I am so thrilled to have my friend, Dr. Curt Thompson, on the podcast today. I have been deeply transformed by Curt’s work, and in today's conversation, Curt breathes fresh life into a topic that is too easily tossed around and oversimplified—Hope.
We take a deep dive into the intricacies of hope from a neurobiological, relational, and spiritual perspective. It's a must listen for anyone going through hard times.
Here's what we unpack in our conversation:
* What's happening inside our brains when we hope? (11:59)
* Steps you can take in daily life to foster hope (17:55)
* The link between hope and secure attachment (15:35)
* How we embody and become hope for one another (21:04)
* Reimagining hope in today’s world (22:41)
Do you have questions for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
Thanks to our sponsors:
Go to www.organifi.com/bestofyou today and use code BESTOFYOU for 20% off your order today.
Go to Reliefband.com and use promo code BESTOFYOU to receive 20% off plus free shipping.
Visit seed.com/BESTOFYOU and use code BESTOFYOU to redeem 25% off your first month of Seed's DS-01® Daily
Related Podcast Episodes:
Episode 58: How to Find Friends Who Bring out the Best of You, Why it Matters, and How a Good Friend Can Transform Your Life with Dr. Curt Thompson, Amy Cella, and Pepper Sweeney
Episode 69: Your Future Self—8 Challenges to Resolve As You Become the Person You Were Meant to Be
Episode 70: Mastering the Art of Emotional Intelligence—How to Harness the Power of Your Emotions to Improve Your Relationships
Episode 72: Overcoming Failure, Handling Adversity, and Telling Yourself the Truth
Episode 73: True Belonging vs. Groupthink, Cliques, & Trying to Fit In—How to Belong to Others While Staying True To Yourself
Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
Curt's new book: The Deepest Place: Suffering and the Formation of Hope
Other Books by Curt Thompson:
“Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.” –Frederich Buechner
More about “glimmers” in The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation by Deb Dana
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
TBOY Episode 74
Alison: Hey everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I'm so thrilled you're here today, and I'm especially thrilled to bring you this conversation with my dear friend and fellow therapist, Dr. Curt Thompson.
Curt was on the podcast in Episode 58. He was on with his friends, Pepper Sweeney and Amy Cella. It's a great episode and you get a real sense of their friendship. Curt really lives out what he teaches, but I wanted to have him on to talk about hope because I think hope is one of the most fundamental life skills that we all need to develop. Curt has a wonderful way of talking about it.
Curt is an author and a psychiatrist. He's the founder of the Center for Being Known, an organization that develops resources for hope and healing at the intersection of neuroscience and Christian spiritual formation. He's the author of The Anatomy of the Soul, The Soul of Shame, The Soul of Desire, and his latest book that came out, it's called The Deepest Place: Suffering and the Formation of Hope.
Everything Curt does really speaks to me. we get pretty personal today on the podcast–both Curt and I are deep feelers. So when we're talking about this stuff, there's often tears in the back of our eyes.
So you'll hear some moments of quiet where there are tears showing up both in Curt and in myself. It was a beautiful, powerful conversation. I took so much away from it personally. It moved me and I'm so thrilled for you to now join me in this conversation with my dear friend, Dr.
Alison: Curt, I realized it started recording, can you say that quote again? I want to capture it. I love that.
Curt: Yeah. From Frederick Buechner, Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.
Alison: I love that you thought of that quote as I was asking you how you're doing. It's such a beautiful segue into your book, which is to me this paradox of hope and suffering. The both-and, the one not being able to really exist without the other, which Buechner is getting at.
Always a little bit of both. I'm so looking forward to this conversation. By way of background. We've been going through a series, and this episode will be the last in this series, on these psychology building blocks. I'm calling it Psych 101, these skills that we all need to build to become really a healthy human adult.
We've talked about emotional intelligence, about resilience, about relational habits. I don't think you can become a flourishing, healthy human if you don't understand hope, and if you don't understand how to develop hope, and I love in the subtitle of your book, you talk about the formation of hope, and I'd love to start there.
This is a terrible question to ask, what is hope? Is it a feeling? Is it a mindset? Is it a skill we develop? What's your understanding of hope? We toss the word around a lot. We see it in memes, we see it in cliches, but it's a really deep concept. What is your understanding of it?
Curt: Alison, I would say in some respects, one way to begin to talk about it is that first of all, it's to put it in perspective. Starting big picture and then moving closer in, into who we actually are as real people and with our real stories.
One thing we said when we talk about hope, we're actually talking about something that has to do with our anticipated future. It’s a thing that's happening somewhere. Five minutes from now, five years from now. So it's a future state thing. Then if we consider it very generally, as it turns out, hope is the word that we use that is like a euphemism for any part of my anticipated future that I would find to be something that I would actually look forward to with joy as opposed to looking forward to it with dread.
It’s a hopeful future. Now what's interesting is that without calling it hope, this is what we are doing from the time that we come into the world. We are generating hope. You come into the world as a newborn and you start to cry and mom comes for you and you discover that mom comforts you. Then the next time you do it and the next time you do it, and so forth and so on.
What you're doing is you're developing an anticipated future in which you are gonna be cared for when you are in distress. If that's the kind of family you're growing up in, if we have a secure attachment, for the most part, we form hope long before we call it that.
But what it is, is a future state in which I expect good things to happen. Really the simplest definition: it is a thing that we are doing every time I pull out of my driveway and I drive my car, and without imagining it, I hope that everybody else who's coming my direction stays on their side of the highway.
I hope they do. Now, I'm not thinking that, but that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm driving hopefully.
The other thing, too, that is important, then, is to know that hope is actually a thing that I am in the business of forming neurobiologically. Interpersonally.
We often talk about it as if it is this kind of abstract thing, or at least it's a thing that is independent of anything that I have to do with it. I either have it or I don't have it. Maybe it'll drop into my lap. Maybe it won't. I hope that I'm able to hope. But I don't have any way of being connected to its formation.
Then the other thing that we would say is that hope that is durable, I don't know if we would say always, but it appears frequently that hope that is durable is always formed in the kiln of some kind of suffering.
Alison: Yeah, even in your very first example, the baby who is crying, the impetus for the hope is the pain, is the suffering, is the need. Is that, would you say that in order to hope, one has to suffer? Would you say that they are intimately linked in that way?
Curt: I don't necessarily have to suffer to hope that people will stay on their side of the highway when they're driving toward me. But for durable hope, for me to hope durably, for me to hope in a moment in which my pain is still with me, that's a different kind of hope, and this I think is what Paul is getting at in that passage in Romans 5 that we explore in the book.
This notion that hope emerges in this crucible of suffering. As long as I'm able to recognize that the crucible of suffering itself is preceded by a certain set of assumptions that Paul is making about our relationship with Jesus and about our relationship in the community to which he's writing. I'm not expected to pick up that book of Romans and read it and think, oh, Paul's writing to me, Curt, as the individual, and I'm going to have to suffer and somehow white knuckle myself through perseverance so that I can get to hope.
Paul's writing to a community. It is in the context of that community that we are seen, soothed, safe, secure. The body becomes the person of Jesus to me, in which we are loving people in wild and crazy ways that in that context would have never been predicted outside of the presence of Jesus. In that community, it creates the opportunity for me to reveal myself in my pain to others who are going to be present with me, which enables us to form hope.
I don't form hope for myself. We form hope for me and we form hope for you.
Alison: Yeah I love that. That's a key point in the book. I want to circle back to that “we” hope in the context of community and connection, but I love what you said. I want to pause there because I think so many of us, I was thinking about it as I was reading this book, that Romans 5 passage, it's so familiar.
I've always felt the linear kind of part of my brain. Like you said, it's not that encouraging to me. It's like a hard thing happens, I have to work really hard, then it's sequential. In the end, I might get this feeling of hope. That's a fruit of all this hard stuff. And that's not a super hopeful or pleasant way of looking at it.
You are expanding it–it's more of this virtuous cycle where all of these things are happening simultaneously. It's an action. It's a forming, in the context of community, I want to circle back to that, but I have a question for you before we get there.
There's a way in which, when you talk about hope as being future-oriented, a way of looking toward an outcome that is favorable that we hope will come to pass, it almost sounds a little bit like the opposite of anxiety, where there is this futuristic orientation toward what could go wrong.
It almost sounds to me as if hope is in some ways the antidote for anxiety and it's not positive thinking. It's something much deeper and much more robust spiritually and neurobiologically than the power of positive thinking. Does that make sense?
Curt: Yeah. What I would say in this regard is that we form hope. But what we form is actually a byproduct–I don't form hope because I set out to form hope. I form hope because in my suffering, I allow myself to be revealed to you. I do it over and over again, despite the fact that my pain isn't leaving, which is perseverance.
In the course of that work, I become a person of character that I couldn't have been if I'm trying to do this all by myself, or if I'm trying to do this by myself without revealing myself to someone else. That movement from the suffering, practicing perseverance, the development of character, as we like to say, we always remember our futures.
Our future is only ever constructed out of my remembered past. I don't ever construct a future that I'm not imagining from my past experience in some way, shape or form. So when I talk about hope, what I'm really talking about is an anticipated future that is built out of multiple moments of embedded experience that I commit to memory in which I have experienced my pain in the presence of Alison, who is with me with loving kindness, and my friend Neil, and my friend Rich, and Byron, these people who are with me, and I encode this, and this becomes my source for my anticipated future.
I'm building a neural base of memory of, when I am in pain, I am also experiencing the presence of those who are with me. It categorically shapes and changes the nature of the story that I tell about the pain, including how I experience the feeling of it.
That means that as I imagine, my future becomes one of repeated moments like this. When I do think about my future, that future is coming out of this series of present moments that I have felt, this seabed, if you will, of seeds that we are planting of the presence of Jesus through his body being with me.
When I imagine my future, I'm like, oh, Curt, when is this problem that you have that is so awful gonna stop? I think I don't know, but when I think about having it next Friday, I think about the sense that I'm not by myself with this, and it categorically changes it. I have a hopeful future, and that actually circles back around to change my present moment itself.
Alison: It's really a paradigm shift in that it shifts the focus of the hope from the outcome out there and onto the journey, which is, I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know I'm going to receive care and love and kindness and connection and beauty in this moment.
Again, that's not necessarily what we want, maybe the outcome will come, but it doesn't matter. I'm receiving something even more beautiful, perhaps, in the moment. Curt, I'm imagining the person listening, especially if we think about hope being formed literally, from the moment we experience comfort as a newborn baby, as a child.
What happens if we never encoded that kind of positive experience as a child, for whatever reason, as a result of emotional neglect, abuse, traumatic experiences, and so our brain really does go to when bad things happen, I am alone and I don't have a different memory for that.
Curt: My guess is that if they're listening to your podcast, they didn't randomly flip a coin and land on Alison's podcast. They're probably listening to you for a reason. Even if they grew up in a place where they knew very little of a secure attachment, if they're listening to you, it's because at some point and on some level, they are forming a secure attachment with you.
Even if you're not in the room, it's happening because this is the work that you do. I know you, I consider you to be my friend. I love being in the room with you. Who wouldn't love being in the room with you? I'm really serious. Like the sense that if somebody's listening, they're already hopeful and they're hopeful because not because, oh, Alison provides great information, which you do, but they're not coming for your information.
They're coming for you. This is why your listeners are coming and what's happening for them means that, maybe it's not picture perfect because you're not in the room and you aren't sharing meals together and so forth, but there are going to be listeners whose attachments are being formed differently because they're listening to you.
They're listening to us now. We would say to those listeners, gosh, I wonder what it feels like to imagine Alison being with you in your kitchen and having a cup of coffee together, what do you imagine that would be like? I imagine that there'd be a lot of people who would love that.
Why do you think that is? Because you've already had this felt sense, literally, in your chest that this is a woman who's willing to both be vulnerable, but also who listens well. Who's willing to be present with you in the room with the parts of you that are hard. When that begins to happen, that's the kind of experience that we want to have you practice paying attention to.
My hopeless future, my dreaded future, is really me paying attention to the things that I've always paid attention to. Again, this is why we talk about hope being formed. It is not a thing that is going to fall out of the sky into my lap because I want it to.
God takes us very seriously and expects us to be involved in the hope-forming project. For those people who haven't had it at the cradle, my guess is that we would say, oh then we're gonna want to work on finding relationships where that can become possible.
Alison: I love that. It's a spin on you always saying pay attention to what you're paying attention to. That applies to shame but it also applies to hope. Paying attention to that feeling of: there's something here that gives me hope.
Curt: Again, if I were to get up and walk down the hallway at my house, I say I hope that the floor holds. I don't think I'm going to say I hope the floor holds, but I'm living as if I do hope the floor holds.
Why is that? Because I've had an embodied encounter with the floor thousands of times. So when we talk about this kind of hope for relational wholeness, we're talking about putting ourselves in a position in which we can have greater numbers of experiences in which we are being seen in this way that we're talking about in the middle of our pain.
Alison: Yeah. Maybe the first step, if you're someone who struggles with a lot of anxiety, a lot of despair, a lot of hopelessness, however it shows up in your life, is beginning to notice, what are those times when it feels like the floor held a little bit, when it feels like someone, a glimmer, to use, Deb Dana's word, she uses this word glimmer that is like the opposite of a trigger.
It's a moment of hope. I'm not sure she would contextualize it that way, but it's when your nervous system feels all those good things of, okay, maybe I can do this. It's noticing those glimmers and capturing them intentionally. The moment after I talked to that person, I felt a little bit better. Cultivating that, being mindful about gathering up some of those hopes so that you can follow the breadcrumbs to greater and greater awareness.
Curt: I mean, I'm sure that you have this experience when you're in the consultation room with folks. You have an experience with a patient in which something happens and you sense them sensing that they've been seen. There's some moment of felt connection and when this happens in our confessional communities, when there's 10 of us in the room, we pause, we stop the moment and we say, tell us what happened.
We want to draw their attention to what they feel in their chest, what's happened in their body. We want them to be explicit and tell us who said what? What were they looking like? What was the tone of their voice? We want them to practice this.
Then we say, your assignment between now and next week is every day, I want you to rewrite the screenplay of what happened here. I want you to begin to remember. This is the Old Testament. “Remember”. This notion of literally practicing, neurally embedding this moment, such that this becomes what generates your anticipated future, more and more, which is essentially what hope amounts to.
Alison: Practicing hope, really. Practicing it. You talk about that. We have to practice it, to catch that glimmer of it. I love what you also said about secure attachment. I'm curious as a therapist what you think about this. Part of why I appreciate so much what you said about the podcast is because I've thought a lot about what is the purpose of this? Why do I do this?
Some of it grew out of my work as a therapist, and it's fascinating to me. It's not the brilliance of what I say. It's not the therapeutic modality, although I love IFS. There's different interventions that certainly work well.
What people remember and consistently would say to me is, I would start to hear your voice in my head. What would Alison say at this moment? It was never the most brilliant thing I said. It was hope. It was just, oh, Alison would say, and they're starting to internalize that voice.
That's so much of what we need. Do you, does that, you're laughing. So I presume it's humbling. It's both humbling and it's also freeing. It's, oh gosh, this is so much simpler, this work, it's more complex and more simple than we make it out to be.
Curt: Yeah. That's really well said. I'm reflecting on this work that happens in these confessional communities that we provide. We know there is a moment for every one of the participants that typically happens when we hear them say some version of, “I had the hardest conversation I've ever had with my boss yesterday and every single one of you were in the office and I know exactly where you were standing, and Susan, you were actually sitting right beside me”.
Of course it's easy for us to say, I'm making stuff up in my head. I want to say, of course it's in your head in that it's neural. But this is exactly what we do with everything that we do. When a toddler goes off to preschool, she takes mom and dad in her head with her, even though she doesn't know that's what she's doing. The reason she can go off to preschool is because mom and dad are with her.
This is not an imagined fairy tale. No, it is really that people take up residence in the presence of others. So when Paul uses this metaphor of the body of Jesus, there were all kinds of other words they could have used to describe the church. But he's really taking something of this material world and maximizing its efficacy for us, recognizing that taking Jesus literally is the taking of these people that I know, and they're going to be in the room with me.
That kind of work is so antithetical to how we are in our kind of modernist way of thinking that spirituality is this rather abstract thing that happens out in the ether rather than beginning with our bodies. Hope is a thing that actually, as it turns out, is formed by virtue of me imagining that my friend's bodies are in the room with me in the middle of the hardest places.
Alison: I wanted to tell you, I love how in all that you do, you bring us back to this idea of embodied hope. You have been the voice in my head that has helped me understand the power of community. I want you to know that.
For me, I can do the internal work. I can be a good parent to the parts of myself. I can co-parent with God, with Jesus, with parts of myself. I can be with the hurting parts of me. I can invite God.
But boy, to let other humans near those hurting parts is a challenge for me. I talk about that and the way that you describe these confessional communities, the way that you describe the body of Christ as embodied withness, as in and of itself, bringing hope has been so meaningful to me.
I want to say that to you while you're here with me, because you are that embodiment of hope for me. The way that you describe this whole process as happening in the context of withness has really helped me become a hope seeker in my relationships. So thank you for that.
Curt: First of all you're very kind to say that. That feels really good to hear. I'm really, I'm just, I'm taking that in. Really grateful. It's a lovely gift on a Thursday afternoon that I didn't see coming. It's really lovely. So thank you for that, for your words.
I would say, as our friends at the Bible Project like to say, everything you need to know about human beings, you can find out by reading the first six chapters of Genesis. You read that, and there's nothing more, like everything you need to know, it's right there.
One of the very first things that we read has to do with how God formed the human and that he begins with mud and he breathes the breath of life into the humans and nostrils and the human becomes a living being. We might say therefore that if we take away the dirt, or if we take away the breath, that we stopped being human.
So they're both equally important for us to be human, but there is a sequence in which we are formed, and that same sequence, as it turns out, is followed in terms of how our life is actually lived in the world. First we sense, and only then do we make sense of what we sense. First we have an encounter, we behold the word, and only then do we write in John chapter 1 how we beheld. The theology and the written text only follows the embodied experience and it then turns around to inform my embodied experience and so forth. But I think it has been helpful.
I've grown up in the same world that everybody else has taught us. The Christian story is about a set of beliefs and so forth and so on. That's primarily what it is.
But it necessarily involves my body first. It doesn't make sense to me because that's not the world that we live in, but it would have been the first century Hebrew’s world. As it turns out, there is an infinite array of practical ways that we can apply this in the form of healing for our patients. We see that the mechanics that we learned about is walking in lockstep with the story that we hear about in the text.
Alison: How did you arrive at your own experience of, you presumably went to medical school, you become a psychiatrist, you're interested in helping others. How did you begin to conceptualize from a felt need place in your life, oh, this needs to happen in community? This needs to happen with other people.
Because speaking for myself, I go into this field with a little bit of, I know intellectually we should be doing this in community, but how do we actually do that? In your own personal life, what are some milestones where you realized that there's something bigger going on here than an expert with a patient?
Curt: Yeah. For the Hebrews, coming out of Egypt is the formational story. For me, I finished residency in 1992. We moved to the DC area that summer. We joined a church. That fall, we had our first covenant group gathering.
It's our small group. They call them covenant groups at our church that we are still part of here. There were about, I don't know, eight or nine of us that were in the group. We decided, hey, this would be a good idea since many of us are coming to this group brand new to the church, brand new to each other, for us to tell our stories.
The woman who is now, and has been, my literary agent, Leslie Nunn Reed, who now lives in Dallas, but who at the time was living in the DC area, she was part of our covenant group. Leslie was the first to decide that everybody's gonna tell their story. Take one night, tell their story.
The very first night, Leslie says to us, “I realized that as I approach this, there are two stories I could tell. I could tell the story that would be easy to tell, and that's the kind of story that everybody here would find easy to tell. Or I could tell the real story. I've decided I'm gonna tell the real story”.
It was one of the game changing moments, not in my life, but in the life of this entire covenant group. She told the good, the bad, and the hard, and that vulnerability was like the horse left the barn and there was no getting the horse back in the barn.
From that time forward we began to live a life together in which, and to this day, there are four couples that are part of it. To this day, I would say there's very little, if anything, at least the men in that group, there's nothing about me they don't know. There's nothing about us as couples that for the most part, we don't know.
We have loved each other. We have fought with each other. We have been mad at each other. We have had to repair ruptures with each other. What was interesting about it is that the whole time that this is happening, I'm a newly minted out of residency psychiatrist.
I'm taking care of patients while I'm having this experience personally about the time interpersonal neurobiology rolled around or before that. It became clear that what we were doing in that community was transformational for us. It transformed everything that we are doing.
I think walking into that workshop with Dan Siegel 20 years ago, that it's oh my gosh, these are the mechanics of what we've been doing for the last, however many years, 15 to 20 years. From that time forward, and then you start to read the scriptures, and you're like, holy freaking cow.
Alison: That's right. It's so cool. I love that. Is that the woman to whom you dedicated The Deepest Place? Now I understand even more deeply why that's so formative, because then you could see what's happening and what we've looked at as a spiritual practice, which is the practice of gathering and fellowshipping and breaking bread and all the things that are in scripture, and said, oh, this is actually in our brain.
There is a neurobiological basis for this. This is actually how God designed us and put all that language to it. So powerful. That's so beautiful. I love that.
Curt: Thanks for asking. I love telling that story. Because I love talking about Leslie in that way. I don't think anybody else would have even thought to have told the real story in the way that she did. As does all healing, it upended all of us in the most beautiful and sometimes difficult ways.
Alison: Thank you so much for telling it. That's very brave, what she did. It's a really helpful reminder again, going back to how to begin to be a glimmer gatherer or a hope seeker, someone who's looking for these moments of hope. Right there, she did something in that moment that you were aware of and moved toward. You moved toward that as a group.
Here you are 20 years later or however many years later with this rich, robust experience of hope that you're now pouring out to so many others.
Curt: I, this morning, I was at breakfast with one of one of the husbands of these families, his name's Rich, lifelong friend of mine. On Monday, I'll be with Neil. These relationships, these are not therapeutic relationships, but these are deeply formational relationships for me because they're all part of the larger context.
It's not this individual thing that I've had. It's with each of them in the context of this community in which the community itself is providing a crucible ballast support, but also a certain level of conviction of loving and kindness when pressure needs to be born on. When love is demanding things of us that I would rather it not demand of me. Yeah.
Alison: Yeah, it's real community. It's real embodied withness that is transformational. It is the context of this sort of hope-suffering partnership that is the topic of the deepest place. I want to circle back to when you were saying about how even these words that we're saying right now, being on a podcast, we can form these secure attachments that can do some good.
Everything I think about therapy has a place. It does some good. This has a place, the written words that we do have a place. There's probably nothing that can take the place of that kind of confessional community that you described so well, those real transformational on the ground relationships. I long for people to experience what you experienced with Leslie. I do. I think that's where this transformation occurs. I long for more of it.
You describe it so well in The Soul of Desire, that it's not a replacement for church. It's not a replacement for therapy. It is these communities in real life, these relationships when we are suffering, because suffering will come and you talk about that in the book, we will suffer. It's how do we suffer and how do we cultivate and form hope in the midst of suffering?
Really, Curt, in so many ways, what you're saying is it's in the context of being known. That's what we need. Leslie being so brave in her small group that wasn't set up for this and said, I'm going to tell you the truth today. I'm going to take a chance.
Curt: Yeah. We didn't even know that she was being brave because we weren't even imagining that this is the kind of story that who in their right mind would ever do such a thing to actually take the book of James seriously? If you're not well, confess. In the book of James, if any of you don't confess, tell the truth, tell your story, and all the parts about your story that are unwell, let it be prayed for such that you may be healed.
It’s essentially what she did. She's naming all the things. And, again, the whole notion, it's not good for the man to be alone, and you want to say no kidding. The degree I suffer is in no small part a function of the degree to which I carry it alone.
It is in naming them to a person who is willing to name the same thing to me about their own, that I discover that I'm not alone with this, and it is in not being alone that healing's door is opened. This is where the whole notion of what the Trinitarian theology of the church is such a big deal.
It's so important because of this notion that when Peter whacks off the ear of the high priest's servant in the garden of Gethsemane and Jesus heals him and then says, put away your sword. Do you not know that should I want to, I could call for 12 legions, 60,000 troops, and they would come.
Imagine you hear him say that and your mind is immediately drawn to Elisha and his servant and Jerusalem is surrounded and the servant is panicked and Elisha says, let him see. His eyes were opened, and he saw the host of heaven, the army of the Lord God Almighty. Now, nobody else could see this, but you figure, on Good Friday, it's easy for us to be so limited in our imagination that we don't see 60,000 troops that are at the ready, waiting for their captain's call, and he doesn't call them.
You can imagine, being the archangel, and you're wondering, why is he not calling? This sense of withness, this sense that Jesus has the awareness that he is not by himself, even in the middle of his suffering, because he sees things that even in that space, it would be hard for anyone to see. This is what we are called to be doing.
I'm reading today about Stephen and his stoning. He saw the son of man. There are things that he sees because he is so immersed in this community of the king.
Alison: Such that his face shines in the face of adversity. Yeah. He's not pep talking himself to that. That's a, to use your word, that's an encoded experience of something that is so real that in that moment of the worst adversity of being literally stoned, his face is beaming because he is with that memory, that lived experience of goodness and of love.
You're right, we practice that. I love that. We have to practice that and we have to practice that in community with others. We have to practice that and to use your words, we have to suffer differently. Sometimes I say suffer wisely, but I love you're taking it to suffer a little bit differently.
Tell somebody, get that experience of it didn't necessarily fix my problem, but I wasn't alone and something shifted. Something got encoded inside of me and I'm building on that. I got one, I'm going to look for another one to the point where we become like Jesus or like Steven. It's so beautiful, Curt. I could talk to you for hours. I love talking to you.
Curt: Back at you.
Alison: I love how real it all is for you. I think that's what speaks to people. All of your work comes from the overflow of your heart. I want to close because I ask when I do have guests, I ask them, what is bringing out the best of you right now? What do you hope for right now?
Curt: Okay, so I have in this list in this group of people that I'm with, I've got this covenant group and I've got these three other guys that I'm with every Tuesday morning for the last 25 plus years for confession and prayer and so forth. I say without these people in my life, I'm a dead man.
But in this context I've made a list of people that I have to forgive then there's 10 that are on the list and, you might think, okay, if I'm listening, am I on the list? No, but you're on a list. Okay, you're on a list.
There are people on the list and what has been hopeful has been the work of recognizing there's a certain suffering that goes with, I have to admit, oh I've actually enjoyed holding a grudge.
I've taken pleasure in holding a grudge about something like, I don't think about all these people all the time, but when they come up, I'm liking being pissed. I have good reason for it, but I'm having to burn energy to keep that story alive the way it is.
I'm having to come to terms with oh, this is a story that I have told. Yes, certain things happened, but now I recognize I have now been telling a story ever since it did happen, and I am my problem.
What has been hopeful has been practicing imagining Jesus being in the room with me, with them, and practicing telling a different story. Sharing this with these people in my group, and recognizing that there has been a shift in my posture. Now, I'm imperfect at this, and I still have a long way to go, but for the first time I'm getting to a point where I'm looking forward to not holding grudges.
I would much rather not do that, rather than enjoying it as much as I have been for however long I've been enjoying it. That's something that I can say that has been a hopeful thing. The way you get there is you gotta identify these other things that you're not very proud of.
Alison: I love it. You're practicing hope and you're right, it's that paradox. I want to encourage everybody, it's called The Deepest Place: Suffering and the Formation of Hope. It's that paradox of it doesn't feel that great to look at that, but man, when you do it in the context of safety, in the context of love, it feels great.
It breeds hope. It's amazing. So it is very hopeful. It's such a paradox. It's facing what's hard about ourselves, about our lives in the context of safety, love, compassion. It develops hope. You're going to get to a better place. Tell everybody how they can find you, how they can find your work, Curt.
Curt: Probably the way that most people are finding it these days is through podcasts that I co-host with my friend Pepper Sweeney. So that's called the Being Known Podcast. That's one way to find me. There's another way through my website, CurtThompsonMD.com. Then there's Instagram. Facebook and what used to be called Twitter. Whatever it is now, can find that on that account,
Then you can find me through the Center for Being Known, which you so kindly and generously spoke at last year. Through that and through this Connections Conference that we'll be having here in about a month. Those are some ways to find me.
Alison: I think, correct me if I'm wrong, but for folks who are interested in potentially doing a confessional community, they can get information about that at your website.
Curt: They can get information about that at my website through the Center for Being Known. Through our practice that does training, it does immersion trainings, intensives for folks. That's called New Story Behavioral Health that's here in Northern Virginia. So it's a way to do that.
Alison: That's great. You're the best. Always grateful for your time. Thank you!
Curt: Me too. You're very welcome. My pleasure.