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Episode 004

Belonging, Acceptance, and a Road Trip to Love

On today’s episode of ​The OurVoice Podcast, you will hear Reena’s interview with Chris Tompkins. Chris is a teacher, author, TEDx speaker, spiritual life coach, and LGBTQ advocate. He teaches social-emotional learning throughout southern California, and is currently working towards an MA in clinical psychology. His writing has been featured in an endless list of publications and his book, Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parent’s Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground​, will be released this spring. You will hear Chris discuss where our sense of belonging comes from, how we can find inner belonging, and how we can extend that to others. Reena and Chris also discuss heteronormativity, internalized homophobia and transphobia, and how we can create a world where belonging is possible for all of us.

For Chris, the meaning of ​belonging​ has different layers. It is both external and internal, and is different for children and adults. In his book, ​Raising LGBTQ Allies,​ Chris examines how societal messages we internalize at a young age can affect how we see the world. Chris explains that children pick up information from the dominant culture, whether their parents are addressing cultural topics directly or not. He shares how these societal messages create a sense of “normal” and “other” for children, which can impact the sense of belonging.

Reena and Chris discuss internal and external belonging, the playground message of heteronormativity, and internalized homophobia and transphobia. Reena asks Chris how we can move past fear and better talk about topics like heteronormativity with children. She also asks Chris whether he thinks we can change our own subconscious beliefs with time. Chris explains how the work we do internally to correct these internalized messages and to love ourselves more relates to the acceptance and belonging of others. Chris emphasizes the importance of addressing messages from the playground with children at a young age, as well as the need for parents to do work within themselves. He also shares what we can all do to create a more accepting world for those around us, where children can grow up comfortable being themselves, and we can all feel a sense of belonging.

Key Ideas:

0:32 - Reena introduces teacher, author, spiritual life coach, and LGBTQ advocate Chris Tompkins.

2:10 - Reena asks Chris to tell listeners about what he does.

8:45 - Reena asks Chris about the meaning of belonging.

10:43 - Reena asks Chris about his book and the source of the sense of belonging.

13:37 - Reena asks Chris to give examples of messages from the playground.

16:57 - Reena asks Chris to share his thoughts on the perception of “normal” and “other” in childhood.

19:59 - Reena asks Chris about why these topics feel scary and what we can do about it.

26:41 - Reena asks Chris to explain internalized homophobia and transphobia.

36:01 - Reena asks Chris how individual work within relates to the belonging of others.

45:26 - Reena asks Chris what we can do to create a more accepting world for one another.

Links:

Learn more about​ ​Reena Merchant

Learn more about ​Chris Tompkins

Find Chris on Instagram here: ​@aroadtriptolove

Find Chris on Twitter here: ​@ARoadTripToLove

Watch Chris’s ​TEDx talk

Learn more about Chris’ upcoming book Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parent’s Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground

Read You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay

Watch the Mr. Rogers Movie with Tom Hanks: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Learn more about Brené Brown

Full Episode Transcript

Reena:

A sense of belonging is something that we all seek. It's the inherent desire that we have as humans to feel accepted and valued. And it forms a really big part of our self-confidence and our ability to show up authentically. I have the chance to go really deep on this topic with our guest today, Chris Tompkins is a teacher, an author, a TEDx speaker, a spiritual life coach and an LGBTQ advocate. He teaches social-emotional learning throughout Southern California. His writing has been featured in an endless list of publications and he's about to release a book about raising LGBTQ allies. In this episode, Chris and I chat about how we can find a sense of belonging on the inside and how we can create it externally.

Reena:

We discuss how the need for belonging and how we each define it stems from our childhood. We talk about heteronormativity, internalized homophobia and transphobia, and how we might go about creating a world that is accepting and where belonging is possible for all of us. I hope you enjoy this episode with Chris Tompkins. Hi Chris, it's so great to have you on the podcast today, thank you so much for being here.

Chris Tompkins:

Thank you for having me, I'm really excited to be here.

Reena:

So, I came across your work initially on Instagram and I was so drawn to it. It's hard to describe, but I kind of felt this feeling that your work was just radiating this beautiful, positive energy just as I was reading your articles, you've done a TED talk, it just seems so magnificent what you're trying to do for the world. And I was wondering if we could start with you maybe telling our listeners a little bit about what you do and the journey that has brought you here.

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah. Well thank you for saying that, that's very kind of you. I got so much that I could say, I think for me it really started back in around 2012. So about eight years ago that I really kind of started to read the books and started to attend the lectures. I live in Los Angeles and so I really started to kind of consciously, I call it consciously become aware of this spiritual path. I had always kind of been aware of spirituality, I was raised in a religious home so I kind of had a familiarity with maybe spiritual kind of concepts. But for me it was really in 2012 when I started to kind of actively pursue and kind of seek out spirituality, maybe it was really seeking me out, but a kind of a really quick long story short of it is that I had read a book called You Can Heal Your Life.

Chris Tompkins:

I'm not sure if you've heard of it, but it was written in the eighties by a woman named Louise Hay. And in her book, it was kind of the first really, it was the first book for me that really spoke to forgiveness and kind of exploring our parents' backgrounds as a means of kind of achieving forgiveness in our own lives. And or maybe not achieving, but maybe experiencing, or having forgiveness. And so I'm from Arizona, so I took a road trip and drove to Arizona with kind of the intention that I was going to have a conversation with my dad and also my mom kind of about forgiveness and just kind of cleaning the slate with them about maybe some of the things that I experienced as a child that maybe they still carried some guilt around and also maybe some of the things that I still had toward them.

Chris Tompkins:

And so I was going to meet my dad, it was shortly after I had arrived in Tucson where I'm from and I was going to meet him for lunch and a friend of mine, actually it was a cousin. She had sent me a message on Facebook because she saw some pictures that I had taken along my road trip to Arizona from California. And I jokingly mentioned to her oh, haha, yeah I'm on a road trip to love.

Reena:

That's amazing.

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah. And I just kind of said it like jokingly. And so after that, I like running for me is kind of like a meditation, kind of clears my head, so I wanted to go for a run before I met with my dad. And so I went for a run and while I was on my run I was like I am on a road trip to love. It was like every time I put my foot down, it was like that's what life is. We're all on this road trip to love and whatever love means for you it could be God, it could be a person, it could be yourself, but we're all on this road trip to love. And so it was something that I felt somatically kind of in my body and so then I met my dad and I gave him the book You Can Heal Your Life and just we had the conversation and that was that.

Chris Tompkins:

And that was kind of eight years ago and so since then I've really kind of been on this journey that I'm still on. It's not like a destination - which I discovered along the way - that it's just this really this journey and that we're all on it and it's very unique to each person, but it all kind of encompasses the same thing.

Reena:

Thank you for sharing that and it's so beautiful. I agree. I have also realized recently that there is no destination, it's kind of an ongoing journey that we're all on. I was going to ask you about the phrase of road trip to love because I know your website is also aroadtriptolove.com and I could tell I'm like I think there's a story behind this and I want to ask Chris, so I'm so glad you shared that. Thank you.

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah, of course. That's kind of when people ask me what that means, I mean it's I love road trips in general and so it's just kind of funny that ended up being something that I used to kind of promote what it is that I'm experiencing on my own journey so to speak.

Reena:

That's so beautiful. So Chris, you're a teacher, you're a spiritual life coach, you're a speaker, I know you've done a TEDx talk, you are an LGBTQ advocate. Can you tell us a little bit more about what your day-to-day looks like?

Chris Tompkins:

Well, my life has really changed as I'm sure anyone who's listening, their life has changed in some capacity or other just in 2020. I'm right now in graduate school, so I kind of to backtrack a little I wrote a book in 2019. Well, I pretty much all of 2019, I was working on a book and my book ended up, I ended up writing myself into graduate school. And so I kind of planned already to go to school, I had applied in the end of 2019, was accepted, got my acceptance letter in January 2020 not even knowing about coronavirus, or of course the pandemic, or anything. And so it's just kind of the universe has a plan and I kind of just applied to school not knowing that this was going to be happening in 2020. So for the past two months I've been in school full time pursuing my master of arts in clinical psychology.

Chris Tompkins:

And then right now my book, I'm just working on the final kind of stages, it's in production right now so it's going to be released in May 2021. So my day to day right now is full of book kind of preparation school and then also coaching a little here and there on the side, I'm as well as teaching for... So I'm also a social-emotional learning teacher and that unfortunately just with all of the changes that have happened within the schools and the programs where we teach, everything has gone online so that structure has changed a lot. So that's kind of my day to day right now.

Reena:

So much has changed this year and we were just talking about this before we jumped into the session of just how much this year has needed us all to be flexible. So I know, I know that's the case, but thank you for sharing it's really interesting to hear what your life is like these days. I wanted to ask you about belonging. So the term belonging, we use that quite a bit and I know you have a lot of thoughts and perspectives on this. I'm curious in your eyes, what is belonging? What does it mean?

Chris Tompkins:

Well, that's a really good question, belonging. I think belonging for me is it’s kind of layered. I think that it has depending on what perspective you're answering it from because belonging kind of I think initially when I think of belonging I think of something outward. I think of meaning like I'm wanting to belong, meaning I'm wanting someone to provide for me something. I also think belonging is an internal thing and that's kind of what I've discovered in my life especially just over the past few years and even more specifically the path. The most recent is belonging is really an internal thing. I also think that it has different meanings depending on from what age you're talking about. I think for children as an example, I mean belonging is very much something that is provided for by a parent, or a caregiver, a teacher and a loved one. And I think as adults when we grow into our ourselves, belonging is more something that we provide for ourselves. It's really kind of a practice I think of cultivating a sense of belonging from within.

Reena:

That makes sense. You mentioned sort of what it's like maybe when we're older, when we're adults versus childhood. I was thinking a little bit too about belonging and where our need for belonging stems from. Your book I know is about messages from the playground and it touches a lot about how some of these things take root when we're children, would you be able to share a little bit more about that?

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah, I think so.... I mean, it depends on how deep you want to go, from a metaphysical perspective I really believe that belonging ultimately comes from a separation from our connection with a higher power. And so I think ultimately belonging is it's a feeling of being fragmented from that source. And so the repair is in the process of rediscovering your higher power and whatever that is for you. And I think for children, messages from the playground has been something, that metaphor has been something that I've used just ever since I came out of the closet and started doing LGBTQ advocacy work. It was kind of a statement that I would say to kind of explain to people the process that we go through when we come out and maybe we're still not feeling completely a part of something.

Chris Tompkins:

And I think that for I can't speak for everyone, but in my experience after I came out the closet, I immersed myself in LGBTQ advocacy work, but I was really still kind of feeling a sense of disconnection. And so how I was able to understand that was from oh, okay, we all play on the same playground, no matter who we are, where we come from, there are certain collective societal messages that we pick up at a very young age and we internalize those messages. And so unless we explore them and go within and uncover them, then they remain dormant. But just because something is dormant doesn't mean that it still has control over our lives consciously or unconsciously.

Chris Tompkins:

So messages from the playground was a way for me to speak about maybe something that wasn't really easy to articulate or understand, but it kind of gives a more kind of basic understanding because also, just from a mere... from just traveling around the places that I've been, I always see playgrounds. And it's funny because wherever I go, I went to Israel a few summers ago, I went to Spain. I've been... I lived in Mexico for two years. I'm from Arizona, I live in California. In fact, my apartment building is right next to a preschool and they have a playground on the preschool and even though I'm four decades older than the kids that are playing on the playground, it still looks like the one that I played on. So it's something that I think kind of unites us in speaking about a conversation that may look very different for each person depending on their background.

Reena:

Yeah, it is so universal, it's so true. And it just, I think the phrase messages from the playground it's so... it encompasses kind of the core meaning so clearly. It was so obvious to me when I read that I'm like oh yes, I get it, this idea of these subconscious beliefs that we just pick up at that young age. Would you be able to share some examples just to help our listeners understand what some of these messages and what some of these subconscious beliefs are or could be?

Chris Tompkins:

Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think the easiest one and this kind of ties into maybe the topic... not the topic, but I guess one of the topics that I seek to address in my book is heteronormativity. And so messages from the playground, the messages that we receive as children just as... just by virtue of being raised in a dominant culture, we subconsciously consume the information that we receive just by being in the world. And so even if our parents, or our primary caregivers didn't explicitly teach us something, or explicitly talk to us about something, we're still picking up that information just by like I said virtue of being a part of a dominant culture. Living in the United States as an example, for anyone who is listening outside of the United States, the same applies to them because there's always going to be kind of a dominant culture that tends to... well it's dominant, kind of dominates over the rest of the society.

Chris Tompkins:

And so for me being gay, I guess the best example that I could use, I shared this in my Ted talk, is the preschool that I mentioned I live next door to. I used to have long hair, I was... I had a man bun when that was kind of a more popular trend. And I was walking to my car one day and this little girl from the preschool ran up to the fence and she just introduced herself and just small talk and I was talking to her and she asked, she's like, she tilts her head to the side and she said are you a boy? And it was just a really innocent, but very, you know, like kids do, they ask these very, it comes from a place of just true curiosity. And so I got my car and I drove away.

Chris Tompkins:

I mean, I answered her question but then later that day I started to think about wow, that's a perfect example of something that she just internalized based on the messages that she's picking up from her surroundings. I mean, I'm sure that her parents never sat her down and explicitly said Vanessa, boys have this kind of hair and girls have this kind of hair. It's just children are very intuitive and they pick up information and then when they start to ask the questions, their questions are indicators of what they're learning.

Reena:

And I was thinking about my childhood when I was in school and even things like I was in school, I was in grade two and just innocent things that kids say to each other just to make fun of each other, tease each other. I'd get teased ooh, Reena has a boyfriend and innocent childhood things. But I was thinking about the topic of heteronormativity and what that really means and it's like at this young age we're sort of either we hear things, or we see things that tell us well, this is what's normal and this is kind of the other. And I've heard you speak about this too and I was wondering if you could share more thoughts on that.

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah. No, thank you. I mean, that's a great... I'm really glad that you brought that up. And just another example from I draw so much I guess living next door to a preschool I'm able to gather a lot of information, but the same preschool and this just actually happened a few months ago. I was outside and the parents come to pick up their kids of course, every day at a certain time. And I was just listening to some of the conversations that the parents were having and there were two mothers and they were speaking about a friend of theirs and they happened to in conversation mention that something about like oh, she kissed her wife or she kissed her... she made it clear in what she was verbalizing that two women kissed. And her little girl just kind of, just so innocently said oh mommy, girls, two girls can't kiss.

Chris Tompkins:

And I also, I live in West Hollywood, which is very considered things are changing now, but it used to be for a long time considered kind of one of the more LGBT kind of gay specific neighborhoods, a lot of nightlife and places are here. So it's a kind of a very open I would say neighborhood and so to hear that comment I noticed her mom kind of look at her and that's kind of an example of heteronormativity of how it kind of creeps in. And even the more safe spaces, the open spaces and something that I talk about in my book too is that children, you know, from a child development perspective, children have a very fixed way. There's a certain age where they view things from a very fixed way and so when they start to interpret the world from that fixed perspective, anything outside of that, they deem as unusual, or abnormal, or different.

Chris Tompkins:

And so that's why I think it's really important for parents to be able to kind of disrupt those heteronormative messages by proactively having conversations because otherwise had her mom not said that and her daughter not had that reaction, then that kind of would have been more subconscious thing that she could have carried with her for who knows.

Reena:

It's so true. I mean, childhood is such an important time and children are so impressionable as you mentioned as well. And so many times we just don't realize the way I think in which our actions, our words might be picked up by a child and as you said it can have this long lasting or deep impact. So I know you mentioned it's really important for parents or, I'm not a parent but I have lots of nieces and nephews and my friends have kids, so it's so important to me to really get this. But even as parental figures to have these open honest conversations, it feels scary sometimes to do that and it feels like it takes courage sometimes to broach some of these topics. Why is that? Why does it feel so scary and what can we do about it?

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah. Thank you for saying that. I think it's so important to acknowledge that. I think that sometimes what prevents us is from even engaging in conversations is being vulnerable and even in bidding that. What you just shared right now is so important and so valuable and to be... to even be able to say that to yourself is amazing. And I think what prevents us is the risk of failure, it could depend person to person, but I think in my experience it tends to, you know, when I talk to parents, what feels scary is getting it wrong, maybe saying something, maybe not knowing what to say, maybe not knowing how to say it, maybe fearing of messing it up. I think fear, what I write about in my book is I talk a lot about, I think the two biggest ones are fear and fear can manifest itself in many different ways.

Chris Tompkins:

And then that means also the fear of getting it wrong. What do I say? I don't know how to approach this conversation, or what if I say something wrong. And so I think that the most important thing that anyone can do is to be willing to speak openly and honestly. And I always I think one of the biggest things that I've learned myself is that kids are so resilient and they speak in truth. And so they'll resonate with what you share with them that's truth. And I loved, I don't know if you had the opportunity to see the... I think it's the Mr. Rogers movie.

Reena:

I have not.

Chris Tompkins:

Oh my gosh. It's so good.

Reena:

But I'd like to.

Chris Tompkins:

It's so good. So there were two that recently came out, there was one that was like a documentary and there was one that was a movie that Tom Hanks played. And so I'm referring to the movie version with Tom Hanks, but in that movie there's a quote that I really love that kind of speaks to your question, is Mr. Rogers said that anything human is mentionable and anything mentionable is manageable. So I think that from that perspective, I think that as long as we're humans we all kind of share the same experiences although they look maybe different depending on our specific background, age, where we're from but it's still a human conversation.

Reena:

You're right. And when we bring it back to that kind of ground truth, then everything feels manageable as you said, or possible.

Chris Tompkins:

Right. I think we strive for perfection or at least in my experience I've taught social, emotional learning for six years and when I first started teaching, I strove for perfection, I wanted to be the best teacher, I wanted to be... I wanted to impact the most kids. I used to use the measure of how successful a class was based on my external perception of what I saw and that's just totally completely inaccurate because you never know what children are internalizing. And so as long as you're being truthful and being vulnerable... being willing to be vulnerable, then there's room for conversation.

Reena:

Yeah. That makes sense. It's interesting, I'm curious about your thoughts. So this idea of what's being internalized, but then what's happening externally. I was thinking that sometimes I think parents or parental figures, we avoid topics or maybe hide things from children, but it's to try and protect them. So it's trying to protect them from what we see as an external danger, or I'm not even sure sometimes what we try... what we're trying to protect them from, but sometimes it seems that it could have the opposite effect in terms of what is that child internalizing and what are they going to carry with them as a belief through their lives? How do you navigate this because it's coming from a place of trying to protect.

Chris Tompkins:

Sure. Yeah, no, that's a great question and I think at the end of the day parents, parents in my life, parents that I know, my own parents, I think that they do. They want to do a good job, they want to protect their children. Sometimes we don't give children the benefit of understanding that they're capable of learning more than sometimes we think that we're protecting them from. And I think in my own experience, I was raised in a family that there was substance abuse and for a very long time, everyone tried to keep it a secret. And as a child, I intuitively... I mean, that's one of the things I talk about my book is that children are truth detectors and they can pick up on that's when our intuition is the strongest is when we're children.

Chris Tompkins:

And so when children are picking up on energy, or something and no adult in their life is giving them language to talk about that, then they're internalizing the message that this is something shameful, something's wrong, we don't have these conversations. And so as an adult that can be kind of confusing because then it's kind of the opposite. As an adult, you're wanting to be able to talk about certain things but then the messages that you got as a child told you that's not safe. And so then it could be kind of like a disconnect of you having difficulty of interpreting things that are actually harmful or things that are kind of not so harmful, but your intuition is kind of like it needs a little repair.

Reena:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I can just, as you were saying that I was kind of reflecting internally and I can think of so many things where it's like the beliefs that have followed me through life and then what my intuition is telling me now and sometimes there's like a gap that you need to try to close between the two. Thank you for sharing that. So I also wanted to ask you Chris, in your work you talk a lot about internalized homophobia, or transphobia. For those of us who are less familiar with these terms, what does that mean?

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah. Thank you for allowing me to speak on this subject. I think if I could just say before is I'm sure you're familiar with Brené Brown and a lot of your listeners probably are as well. And I'm so grateful for her work because I kind of came back in when I mentioned I was started to read all the books. Hers were some of the books that I was starting to read back in 2012 and one of the things that she really helped me understand is that when we speak about shame, three things happen. We either shut down, change the subject or deny that we have it. And so I remember reading a book, I forget which book it was from, but Brené Brown said that when you're talking about shame, sometimes it's helpful to use another word, or another phrase, or something to be able to kind of get into spaces that maybe otherwise we would resist.

Chris Tompkins:

And so messages from the playground I also found was a way to be able to engage in conversations that had to do with shame around internalized homophobia, internalized transphobia. I'm gay, so I'm speaking from my experience as a gay man. But internalized homophobia is definitely something that was a part of my journey and in my life, in my experience and the conversations that I've had, if you grow up as an LGBTQ child, even if your parents or caregivers are affirming and supportive, again going back to the dominant culture, the societal messages that can creep in the very, very subtle spaces at school, in conversations, most of the conversations that we have in life involve a very heteronormative. When I was a kid, I can't tell you how many times people ask me if I had a girlfriend. And that question was such a source of shame for me because I knew I was gay.

Chris Tompkins:

And so it was like nails on a chalkboard every time I heard someone ask me that question. And so that's an example of internalized homophobia where it gets kind of internalized and it's basically how I frame it with people is it's kind of the external messages that we take on and we consume without realizing it. It's almost kind of like dust particles that are in the air and we breathe, we're breathing oxygen and we're also kind of consuming maybe some of the pollen, or the pollution, depending on where you live. I live in Los Angeles, so depending on the day. And that pollution, I can't see it but I'm still breathing it in. And so for me as a gay man, consciously walking on the spiritual path really required me to excavate the internalized messages that I received that were very benign and very subconscious.

Chris Tompkins:

But they came out in the very subtle ways and shame is shame, is shame, is shame. And so unless we acknowledge it, it will continue to exist and I could still be... I could have a boyfriend, I could be in a loving relationship and still carry with me messages that some part of me going back to your original kind of theme make me feel like I don't belong.

Reena:

Yeah. Thank you for explaining that Chris, that makes a lot of sense. And I'm glad you brought up Brené Brown too, I'm definitely a huge fan and her work on shame is fantastic. What can we do as a society, as individuals. What can we do to be more supportive, more inclusive towards family, towards friends, at work, just kind of understanding that we or others may be going through this type of shame and how can we be more supportive with that in mind?

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah. Thank you. I think, if there was... I thought about this a lot because I kind of have too, because just my book is coming out soon. I'm kind of feeling like oh my gosh, elevator, how do I talk about an elevator? But if I were to kind of answer your question and summarize really the kind of the message of what it is that I wrote about it's to have conversations. Have conversations with your kids, don't assume that things aren't... don't assume that things aren't happening and don't assume... don't make assumptions. And so having conversations allows us to A, normalize something, B, it create space. So even if I'm not at the place where I personally am wanting to have a conversation, by even someone else creating that space, it allows me energetically to step into it a little more.

Chris Tompkins:

And I think by having conversations, what that does on kind of if you want to get a little more spiritual metaphysical, is we're creating space, we're creating an energetic space that more people can step into. And I think that's what... that's how we heal shame. That's how we get rid of shame is that shame can't survive, again going back to Brené Brown, shame can't survive being spoken. And so the more that we're having conversations, whatever that's about. Right now with everything that's going on in the world, with racial uprising and just everything, to be anti-racist means to have conversations. And so I think that for anything that has to do with shame, with discomfort, with resisting, all of that is kind of like a constricting energy. And so when we have conversations, it's an opening, it creates a space. So that's kind of a long-winded answer but I think that's what I would encourage folks to do.

Reena:

Yeah. No, thank you for breaking that down. Sometimes it feels hard, people, we don't know where to start. So this helps because it can be as you said as simple as a conversation and it's like even just talking about something, it just brings things to the light and shining light on it is half the progress I guess.

Chris Tompkins:

I love that.

Reena:

No, thank you. So I wanted to kind of talk about, you talked about this too. There's kind of like what happens within and what happens on the outside and I wanted to kind of shift focus to within a little bit. We were talking about all these subconscious beliefs that we form maybe from childhood. So it could be beliefs about gender identity, gender roles, attitudes about sexuality. Can we change these subconscious beliefs with time? Are we stuck with them to some extent once they formed, how does that work? How do we begin to make changes within ourselves if we've identified that we want to do so.

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah, that's a really beautiful question. I think it takes honesty. I think it takes really being willing to look at what part am I playing. One of the things that I discovered in my own journey and whether this has to do with my book, whether this has to do with my work, road trip to love, anytime that I've thought that I saw something out in the world that needed to be fixed, I realized oh okay, so this is something that I need to work on also. I think that originally my book really was a letter that I wrote my family, that's how it all kind of started five years ago. And I wrote my family a letter and I literally sent the email to like all my aunt and uncles and my cousins and my mom and my siblings.

Chris Tompkins:

And it took five years for me to realize like oh, this letter is also to me and meaning that I have a role to play. And I think... I don't know if this has been your experience and maybe some of your listeners can relate, but I had always heard of these kinds of concepts on the spiritual path or personal development path. I mean, if you're pointing one finger out, three fingers are pointing back at you, that's an example, but that always kind of was like intellectual for me. That was kind of always okay, I understood that mentally. I could mentally see that image and understand that but I think the journey from the head to the heart is, you know, it's a long time. So sometimes you have to really learn those things on a sematic kind of body level before you really understand that oh, this is the inner work, this is the inner honesty that I'm having to have with myself.

Reena:

That makes sense. And in thinking about that inner work and that inner honesty, I mean I was thinking about self-love and even as we were talking about shame earlier, it feels like well, self-love feels like it's the flip side of that and we're constantly on this journey to love ourselves more. How does our work within and how we grow to love ourselves more and more, how does that relate to the external acceptance and belonging of others?

Chris Tompkins:

You ask really good questions. And gosh, I think just from my own experience, I think that when I started kind of on the spiritual path and personal development and self-love and learning about how to become a better person, I thought it was kind of something that again, going back to what we kind of talked about earlier, I thought it was like this destination that I had arrived and then things would be less difficult. And what I realized especially this past year in 2020 is that this is really a journey that we are on and that we learn lessons in a way that is conducive to where we're at and that doesn't mean that we're not going to revisit something down the road. I think that self-love for me, I thought that I'd get to a point where like oh, I'm going to love myself so much and then it would just be done.

Reena:

That's what I thought too.

Chris Tompkins:

And it's just not like that. And I think that for me is just, it's a practice, it really is a practice, it is a practice. And I think that for me, one of the biggest things that I think I've kind of shifted to and this is one of the reasons I'm going back to school is that I truly, truly believe that we can only take others as far as we've gone ourselves. And so if I'm going to be an advocate, if I'm going to be an uncle, if I'm going to be a friend, a son, a brother, a partner, I'm only going to be as good of any of those things depending on how far I've gone within my own life. And so for me that's allowed me to recommit myself to the practice of learning and unlearning and realizing that it's a journey and not a destination.

Reena:

I can, that resonates with me so much. It first of all, I agree, it does feel like a journey. I think the metaphor in my mind has kind of emerged just like, it's like a snowball. You just keep going and you keep going and you keep growing more and more and more with time and it makes sense. I think it's true, the more I grow and the more I... it feels that I work on my self-love, I do seem to be more accepting of others. And I'm just, I feel like I have the capacity to be kinder to others and not be angered or frustrated by other people as much. And it just feels like there's this relationship that's constantly growing. So thank you, that makes a lot of sense.

Chris Tompkins:

I think that, gosh, I was just writing a paper for a class and I was trying to think of the word that I was using, but typically when I'm not centered in my own work, meaning that just because I'm having a good day doesn't mean I don't also do the work. Those are the days that you still also commit to doing the work, I'm more critical. I'm more critical of others, I'm more critical of just in like really subtle ways. I mean, it could show up while I'm at the grocery store. And so that's why it's so important to constantly be vigilant and being willing to see that stuff within yourself.

Reena:

Thank you so much. So I was also thinking about kind of we talked about self and within, but kind of more on the collective or societal level. And as I was thinking about belonging, and as also I was looking at some of your work, you talk about this idea of the other two. So there's this kind of idea of separation or others. And I was thinking about my own life as far back as I can remember, that's kind of how I've been conditioned to think of things socially. So there's me and then there's others, we belong to groups. So we have different friend groups, or social groups, or at work, or we have a family unit, or there's religious groups, or racial, or cultural groupings and just inherently anyone who isn't in our group they just become the other and it feels like they don't belong. So I was just thinking how baked into society this thinking is, do you think we can ever begin to change this thinking because especially as we think about religious divisions and race racial divisions, it feels like the walls are so high between us. Do you think we can change this thinking of the other?

Chris Tompkins:

I do. I do. I think it takes work. I think that one of the things that I've found in my own experience is that sometimes depending on the communities that you're speaking with, or maybe a part of, sometimes living in Los Angeles there's a pretty big spiritual community. That's one of the things I really love about living here is the vastness of the spiritual, just so many different kind of traditions that are available. And I think one of the things that was frustrating for me for some time is that from a spiritual perspective, we're all just one. And I often hear that and I think that it's very important that's true, and we're also living a human experience. And so I think it's really important to be able to not spiritual bypass and just kind of jump to these lofty spiritual concepts without really realizing that it requires a concerted effort on our part as humans to do the footwork, like the saying pray and move your feet.

Chris Tompkins:

And so I think that to answer your question, I do think that it can change. I do think that it takes a concerted effort to go beyond and help others. It's kind of like a dance, doing the work within yourself to feel that you belong within yourself and then extending that outward to other people in a conservative way, in a way that is effort, not effortless. I don't know if that's the right word, but basically where you're making the effort to do something.

Reena:

That makes so much sense and I love how you framed it, it's like feeling that sense of belonging within first. Do I belong within myself and then extending that outwards, that's so beautiful. And the other thing I love about your work too is even as we look at the outside, your work with children, your book, it feels like you've really gone to the root of the issue that it starts at childhood. So it feels like if we can address things at that point, it could change not only the trajectory of our individual lives but if we do it at scale, then it really feels like it gives us some hope that with time maybe things can start to shift in a big way at a societal level.

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate you saying that and if I could say anything it's kind of two part, is that a lot of my work and really kind of the purpose of my book is like if we can address these things with children at a young age, then it could prevent so much feelings of being [inaudible 00:43:50] as they get older, as children get older. And it's also for parents to do the work within themselves, caregivers, teachers. I was just on a call last week with teachers and for LA USD, and there was a teacher on the call, lovely, wonderful teacher who shared that they have fear about having certain conversations about raising certain subjects up with their class and which makes complete sense. I mean, I've taught youth, it's not easy.

Chris Tompkins:

I have been, I have been in the classroom, I know what that's like. I mean, I've taught at juvenile hall and you kind of want to... I think sometimes working with kids for me it can almost in my early days of teaching, it really brought up my own experience of being a kid in school again, being around other youth. It kind of almost reverted me back to that feeling of when I was in high school and so sometimes we can tend to maybe shut down, or not be as open, or not be as willing, we're not as willing to take on certain subjects as much. And I think that's why it's so important to do the inner work within ourselves whether we're a teacher, whether we're a parent so that we can create that space for the children to step into as well without that fear, whether it's fear of failure, fear of just fear.

Reena:

Yeah, no, that makes a ton of sense and as we kind of wrap up our conversation, I'd actually love to ask you a follow-up question to that. What is something that you think each of us can do just very tactically, if there's something you want to leave our listeners with, what is something we can each do today right now to create a more accepting world for one another.

Chris Tompkins:

I would say, and this is a huge shout out to my friend Nia Clark, if she happens to listen to this. I would say something that she shared with me that was so very, very helpful and it kind of infused the intention for me of writing my book is that for anyone out there listening to not focus on keeping up, focus on keeping open. And so if we can all just focus on keeping open, that just is such a different energy than we're kind of trying to focus on keeping up because it can be very daunting to try and, you know, the world's moving very fast and it's not slowing down. And so I think focusing on keeping up can prevent us from being even willing to have certain conversations. And so for all your listeners, I would tell them to just focus on keeping open.

Reena:

What a fantastic note to end on Chris. Thank you so much, that's such a great message. I wanted to just ask you finally, how can people follow you? Stay in touch. I know you mentioned, did you say your book is releasing soon?

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah, it'll-

Reena:

I’m eager to get my hands on it.

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah. Thank you. I totally appreciate that. It's going to be released in May 2021. So May 15th, specifically of 2021.

Reena:

Okay, perfect. Thank you.

Chris Tompkins:

Yeah, you're welcome. It's Called Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parent's Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground.

Reena:

That's amazing. And I know we'll be sure to share with everyone, your website, your Instagram and I really want people to check out your TEDx talk, so we'll share a link to that as well. And can't wait for your book to come out, so excited for that.

Chris Tompkins:

Well, thank you. I really appreciate it Reena. I am grateful that you reached out, I'm grateful to be here and I just thank you for the work that you're doing. So it's very, it's changing, changing lives in more ways than you can even know.

Reena:

Thank you for the kind words Chris and right back at you, thank you so much too.

Chris Tompkins:

Of course, thank you.

Reena:

So much of what we believe comes from what we see and experience as children. Rewiring these old subconscious patterns feels really challenging but my conversation with Chris has left me feeling confident that it is possible. As adults, we have the ability not only to rewire our own thought patterns, but also to create an environment where our children can grow up feeling comfortable being themselves. This takes work, but chatting with Chris really helped me understand that even though shame and fear can hold us back from doing this work from having the really difficult conversations, if we can find the courage to talk about things openly, it can help create the space for authenticity. As Chris said, all we need to do is stay open. It all starts from within us, from loving ourselves to ultimately loving each other.

Reena:

I am just so inspired by Chris's commitment to creating a world where being our authentic selves is normalized and accepted and where we can all feel a sense of belonging no matter who we are. I hope you found the conversation with Chris as eye opening as I did and if you enjoyed it, please give the podcast a rating, please give us a review online. Don't forget to check out the show notes at iamourvoice.com where we'll be posting links related to this episode that hopefully you'll find useful. Keep finding yourself, keep being yourself. I am wishing you health, wellbeing and sending you all so much love.

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