We’re all works in progress, even our religious leaders (STR) – Episode 38

We're all works in progress, even our religious leaders - Episode 38No one feels totally comfortable being vulnerable — it’s scary, and we might often think others might take advantage of what we’re sharing from a place of trust. It’s likely the same for even those in our communities who appear secure in their beliefs and selves — our religious leaders and ministers of faith. 

In this episode of The Missing Conversation, Robert explores how sharing our insecurities, grief and anger can actually help us bond better with each other. When our religious leaders don’t share their humanness from us, it prevents us from learning how they use a combination of divine values and human qualities as part of their wisdom, which guides them to take better care of themselves during challenging situations. 

As humans, there are many, many things we still don’t know. From not knowing what’s in the depths of the ocean to what happens after death, the faith we have in God or the Universe keeps us grounded and helps us deal with the ‘not-knowing’. 

Indeed, sometimes our faith transforms into a staunch belief, one we begin to force upon others — despite their different thoughts, values, and attitudes. Most of us want to ‘know’ — we need assurance or understanding of what might happen to us. But this belief, especially with some religious leaders, robs them of their experience of humanness especially out in the open.

 Being receptive to ‘not knowing’ brings us together more than we can imagine. Accepting our feelings and reactions of ‘not knowing’ helps us have our best chance to move toward healing — the first step is awareness and wanting to find our sense of wellbeing. This understanding of our shared uncertainty and not knowing helps us better identify with other humans around us. 

There is strength and clarity in admitting that you may not know what will happen — whether it’s tomorrow or after death. And it takes courage too. Robert talks about how it could help us loosen the rigidity around the need to have a clear understanding or enlightened view that might make us think we’re above being human. After all, our humanness is a major part of what keeps us connected to each other. 

For religious leaders, this humanness has great potential value to help their congregations and followers live according to spiritual values, to embody the values and attitudes that serve not just ourselves but also other humans and the planet we’re blessed with.

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 38.

Robert Strock: (00:05)
So, the stakes are very, very high because when we feel that safe in our belief, or our faith, and we suppress our human side, that means we’re going to project it on others.

Announcer: (00:22)
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: (01:01)
I’m very happy to have you join us again as The Missing Conversation where we 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 for survival of our planet. Today, we’re going to make a pretty big shift and really attempt to make a distinction between faith or beliefs that being in one category and what we really know in our direct experience and apply this as a lesson to both students, teachers, ministers, and the likes. I’d like to start off by introducing Dave, my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation and dearest friend.

Dave: (02:04)
Thank you. Um, good to be here. These are especially near and dear to my heart. And these conversations are ones that I hope everybody will take in deeply.

Robert Strock: (02:19)
Thank you, I double that. So, as I mentioned earlier about myself, faith, trust, practices, Jesus, Buddha are all very, very dear to my inner life, to my heart. They’ve been the core of my values. They’ve been the best teachings of my life. And I also realize I have faith, I have trust, but I also realize, I don’t know, I don’t know anything. Absolutely. And there’s a big distinction that I make between faith, trust, belief, all being in one area and a true sense of inner knowing. And I don’t mean inner knowing, like I intuitively know, because I’ve had this experience. I mean, the kind of knowing where it can be proven to you over and over again. So, the criteria I’m talking about for knowing isn’t an intuitive feeling or dream you had, or an experience you had when you were on acid. My view is that in order for us to have a full experience of reality, it needs to include a certain level of faith, wisdom, belief. And it may be a faith or belief that’s integrity, not necessarily a God.

Robert Strock: (04:11)
And it also needs to include our humanness, which would be our primal fears, confusions, not knowing, or any challenging emotions. And that this humanness is not a denial of faith or belief, but simply the importance of clarifying the difference to not be in a very real sense, a socially accepted cult-like experience of absolute knowing, absolute believing, absolute faith, and my past, the past. And if I follow it, everything else is cool. And that is such a danger and has always been a danger because suppressing our human side because of our religious or spiritual views is like cutting out half of our brain or cutting out half of our heart, maybe even three quarters. So, it’s so important that we support our faith, support our trust, but not let it operate like a blanket over our humanness. Now, as I’m saying this, do you get the distinction? Does it piss you off?

Robert Strock: (05:48)
Does it make you feel contemplative? We’re almost inevitably influenced by stories, teachers, rabbis, ministers, are they really more enlightened than us? And one of the acid tests for me besides their actions and their attitudes is do they also openly share their challenges or are they living in this world, blanketing the human parts of themselves and unwilling to give us the advantage of a very deep level of wisdom oftentimes, but that withholding doesn’t allow us to see them as a combination of divine values and essence and actions and human qualities and a work in progress. Like we all are, whether we know it or not.

Dave: (07:04)
I just want to reflect, you said, does that piss you off? And what does piss me off is the number of times I’ve seen religious leaders, espouse certainty about whatever their version is of what happens after death, whatever version of heaven or hell or the beyond is out there and with no reflection on, yes, this is their strong faith. That could be their belief again, distinguishing, and to some degree from what your, you started with, but not their experience. Not, not, I mean, in my view, at least, uh, they have not visited and come back and have a reflection of that, that I, I can see in a real way. And this is present for me, uh, last weekend, uh, my mother-in-law who has had told me, and it turned out she was true to herself. She had told me about two months ago. I’m not really afraid of death.

Dave: (08:13)
I am afraid of dying. And I think for her, that meant the indignities of what might happen if she got very ill. And I was with her for about 20 hours, I was with her until her last breath. And before she went into a morphine state of drifting off, I asked her in a, in a teasing way that, that drew out a smile from her. I said, just one last favor, please. When you get that glimpse of the beyond, can you just come back for a second and let us know what you experience? And she smiled. And she said, I don’t think it works that way. And it was amazing. And it was, it’s been an amazing week since, actually for me to be in this, uh, so deeply in my, my feelings, uh, about the whole sense of mortality. And it resonated when you said, what, what upsets me when I see people profess to know with a capital K, all caps, Know.

Robert Strock: (09:26)
Yeah. What I love most about this story, besides experiencing you, experiencing your, your mortality and throwing you into a, a depth of vulnerability and inquiry and, and looking at it all with a not knowing place, is that she said, I don’t think it works that way. Now, if she would have said it doesn’t work that way, then it would be the same thing as faith or belief. She would’ve just been the absolute dust to dust. And I know I know the truth, but the beauty of her staying with a subtlety of her truth is so moving. So, I really, really see, uh, the being touched by that in a deep way, and as somebody in their last breaths. And I know you were not only with her for the last 20 hours, you were with her for a number of days as well. And seeing her be that way, and, and what’s interesting is having been around a fair amount of people that have died, your story is not a consistent story. That’s for sure many, many people go the opposite way or get very confused suddenly, and then go very silent. And so, it’s wonderful to have somebody that stayed with what she believed and said it exactly the way she did.

Dave: (11:00)
And thank you for that reflection. Uh, and it, it, it also led me to tell her, which I did verbally at that same time that I told her you inspire me.

Robert Strock: (11:12)

Dave: (11:13)
And she did, and it was that openness to not knowing.

Robert Strock: (11:18)

Dave: (11:19)
Which is just where I am.

Robert Strock: (11:22)

Dave: (11:22)
I don’t want to be the, I want to know, but I know, I don’t know.

Robert Strock: (11:26)
Yeah, and you know, and I, and I would say for me, I’m probably these days about, oh, I’d say about 85% having faith really, truly believing that there’s likely to be a passing on of consciousness. I don’t expect to see Robert anymore. Uh, but, but the consciousness that’s here. Yeah, probably most likely, but do I feel secure? Do I not feel any fear? Do I not feel any doubt? Of course I do. So, I think it’s important for us all, as we look at this, which frankly I think could have been taught in first grade all the way through, as part of our education, that all of us want to be safe. And obviously the stakes, as one of my doctors that I love the most said to me, when I told them at my first interview, that I want you to know that I do have some fear of death and contemplation around that.

Robert Strock: (12:34)
And his response was, well, the stakes are rather high aren’t they? So, which, which I absolutely loved that it’s natural for us to want to believe that life is fair and that we are safe and that it’s organized by God or some kind of universal intelligence and that karma’s real, or an evolving state of believing. If you do good, the good’s going to happen to you, hopefully resulting in an afterlife or heaven, better future life. Of course, that’s our desire for most of us. But it’s important to realize that this desire can bring us to such an extreme that we’re prone to be gullible. We’re prone to believe our beliefs, our knowing. And so, it’s understandable why religion and spirituality draws students and congregants to really want to be led in an area where they can feel safe. Now, the conscious part of most people probably that’s not why they’re going there.

Robert Strock: (13:55)
I mean, maybe part of it’s of course that, but the other one is, um, this is where I learned values, and this is where I learned how to live. But on that level, it would be hard to find a big tradition. In fact, I don’t know of a big tradition where the values of the original core teacher, which were inevitably elements of love your brother and sister as yourself, where that was the dominant teaching. If we don’t look at all elements, or let’s say a lot of elements of our psychology and see that it’s likely our wanting to feel safe has made us more prone to believe our beliefs as if they’re knowings. This creates a great danger. It almost inevitably, and if we look back at history, we can see how it has led to us suppressing our doubts. It suppresses our insecurities. It puts our heads in the sand.

Robert Strock: (15:10)
It makes us feel secure that we have the right path. We’re chosen. We have the right sound of God. We are the final teacher and we’ve integrated the other teachers. And that belief that we’re going to live forever is equivalent to, okay, I have this belief over here that believes I’m gonna live forever, but you’ve got to believe over here that you’re going to live forever. So, we’re going to have war because your belief is wrong. So, we’re willing to kill you? We’re willing to spend 20% of our economy to protect ourselves from, from being killed. It’s insane. We need to wake up and it’s going to have to come from us as people to wake up. Cause it doesn’t look like the leaders who are dependent on being elected are going to wake up until we wake up. So, it’s got to come from us as people to make this important distinction.

Robert Strock: (16:21)
So, we can feel our humanness because if we don’t feel our fears, if we don’t feel our doubts, guess where the fears go. They go towards the other, the doubts go towards the other. It’s the other people that are dangerous. It’s not that we’re in danger. So, the unconscious creates a sense of whatever’s suppressed. We’re almost inevitably going to project it on another group. It’s not only the source of religious prejudice, but it’s the source of all prejudice. That unconscious part of us that can’t just stay with our feelings and say, this is me, this is my feeling, this is my reaction. I had a client recently who is one of my most delightful clients, who said to me with a great smile on his face, God, until I met you, I thought I was going to live forever. And he meant it. He really meant it because not consciously, but he was living as if he was going to live forever.

Robert Strock: (17:47)
And when you live, as if you’re going to live forever, you don’t have to worry about your feelings consciously. You can suppress them so easy or your angers, annoyances and then when they come up, it’s her fault, it’s his fault, it’s this country’s fault. So, the stakes are very, very high because when we feel that safe in our belief or our faith, and we suppress our human side, that means we’re going to project it on others. One of my favorite stories of a different Christian minister and his wife was that she told me if everything I understand about Jesus is wrong, I want to be the last one to know. And it was so beautiful, the honesty, and so tragic, the lack of embarrassment, the lack of self-consciousness all at the same time. So, this uncertainty, even though, as I said, I dominantly am living in a trust and a faith in life being far too amazing to be made from an intelligence, less than us.

Robert Strock: (19:19)
So, I live in that very dominantly, but to be 15% really scared, really unsure. I don’t know if my percentages are right. I mean, that’s just what I’m telling myself, but that’s my best guess. But what has happened is the insecurity, uncertainty has made me feel much more identified with every other human being on earth has made me feel like God, there are living, breathing life too. And it’s not only people, animals, earth, and it’s actually been a key to spontaneously giving me inspiration. Yeah, I, if I was just sleepy and just, wow, I’m going to heaven. I’m almost positive that I would be more casual, less inspired, less fulfilled. And it has filled what used to be more of an empty space because the longing to want to be connected to the world and the people in the world is so fulfilling. So, the question that I find myself asking would encourage everybody to ask is how do I optimize and help myself and others realize what their most healthy relationship is to the values that are spiritual and religious, and also take care of the challenges that are very real for us in life.

Robert Strock: (21:20)
If I had a great teacher who was actually, I would say my best teacher in my life, who was very intuitive, very intuitive, an understate, the most intuitive person I’ve ever met, where he could read people’s feelings that I couldn’t see. And I considered myself to be very good at it, but he was miles beyond me. And he was talking about not what were your reactions, but what were your reactions to your reactions? So, I remember a time when I was getting divorced and I was in one of his groups. And so, what are you feeling? So, I’m feeling guilty. I said, well, don’t feel guilty for feeling guilty. Yeah. See that your guilt is wanting to protect your wife. And it’s very innocent. And that led to a completely different level of appreciating the human reactions and help me see another level of healing where the feelings about the feelings were oftentimes a source of leading toward greater healing and his not knowing, which he was famous for saying not knowing is the most intimate, because it allows you to still being your best loving self and be human at the same time.

Robert Strock: (23:10)
In fact, this was about 40 years ago and we did a tape together, videotape, where it was on not knowing. And he hit me out for my not knowing as being annoying. Yeah. You’re positive not knowing the right thing and that everybody should not know. And you’re not knowing is just as addictive as people that are in faith and this and that. And I fought with them a little bit, but I realized he was probably right. I mean, and then now I realized he was for sure right. Because there was a sense of superiority. If you’re really honest, you’re gonna admit you don’t know. And dah, dah, dah, and now it seems much more on a relative level that, yeah, I do think it’s important to not know a hundred percent, but some people might not know 90%. Some people might not know 10% and it’s a much more soft place.

Robert Strock: (24:12)
It’s a much more feminine place, gentle, where we can be kind to ourselves with this, not knowing. So people, as we’ve talked about the integrity, caring people have an easier time with this. Not knowing as they’re not fixated usually to, well, always to a religious belief. They’re never fixated in that way. But some of them, like we talked about with Dave earlier, they’re fixated to the belief that dust is dust and that there is nothing. And they wouldn’t say, as Dave’s, mother-in-law said, I don’t think they would say, I’m going nowhere, it’s dust, it’s over for me. And in their own mind, it would be kind of like a John Wayne, you know, they’re sort of, uh, uh, strength and the courage to admit, at least I have the courage to admit, I know I’m going nowhere. Well, to me, that’s the same thing as faith and belief and believing it’s knowing when actually it’s anti-faith anti-trust and a false sense of knowing.

Robert Strock: (25:36)
So, I hope that I haven’t offended too many people. I’m guessing I’ve offended some, maybe many and in a certain way, hopefully you can hear it’s not my intention. My intention is to try to loosen up the rigidity and the certainty of having any kind of understanding or faith or enlightened view that makes you immune or virtually immune from being human. Because the human side is such an important part of paradoxically being a leader into our greatest potential, to live spiritual values, to live actions, and to have attitudes that really are going to best serve our human family and the planet. So, thank you again for your attention. I really enjoy being able to speak on this subject. That is, is so subtle, but yet so critical.

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