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Amazing Possibilities!

  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly

Dr. Greg Bottaro - Interview with Matthew Kelly



Hi, I'm Matthew Kelly. I'm here with Greg Bottaro, founder and director of the CatholicPsych Institute. Greg, it's been a while, it's good to see you again. Thanks for coming to visit us again.



Greg Bottaro:

It's great to be here with you.


Matthew Kelly:

It's been a great partnership over the years, and we've done some amazing things together. I've got some very serious questions to get us started like, what is your favorite food?


Greg Bottaro:

I prefer a really good steak.


Matthew Kelly:

A really good steak?


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah, absolutely.


Matthew Kelly:

You're like an Italian guy.


Greg Bottaro:

I am an Italian guy.


Matthew Kelly:

What would your hundreds, thousands of years of ancestors turning over in their grave as you're like, "I'll take a steak."


Greg Bottaro:

It's true. I can't say I've had really good steak at Italy, but it's not the most amazing thing to do. But I do enjoy good steak.


Matthew Kelly:

Good, good, good. Second and very serious question, are you a coffee drinker?


Greg Bottaro:

Oh, I love coffee.


Matthew Kelly:

So there is some Italian there, right?


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah, there you go.


Matthew Kelly:

Italians do love their coffee.


Greg Bottaro:

Absolutely.


Matthew Kelly:

How much coffee do you drink?


Greg Bottaro:

I'm a little embarrassed to acknowledge that publicly. I probably have four or five espressos before noon, and then I'll have a coffee after lunch.


Matthew Kelly:

Excellent. Good, good, good. What about a favorite movie?


Greg Bottaro:

Ah, favorite movie, great question. Gosh, I have so many good ones. I'm totally drawing a blank right now.


Matthew Kelly:

That's okay. That's okay. It's been a while since we've sat down, what's going on in your life? What are you excited about? Update us a little.


Greg Bottaro:

Well, we have six kids, and my youngest is six months and we are just starting to settle in enough. We decided it's not crazy enough around here so let's get a dog, so last week we got a puppy. So we have six kids under eight, by the way, and now we have a puppy as well. So we've added that to the roster and it's amazing, we're having a lot of fun with it.


Matthew Kelly:

Boys or girls?


Greg Bottaro:

We have three boys and three girls.


Matthew Kelly:

Okay, very good. I hear you love building things.


Greg Bottaro:

That's true.


Matthew Kelly:

What do you like to build? And where did that love of building come from?


Greg Bottaro:

I grew up, my dad was always just tinkering, building, fixing, and we grew up in that environment. If it was something that you could fix or build yourself, then you just did it. And really took on a love for this with my wife. We were on a show, a little known fact, we were on an HGTV television show called Property Brothers. So we were on one of these TV shows where you renovate and fix up a property. And my wife and I caught a bug and we just loved it so much. So as soon as that crew left, we decided to add on another addition to that house. Then when we ran out of stuff to do on that little house, we sold it and we bought a bigger property that was abandoned for a year.


Greg Bottaro:

So we've spent the last year, we had something to do during quarantine, fixing up this new property, bring it back to life. Recently we moved to the outside as it started to warm up. So I cleared a big part of the yard, took down six huge trees, and then put in about a 3,000 square foot garden. So this is our latest project, building a bunch of raised planting boxes and then filling them and laying the whole thing out. Then we're going out and finding vegetables and flowers with the kids and figuring out how to plant it all out there. So that's been the biggest latest project.


Matthew Kelly:

All right. So you're the psychologist, all right? I'll lay that out there you are the psychologist, I am not the psychologist.


Greg Bottaro:

I feel like I'm about to get psychoanalyzed.


Matthew Kelly:

Six kids, the dog, the renovating the house, all of that sounds a little bit insane to me. And I'm just wondering what your professional opinion is as a psychologist.


Greg Bottaro:

Well, psychologists are notoriously good at ignoring our own psychopathology. So I actually don't have even beginning of an answer for you.


Matthew Kelly:

Other thing I hear about you is that you love sailing, used to sail.


Greg Bottaro:

Yes, definitely.


Matthew Kelly:

Don't get much of a chance anymore.


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah, that's true.


Matthew Kelly:

What did you love about sailing and what did it teach you about life?


Greg Bottaro:

Good question. I loved the raw power of nature and being really in tune with it and having to really respect it, but then realizing that by giving yourself over to it, with that respect and reverence, you can also go so much further and faster than anything you could do on your own. And so it became this exhilaration for me, and there's almost nothing more amazing as far as I can think of in nature in this created world than hiking out over the edge of a sailboat, holding nothing but that means sheet with your body flying over the water and hearing the rush and feeling the water slapping up. And that is just heaven to me. So what I learned there is to respect, to reverence the created order and to look for ways that it can help us to become better versions of ourselves.


Matthew Kelly:

So as a psychologist, one of the things I'm curious about in social settings, people inevitably ask, "What do you do?" When they learn that you're a psychologist, what reactions do you get?


Greg Bottaro:

Well, I do the best I can to hide the fact that I'm a psychologist in social settings. Usually I tell people I'm a painter or I'm an electrician. I say something that nobody's going to ask any follow-up questions to. But when people do know what I do, it's really hard. At first, people always assume that I can read their mind. So people are uncomfortable and nervous around me. I tell people all the time, "Listen, I only work when I'm getting paid. I'm not doing my job right now at this cocktail party, so don't worry about it." But then inevitably they want to open up and share, and it's this immediate access to people's interior life. And they're sharing their difficulties or their wounds or whatever else. Sometimes it's a lot to try to navigate when you're sipping on your cocktail and trying to talk about the sports, the Yankees or something else that's going on.


Matthew Kelly:

I can imagine, I can imagine. People come to therapy for all sorts of reasons. One thing I've often wondered is, do people sometimes come to therapy to avoid something rather than to face something?


Greg Bottaro:

Oh, wow. To avoid something, I think so. I think a lot of times people are surprised, if we really hang in there together, at what ends up coming up. And in most cases, what people end up working on in therapy is not what they came on the first day for. So a lot of times in that process, we can uncover things they might be avoiding actually needing to work on. And coming to therapy might just be their way of checking the box, they think they're doing everything they're supposed to do. I think unfortunately in a lot of therapeutic environments, the professional vault might go along with that and they might just get away with that. I know people have spun their wheels for years going to a therapist, but not really working on the deeper issues that need to be uncovered.


Matthew Kelly:

So if someone is thinking about seeing a therapist for the first time in their life, what advice would you have for them?


Greg Bottaro:

Find the right person. You're opening up your heart and your soul and the intimacy of your own interior life and likely your family life and all sorts of other areas to a stranger. And if you drive a nice car, you're going to find the mechanic that knows how to work on that car. if, you drive a piece of garbage car and you have a flat tire or something, maybe you don't care where you take it. But when you're taking your own interior life someplace to be worked on, it requires at least the same amount of effort in finding the right place. The way that we're built is so important when it comes to somebody fixing what might be broken. We need to have somebody who has a blueprint, an understanding of how we're built if they're going to offer some way of actually helping you. And that blueprint is what's missing in most of secular psychotherapy.


Matthew Kelly:

Is it because they've thrown God and spirituality away?


Greg Bottaro:

100%. Without that foundation, there's no grounding in which to really understand anything that we're observing through science. The science is so important, it's about measuring the observable world around us, testing it, proving hypotheses or no hypothesis, these things are important. But without that grounding on that foundation of our spiritual dimension, our eternal dimension, what we're made for, we won't be able to make sense of what we're observing. So these secular modalities are really just shooting in the dark trying to figure out how to make sense of what we're observing. And at the end of the day, if we don't have that spiritual blueprint, if we don't understand we're made in the image of God, that we're headed towards divine union with God, we're not going to be able to really make headway with what we're seeing.


Matthew Kelly:

So in economics, there's a theory, sunk cost bias, where someone buys something, it's no longer worth what they bought it for but they keep investing into it or keep holding onto it thinking that it will one day return to its previous value. Sometimes people will say, "Oh, yes, I've been seeing this therapist for three years or five years or longer." And you asked that person, "Okay, well, what is it about that relationship that works for you?" Or, "Do you feel like your therapist is a really good fit for you?" And they'll often say, "Actually, no. But I've been with her for so long or I've been with him for so long." So they've got this sunk cost bias. They have a sense that it's not really working, but this person knows all about their life, this person knows all about their family, knows the things they struggle with. So they're hesitant to make a shift-


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah, definitely.


Matthew Kelly:

... and move to a therapist who might be able to help them more effectively or in a deeper way. What would you say to that person?


Greg Bottaro:

It's really subtle and it's sometimes not as obvious even as realizing this isn't really going anywhere. Sometimes it feels like this is the best that I can get because that person only knows that one box that they've checked. So they don't even realize that they're missing out on something better. So sometimes I offer an outside perspective of some more objective criteria. if you're with somebody it's not just about... Everybody thinks rapport is important, it is very important, you have to have rapport, but being challenged is also very important. So if you have a therapist that you never feel challenged by, that's going to be a problem. Your therapist is not just your best friend, it's not the person to just always validate everything you do, there should be deep validation of who you are as a person. But then also there should be this momentum moving forward, there's a growth, there's a trajectory. And if you can't see that there's actually a growth and a trajectory happening, then it's probably time to take a step back and reevaluate.


Matthew Kelly:

So this challenging piece that you talk about is a part of every relationship. Whenever we're trying to help other people become the best version of themselves, that there should be challenge, there should be encouragement, there should be both of these things. How do you know how much you can challenge a patient?


Greg Bottaro:

To be totally honest, I don't always know. To be really honest, I make mistakes on that line, and it can be really difficult. So it's a little bit of a give and take in terms of putting myself out there, and then if I make a mistake, also having the humility to acknowledge it and even to apologize if necessary. But at the same time, you develop an insight, a little intuition into having a grounding and some rapport, like there's enough of a connection here. And I also know, based on my own heart's disposition. Because I really love my patients and I can tell what's going on with the relationship based on what's going on inside of me. As I'm growing in understanding of this person and growing in love with this person, I know that we're on solid ground.


Greg Bottaro:

I've had the experience of being more challenged to develop that sense of love within myself for certain patients. So I can also figure out like, "Okay, what's my stuff getting in the way here?" And I'll take that to my own work. I have my own therapy, I have my own colleagues that I go to for support. And then I'll like work on who does this person remind me of? Or what is coming up? What are my fears? What are my insecurities? And then once I move those blocks, then I come back and I can redevelop and try to regain that traction with the patient. So as that's happening, I have that internal compass that lets me know, all right, we're ready to take that next step because I'm ready to take that next step. I'm not going to lose the connection that I've developed or need to develop.


Matthew Kelly:

So you've got your life going on here and then you've got all the lives of your patients that you're intimately involved in. You come home at night, wife, kids, dog, what has having six children taught you about fatherhood?


Greg Bottaro:

Well, I'm still work in progress, still learning a lot. But one thing I realized from training in my doctorate and learning how to be a professional psychologist is how to let go of the things that are not my responsibility to hold on to. I think, I hope that I'm learning little by little how to do that with my kids as well. I pour my heart and soul into my kids, into my marriage, into those relationships as the most important in my life. And yet at the same time, at the end of the day, I can't be responsible ultimately for the decisions that they make. So in some small way, there's a connection there. I think it's a lot harder lesson to learn with family life. But as I continue along, realizing that ultimately God is the one who's responsible for this mess. And whatever we do to make the mess worse, he's definitely more capable than we are of cleaning it up. So just like with my patients, with my family, with my marriage, with everything else, I have to just put it back in his hands at the end of the day.


Matthew Kelly:

So what advice would you have for someone who's about to become a father for the first time?


Greg Bottaro:

Fatherhood for the first time is get on your knees. I think the most important lesson I've learned, and I'm learning still, again, is to be a son first and to understand the fatherhood of God is what gives direction to everything about our life. And the more that I learn, the more that I grow in my prayer life and my spirituality and my work and my family, it all comes back down to being children. I just keep thinking this over and over again, we're just children, we're just kids. We don't have any idea what we're actually doing. It's such a load of baloney that we think we're in control of this so we understand this. At the end of the day, we don't really know what we're doing. And if we can climb up into the father's lap and give it all to him at the end and let him take care of it, whatever part he wants to share with us in leading and fathering and building or controlling, it's going to be blessed because it's only in context with what he actually gives us.


Matthew Kelly:

So juxtaposed to that, what mistake do you see parents making all the time?


Greg Bottaro:

I forget what I just said. And then pretend, I fall into the illusion that I'm in control. And it's like, if the kids aren't following these rules, if dinnertime isn't totally orderly and peaceful, if X, Y, Z doesn't go as planned, I act as if my plan's not happening. I am not in control so I need to try to use anger or frustration or impatience to wrestle back control. And that's when I lose it, that's when whatever I built up is dissipated. It's like that's when it's gone and that's what needs to be repented of and reclaimed.


Matthew Kelly:

When you get into that space, are you aware you're in that space, you catch yourself in that space?


Greg Bottaro:

I've grown in that a lot. A lot of the work that I do professionally, thank God, is very deeply personal. And so it's one of the benefits of what I get to do, walking this walk with so many people. I learn so much for myself, and so I do benefit from that. I think I've grown a lot in that self-awareness. So I can't say that it means that I don't do it anymore or don't have those voices or don't have those parts of me, but I have awareness of those parts in a way that I never did before. And that does give me some sense of being able to step back from it.


Matthew Kelly:

Do you think that parents are more aware today of how their parenting impacts their children forever than they were 20 years ago, 50 years ago?


Greg Bottaro:

I'd like to say yes, but unfortunately, I think the content has just shifted. I don't think awareness has grown. I think we look back on 50 years ago and say, "How did parents not realize that they were doing this to their kids?" But I see the same exact dynamics happening today. I think parents 50 years ago, I can only assume, were just as well intentioned as parents today are. But what we understand content wise changes, but the dynamics of that interior life, of inner awareness, of being there to be a gift for others, those are the eternal truths that we all have to grow in, probably since the beginning of time, probably till the end of time. So I don't think that's really changed.


Matthew Kelly:

Well, what's something that parents are doing today that others will look back 50 years from now and say, "I can't believe parents were doing that 50 years ago?"


Greg Bottaro:

Technology. I think parents have swung the pendulum too far. Whereas before, maybe 50 years ago, there's too much strict harshness. And now I hear parents tell me all the time, "I can never take away Johnny's cell phone, iPad, tablet, whatever." Like, "Of course, I couldn't do that. They'll never be able to communicate with their friends, they'll never this, they'll never that, they'll hate me forever." That's ridiculous. I think once we understand the brain neurology, once we understand the addictions, once we understand the way that technology is warping our understanding of ourselves, of God, of relationship, that's going to be something that 50 years from now, people will look back and say, "I can't believe those parents from the 2000s that they let their kids do all that." So I think we're going to have to answer for that.


Matthew Kelly:

So parents, friends of mine have a 13 year old. They asked me recently what I thought about them giving their 13 year old a cell phone. I asked them to talk about it, I asked them what their opinions were, what their daughter was saying to them, and what her friend was saying to her and what other parents had shared with them as parents. They were approaching it thoughtfully, but you could tell they were really struggling with it. What it ultimately came down to was that all her friends had one. And I asked them, "Okay, let's imagine for a moment none of her friends had one, would you be the first parent to give your child a cell phone in this social group?" And they didn't like that. I think it brought some clarity that was maybe...


Matthew Kelly:

It's like sometimes you go to someone for advice and you want them to tell you what you want them to tell you. And they don't tell you that, so then you go to the next person, and then the next person and then the next person until someone tells you what you want to hear and then you say, "You're a very wise person. I'm really glad I sought your advice because you've told me exactly what I wanted to hear to begin with." So I think parents are in this dilemma. It seems parents struggle to do things that are counter-cultural. How do we encourage parents to have the wisdom, the inner strength, whatever it is it takes to make counter-cultural choices for themselves, and then to teach their children to do the same?


Greg Bottaro:

This is the answer that the parents are probably not looking for, but in order to be counter-cultural, you have to have a culture, and parents are lazy. I give into this myself sometimes too. So this is not pointing fingers, but this is just naming a thing what it is. And if we don't take a step back and have an intentionality to the way we live our life, then we are swept away with whatever else somebody else is deciding should be the way we live our life. Of course, that's not one person, that's a whole movement. And that might be guided by technology, big corporations, media, whatever it is. The point is, we all have the strength, the capacity, and the calling to create our own culture. But it takes intentionality.


Greg Bottaro:

It means we just have to decide at one point to say, "I'm going to take a step back, I'm going to pray and write a family mission statement. I'm going to decide what we stand for. I'm going to give my children something different not because I'm trying to react to culture, but because I'm trying to be procreative and actually create something good. And if it happens to be against something in culture, sure, we'll stand up against what's in culture. Maybe it'll be for some of the things in culture. But we're going to have a justification for why we're doing it."


Greg Bottaro:

If you have that justification, it's not a fight anymore. It means you've grounded yourself in who you believe your mission to be, and then it's easy. But it's impossible to tell a parent to fight against culture when you're not giving them something else to stand on. So I totally understand why parents are frustrated and why they're looking for different answers. So we need to give them that first step, which is to say, "Build your own culture first. And then it's going to make sense why you're going to say no to those things. And your kids have something else that they can believe in you for. And even if it's difficult for them, they're going to have a reason at least to go along with what you're saying."


Matthew Kelly:

Powerful. I'm struck by your comment, "Parents are lazy." I think that looks like a headline to me. I think a lot of parents will hear that an object to that. I think it's like if you say to someone you're stingy, people automatically react to that because most people think of themselves as generous. I think if you say to someone you're lazy, I think people automatically react to that because most people don't think of themselves as lazy. I think that is uniquely true for parents. When you say parents are lazy, say a little bit more about that so that there's not 50 million comments on this video about that one comment.


Greg Bottaro:

Well, listen again, let me say it again, I am lazy and I am stingy and I...


Greg Bottaro:

And I am stingy and I have imperfections and brokenness inside of me. So I'm not at all sitting here saying from a position of perfection, this is what everybody else is doing wrong. This is me saying, I feel that disappointment that parents feel when kids are off track, I feel that way too. And when I look inside myself, this is what I come up with. And I realize that there's a lot more that I can actually affect when I look at myself first. And so I also realize that it's not a general judgment on somebody's identity. When I say I am lazy, I don't mean that I'm identifying myself as a lazy person. What I'm saying is I have parts of me that are lazy and I have parts of me that are stingy and I have parts of me that are selfish.


Greg Bottaro:

And I have parts of me that want to just be in control of everything and not take orders from anybody and not even submit to father and heaven, parts of me. And a lot of times what I find is when people don't accept some of those parts, those negative parts, those distasteful parts, we end up repressing and then sending those parts into the dark where they're going to continue to do battle. And a lot of times they win.


Greg Bottaro:

So sometimes those lazy parts come out, sometimes those selfish parts come out and that's what ends up sort of ruling the day. So none of that is to say that parents don't have certainly plenty on their plate, certainly plenty to fight against, and we need support. We need to support each other. We need to not be name calling, not calling anybody in the name of laziness. But we want to be able to work together, to build community around supporting what is good and actually helping each other with what's not good and building each other up and carrying one another's burdens. But we have to first recognize that there's burdens and there's imperfections so that we can actually present them to each other for that kind of support.


Matthew Kelly:

So when you look at your own childhood and I have these little people running around, how do you absolutely want their childhood to be different to your childhood?


Greg Bottaro:

You know, my childhood was in many ways, very happy. And I came from upper middle class and my parents loved me very much, but they were fighting for a really long time. And eventually when I was 17, they got divorced. And what I realized was, that sort of atmosphere marked their marriage for a very, very, very long time. It's not like something just happened all of a sudden then they got divorced and looking back now I can see that my relationship with my siblings was contentious and relationship with each of my parents was contentious at times. And the parents formed a foundation for the family that was very broken, eventually cracked entirely apart. And I carry that within myself today.


Greg Bottaro:

And so everything that I think about giving to my kids is to restore that crack, to fix that foundation and give them something that they can build on. The greatest joy of my life is seeing my kids be each other's best friend and understand that even though my wife and I fight, we have our issues, we work through them. But in order for our kids to have that kind of friendship with each other, it must mean on some level, we must be creating a solid unified foundation. And so that's what I hope and pray we can give to our kids that I didn't have growing up.


Matthew Kelly:

It's powerful. What, obviously lots of people seek therapy surrounding issues in marriage. What is the most common mistake you see couples making in marriage?


Greg Bottaro:

Common mistake is, Well it's really a deep self centeredness and practically it becomes a matter of wanting one's own self to be known more than wanting to know the other. And all we long for is to be known, we're made to be loved. And then we're bringing ourselves to each other at this most deepest, most intimate level and feeling the terror of not being known by the other and in subtle ways that happens.


Greg Bottaro:

And it takes this heroic act of courage to put that to the side and step out of that terror of the unknown to know the other, takes an incredible act of the will. And it takes somebody like Christ, giving us an example to follow and say, do this and follow me, cause this is the way to life and to happiness, to have any reason to even believe that this is the right thing to do. Otherwise, this is insane. So to put oneself to the side like that, and to enter in with the loving, instead of just waiting to be loved is the way, and when that doesn't happen, it leads to disaster. Two people who are vulnerable to each other, but only looking for their own needs to be filled creates division and disaster 100% of the time.


Matthew Kelly:

When couples come to therapy, how often have they waited too long to come?


Greg Bottaro:

Oh, every time.


Matthew Kelly:

Every time?


Greg Bottaro:

Every time.


Matthew Kelly:

What prevents them from coming sooner?


Greg Bottaro:

The stigma of therapy. I think people think of therapy as, if it's a necessary evil, it's not for us but it's for other people. And there's not a culture of stewardship of our emotional and spiritual lives that is consistent with a fully integrated understanding of ourself. I mean, a lot of people don't even go to a physical checkup enough, but even those people who do it's even less that will say, my spiritual, emotional life deserves a checkup as well. And so we end up in the situation where we only go to the doctor, if we're really really sick, if we're really can't do it on our own anymore. And you only go to a psychologist or a psychotherapist when we're way beyond the point of reason.


Greg Bottaro:

So there's certain people out there that promote, I love listening to Terry Crews and he's got a really beautiful marriage and he struggled with pornography and he talks about this stuff very openly and publicly. And what I love about his platform is that he talks about how it's healthy and natural, and it builds up his marriage to go to marriage therapy every year. And they have like the best sex life, the best love life, the best intimacy, because they see their relationship as something that needs that outside help to continue to build up and work on. And that's what I think is an ideal way to look at it. And so we have to have that humility and that trust in the process to open up to that. Most people don't, they wait until it's all crumbling and on fire, and then they show up and they're like, "Go ahead, fix this." And a lot of times it takes a lot of work on both parts to be able to do something with that.


Matthew Kelly:

In our lives, if we want to be excellent at anything, we usually seek training, counsel, emulate the best in the field, look for best practices, nothing more important in life than relationships. Why do we think we can do it without any of that?


Greg Bottaro:

I think there's a lot of reasons and I don't think it's so simple. I think on one hand, there's a lot of hucksters out there. I think there's a lot of people just capitalizing on emotional difficulty and people are trying to get help and they're not getting help. Their friends are trying to get help and their friends aren't getting help. So think that there's something to be said for going back again to this idea of a blueprint, a lot of mental health doesn't have the right blueprint. So on one hand, it's just a really difficult process. And on the other, I think we have this illusion of self-sufficiency, that we want to be able to take care of it ourself. We know best, we're in control, that's the best way to protect ourselves if we are the one managing control over everything. And it takes a lot of vulnerability and humility to put ourselves out there for somebody else to help us.


Matthew Kelly:

How often is the problem that one person is willing to put themselves out there, but the other person is not in the same space.


Greg Bottaro:

In terms of a marital work?


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah and a couple.


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah, so I mean, pretty much every time that's going to be the case. Usually there's so much defensiveness because of so much hurt and it's one person that will sort of break open to that need first. And then the second person has a long way to go before they believe it's possible that they should drop their defenses, drop their guard and even hope that this can be resolved. So it takes a lot of work and you have to kind of navigate like, which person needs the most attention right now, who to build up rapport and earn trust with first or who's in most need, so that we can sort of go this way and then this way, and like back and forth and figuring out who to work with and in what way to navigate that difficulty.


Matthew Kelly:

I have a friend who's a head coach for NFL team. And I asked him once, like, "Who's the hottest team to talk to?" He said, "team that's winning. They're on a winning streak. They think they know how to do it. That unlisted in the locker room." I said, "Who's the easiest person or who's easiest team to talk to." I'll never forget. He looked me straight in the eye and he said, "Sonny," he said, "Nobody listens like a desperate person." I thought about it a lot since he said it. And I wonder if it's true, because I sometimes think like desperate people, they like, yes, they're desperate, but they still won't listen. You had that experience in therapy?


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah, I think it's probably a little harder, the more interior we're talking and when we get into the desperation that comes from-


Matthew Kelly:

There's something more interior than football. This is America. We cannot-


Greg Bottaro:

I know, I'm treading on dangerous territory.


Matthew Kelly:

Very dangerous conversation.


Greg Bottaro:

We're going to have to just suspend judgment for a moment and just let us go forward.


Matthew Kelly:

Carry on.


Greg Bottaro:

I think we're talking about the inner recesses of our spiritual life, our emotional life, our sense of self identity, the way that relates to the universe and destiny. I mean, these are really powerful realities. And we're opening these things up to the pain and suffering that most of us are constantly protecting against. I mean, this is really dangerous stuff. So it's not just surgery on the table with a scalpel opening and closing the body. This is surgery of the heart opening and closing the soul. So there's a lot of reason to be really guarded and defensive here. And a lot of people suffer with very deep desperation and all it does is cause more defensiveness and guardedness.


Greg Bottaro:

And in many ways I say, "Rightly so, good for you." One thing I do a lot of work with is helping people have more compassion on themselves. Even the parts you don't like about yourself, even your guardedness, your defensiveness, even your anxiety disorder, even your depression, compassion because at the end of the day, thank God you have a survival instinct. That's created a defense mechanism that helps you get through the terrifying things you've lived through in your life. And it doesn't even have to be huge capital T trauma for a child being yelled at by dad can be the worst experience of a person's life. So if we have parts that emerge as a survival instinct, that's how God made us. Thank God. So we have to understand first how to have compassion, compassion for ourselves, for all our parts. And then we established some safe ground. Sometimes I lead the charge and saying, it's okay to talk about these things and we can start to open these things up.


Matthew Kelly:

So you touch on something that I've thought a lot about, spent the last 30 years traveling around, speaking to people in businesses and churches and all sorts of venues, but a lot in churches. And I'm astounded how prevalent self-loathing, shame, lack of empathy for self is, in an environment like church, where the teaching is exactly the opposite of that. What's your reflection on that?


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah, I have a pretty strong opinion about this.


Matthew Kelly:

Lets have it.


Greg Bottaro:

And I hope it's not too bold or too far field.


Matthew Kelly:

There's no such thing.


Greg Bottaro:

But I think that, and it's not even a reflection of our current church or the current anything. This has been hundreds of years of God, trying to tell us over and over again, how much he loves us and we don't get it. We are so thick, especially in the church environment. And we can go all the way back. I mean, we could go all the way back to Jesus Christ himself. I mean, hello, what else do we need? But apparently we needed more. So we need 2000 years of the saints and divine revelation. We need Jesus appearing to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, talking about his sacred heart. The divine love captured within the finitude of his humanity, offered to us to bring us to his divinity.


Greg Bottaro:

We don't get it. We need Faustina to hear the revelation of divine mercy, his ocean of mercy, that will swallow every bit of our imperfection. We don't get it. We need Therese, we need John Paul II. We need the theology of the body. Love, love, love, love. We don't get it. And meanwhile, people are leaving the church. People are wounded by the church. The church lowercase C is wounded is off on all sorts of different trajectories. We don't get it. And at the end of the day, all God was trying to say is, I love you. God is love, but we don't get it. And people say this all the time. They talk the talk, they have a devotion to divine mercy. They pray the Chaplet. They have a devotion to the set. And then it's like, all right, let's just talk about the last hour of your life.


Greg Bottaro:

Tell me the things that went through your head. Just tell me, like, what kind of self criticisms went through your head? What kind of shame are you carrying about yourself, your body, how much money you make, your family life, your vocation, and you just go down the list. And eventually inevitably you list five things. One of them is going to hit, and then they're like, "ah." And then I go like this. What do you feel about yourself for feeling that feeling? Oh yeah, it's terrible. Like, there we go again. You don't even have compassion on your lack of compassion.


Greg Bottaro:

At what point do we realize Jesus came to love us. He went to every corner in every pocket of sinner to love them. He sought the sinners and he didn't show up saying, "Hey, sinner, I'm here for you." He said, "I love you." And then they were captured by his gaze, by his love, by his compassion. And then they want to know more about how to be better. They want to know how to enter into his love. Of course, that's the second step. But we're so bent in our church, on that second step being the first step. We love the sinner, but we hate to sin. So let's make sure we're making every sinner know where they're sinning because we hate that sin. Like, we don't get it. And meanwhile, we're preaching to smaller and smaller and smaller parishes and there's less and less and less money. And the bishops are looking around going, "what's happening here? Oh, must be the culture." Has nothing to do with the culture, has to do with not getting it. Not listening, not hearing God tell us how much he loves us. That's what we need as the church to believe so that we can proclaim that loudly and proudly and bring people into that beauty and give them the healing that they're looking for.


Matthew Kelly:

You spoke earlier about family and we talking now about church, spoke about parents, rejecting the culture, resisting the culture, that sort of thing, and the importance of having a culture and the primacy of that over resisting a culture. How does that relate to what's happening in the church?


Greg Bottaro:

I think it's the same problem. And again, I hate to say this and without pointing fingers, but I worked with different areas of the church institution. And unfortunately, I think even if you were to map out the actual culture, it's always interesting talking to an organization, a body, a family, and mapping out what they say their culture is versus what their actual culture is. If you were to interview the members of that organization and start to glean from that, what their actual culture is. I once asked a bunch of seminarians, a bunch of priests, "When you were in seminary, what did you hold up as the model priest? What were you taught in seminary is the model priest."


Greg Bottaro:

And I asked about 20 different priests in different parts of the country. And I got a theme that came from over half of these priests. And I put it together in a statement of the model priest, as the man who works harder than everybody else and complains the least. That's the culture. That's the cultural mission statement of the church of the priesthood. Now, if you ask any Bishop, what's the cultural mission statement of your seminary, of your diocese, whatever, of course that will never show up on paper, but that's the problem. So we not only do we have to think about what should our culture be, but we have to pray really deeply on what the principles are, and then work really hard to make sure that everybody feels and experiences that to be the culture.


Matthew Kelly:

So you get down some of these paths and they can be paths of hopelessness. They can be paths of that cause people to experience hopelessness. I suspect that many people who show up to therapy are in a place of hopelessness or a place bordering on hopelessness. If we rewind and go back to sort of an earlier place in their life, or maybe a time of great hope, let's say in relation to marriage, what one thing would you encourage someone who is thinking about marrying a person to consider about that person?


Greg Bottaro:

I think in doing marriage prep, I think one of the most important principals to learn during marriage prep, it always kills me when these marriage prep programs are built on, like, we're going to teach you everything you need to know about being married. You're like, this is ridiculous.


Matthew Kelly:

Its dishonest right, it's not possible.


Greg Bottaro:

It's very dishonest, it's not possible. Pope Francis calls marriage the apprenticeship, right. And people think in discerning and dating, once they get married, once they're at the altar, once they make their vows, they get their diploma, like they made it. And I tell people is you just got your acceptance letter. You're now entering in to the university of love. This is your apprenticeship. And you're going to spend a long time until death do you part in an apprenticeship, but the one principle that I think is worth, at least introducing.


Greg Bottaro:

So people know what they're saying yes to is you're the person I'm choosing to be the recipient of my gift of self until death do us apart and whatever that entails and whatever we figure out along the way. So instead of it being like, oh, who's my ideal, this, or my favorite, whatever. And it's, do we like to go hiking together and what's my. You're discerning if this is a person that you believe you can spend the rest of your life dying to.


Greg Bottaro:

And it means you have to be friends. Like there should be some level of friendship. There should be some level of shared trust. It's like we're lined up on the same things in life. We want the same thing out of life. But at the end of the day, that's what you're actually making a vow to. Even if this person becomes paralyzed or sick or cheats on you or any of these other things, it's like you signed up. The vow you made is that you're dying to self to this person, you're making a gift of self to this person. So restoring a sense of that sacramentality of what this vow is actually about, I think is really helpful. Even in a dating person's life to start thinking in that way. And that changes the parameters around what they're thinking and discerning who they're actually going to end up marrying.


Matthew Kelly:

So what should that person consider about themselves before entering into a relationship like that?


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah, I think a person needs to have a certain amount of maturity and a certain amount of self ownership. And I think that age is changing. I think if we look back a hundred years, the age of a young man who had maturity and self ownership is probably much younger than the men we find today and something, I mean, I think there's a lot to this it's cultural, it's technology, it's pornography. It's a lot of these other things from the sexual revolution, all that stuff.


Greg Bottaro:

But what I end up telling young men in college, especially dealing with pornography, culturally, every culture has some mark of entering into manhood, if you study anthropology and the tribes used to send the men out, remember the movie 300, it's like he has to go off into the wilderness and battle the beast and you go kill the beast. And then you return home a man because you've overcome this thing and you've proven yourself. I think pornography and masturbation is the beast of our culture. And I think that that's what young men are being invited to go and conquer. And I think very few are coming back victorious. I think very few are even going out to battle. So we have these young men who are really boys not entering into manhood at all.


Greg Bottaro:

Not entering into manhood at all, and that lack of maturity. Granted, I want to be cognizant of there's a spectrum here. There's a lot of people suffering with addiction, with abuse, with trauma. There's a lot of things happening in this conversation, but in general, men need to be fighting against this evil, and women in their own way have to be fighting against that evil that stands in the breach and they have to go past it. Then some of that is self discovery. Some of that is healing from wounds. Some of that is just deepening a sense of self ownership and self knowledge. I think this is where mentors come in, spiritual direction, therapy, to have a sense of help along the way. What do you think? Am I ready? Do I know myself more? The family itself is where we're supposed to get a lot of that kind of direction. Have I matured enough to start thinking about making myself a gift to somebody else for the rest of my life?


Matthew Kelly:

You talk about maturity. You talk about sort of the gap between where men were 100 years ago and where they are today. I think part of that is that we're slow to put responsibility on young men. As a result of that, we see them seeking all sorts of things. At the same time, we see male enrollment in university plummeting, female enrollment in college skyrocketing, and I feel like you now have whole generations of women standing there looking back at the men and saying, come on guys, catch up. How do you counsel that generation of women?


Greg Bottaro:

It's very painful. It's very painful. I's part of that feminine genius to be more relationally oriented, so relationship, friendship, those kinds of things come a lot easier to the feminine brain and to the feminine genius, to the feminine person. In a lot of ways, I think God established this complementarity between men and women so that we learn from each other. In many ways, the division from the garden where Adam and Eve had to hide from each other is just exponentially amplifying. Men and women are hiding from each other in a lot of different ways. Men from women and women from men, but I think on the surface, what you're pointing to, is just that dimension of community is immediately being dissipated, which is more painful to the feminine genius, which is ordered towards relationally in the first place. There's a lot more that's being lost, but I think at first glance that's the first thing that pops up and that's the most painful, but I think it's equally painful for men and women in different ways, and it's part of the sickness of where our culture is right now.


Matthew Kelly:

They do get married. They do take their vows, but it seems in many cases, this hiding, men hiding from women, women hiding from men, the vows don't magically take that away and it seems to be going on a lot even within marriage. Is that your experience?


Greg Bottaro:

Yes. 100%.


Matthew Kelly:

What is it that draws people out of that hiding?


Greg Bottaro:

Hopefully that's when the desperation and the necessity does bring people, not because they've been so wounded or so deeply hurting each other, but just the normal course of life, I find a lot of people do at some point, realize, I thought I signed up for more than this. At some point, there's some experience that somebody can have. They go to a talk, they have a friend who brings them to a retreat, they read a book, they hear a speaker. Something happens and they're sparked open. Maybe there's something more for me here, but then we have to do a really deep dive because there's so much suspicion and doubt and lack of trust that that's why they've hidden themselves from each other for so long. It's really good to spark that desire for more because we're made for more, but then it also means we have to show up and be ready to do some work because typically that trajectory has buried very deeply whatever those wounds are, those fears of each other.


Matthew Kelly:

We live in a culture, in many ways, a culture of pretending. People pretend to be someone on social media, highlight what they consider the best parts of their life. Just pretending seeps over into real relationships. Then they're in a relationship with somebody, but they've been pretending to be someone that they're not. Then they're scared to death to be discovered for who they really are; I think driven by that primary fear that if people really knew us they wouldn't love us. Yeah. How often do you see that dynamic, and is there a resolution to that dynamic?


Greg Bottaro:

I have to say, I think I see that dynamic all the time. I think every time, but I don't think it's as clear as the way you maybe are making it sound right now. It's not that obvious to every person who's doing it. Not everybody feels afraid of being known. In fact, the opposite. Most people want to be known more. What they feel is the desire to be known and they don't even realize how afraid they are to actually be known. I don't think a lot of people even realize how fake or pretending they're being on social media. I think people are generally pretty good. Again, to have that compassion on like whatever these defense mechanisms are are built in because of a very good survival instinct.


Greg Bottaro:

It's not like we're always worrying within ourselves about like oh, I'm afraid of this. Well, you shouldn't be afraid of this. Maybe that's happening on a very, very deep level beyond the light of our conscious mind, but it's not really what's up here in our conscious light. You get two people living like that co-existing together who have the best of intentions, who are doing the best, the best they know how, and they don't realize they're actually hurting each other. Then little by little, the hurt grows and they're like, how did we even end up here? That's when they need that help. Somebody from outside the system to help break things down and look at things differently and sort of look at this way and look at that and okay, maybe this is where things went wrong or maybe you are really afraid.


Greg Bottaro:

Maybe that question. If you're the first person to introduce phones to your kids, would you do it? That's such a wise question because it zeros in on something that those parents weren't even able to look at in themself. They're only thinking about their kids. They're thinking about popularity. They're thinking about their kids not hating them, but when you ask the right question from outside the system, all of a sudden it sheds open and it opens up with new light and gives clarity and then we can go deeper. That's where we can do the work.


Matthew Kelly:

You touched on something, I think, very powerful. I was going to chat about it a little bit later, but I think this might be a good point for it. In the book you talk about how so much of what we do is unconscious. How we could get in the car and we can drive to a place and we can arrive at our destination and be unconscious of okay, how did I get from home to this place? I don't remember choosing a route. I don't remember consciously saying, I'm going to turn right here. I don't really recollect that. We live so much of our lives unconsciously. How do we make the unconscious conscious?


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah. It's a good question. Again, we start off from a position saying, it's good that we do that. Thank God. What I call the autopilot is the way that we can move things in different parts of our brain, because we only have so much capacity for what's called working memory. That's the thing we're conscious about. If we're consciously thinking about the way we walk, we would never be able to do anything else. All the muscles involved, the balance, the movement, the perspective, our vision. There's so many parts that go into what needs to happen in our brain to simply take a step. When you watch a toddler learning how to take their first step, it's visibly obvious. There's a lot going on here. They're like all over the place, but then little by little, because they do it over and over again, it becomes habituated, and that becomes part of the autopilot. That goes back into a different part of memory. It's not what we keep in our forefront.


Greg Bottaro:

When we have patterns of behavior, not just simple physiological movement, but relationally, we have different patterns, like being ignored, being rejected, being put down, that becomes habituated. The first time you're rejected for something, you're going to have a whole eruption of emotion, of response, but that's not really feasible to keep doing that every time you get rejected.


Matthew Kelly:

I'm trying.


Greg Bottaro:

Well, what happens is it becomes part of that autopilot. Then we don't realize what we don't realize. When we bring people in and we can have this blueprint and we understand okay, number one, the first most important mark of your existence is that you were loved into existence. Right off the bat, you're talking about being rejected, but that is flat out a contradiction to who you actually are. You're loved into existence, so any act of rejection is totally disordered.


Greg Bottaro:

Now, if you've habituated your emotional responses to being rejected, we've got a lot to work on here. We've got to bring that stuff out of the autopilot. I tell a story. I do some work in Haiti. I have good friends in Haiti and I've done missionary work there for 20 years. I'll never forget. One of the most impactful moments was being out in the mountains. We brought some food and medicine to a mom who was way out in a little straw hut. This chokes me up every time I think about her. She had a paralysis and a problem with one of her legs, so she lived her life on her side, on the floor, and she could only crawl around with her arms. She had a son and her son who was four years old, walked around by crawling on the floor with his arms.


Matthew Kelly:

Wow.


Greg Bottaro:

His legs were fine, so he learned what he knew from his mom, and he didn't know any better, but that's what he habituated. The missionaries there, eventually there was an orphanage and they were able to take him and take care of him and they brought him out and they taught how to walk, and he could totally walk great. He had no problem walking, and he could run back home and his mom was in tears cause she knew what was happening, but she couldn't show him how to walk. It wasn't even about her being bad or wrong or anything like that. It was just the way that it was. What we have to do is we have a blueprint. We know people walk.


Greg Bottaro:

That's part of being a Catholic psychologist. I have a blueprint of who a human person is created to be. If I have that blueprint and I see somebody crawling around on their arms, I'm going to have to figure out, can their legs work? Maybe they just were never taught the right way to walk. Okay. Let's pull them back. Let's open these things up. Let's change their perspective. Let's change their expectations. Let's teach them how to walk and then we can, and they can. That's the beautiful thing. We have to have the blueprint, we have to have the rapport, the trust. We have to be able to step back from whatever that autopilot, habituated pattern of behavior looks like and then slowly bring in new truth and new reality and help a person learn how to act and feel and think and operate in a new way.


Matthew Kelly:

Why are we so resistant to consciousness?


Greg Bottaro:

Consciousness. How do you mean?


Matthew Kelly:

If we're doing so many things unconsciously or were unaware of how the things we're doing are affecting people around us, and yet people try to bring that to our attention. I think very often we're resistant to that consciousness.


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah. There's a few reasons I can give you. I think biologically, neurologically, psychologically, the scientist will say it's a survival instinct. It takes too much energy, too many resources to change all the time, to be open to these new ways of looking at things. We put things into the autopilot because it's a way of preserving our resources and it means that we have more openness towards the things we need, which might be to fight off a threat or discover something new or whatever it is, but if it becomes habituated, it's easier for us to navigate. It's like in our marriages, if I know the look on my wife's face means a certain thing, I can see the look on her face and I just assume. It doesn't warrant a whole other conversation, but if she gives me a dirty look, maybe it would be better for me to ask, did you just swallow something the wrong way? Because before it fires off a cascade of all my reactions to her giving me a dirty look, I better figure out like, is that actually what's actually happening right now?


Greg Bottaro:

The immediate need is to preserve those resources. It's better for us to learn how to step beyond that. Then I think also emotionally, spiritually even, we're very threatened by not being in control, by not being good, by not earning, doing the right thing to earn God's love. This is like the deepest foundation. We're going back to that original sin, that original temptation to doubt the goodness of the Father. He's going to love us no matter what. We build in the self-protective illusion that of course we must be doing everything right. Really, the other part of us is breathing a sigh of relief. We're off the hook. We're not going to be rejected today. Then if somebody says hey, look. Maybe you could do something a little bit better, maybe a little different. That part's like uh-oh. Now we're in danger of being rejected again. Don't look at that. Don't listen to that. No, you're fine. You're doing it right, so we go back into that safe space where we're perfect. We have nothing to change or work on.


Matthew Kelly:

We're touching on these different marks of our age. It seems depression is on the rise in our culture. Is that true, or are we more aware of it than in the past? Is there less of a stigma to seeking treatment than in the past? How do you see that?


Greg Bottaro:

I think it's a little of both and it's kind of a mix. I think there are very clear marks that mental health is becoming progressively worse. I think we're becoming sicker as a society. Depression, anxiety, mental health disorders are increasing and suicide rates, the age at which people are experiencing these things is lowering. We have kids seven, eight, nine years old who are showing a lot more suicidality than ever before. Obviously, all these different addictions that we've been talking about. This stuff is rampant and it's definitely happening. I think at the same time we're also just more aware of the issue. I don't know exactly how that actually pans out, but I do think that this is a serious issue.


Greg Bottaro:

I think in general we're moving further away from an awareness of God in our society. The more that we don't have a grounding in the eternal truths, the more terrifying life becomes. These difficulties are erupting all around us and we have less and less and less to ground on. Now it's becoming horrifying to be alive. I think that people will try to muster up some reason for living, but it's never going to actually answer the eternal longings and desires of our heart. Without that eternal answer being built into our culture, our mental health is going to continue to get worse


Matthew Kelly:

Is the rejection of our spiritual self and spiritual realities and God, is that the disease and all these other things the symptoms?


Greg Bottaro:

I think so.


Matthew Kelly:

How controversial a statement would that be among mental health professionals?


Greg Bottaro:

I'm not really counting on keeping my license for much longer, so it's probably one of the most controversial statements that can be made, because we're not just talking about spirituality. We're talking about religion, and this is the difference. Secular psychology is increasingly aware and interested in spirituality, but as soon as spirituality lays any kind of claim on an objective religious truth, a principle, an eternal reality that goes beyond what we feel, it is adamantly flatly rejected and with volatility, because that means her judging other people who are not believing those principles. It's this horrible relativism that has pervaded our society, our culture, and it's completely unfounded and it's impossible to maintain.


Greg Bottaro:

That's where all of this disorder continually erupts, but if anybody comes in with any of these kinds of perspectives, that is abuse. It's actually abuse. According to the APA Code of Ethics they have entered in the 2017 edition updated revision of the Code of Ethics, they actually entered in this idea of emotional abuse, which it's not totally defined by saying you have religious belief, but it opens the door to some pretty broad generalized applications and you can easily see that becoming an issue where now if I have a religious perspective that puts any kind of claim of objectivity on another person, that's emotionally abusive. I could be jailed for something like that.


Matthew Kelly:

As a therapist.


Greg Bottaro:

As a Catholic therapist.


Matthew Kelly:

Okay.


Greg Bottaro:

As a religious therapist.


Matthew Kelly:

Okay. Jewish, any other religion?


Greg Bottaro:

Sure. They're all under the same fire.


Matthew Kelly:

Any objective reality is rejected.


Greg Bottaro:

That's right.


Matthew Kelly:

You mentioned, along with depression, increase in suicide rates. Anxiety also seems to be one of those things that is elevated or more commonly experienced than in the past. Someone comes to you, this suffering on the way of anxiety, where do you start with that person?


Greg Bottaro:

We start at the beginning. I always work with a person based on where they're at. Where I start with a person is going to totally be dependent on that individual, that unique experience, but I think in terms of what we're looking at now, with the culture, with the rejection of God, I think it's important to understand how necessary it is that we are grounded in these eternal realities.


Greg Bottaro:

In fact, there's a psychologist by the name of Martin Seligman who created, really, a new branch, a new kind of therapy, a new study of psychology called positive psychology. He looks at factors that show a person has what he calls resilience. He got really tired of studying all the negative stuff of psychology, all the brokenness, so he decided to look at people who thrive, who flourished, who have resilience. Specifically, he worked with soldiers who went through war trauma but didn't get traumatized. Who comes back from war without PTSD? It's a really good question, and he did some really tremendous research and found out that there were five categories of life in which they had higher marks; these soldiers that flourished and had resilience had high marks in. One of those categories is a worldview in which it's not all on your shoulders. The weight of the world doesn't all fall on you. In a lot of ways that manifested as spirituality, as religion, understanding there's a God out there somewhere that we can blame and we can put the responsibility on his shoulders. It doesn't all fall on me. When we have that, life is easier. When we don't have that, that's tremendously scary to walk around as if it does all fall on my shoulders.


Greg Bottaro:

That's, in a nutshell, psychologically, what's happening with anxiety. If you're worried about your kids, you're worried about your job, you're worried about whatever it is. A sickness, whatever, it ends coming down to, am I in control of my life? Am I in control of somebody else's life or is somebody else in control? That's why Jesus says in Matthew 6:25, "Do not be anxious about the things of your life." Then he goes on to talk about the birds in the air and the flowers in the field who are taking care of by God. If there's a God who takes care of us, then we don't have to be anxious.


Greg Bottaro:

We can say in many ways, if there's this kind of anxiety, we can look at how a person doesn't really ground themself in the fatherhood and Providence of God. Now, again, with caveat. There's psychological disorder, there are neurological things, there are physiological things that lead to anxiety, so I'm not painting with a broad brush anybody who feels any anxiety. There's lots of other reasons why anxiety comes up. But if we're talking about it culturally, spiritually, in very general terms, we can look at this connection between the two.


Matthew Kelly:

The book has been out three years now. How has the reaction of the reader surprised you?


Greg Bottaro:

I teach a class also on the content of the book, and The Mindful Catholic goes through my integration of an eight week protocol teaching mindfulness with the Catholic spirituality of abandonment to divine providence. I taught it as a psychologist, who I'm Catholic through and through. I happen to be a psychologist, and I bring my faith into everything that I do. I'm teaching the psychological thing to help people with these psychological issues, and somebody who read the book came up to me. After I was with her, she was in one of my classes and she read the book, and she said, I have to thank you. I've been going to daily mass almost my whole life, and I never knew how much God loved me. I was floored. I knew this person. She was from a local community, so I knew she went to daily mass. Very, very holy person.



Greg Bottaro:

... community. So I knew she went to daily mass, very, very holy person. But she never connected the dots to her emotional life and her own psychology. So she did all the right things. She prayed all the right prayers. She was a virtuous person, but she wasn't receiving what God actually wanted us to receive. And that floored me. At that moment I knew that I will give the rest of my life to this. There's nothing else that matters. If I could have any small sliver of a part in helping somebody receive the love of God like that, sign me up. I'm all in.


Matthew Kelly:

So for someone who's never heard of the concept of mindfulness, what is mindfulness?


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah. So it's very simple. It's a way of paying attention to the present moment. It simply means that we are in each moment with our five senses telling our brain what is happening in this present moment. But we also have a sixth sense, which is working with our imagination, coming from our imagination. We can step out of this present moment, and much of our life, because of the habituation, because of that autopilot, because we're trying to conserve resources, we are shooting out of this present moment and we're going to things in the past, we're going to things in the future. So what we're actually paying attention to is not this present moment, but something else. So mindfulness is learning the practice of turning our mind's attention, our focus back onto this present moment. And it's a way of going through the protocol as a way of understanding these different facets of how God made our mind, and then how we can actually gain some control over it.


Matthew Kelly:

So if every reader was going to take just one thing away from the book, what is the one thing you'd like them to take away?


Greg Bottaro:

Oh, boy. What I believe is the most important thing is that we should feel loved by God. And he made us to feel his love. And if we don't feel his love, there's something more that we can do. And it comes from looking inside, from self-awareness, from understanding the way he made us. It is turning towards the present moment, that's part of it. It's really only the beginning. There's a lot more to come after that, but that's the beginning, receiving his mercy in a way that most people have not actually experienced.


Matthew Kelly:

The subtitle of the book is Finding God One Moment At a Time. How much is the problem that people think they found God and they have a binary understanding of that, and that's done and they've moved onto the next thing?


Greg Bottaro:

Absolutely. That's one of the most defensive parts of people in the church is because they think they have the answer already. They think they found the answer. And as far as the magisterial teaching and believing what the church believes, of course they found the answer. But experiencing a relationship with God is something that they don't have any experience of. And so it's that humility to say, I might know what's true, but I'm not actually living according to that truth yet. And it doesn't mean that they're out sinning. It means they're not experiencing the joy that God created us to experience being in relationship with him.


Matthew Kelly:

So every book has a life of its own, in my experience. And books surprise in different ways. One of the things that has surprised me about this book is how many people have told me it's helped them sleep better. What is your reaction to that?


Greg Bottaro:

Yeah. I think sleep is one of those things that we don't pay enough attention to, but it has such a dramatic effect on our life. There was an actress, I think who said in an interview, in the end, winning is having a good night's sleep. That's really all it comes down to. Obviously there's more to it than that. But I think because when we're sleeping, psychologically there's a lot that's happening in the brain. And it's a way of processing a lot of the stuff ... People don't realize, our brains are incredibly active while we're sleeping, and there's a lot of processing that's happening. And in a lot of ways, our conscious mind when we're awake is repressing and defending against a lot of the junk that we actually need to process.


Greg Bottaro:

So it's a very healthy, again, it's something to have compassion on and something to thank God for. But it's a very healthy process of burying things so we can get through our day, and then letting them come up. And the sleep process is meant to be that time of regurgitating, and processing and filing things away where they need to go. This is how God made us. But if we are not doing what we're made to do during the day when we're awake, it's going to affect what's happening in our brains at night. And what happens is we don't know how to actually have peace during the day, and that means that the same sort of structure, that same function of protection and restoration is getting totally thwarted and thrown off track, and so then we can't sleep. And then we're awake, or we're ruminating, or we're having a bad night's sleep, or all these other things end up happening.


Greg Bottaro:

So through The Mindful Catholic, people are learning how to connect their faith to their emotional life, to live during the day with peace that allows you to think about and do the things you need to do, attend to the things you need to do when you're awake, and that allows you to go into that deep sleep, where you let your unconscious mind do what it needs to do.


Matthew Kelly:

So as you go through the book, I think there's some epic themes. The present moment, mindfulness and consciousness. Another one of those epic themes in the book, I think is freedom. How did you arrive at your conception of freedom as you presented in the book?


Greg Bottaro:

The first time I experienced this was before I knew to call it mindfulness. This was when I was with the Franciscans. I spent three and a half years discerning a vocation to religious life. And I had my own hangups. I had my own stuff. And then I discerned the religious life as my path. I felt really joyful about it. I was really all in, in the beginning. But the more time I spent there, the more healing was happening. I spent five hours of prayer and prayer a day. I had great spiritual direction. I had very close proximity to the sacraments. Obviously some stuff is going to start to get healed in that process. And I started to realize, I don't know if I'm actually supposed to be here. And it was through direction with, one of the founders of the group I was with was a priest named Father Benedict Groeschel, he was a psychologist and somebody who lived abandonment to divine Providence. He was in the present moment as a way of life.


Greg Bottaro:

And his connection to God was tangible. It was palpable, because God is the eternal moment was being communicated through Father Benedict's presence. And he helped me see how to live that way, how to pray that way, at least when I wanted to and I tried to. He showed me how I wasn't doing that. And by entering into the present moment in that way, that healing took full effect. And the stuff that was from my parents' divorce and the stuff I grew up with, it healed with a D at the end and a period. And I was free. Free in a way that I was so happy to discover my true vocation. For a while there, I was kind of just miserable and I didn't think I could stay a friar, but I didn't think I was going to be able to happily go get married. I felt disappointed in myself. I felt like I missed God's calling, like I did something wrong.


Greg Bottaro:

But it was through that practice of the present moment, what I came to understand psychologically was actually mindfulness, with the holy spirit and with the relationship with God there, that all of that opened up and I could see and feel how much God loved me. And then in receiving that, he healed my wounds and then actually invited me into a relationship with him that was built for even more happiness through my vocation.


Matthew Kelly:

So while you're in New York working with the friars of the renewal, I know you spent a lot of time working with the poor. I was reading Fulton Sheen recently, and he was quoting somebody. And the quote was something to the effect of, someday the poor will forgive us. And I'm just curious your experience with the poor. What did you learn from working with the poor that you carry with you every day for the rest of your life?


Greg Bottaro:

Well, if you have another hour, I could sit here and go on and on about this. The poor are so important, and what they teach us needs to change our lives. One of my closest friends is now a priest from Haiti, Father Louis Merosne, and he's a missionary priest. And he talks about this, that it's a scandal that we have brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in our humanity who are living with such nutritional malnutrition, while we are thinking about how much of our plate to throw away. And we have all this abundance and other parts of our human family has such deprivation. It's scandalous.



Greg Bottaro:

That's one point that I've learned is to never forget the poor, not take for granted what we have, and to always think about others who don't have the same blessings in life that we have. Beyond that, what is more shaped my life is I've really come to understand money, and I've come to understand money as a means to an end. And it's so hard to not see money as an end, but the poor don't have that distraction. And the most life-changing thing that happened to me when I was in Haiti, and then again, I saw this in New York a lot, was that people had no money and they had incredible joy, and that you don't need money to be happy. And of course we say that over, and over and over again, we say it all the time.


Greg Bottaro:

But to be in Haiti or to be with real poverty and see people who have almost nothing, not a pair of shoes, dirt floors, not even enough food to go three days, and they're joyful and happy in a way that most of the developed world can't even imagine living, there's something really striking about that. And then you start to think about it, and it's like, wait a minute, maybe it's right. Maybe the money is not the thing. And okay, so it's important. It's a means to an end. There's exchange of value. There's all these things. But at the end of the day, actually, maybe the money is even hurting people from reaching happiness. Maybe what's in the gospel makes a lot of sense. Maybe. Just throwing it out there.


Matthew Kelly:

It's possible.


Greg Bottaro:

So at the end of the day is money evil? No. Can money be really distracting? Yes, absolutely. And what the poor can teach us is that joy, and virtue and living a good life is on a completely separate trajectory than whether or not money is in the picture.


Matthew Kelly:

Chapter five, you talk about running away. What are we running away from?


Greg Bottaro:

Well, I think earlier I was talking about that fear of not earning approval, not earning enough of that sort of stamp that says you earned it. So we build in all of this illusion that somehow we're perfect. We're great. We don't need to work on anything. We don't need to change anything. The habituated autopilot, the status quo is the right way and we don't need to look at it anymore. So we fall into these patterns, these traps. And it might be behavioral. It might be really obvious. It could be an addiction. It could be a pattern of ignoring your spouse. It could be a pattern of yelling at your kids. It could be a pattern of burying yourself in your work and letting that validate you, instead of working on your marriage. It could be a hundred different things. But in allowing those patterns, that autopilot to run our life, we're running away from all of that really scary stuff that we have to face inside of us to realize that we are not the creator of the universe. And not only that, but we have to believe the creator of the universe loves us.


Matthew Kelly:

Do we believe that the running away will make us happy?


Greg Bottaro:

Implicitly, I think that's the assumption. That's the illusion. We think we're doing what we're supposed to do. We think we're maintaining. And we're not actually challenging that illusion because we're afraid that if we did, we wouldn't be happy.


Matthew Kelly:

You close the book talking about waking up. I think in many ways you read the gospels, in every single gospel story, God is essentially saying, [crosstalk 01:32:53] ... wake up. But I thought it was really powerful that you chose that to close the book out. Talk to us a little bit about waking up.


Greg Bottaro:

Well, I think there's so much beauty in our world, and it's in every moment and we're sleeping through it. The autopilot, the self protection, the illusion, the self defensiveness, even though we give it compassion and we accept that it's part of how God made us, it's actually blinding us from the beauty that's in every single moment of our life. Every single person, every single interaction, every single person is an image of God. We are made in the image of God. We say it like it's nothing. We say it like it takes 20 minutes to get to the grocery store. I'm made in the image of God, like equal realities. If we saw God when we looked at each other, when we looked in the mirror, how much would life be different? And because of the habit of our day, we don't stop to look and see. We miss the beauty. We sleep through it.


Greg Bottaro:

And in many ways, you'd have to be a mistake, you'd have to be a hermit to actually always see God. We couldn't walk down the street, you'd be on your knees every three steps. We wouldn't be able to work. It would be too mind blowing. In some ways it's God's mercy that we have these ways of sort of veiling the beauty of the mystery. But I think we could do a lot better. And I think if we stop, we have these colloquial sayings, stop and smell the roses. It's mindfulness. Smell is one of your senses. The rose is in that present moment. If you stop and smell the roses, it means you're waking up. And it doesn't have to be a rose. It could be a dog playing across the street. It could be your own kids. It could be the neighbor's kids. It could be whatever you're seeing. It's beautiful. The human person is so beautiful.


Greg Bottaro:

We have to wake up to it. That's what it's all about. And if we can see that beauty, it transforms us. And whatever our hangups are, our wounds, our imperfections, all these things, it's not just about experiencing beauty. It's about being drawn into the beauty, being perfected by the beauty and turned into the beauty. And then we actually find ourselves in divine union. That's what he created us for.


Matthew Kelly:

I've seen the book have powerful experience on so many people. You're the founder and the director of the Catholic Psych Institute. For someone who's never heard of you, never heard of the Institute, tell us a little bit about it.


Greg Bottaro:

So I've basically taken my own journey and seen the vocational aspect of God in my own life, integrating my faith and this understanding of psychology. And I want to share it. I want to give it. I want to create ways of scaling the impact of what happens when we really understand the incarnation. In other words, God made himself man to bring man to be in union with God. That's our ultimate happiness, which is what psychologists hopefully are trying to help people discover. So only through that integration of faith and psychology will true happiness be possible. I started the Catholic Psych Institute so that I can hang a shingle. It started as a private practice. This is how I'm going to help people. I marketed myself that way. I went knocking down the avenues of New York City when I first opened up from rectory directory, trying to get past every pair of secretary to talk to the father about who I am and what I'm doing, and I'm here for the church and I'm here for the faithful Catholics to help with these mental health issues from a faithful perspective.


Greg Bottaro:

I had a full schedule in less than six months. I had no idea what I was doing. And next thing you know, I'm bringing up and coming therapists who are in training and helping them to practice the same way I practice. Now it's almost 10 years later. We have 12 therapists. We've gone through all sorts of iterations and growth. And we're developing all sorts of programs. We've really done a lot with Catholic Mindfulness after publishing the book, we have the courses, we have followup courses. We have an online membership community. We have a whole new way of accompaniment that we've launched. So the Catholic Psych Institute has become an even bigger... What do I even want to call it? The Catholic Psych Institute has become an even bigger vehicle for bringing this truth of our life, of our spirituality and the way God made us to hopefully impact and help so many more people.


Matthew Kelly:

I know you faced tremendous resistance in the professional mental health community, because of your approach to this work, because of the foundation that you've built this work on. How has this work over the last 10 years exceeded your expectations in wonderful ways?


Greg Bottaro:

Well, I think the challenge comes from balancing between this integration of the secular and the spiritual or the faithful. So on both ends, depending on the extreme that we're looking at, there's going to be some pushback, because I'm trying to do what I think is very difficult is to balance two things that are oftentimes separated from each other. But it's actually how I believe we're created. And the most beautiful, and encouraging and life-giving thing for me has been to see that it is how people are created. And when we give the keys to unlock our true nature and our true calling, it works. It works. This is what's been so amazing, is I experienced it in my life. It worked in my life, and then God inspired this way to share it with other people.


Greg Bottaro:

And with some amount of trepidation, I tried to offer it to other people, and then I did and it worked. And it's this amazing validation. We don't have to just walk around suffering from divorce. We don't have to walk around suffering from abuse. We don't have to walk around suffering from all these traumas, and anxieties, and depression and all of these misunderstandings of our humanity. And in the church, we don't have to walk around feeling the Catholic guilt all the time, and separation from God and lack of joy. If we understand who he created us to be and who he is actually for us, it works. That's everything. That's what's given me the strength to continue and ignore a lot of the pushback sometimes from the two extremes.


Matthew Kelly:

How many Catholic psychologists should every city in America have?


Greg Bottaro:

Well, God willing, every city will have somebody they can send people to. I mean, there's enough Catholics in the world and there are enough people interested in mental health and psychology in the world, that if done right, the training programs and the businesses that get set up to provide the vehicle to scale should flourish. And the more that it works and the more that people come to see that, the more it'll work.


Matthew Kelly:

You pioneered this effort. How satisfying is it now to see other young psychologists, therapists coming up embracing it, celebrating it, working with people and transforming lives?


Greg Bottaro:

It's amazing. And it's so beautiful to see that what God is inspired in my heart is also being inspired in other professional's hearts around the world. And so, it's a very small group of people, but little by little, you start to see this is a Zeit Geist. This is a cultural movement that is actually happening. This isn't just some crazy, fanciful idea that I just sort of came up with. And so it's been the most amazing thing to find other professionals out there to resonate with. And then in my own little world, my own pocket, to train up therapists underneath the Catholic Psych Institute, and to realize that we're growing this little family and there's other little families, and that we're doing tremendously beautiful work for God and his kingdom, and that people are finding the healing that he actually created us for.


Matthew Kelly:

Fantastic. Greg, great to be with you. God bless you. God bless your work and your family. And I hope you'll come back and chat with us again soon.


Greg Bottaro:

Absolutely. Definitely. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.


Matthew Kelly:

Thank you.

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