, did you push back at all? Did you say, hey, we want this conference to be different. Choose one question out of these and see, see where that would happen. But there weren’t any, and this included 40 or 50 of the more well-known teachers at the time, this was probably 35 years ago. And so understanding the frequency of certainty, being an issue and not even wanting to use the core tentative of the teaching in a way to reveal some of their humanness or some of how it could benefit the students to hear their own lack of certainty. That meant that they weren’t in this pure state all the time. They were too concerned about revealing what might be perceived as a weakness or a limitation of their mindfulness or their compassion or their wisdom or their enlightenment.

Robert Strock: (21:15)
So, I say this so that you recognize whatever tradition you’ve been exposed to, this is what’s happening. And The Missing Conversation is you going to your teacher, you going to yourself and saying, where am I human? Where am I unenlightened? Where am I not compassionate? Where am I not even caring? Where am I not even tolerance? And how would I apply that? And maybe going to your teacher and saying, you know, I’d like to break up this sense of, of certainty by maybe you’d be willing to share some about yourself, or maybe you would invite a time instead of giving a discourse, maybe you’d have the discourse be, I’d like to open the floor for the congregation to share. Where do you have difficulties with this approach? Where are you having maybe differences of views as to what would be best for you and the world?

Robert Strock: (22:29)
I can’t remember whether I shared this in another episode, to be honest, but I was a part of a community where I was asked to run a group, you know, uh, counseling group. And I was asked, well, what would you like your group to be on? And I said, I’d like the group to be on the doubts that people have about the leader of the community and how they deal with them. And I was immediately demoted. I became a assistant leader. I, I could no longer have a group cuz I could no longer be trusted. And my time and the group’s department was short lived, very, very common phenomenon. And frankly, I was a bit naive to think that I had a chance in retrospect. And I faced a lot of ridicule, a lot of criticism for saying that. And ironically, here’s the kicker.

Robert Strock: (23:31)
The teacher was literally intellectually the smartest person I have ever known in terms of articulating a hundred different versions of other teachers and being able to speak their language and day after day would give discourse. That would include a multiplicity of approaches, integrating humor and philosophy and politics and amazing, amazingly broad things in that he, he had said, if you have doubt, never suppress it, always come to me, come to me with your doubt, bring me your doubts. So, the reason why I felt like it had a chance was because that was part of his teaching. And not just once, he said that 50 times, but what he said and what he practiced were very different. I hope that these beginning stories resonate with you where you can see that you either might be someone who’s bought the whole thing and believe, believe you should.

Robert Strock: (24:52)
Or you’re someone who’s kept your independent awareness open and just haven’t spoken it. And perhaps it might be a few of you that have spoken it. But most importantly, you see the perils of certainty and you see the naturalness of no one path having all the answers and taking care of all of humanity and the planet and that you maybe are even looking forward to giving yourself more permission to liberate your inner world, to ask questions, like where do I differ? How would I like it to be different? How do I think it could serve humanity better? How could it serve me better? What would I like to ask my teacher to do differently or my teachers to do differently or my minister or rabbi. And do I have the courage to face my fear and consider having this missing conversation? So again, thank you for your attention. And I hope that this is something that resonates in a positive place inside you. That gives you the sense that you have even more opportunities to devote yourself to whatever you most believe in and allow yourself to go and continue to inquire. What do you individually wanna add to it? Thanks so much.

Robert Strock PhoitoJoin The Conversation
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