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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 65 – Not Quite Strangers: Growing Emotionally And Spiritually As A Man

Updated: Jul 2


Not Quite Strangers | Emotional And Spiritual Growth


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Not Quite Strangers: Growing Emotionally And Spiritually As A Man


This is an opportunity to get to know two people not only by you all getting to know them, but they also get to know each other, too, because they're strangers. The whole purpose is for us to activate our curiosity, be inspired by curiosity, shift our perspective perhaps on different things, different opinions, and different ways of looking at life, and then ultimately establish a connection with one another. That's, in essence, the purpose of this show. I would love for you all to subscribe if you're not already subscribing or following. Like us. Favorite us. Save it on any particular platform that you use. In that way, you don't miss a single episode. For the pièce de résistance, I have here two fantastic guests. I'm going to start by introducing Andy Thomas.


Andy, you and I go back to July 2022 because your wife, the two of you, hosted a workshop in your home on some really phenomenal personal and professional development tools called PSYCH-K. You were the showcase model throughout the workshop because Katherine, your wife, would keep bringing you up and you would participate by showing us how something is done. You'd share an example of something that you'd experienced. You and I also got to practice a few things together. I appreciated how interested, interesting, and enthusiastic you were in that workshop.


I ran into you at Costco. I recognized you, but I couldn't place the face. I thought, “I know this guy. Where do I know this guy?” Something compelled me to stop and ask. You and I had this fantastic conversation. You shared a lot of the work that you've done in transforming yourself and some of the things that I already knew about you. I thought, “It would be so cool for you to be on my show because you have so much to share.” Thank you for saying yes, Andy.


Thank you for the kind intro. Happy New Year to you and Tommy. I couldn't remember when I last saw you prior to the Costco interaction. For those that are hearing the buzzword of PSYCH-K, please get back to Valerie Hope if any of the discussion about this interests you. She has been trained in all of it. This show is not for that, but if it does interest you, please get back to Valerie. She can get with you on how to pursue this modality further. Thank you for the kind words. PSYCH-K is part of my life. When I ran into you at Costco, I was like, “I wonder if there was a message for both of us in this.” There was, because we ended up taking the next level of training and I'm on my very first show.


Look at that. That's how it works. I followed my intuition at that moment. We might even talk about some stuff here because this man over here, Tommy McDowell, is no stranger to personal development and transformation. Tommy, you and I go back a lot longer. I would say 2016.


2015 or 2016, somewhere around there.


Several years. The way you and I got acquainted is through workshops as well, the personal development workshops. We were doing some things with Landmark Worldwide. In fact, you were my coach for one of the workshops.


That's right. I remember that. I was thinking about how we first met and the role. I didn't know if we were in the same class or what, so we were in the same class.


We were, but you were my coach. You coached me. I don't remember how many months. It could be 3 months, 4 months, or something like that. We had many interactions, and then we developed a friendship. We connect after that often. One of the things I appreciate about you is how deep we go in our conversations. You are so committed to not only developing other people as you did through that coaching experience but also yourself.


You've shared with me some of the things that you've been out to transform and to look at in life. You challenge yourself. It seems that the more you progress in life, the deeper you go. I thought, “Tommy would be amazing to have this conversation with and then also to introduce the two to each other.” Tommy, thanks for saying yes.


Thank you. I remember the one thing that I walked away from meeting you. It was your voice. It wasn't the sound or tone. It was the depth and almost the power in your voice. You got it. It doesn't surprise me you're doing this or anything else along the way where your word and your voice create and move people. You do it naturally in a very beautiful way. That is a gift.


Thank you. I appreciate that. I want to use this gift to make sure that the two of you walk away at least sharing, if nothing else, a bit about yourself with each other and anyone who's been reading. The first question I have for you is, and I always ask my guests this question, beyond the fact that I invited you, because I extended an invitation, why did you say yes to being on a show to meet a stranger? What do you hope to get from it? What is it that made you say, “Sure. Why not?”


It's a couple of things. First, it's that point of transformation that always goes. It never ends. It seems like there was always a new chapter, a new story, or something. What's coming up for me that I need in my life is community. I need my tribe. I need my deep friends. I read another book about being connected. It was how, historically, we play so much importance on that significant romantic other as the relationship and minimize everything else, yet it doesn't have to be that way. Throughout history in many cultures, it isn't that way.


There's always a new chapter or a new ending to every story.

When you start to reawaken, maybe some of this from COVID or maybe some of this from working remotely through the computer all the time, you start to realize what's really missing in your world. That's the connection with others deeply. It was like the teacher comes when you're ready. You showed up with this new friend and a new place. It was perfectly aligned.


Connection and community, I love that. What about you, Andy? Besides our Costco moment, what was it that inspired you?


I thought about it and said, “I've never done a show other than the famous ones that have millions of followers.” I said, “She's asking. Why not?” I didn't build any kind of expectations into it until after I started hearing some of this stuff. Some people can get nervous or jittery. I'm like, “Huh.” As I started hearing more of that, a little bit of that started creeping in. I go, “Huh.”


I was crossing my fingers at all the audio and the microphone. My wife does this online too. I'm sure she has the same types of possible scenarios on her Zoom stuff that you do with your show. If I remember correctly, she has never done one either. I'm thinking, “If Valerie needs a way to get some of this information out to the world, why not help her out?”


My tribe is mostly all the students from Katherine's classes. It's not like I have a personal relationship. I know of the students, but I don't really have any outside of that as Tommy was saying. Sometimes, you need to see what kind of tribe you vibrate to. It sounds like between the three of us, there is a tribe out there that fits the needs of all of us.


This is interesting because this has become a bit of a tribe for me. I do usually know the people that I invite. I know the two of you. They usually don't know each other or don't know each other very well. Part of it is continuing to build those connections that, if nothing else, beyond this moment of the three of us together, you guys might connect on a different level.


I want to go back to something else that you've mentioned about not having expectations until you started hearing that. Maybe people get nervous or people have some thoughts about stuff. What I've also found is when we meet someone in a store, we meet someone in a classroom, or we meet someone in the workplace, we might also have expectations or choose not to have expectations, but then something happens at the moment.


I approach this show in the same way. I've had people whose dogs are barking. I've had people who glitch on the screen or whose audio goes out. I find myself rather than having this manufactured experience because when we meet people in real life, we don't have the manufactured experience. We could probably put something on and be like, “I'm fine. How are you? Happy New Year.” We could say those kinds of things, but the experience, if it's raining, it's raining.

Not Quite Strangers | Emotional And Spiritual Growth
Emotional And Spiritual Growth: When we meet people in real life, we don't have the manufactured experience.

I'm curious for you two. When you do connect with someone, when you are out looking for a community, or when you meet with somebody and think, “This might be a person I want to continue to have a conversation with,” what draws you to a person? What draws you to a situation in which you would be like, “Let me get to know this individual.”


I'll take that one. That's a really good question. There's a sense of openness to connect. That's the first thing.


How do you know that?


Maybe they're in their own conversation or their heads in their phones, or something like that. If they're approachable, whatever that word means, from the time you see them and walk up to them, I don't think it’s anybody in mind. It’s, “Are they open to me?” Do they make eye contact with you? Do they even turn their body to you? Those kinds of cues are probably the first ones I pick up on. Within a few conversations, you know through their voice whether this is someone who wants to talk to you or not. That's probably the first thing I noticed there.


Andy, what about you?


I would probably agree with what Tommy said. For me though, personally, I am a kinesthetic person, so I feel off of other people's energy. Over 20 years with PSYCH-K, you develop things or a skillset that this person's either a good fit or maybe not a good fit and you might stay away. I would never let anybody know that. For me, I pick up people's energy. Even through the computer, I can still sense the energy.


Andy, I was thinking the same thing. I work a lot remotely, so I'm always online working. Even when there's no video and there's a voice, at the end of the day, I'm exhausted. It's because I feel through the computer. I pick up stress, difficulty, and whatever. I pick up everything like I would be if I was right there.


It's a little hard to let go of it. When you've been zoned in like this for so long, listening to conversations, words, and language and not being with a person, maybe you overcompensate a little bit in some of those areas. You are trying to understand where they are, what's happening, and how to communicate. It tends to suck me in a little more that I have to go release at the end of the day a little bit more than maybe I did years ago when we were doing everything in person.


The two of you are talking about this energy exchange that happens. Whether we're in person or virtually, there's this energy exchange. The thought that comes to mind is sometimes, we give energy and it goes into this black hole with the other person or the other side. It is sucking all that energy in and we end up depleted. Sometimes, there's an exchange of energy. Both parties are giving and taking simultaneously and it doesn't feel as depleting. That's what comes to mind. What questions do you guys have for each other? You've already talked a little bit in preparation for the actual interview, but I'm curious about what has come up for you guys since you started this conversation.


Since Tommy went first on that last piece, I'll go first on this one. This is one of the questions that I had for Tommy. Is it Tommy or Tom? Do you have a preference?


Whatever comes out the quickest.


I don't want to offend you.


The first question that I have for you is, and this may be more of a philosophical one, but since we are strangers to each other, are you more religious or are you more spiritual, or are you both? If you're one or the other, was there a timeframe in your life that one overtook or was more present in your life than it is?


I'm more spiritual. I use the religious word to be something around more of a structured social gathering against a set of beliefs. I'm really not in that camp. I've been there before in my life. If there was one event that comes clearly to mind, it is when I was probably in maybe elementary school in 5th grade or 6th grade. A church we went to, my dad had built that church. This was a long time ago. It was a Baptist church.


One of the things the Baptists believed back then was the priesthood of the believer. There was no single denomination called Baptist. Every church had its own belief structure. They took part in the Southern Baptist Convention for materials and things like this, but there was no one doctrine. That started to change. I grew up in that church. The people there were my family. They were my brothers. That's all I knew. We were there Sunday, Wednesday night, and holidays. That was it.


To see a new preacher come in, new philosophy, people get angry with each other, people leave, and all the disruption that went with that, I couldn't believe it. I was like, “How can anybody do this to a family?” It took me down that road. I was like, “What are you talking about? Why do I have to believe it this way?” It was all that kind of thing. That was the first step that broke me from that and said, “This doesn't sound like the message I was hearing.” That was part of it.


It was a realization, too, of growing up in the ‘60s. I remember this distinctly being in the social movements at the time. In the church and friends, the racial undertones were there. Yet, when I went to church, we sang a different song. In my house, with my mother, it didn't exist, but all around me, it was there.


Another one of those things that made me want to go was when I was like, “Something's not right with this picture. Either this church structure or the social structure isn’t following what we've been saying we believe in. It doesn't seem true to me.” It was a combination of those things in a deep family area that I started to pull back and see through a different lens. I started to pull back from my identity. That was the beginning of not being identified with any kind of formal religion, family, or social structure that way. It probably had a lot to do with it.


On the spiritual part of it, what part of it? Was it a modality? Was it some of the Landmark training?


It was an evolution of being present and having a few miracles in your life. You’re like, “Where the heck did that come from?” or, “How did I get through that?” Things show up like, “You didn't have anything to do with this?” It's those kinds of movements that awaken you along. One builds on the other. Landmark was really good about getting very strong at where your identity was in yourself and in a root and being able to feel that out. That was a big one.


Most of us guys, and Andy, you are probably the same way, we were raised to be something. You have to grow up to be this. You got to be that. Every job I had and everything I did from the Military on, I wore it because that's what I thought I was supposed to do. Somewhere down the road, you get a little older and realize, “I can't keep this energy up. I'm none of those things. I'm not even sure who I am or what I am.” You start this journey or this search to seek more. That's where the spirituality starts to develop. It's an ongoing journey. It never ends.


This journey to seek more about yourself is where the spirituality develops.

I have a very similar road. It resonates with your story about how I played out myself. That's why I asked because, like yourself, I grew up religiously. My mom's side was Baptist but my dad's side was Churches of Christ. Churches of Christ people, we can't do anything. At least Baptist people can have musical instruments in their church.


Growing up, I started questioning it. Deacons and your elders would always tell you to go back to this verse in the Bible. I was so young that none of that made sense to me. Meeting my wife is my pivotal point as to when I became more spiritual because I was so dogmatic in my religion. They didn't mention things like the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. I wasn't exposed to any of that. It was either hell or damnation from either religion. I questioned it. As I got older and I got introduced to my wife, my wife was very pivotal in me finding my spiritual journey.


That's so interesting. I was thinking about this day in prep for this too, Valerie. It’s this thing of transformation. It is ongoing. I’m married and my wife’s father was a PhD in Theology doctor. He was biblically knowledgeable. I loved this guy. He was brilliant. We got back into the church in San Antonio for a while. I have never been one to fit into that dogma.


I’ll tell a story. At the time, I was working as a federal probation officer. I handled a lot of white-collar criminals and things like this. We'd have to go out and see our people in the street. I'd go do that and tell everybody, “Do you know where I saw my people? Sunday morning in church.” I'd go right there and say, “Do you see that guy over there with the deacon? He's getting indicted next week. That one over there has cocaine coming in on the back.” It happened all the time. That was it.


The most religious places I know are prisons. Everybody's got Jesus in prison. It was this thing that hit me in my head like, “Something here is not right for me. It doesn't add up.” It was probably like you. It was through others and Landmark that people started being honest and vulnerable. That's what I would love to hear. Be real with me. Tell me you deal with the same thing I deal with.


It’s being human.


It doesn't go away. It is being that vulnerable and saying, “Here's what I struggle with every day,” and making sense of that. In that opening, to me, that's where the relationship starts to really deepen. Something happens in those spaces.


I love this conversation. One, I remember reading a book called Wisdom Hunter. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that. I can't remember the name of the author. It was based on a true story. It was about this man who was a pastor at this megachurch. He was building the church and it was huge, but his family was falling apart. He came to a crossroads where it became, “Choose your adventure. Are you going to be focused on building this church, the notoriety, and your name in this church or are you going to rebuild your family?”


It was one of those books that was introduced to me by someone that I went to church with. I also had a fairly structured religious upbringing. We used to go to the Salvation Army, which is a church. The bent would be a Methodist-style faith. I remember going faithfully. I was involved in all the things. I was a Sunday school teacher. I was in the choir. I did all the things.


There was a point in time when I read this book and I had an interaction. It was one particular Sunday where I had all these interactions. Tommy, you were talking about vulnerability and being real. It was when what I saw and experienced with people didn't feel like the community saw and felt from the people. There was some distinction between how we are with each other versus how we are at church. I was like, “Why is that?”


After having been in all these different spaces within the church, I was like, “I don't think this fits me anymore.” I stopped. I went cold turkey from going to church after decades, but I've evolved, which brings me to my next question. We've alluded to Landmark Worldwide and PSYCH-K, for example. People reading may have no clue what they are. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of it, per se, maybe talk a little bit about what inspired the two of you to start seeking out that type of education or that type of transformation in your lives.


I'll go first again. For me, it wasn't really a choice. I had a choice, but my wife, because she was so spiritually path driven, at some point early in our relationship, for me to stay very strict in Churches of Christ every Sunday and every Wednesday, becoming a deacon myself and all that, and making sure that I could memorize all the verses of the Hebrew King James version or go down this other path, it sparked my interest.


The way I met my wife, and she also dated at that time pre-PSYCH-K, was she did numerology. She did my numbers. Numbers kinda resonated with me. Here I am meeting this woo-woo spiritual female person I ended up marrying to being, “Everybody that's not part of your religion, all the rest of them are going to go to hell, even the Baptist, the Methodist, and the Catholics.” I said, “I have a problem with that. My religion cannot be the only one that if you don't belong to it, you’re saved.” I end up going towards my wife's path. The more I got down into it, I was like, “This really resonates with me.”


We did twenty years of it. We try to eat, sleep, and drink this spiritual path. I never want to poo-poo the religious side because as a human species, we need to believe in something. If that religion gives you the structure that you need, go for it. There's room for both paths. You have to find the one that resonates within yourself. The spiritual path here for the last couple of years has resonated with me.

Not Quite Strangers | Emotional And Spiritual Growth
Emotional And Spiritual Growth: Find the one that resonates within yourself on the spiritual path.

I find this in most of the spirituality realm. It's the guys that are lagging. We're the most hardcore. We're stuck in our ways. Women like yourself, Valerie, rule the world. A lot of the guys haven't caught on that females rule the world, but I get it. You guys that are on that spiritual path, you are way ahead of the guys, but in fairness, we're starting to catch up. There are more of us attending these types of workshops than ever before.


Tommy, what's going through your head?


I've had that same thought. I go back and look at the way my dad was, what a man he was, what masculinity was, and the role they had. It wasn't just him. It was everybody's age group. My dad was the same way. They were all World War II vets. They dealt with what they dealt with there. I look at what their view of the world was in the family and the community and the way they were with us kids. I could never be that way. My dad was extremely physically abusive. He would be in jail living. There was that element of it, but it was broader than just him. It was a lot of men there. I look at where I am and it's like, “I don't think I fit on this planet.”


What led me to the transformation is this search for me. It's a constant ongoing learning, unpacking, and exploring experience. My question for you would be what is it like to be a man now and the role you play versus many years ago? You're opening up, but is there anything that comes to mind that helped that thing change other than getting older and not having as much testosterone?


That question is probably still always ongoing for me. It's always a learning process. I'm so grateful that I was able to take a different path. I believe that my life for the last couple of years, every year seems like it's gotten better. You have to do your own work first. It starts within yourself. I did a lot of that work many years ago. Sometimes, year after year, I reflect. I look back and I am so grateful that I've done some of this work that I'm involved in.


I believe, and I may have mentioned this to Valerie, if I had not done that, I probably would've manifested something nasty health-wise. It is because of some of my anger, some of my resentment, and some of my shame. We all have skeletons in the closet that we never talk about, but we have them. There are ways or tools out there without talk therapy that can handle some of those skeletons. I believe that if you get rid of some of that shame, guilt, and forgiveness, it takes the weight off your shoulders and allows you to become who you want to become, whatever that is.


That's part of the key if you grew up in environments like that where you weren't allowed to do that as a guy. You had to do this this way or whatever. You never got developed. As you start to unpack some of those things through a lot of what you mentioned, that question for, “Who am I?” then starts to come forth. You spend time trying to figure that out or find out where it is about you and this.


I don't know about you, Andy, but it seems like it's ongoing. I'm at a different stage of life where I'm still trying to find out what it is. I'm not the traditional 67-year-old White guy on the planet. That's not me. It's not my energy. I don't want anything to do with that. Exploration is the way. You learn practices along the way as many of you have to help you open up and listen to that. It’s an ongoing journey, at least it was for me.


When that question of "Who am I?" comes forth, spend time figuring yourself out.

Can you guys give an example? I'm, first of all, so fascinated by this idea that there's the maleness that's coming up. It’s how you all see yourselves in the context of a male society and the identity that you were born to move towards. I'm curious about what it is like to be you with other men in a random interaction. Maybe they're not people in your tribe per se. They're in your immediate circle and may have gone through some of the same things that you were talking about. When you meet other men, what is it like for you all to be in community with them or in communion with them?


For me, like this show, I feel like I can be really honest with Tommy and he's not going to sit there and judge me like, “You do that? Most males that I know don't do that.” I don't get that from Tommy. That's why I know that I've changed because I can have these serious conversations with guys and there's no expectation that you're going to judge me for what I'm saying to you.


You don't care anymore? Is that what you're saying?


It's not that I don't care. It’s that I've done my own work and I'm very comfortable where I am. Are there still more growth opportunities? Absolutely, but I've come a long way from where I was to where I am now. I can speak to other male guys comfortably and say, “I'm not as religious as I used to be. I'm more of this now.” That can spark a conversation like, “What are you into now?” I don't have to feel like stepping on eggshells. I can say PSYCH-K, the Landmark, or anything in the spiritual realm without fear of being judged.


Can you give an example? It is something that happened at a moment in time when you had a conversation or interaction. How did you react in the past and how do you react now?


Sure. My best friend is a surgeon. He's an orthopedic surgeon in Georgia. We grew up in elementary, junior high, and high school. We went to different colleges, but we've known each other since grade school all the way up to high school. He's still my best friend. He's still in that Baptist role. His whole family is still very Baptist. I don't even curse around him.


When I'm around my wife, I feel more comfortable. I feel more comfortable cursing in front of Tommy. I don’t do that in front of my best friend because he's still in that structure. I understand that in his role, he may have to feel like he can't be as open as he has to be because he's a doctor. Maybe that's an expectation that I have in my head, but I do feel like for some people, depending on what role model you are, you sometimes have to fit that role or that model. Maybe more balancing on my part that someday, I'll be able to say, “Crap,” to him.


That’s interesting. Even with your best friend, having known each other for so long and he's still having that role in your life, you find that you shift how you communicate to make it comfortable for him. Have you had that conversation with him about this?


Some of it was during COVID. He is the senior partner of his medical, so he is high up there in his profession. During COVID, if you wanted to keep your $2 million salary, you had to follow the protocol. All your doctors, all your nurses, and all your staff had to get the jab, even though some of them might be saying, “Uh-oh.” In hindsight, it would be nice if we had a choice. I'm not saying that's why he's doing it. I'm saying that he has a white-collar profession. He has a certain role model. I do feel like he felt stuck during the COVID period. He did some things that I know if we were talking personally, he probably would've maybe changed some of his mind.


Freedom of expression is not as prevalent because of the role he has or the job he has. I get that. Tommy, what about you? What was the question? I don't remember what the question was. I got engrossed in your story.

Not Quite Strangers | Emotional And Spiritual Growth
Emotional And Spiritual Growth: Freedom of expression is not as prevalent because of the rule.

I don’t remember the words, but I remember the direction.


Build on that.


It is how the men respond to you when you're working there. Everybody looks at it through their own lens. Most people will end up opening up to me. Most men are on a journey themselves, but not all. There are others at work that will throw me into the most difficult human situation on the planet. They are like, “Tommy will figure that out. Throw him in there.” They’re like, “He can schmooze anybody.” I've heard it used in that language. They tend to put it wherever they are on their journey with their language. They fit you in that box, or they don't really know where to fit me, which is probably most of the time.


I don't have a lot of deeply connected guys. There are some along the way, but not many. Valeria, it is a journey. I see more men opening it. I see my son and his generation. He's 24. They get this by default. They don't seem to have that kind of identity built in like a lot of the other people do have that glue that keeps them stuck in one place in time. It's still an ongoing process.


I can see the guys that are stuck there. We have a heart-to-heart conversation like this. They're awakened about it. They see a glimpse of it. Whether or not they can express it, I don't know. The thing about it is it’s like Landmark, Valerie. When you change that drastically, a lot of the people around you and key relationships relate to you as that. All of a sudden, you're not that anymore. It can be stressful how to move through from the so-called landscape you built around you into something else. It can be very lonely there sometimes too. You find more and create more, so to speak. I don't know. I don't have it all figured out. I'm still going down this path.


You mentioned that this factory installed in the generations was an upgrade that we needed for the older generations. I remember you saying this to me. It stuck with me, Tommy. You worked in technology or work in technology quite a bit. You were talking about how we, as a human race, have been so committed to evolving our technology. There are constant upgrades. There is a version 5, 6, or 7 of the phone within weeks sometimes. We continuously upgrade, but the human mind doesn't get upgraded as intentionally as our technology does, which is ironic.


Sometimes, we continue to upgrade but the human mind doesn't get upgraded as intentionally as our technology does.

You were talking about how our family or people around us relate to us. I remember when I did a lot of the stuff that drew me to Landmark. First of all, a friend of mine who knew that I was always into personal development was like, “You love taking classes, so you might really enjoy this.” I was like, “Sure.” Secretly, I had a crush on him, so whatever he said, I would've been like, “That sounds great.”


I am guilty of that. That's how I got in.


I remember I went through the course. I was thinking, “This is going to bring us together because we're going to have this shared experience. He's done the class and I'll have done the class.” On the very first day, one of the first things they asked us was where in our life we have a relationship where we're not being authentic. I was like, “Oh.”


We had to write a letter to the person with whom we were not being authentic and spill our guts. I tried avoiding it, but it was really him that I was being inauthentic with. It was specifically because I was doing so much to try to please him and adapt to him because I had fallen in love with him. I had to write this letter, and I’ll share it here because why not? We're among friends.


I remember in the letter saying something to the effect of, “As your best friend,” which I considered him at the time, “I've been pretending that we're fun, fine, and cool friends, but really, I'm in love with you.” He said he was not interested in me that way. He made that extremely clear. There are times when I was always like, “Ugh,” but I'm like, “I'm going to hang in there though. He might change his mind.”


I wrote in the letter, “If you were to meet the woman of your dreams and find the relationship of your dreams, instead of being your friend and being supportive and excited for you, I would be jealous and hurt. What kind of friendship is that? That doesn't work.” We had to do this as an exercise and write it all out. I was like, “This is painful to even look at.”


The next day in the class, we had to share with the partner the letter, and I did. The person next to me was like, “Are you going to share this with him?” I'm like, “I'll die first. No. I'll never share this.” She then asked me a really small question. She was like, “I wonder how many other relationships in your life this has happened or where you've had this experience.” I was like, “There's a pattern.”


I had this flashback. I was seven years old. My mom and dad had known each other for years but they weren't best friends. They didn't really have that connection. I remember deciding when I was seven that I was going to marry my best friend. That's it. Any man who became my best friend had a target on his back. I was like, “He's the one.” I was like, “It's not even him. It's me.” I then couldn't wait to get ahold of him and share with him, which I eventually did. I typed it up in an email and sent it. He didn't get back to me for three days, but I was like, “It's a big deal. Take your time.”


When I finally connected with him, I remember for the first time in the years he and I had known each other, I could be with him. I wasn't calculating what to say, what not to say, or, “Would this sound good? I shouldn't say that.” I wasn't always playing this game and manipulating my mind to adapt to whatever he was doing. I felt like, “This is what authenticity is.” We still remained friends but from a distance. It's so much more respectful. He's happily married and I'm so happy for him. I’m excited that he found someone. It was like, “That was not me 10 years ago.”


In the letter, you fessed up that it was you instead of saying, “Asking for a friend.”


Exactly.


The question I have for both of you is, why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't there be a hundred shades of gray in there? Why can’t I be deeply connected and love someone? It doesn't mean I have to be married to them. It doesn't mean I have to have intimate relations with them sexually. Why can't I still be close like that to a larger number of people in a new way instead of either this one or that one? That, to me, is the space to explore.


Why can't I love this person because of who they are? That’s it. It's not a sexual attraction thing. It's nothing like that. It's not that I want to be married. You got that, but why can't you? I'm going, “You can,” as you were there. It was there. It didn't have to go that way. If there's one place to explore relating to others, that's it. How can we become more open and connected to people that way without it having to fall into 1 or 2 buckets?


I want to say this one thing. I would put a little label on it, and then Andy, I want to hear your thoughts on this. What I learned from that experience, especially after he and I reconnected and had the conversation about it, is what I had an appreciation for at the moment was his unconditional love for me. His unconditional love for me helped him remain a friend knowing that I had romantic feelings and aspirations. He never once took advantage of that. He never once pulled away. He didn't play it cool. He was present, open, and very respectful in saying, “Not for me, Valerie, but I love you.”


I learned a huge lesson in that moment about unconditional love and that it could look like a deep connection. It could be respectful. It doesn't have to be sexual. It doesn't have to be marriage. It doesn't have to be dating. None of that. It's been a struggle thinking about how we express that in relationships with other people who have the same orientation or education. That's where I'm still feeling it out. Andy, what are your thoughts on this?


I can semi-relate. This may be something along the lines of that book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. I've been married to my wife for 26 years. She still has a bunch of her guy friends. I was in contact through Facebook with a couple of the girlfriends that I dated. It is like, “No way.” From a female's perspective, and hopefully, Valerie can say, “You're wrong,” women can have male friends with low expectations of a sexual whatever, but it's not the other way around. Us guys getting back in touch with ex-girlfriends, that's a no-no.


Part of it played out for me because I did have a girlfriend that I dated back when I was 16 or 17. We parted ways until we reconnected somewhere a couple of years ago through Facebook. For me, I had relived back when I was 16. I was showing expressions as if I had not changed from that 16-year-old mentality and my wife picked up on it. That's where I still have some development on my end. It's not a two-way street for both guys and girls.


I'm the opposite. I can do that. It's unfortunate because a lot of women will take it the wrong way. The only thing is I want to be connected. I’m like, “That's not where I'm going. I'm trying to be human here.”


I'm still developing and growing in that aspect.


I hear you right there. There was one thing you said though, Valerie. Let me jump to it. Andy, I want to get your thoughts on this too. The one thing you reminded me of was something I've been thinking of. The good thing about Landmark that was so good was you learned to see people. To really be seen was so important. It’s not my role or my job, but see me and how much that affected the connection. To be able to see people and be seen, it takes two to do that. You can't do one without the other.


The other side of that that I've always struggled with, and it made me think, is to be safe. To me, that safety is exactly what you said. It is when that kid comes to you and they say, “Dad, I screwed up.” The first thing you say is, “I love you. We'll work through this.” That kind of state is how you create that state that you're going to be there with people regardless of where that is.


I have a friend I am really close to. She used to say that. Being safe was a big word to her. At the time, I had the God thing going. I was like, “What do you mean safe? There's no war going on. No one is going to beat you up. What are you talking about? What do you mean you're not safe?” I didn't realize it, but that was the safety. It was to be in that spot.


To go back to religion, that's becoming my holy trinity in a way. Maybe that is what it was really supposed to be. It is to be seen, be comforted, and then have that thing of safety, of not being judged, and of being present. It's a beautiful thing to put together if you can try to express that in some way. That's what that guy was doing there with you. He was allowing that safety for you to say that and be with it without judging you for it or putting you down for it. He was allowing that to happen. That's where my brain goes.


That’s profound. In general, men and women do have a different perspective on safety. What is safety? It’s what you alluded to. Andy, you were talking about how women could have these relationships with men that can be non-sexual friendship connections. Tommy, you were like, “That's not true because I tried it and that's not the case.” I'm not sure if this is right or not, but I wonder if it has to do with the individual completion of the relationship.


I had to have a conversation to complete it. It was like, “In the open, here's what's happening to me,” and it squashed all the other extra stuff. It became very pure. I have done the same thing since with my ex-husband. I did a lot of cleaning up there. I was like, “Here are some places in the relationship where I was being inauthentic. This is why or why not,” whatever. I still have those deeply connected relationships with my exes. I've only had two really big ones in my life. Those helped me and also helped them go like, “She's safe.” I'm not trying to get my claws back in or any of that because I've done the inner work to thank them.


The key for me is if I can get to a place where I'm grateful for having met the person like, “This is why you came into my life. This is a purpose that you've served in my soul,” and I can articulate that and have gratitude and unconditional love, then it's like, “Okay.” It’s not that I don't miss some of the aspects of the relationship that were intimate or whatever, but it was like, “That's why you were here. Thank you.” That helps. I don't know. What are your thoughts on that?


It makes sense to me.


I like it. My question would be where do you go when you don't get to do that? Either that other person's not present or they're not that far in their journey to have that completion with you. Where do you go with that? You're right. That completion is so important.


You write a letter. There has to be some externalization. It can't just be a thought. I imagine having some sort of letter or talking to someone about what you would say and having that person be like the surrogate for that individual. There has to be some sort of externalization of it. That's my thought. The other piece is I remember when I was going to therapy. My therapist says there are two lessons that everyone should also be really present to. One is that we do not exceed the level of emotional development of our family until we leave them or until we leave their home. You're going to be in the same exact level of emotional development.


He then said, “Number two, you'll always attract someone at the same level of emotional development as you are in any given moment.” I was like, “Nuh-uh.” He is like, “It may not look the same way, but you guys are right there.” Anything that we can do to elevate or evolve our emotional development helps us see something different, even different in a person that doesn't do their work. That’s my opinion. Thoughts?


Anything we can do to evolve our emotional development helps us see something different in a person who doesn't do their work.

I like it. We talked about a lot of stuff. We probably could do an episode on a lot of the stuff we mentioned. We're all unique individuals. It's very tough to say, “It's got to go this way or that way,” without knowing the history and the story of each individual. As we evolve, and that's through our own work, we all can come together like this mechanism here. We can sit there and agree like, “That story sounds familiar too.” We all can say this was our solution. We're all evolving.


Constantly. On that note, we're evolving toward the end of our conversation together.


Already?


I know. We got deep quickly. I'm curious about what it was like to be in a show having a conversation with a stranger for the two of you.


I enjoyed it. In fact, this is my first time doing it. If this is how most first-timers do it, I would say, “Why wouldn't anybody want to do this?”


Andy, you made it easy. The technical and being on camera, I've done all that with work. The thing that I didn't know how it would work, and I questioned it in my mind until I've done it, is whether you can really connect with people like this. I was like, “Can I connect like I can if I'm in person?” You can.


At what point did you realize that, Tommy?


In this conversation.


Was there a moment in the session or our conversation?


No. It was somewhere along the way. I can't think of any particular moment.


It's not like Angels saying, “This is it.” I'm really grateful for all the things that you all shared. I can imagine some of the conversation may have provoked some thoughts and maybe even challenged some people as they were reading it. Maybe for those who are reading and have been tuning into this, what would you challenge them or invite them to do as a result of the conversation that we've had? If you could give them one thing to work on or one thing to invite them to do, what would that be?


From my perspective, I would encourage if any of this resonates with some of your audience to get back with you because you are well-versed in a lot of the, it seems like, modalities out there. It seems like you're in a role of being able to help and mentor people. In this society, we've got a lot of hurt people out there. They may not want to admit it. They may want to keep it private. Your energy is very open. You're not judgemental. If people can, be honest with yourself and realize there are people out there who can help you without it costing you an arm and a leg.


For those people who are finding there are some challenges or difficulties that they're experiencing in life, be honest about it and then seek some support, whether that's a coach, a class, or an exercise. Thank you. Tommy, what about you? What advice?


I would do two things. One, be with people in a way that you listen to yourself really connecting versus the role you play or they play. You’re like, “What is the relationship? Is this truly authentic with me to them? What is it?” See if there's any space in there for you. If anything we did resonated with you or you even had a question, get back to Valerie. We could have that Andy-Thomas show so we could take all these questions.


You may have planted a seed there, Tommy. It could be that there's some opportunity. I'm going to add to what you said, both of you. If anyone has been reading this episode and has specific questions about life, love, or anything, send me the questions. We might have an Andy-Tommy Q&A where you guys get questions from the audience that you can answer. How does that sound?


That sounds pretty good.


It works for me.


I've never done that before here. This might be a first. I will stay tuned. I'll let you guys know what comes out of that. There might be an opportunity for little part two.


There you go.


Thank you, Tommy. Thank you, Valerie.


Thank you both so much. It's been such a treat to have this conversation. I appreciate your openness, your transparency, and your willingness to receive from one another and from me. For those of you who've tuned into this episode, thank you so much for doing so. Everything is possible, but a lot of it has so much to do with the intention behind it. I hope that that came across from the conversation that you all witnessed with Andy and Tommy. Be sure to favorite, like, and subscribe. Andy and Tommy, thank you once again for being on the show. Do you have any final words?


Let's meet soon in person and start the next series of meetings.


Thank you. Namaste.


Namaste. Bye, everyone. Have a wonderful rest of the day.



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Strangers: Andy Thomas & Tommy McDowell

From: Richardson, Texas & Denton, Texas

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