Hi eveyrone – I’m so happy you’re here! This promises to be an amazing journey for us all, and I hope you’ll interact with me to help shape the future of The Resilient Self Podcast.
In the first episode, I discuss the path to insight, when and how we begin the journey, and working to build the lives we want.
1:26 – What does it mean to be successful?
2:00 – How Positive Psychology drops the ball on compassion
5:00 – What do you deserve?
8:38 – “Get off my lawn!”
13:53 – Our environment conspires against our change.
15:56 – Resilience knows no age limit.
17:00 – Some mid-life inspiration
18:35 – Nick Saban, you rascal!
20:15 – Do no go gentle.
Links from the show
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk (affiliate link)
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Welcome to episode one of The Resilient Self podcast… I’m going to start with a simple. question. Do you remember waking up? But I don’t mean this morning, obviously. What I mean is when do we reach that point in our lives when we feel like we’ve developed the insight and had the experience to kind of interrogate our past? Often that leads us to become aware of our own story, aware of our own narrative in ways that we realized we really want to make substantial change… Now, there are going to be one or two times throughout this episode… I’m going to take you back to high school English class and sorry, not sorry for that. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Now in high school you really didn’t know what that meant. But as we approach middle age like I have – I’m 50, we really begin to wonder what are the elements of meaningful change in our lives?
What does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to be healthy or happy or safe or even human? What I find is that these don’t just encompass the mind, the body and the spirit. I keep continuing to be drawn back to also these notions of the brain, as it relates to mind and body and spirit and also just our relationships. So there’s kind of a big five there and we’re going to break these down today. We’re going to talk about some basic concepts that will foster future conversations… One concept continues to come back over and over and over again. I think it’s fundamental, this notion of compassion. I was reading a terrific book by Doctor Rick Hanson today called Resilience and he defines compassion as the recognition of pain with the desire to relieve it. And in Resilience, Dr. Hansen makes the interesting point that oftentimes positive psychology kind of drops the ball on that because we live that pain, we experience it, and we try to put a positive understanding on that.
But unless we go through that pain in certain ways that really heals us, we don’t really get there… I think part of that is just holding space for emotions and it starts with the self – holding space for your own emotions. Let’s be honest. In our society we are taught not to express our emotions. Now as men, we experienced this a lot, but men certainly have not cornered the market on emotional repression in our society. But we’re taught in so many ways not to express our own emotions. And so how can we have space for others’ emotions if we can’t even really engage our own and regulate our own emotional state in productive ways that foster great relationships and foster authenticity and clarity and honesty… One of the things, I’m usually a pretty calm guy, but one of the things that really sets me off is when I hear an adult say to a child: “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” because that’s code to that child for: ‘Hey, you know what?
You don’t get to be a kid. You don’t get to struggle with regulating your own emotions. What you are expected to do is be a little adult. And so when you can’t do that, you need to go somewhere else. I’m going to withhold my affection, my attention, my acceptance of you, and when you can go work your stuff out on your own and then come back. And when you can act like a little adult, then you get to be here in this space with me.’ And I hear this sometimes from adults and not many things get me riled up, but you can probably hear in my voice that that does a little bit. So if you’re a parent and you say that to your kids, quit it. Create space for your kids to learn how to regulate their emotions, to give them voice.
And in doing so, they develop self-compassion, which gives them the opportunity to have compassion for others as they move later in life. Now we’re going to talk a lot about compassion on this podcast and I’m going to give you a hint. Compassion is a skill in my world and by definition as a skill, we can improve upon it. There are definitely ways we can learn to be more compassionate with ourselves, learn to be more compassionate with others. So stay tuned. I really want to get you involved in that conversation… Now, looking beyond compassion, uh, we, when we begin this journey, a personal development, it becomes really a couple of fundamental questions. One is, what do I really want for my life? What do I want my story to say, to describe? And another is what do I deserve? What does that even mean? Do I deserve to be loved to do I deserve to be loved unconditionally?
Do I deserve to be partnered? Do I deserve to be partnered with someone who’s going to treat me well? We engage these questions a lot and they’re deeply critical questions to ask of ourselves and formulate some answers. Now, guys, as a stressful world out there. Sometimes we just decide we’ve had enough of that. And when we do that, and I’m not talking about exiting the world, I’m talking about we’ve had enough of the stress, it’s been us down too much. And at some point we just go enough, I am done feeling bad. And we begin to develop some insight, and we begin to interrogate our own emotions and our own reactions. And that’s what I mean by waking up is we get into these ideas and we start to go: ‘Hey, wait a minute. I think there’s more here.’ It gives us new perspectives on previous trauma, on ways that we’ve been hurt in our lives often by others.
A lot of my counseling clients are at that stage in life when they begin to just go: ‘You know, I think something needs to change.’ Now oftentimes one of the targets for that change, so they look for is our relationships. We tend to become more keenly aware of who we’ve chosen in our lives. And sometimes we see patterns in those relationships and decide we deserve better. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean we leave our existing long-term relationships. Now, whether that’s talking about a romantic relationship or marriage or just a long-term friendship, but it can lead us to decide: ‘Hey, it’s time to renegotiate those relationships.’ And when we can renegotiate the terms of those, when we can come to understandings about how I’m really going to engage, how are we going to treat each other and what are my boundaries in that?
How do I allow people to treat me? And when we do that, then we’re able to have the authentic relationships that we desire. We are allowed to have the narrative, be supported by the people we surround ourselves with. And sometimes people are unwilling to do that and they go away. That’s always painful. But in the end, we grow. Now these stresses that we start to feel, a lot of times they don’t actually start in the psyche or we don’t have an awareness. A lot of times they start in the physical body. I want to tell you about another great book, if you don’t know it. Bessel van der Kolk has a book called The Body Keeps The Score where he talks a lot about, about how trauma manifests in the body and it’s a brilliant book. You’ll hear me talk about it.
By the way, all of the books that I refer to in here, I’ll put in the show notes and I’ll send you a link or I’ll include a link in that and you can just click right over to Amazon and you can pick up your own copy of any of those. I’ll go and disclose to you now I use what’s called an affiliate link. If you click on that and you buy the book, it doesn’t cost you anymore, but we do get a slight commission on that. And what that really does is, it helps support our work here at The Resilient Self podcast. So I want to encourage you to do that. If any of these books sound interesting to you… The Body Keeps The Score begins to open our eyes to the role of the body, and understanding trauma and understanding ourselves.
Now here in middle age, I joke with my friends that I’m becoming the “get off my lawn” guy. I kind of make that old men noise when I stand up. And the truth is I’m not really that fussy, I just joke about it. But another fundamental truth is that life really changes in middle age. The kids leave home; we do lose body strength. Guys, I have got to tell you, I’ve been working on losing weight. I decided I was going to do some push-ups the other day and I could barely do 10 push-ups. It’s kind of embarrassing. And I was talking to a friend at lunch about that, so that’s bad. And she goes: “Yeah, that’s bad, Chris.” So I’m going to be working on that in the coming weeks and months. And who knows, maybe I’ll go on record with a push-up challenge and maybe, we can all support each other in that.
But the truth is, in middle age your body gets weaker and that creates some emotions in us. It really does. Sometimes we joke about it, sometimes we lament it, and I’m going to talk about other options for what we can do on that, too. We lose people, parents, friends, they pass away. Now when you’re in your teens or 20s or 30s, and you lose someone like that, it’s kind of scandalous. We don’t expect to lose people. But when you get into your 50s and 60s and beyond, it’s no longer scandalous. It’s no longer surprising. It’s still tragic and we mourn that loss. But in middle age, we become more keenly aware of our own mortality and those physical changes lead us to this insight where sometimes we just deal with it and we roll with it. And in some ways I kind of envy the people who can do that, who can just kind of roll with the punches. For me, I’m not going lightly into that.
I am bounded, determined – it gets me to the gym a little more. It has me thinking about what I eat a little more and hopefully that’s going to result in some kind of meaningful physical change that prolongs my life in good ways. So, I’ll keep you posted on that. Now, another thing I run into a lot in middle age is I noticed some cognitive changes and I talked to my friends and they notice those things, too. We forget things more. I think we’re more prone to anxiety to be honest. And sometimes we’re just not as quick. For someone in my profession, my cognitive performance is right up there with my ability to hold space and be empathetic and compassionate for someone. If my brain’s not working, I’m in trouble. I can’t do the work that I feel like I’m on this planet to do.
I give a lot of thought to that and I bet you do, too. I’m drawing some assumptions. I’m making some assumptions here that if you clicked on a podcast called The Resilient Self, then you’re probably on this journey in some way. And wherever you are on that journey, I’m curious to hear from you on that. But when we start to notice these physical and these cognitive difficulties or changes, again, we can roll with it or we can try to make changes. We can try to be resilient and intentional in our own practices. I know a lot of my friends who are also at a similar age, go back to church. I think they do that in different ways and even if they don’t go back to church, I think it’s pretty common to reach a point in your life and maybe that’s middle age.
Maybe it’s another time in your life when again, when you just feel like you’re kind of waking up and developing insight. It’s certainly middle aged people have also not cornered the market on developing insight. I’ve met plenty of people in their twenties and thirties that I’m just blown away by the amount of understanding they bring to the table of themselves and their place in the world. But we begin to, at some point, reexamine the lessons that we were taught and accepted at face value when we were younger. We have new developments: We have children; we have grandbabies; we lose loved ones, and these all create these existential wanderings. They lead us to become more aware of our mortality. And we often wonder: “God, is this all there is?” And I tend to think there is. I think there’s more than just what we see.
I believe that now what that looks like for you is a very personal choice, of course. I want to point you to an upcoming episode where I’m going to talk with my colleague and friend, Dr. Mark Haney. Mark is a pastoral counselor. Like me, he’s a licensed professional counselor. He works in a clinical setting. But Mark and I are going to talk about the similarities and differences between pastoral counseling and Christian counseling. And I bet we get into these notions of what spirituality in the counseling concept and in the personal development realms actually mean and look like. So stay tuned to those. I think that’s going to be a great conversation. Marcus is a terrific guy. I think you’re going to love him and so look forward to that. Now we’re talking about all these different things, the mind, the brain, the body, the spirit, our relationships.
The truth is that they’re all connected. You can’t affect one without affecting the other four. Our environment, however, conspires against us. We have a homeostatic balance between these big five areas. They all interact, and we find a balance that works for us in our lives and in some times a little insight creates all kinds of upheaval in our lives because suddenly we want to make all these changes and we’re changing the homeostatic balance in our lives, particularly when it affects other people in our lives. Sometimes, even unwittingly, they sort of conspire to pull us back into our old habits because that’s what’s comfortable for everyone. They understand you when you’re 20 pounds overweight and a little depressed. They don’t understand this new person who suddenly is going to the gym at five in the morning, or suddenly wanting to talk about your relationship in new ways, and so sometimes people don’t understand that around us.
And I think that’s going to be a topic of conversation at some point. How do we help the people around us navigate our change? Now, you might be thinking, Chris, aren’t you just talking about midlife crisis? I mean this isn’t that really what we’re saying. You know, men go out and they buy fancy sports cars and they do all these other things and everyone just has their way of dealing with the loss of young adulthood. And I’m going to offer an unequivocal “No” because I don’t think this is unique to midlife. I don’t think there is any time clock on insight or personal development. As I mentioned before, some people that I meet are incredibly insightful in their twenties, thirties, even their teens. I’ll also tell you that some of my most motivated clients are in their fifties, sixties, even seventies. 70-year old people starting counseling for the first time in their lives, deciding: ‘I want to make change in my life.’ Resilience knows no age. We get there when we get there and I really want you to remember that. I want you to remember that everything that has happened to you prior to now, prior to you hearing these words, whenever you are, has prepared you for this moment in your life. Period. There is no time clock. There is no finish line. Don’t forget that midlife isn’t what it used to be. We’re living longer and yet while we have more opportunity for connection, I think in many ways we’re often more disconnected as well. We can lament social media, and I will rail against social media. I’ll tell you, I’m a social media user and so I can’t completely discount social media, but I think we have to understand what we’re getting there and we have to think about ways that we feed ourselves.
Again, I know you keep hearing me say this, the intent of this episode is to kind of lay some groundwork for future conversations. And one of those is how do we connect, how do we invest in other people and help them invest in meaningful, authentic ways. Now, more to the point of later in life, midlife – again, I don’t think this is a midlife crisis issue. I think it’s not an authenticity issue. I lost my word there. It’s an insight issue. But I want to point out a couple of people to you. If you know the art of Georgia O’Keeffe, she’s one of my favorite artists. I grew up on her art, and I just think it’s so beautiful. Her depictions of the southwest and the flowers and her work for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival posters are just elegant and beautiful.
So if you don’t know her work, I encourage you to check it out. For those of you who know her work, you may not realize Georgia O’Keeffe didn’t have her first major showing until she was in her forties. And her most important work, her best and most important work in my opinion, was done in her sixties, not until after she moved to New Mexico. There’s a little ranch just outside Santa Fe called Abiquiu. Also, if you travel to Santa Fe, you have got to go check out the O’Keeffe Museum. It is brilliant, and it talks about her life and there are so many other amazing artists that are shown there. So, as an aside, when you take a trip, go to Santa Fe, check that out. It is beautiful. But Georgia O’Keeffe, I was stunned to learn this, did not do her most important work until she was in her sixties.
Now if you’re more of a sports fan, I’m one of those, too. I’m a Sooner fan. Grew up in Oklahoma. You got to pick a team. You’re either Sooner or a Cowboy. I’ll root for the Cowboys when they’re not playing the Sooners. But it was sad in Sooner Land this January because we lost to Alabama, and Nick Saban that rascally coach at Alabama… Have you seen him on TV? I’m going to tell you how old he is in a minute, and you might not believe me if you don’t already know. But Nick Saban didn’t get his first big head coaching job until he was in his mid-forties and he didn’t start winning championships until well into his 50s – older than me. That gives me hope. Now Nick Saban is 67 now. And by all appearances, he’s in the prime of his career. Now, if you don’t know who Nick Saban is, Google him.
Look at his picture. That dude does not look like he is pushing 70. If I look that good when I’m 70, that’s going to be a big win. Maybe all that time in the gym will have paid off. But there are two examples of really important people in our culture, each, in their own right. They didn’t even begin to really come onto the national scene and do their absolute most meaningful work until well into middle age. So I want you to remember that if you’re at this point in your life when you kind of feel like: ‘God, I haven’t really done much. I’m not there yet.’ Whatever ‘there yet’ means. Again, I want to emphasize there’s no finish line. It’s a journey. It’s a daily practice of being the person that you really want to be, and it’s a daily practice of becoming.
The more we can spend each day in the process of becoming, living in the here and now, I think, the happier we are. Now, I did tell you that I was going to take you back to high school English class. I’m going to read you an excerpt from a poem by Dylan Thomas and it probably – to most of us – I don’t think it had a lot of meaning in high school because at that age you’re invincible or you think you are, but check out his words now.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.”
Now, I hope I haven’t re-traumatized you by taking you back to English class in high school, but consider those words as a filter for your own experience right now. If you’re focused on resilience, if you’re focused on where do I go from here, I want to encourage you. Don’t go gentle. I want to lift you up. I want you to find that fire and that passion and I want you to live into that every day and I want to ask you to help me support you in that. Drop me an email, head over to the website at resilientselfpodcast.com. I want your ideas. I want your feedback. I want your responses. If you think I’m missing the boat on something: “Chris, you’re totally wrong about that.” Hey, send me a message. We’ll talk about it. Today I stepped around many, many, many rabbit holes.
I promise we’ll come back to all of them. I do take requests and so if there’s a particular rabbit hole you want to go down, let me know about it, Alice and we’ll go there. Until then I want to ask your help. Subscribe, leave us a review on whatever version of podcast listener you listened to and please share this with your friends. I do value your commentary, and I really am just so grateful that you’ve spent this time with me on this inaugural first episode. Check out the others, see what you think and I look forward to just walking this journey with you a little bit.
Thanks for being here today.