I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast. Join me on an exploration of mindful modern magic, a journey towards deeper understanding of self and transformative individual spirituality. It's November 12, 2020, and on today's episode we'll be discussing how our spiritual history impacts our search for a path of our own, why trying on many different traditions isn't the best way to find the one that fits best, and what questions to ask yourself to figure out what you're really searching for. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Episode three! We’re really getting somewhere now! Getting serious.
So I thought at this point in the proceedings I’d talk a little bit about how I got here to this point where I’m recording weekly podcasts about spirituality. And it all started with me realizing that the spiritual tradition I grew up with wasn’t maybe a good fit for me.
I moved out on my own after college. My father is an evangelical preacher. I grew up in small independent churches. And I got to do cool stuff like teach myself to play the organ because nobody else was doing it, decorating for holidays, cool fun stuff, because it was a small church and I was the preacher’s kid. Plus, it was a time when I got to see family members I didn’t see otherwise. We went out to eat every Sunday after church, which was something we didn’t do much, so basically it was all of that stuff which really tied me to the church experience. When I moved away and all that stuff wasn’t true anymore, the church part itself… I just didn’t want to go. It wasn’t me.
So, to speed this story up a bit, that was the beginning of me searching for a spiritual path that was a good fit for me, that didn’t require me to change fundamental things about myself so I fit with the tradition. Which is an important topic for another day. So over the course of a couple of decades now, I’ve been on this spiritual journey, the same as lots and lots of you.
Somewhere along the line I started really thinking about that whole process of seeking out your authentic spiritual tradition because I see so many people struggle with it, and it took me a really long time to find my own authentic path. Lots of my writing and projects kind of center around this question of what the methodology there looks like. Is there some set of guidelines or steps we can use to guide this journey or search?
Because here’s the deal: the spiritual tradition you’re born into isn’t necessarily the one best suited to you – it’s just luck (good or bad). But everyone’s spiritual journey starts out with whatever tradition they were raised in as kids. A lot of people stay right there in that tradition all the way through their lives, but so many of us don’t. There’s a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that being born into a family or a culture which has a religious tradition already doesn’t mean that it’s a tradition which fits you. I like calling it our “religion of origin” or “tradition of origin” because it’s not something we choose at all. Most of us, I’m sure, have known couples who came from very different spiritual backgrounds. Maybe even not that different. My wife’s parents, one is protestant, one is catholic, neither one is super devout or whatever, but there was, apparently, some discussion about which church to send my wife and her brother to as kids. There was a decision made, and my wife was raised Catholic. And by that I mean she was sent to CCD classes and had to go to Mass right up until she was confirmed, and then I’m not sure she ever went again until she and I got together. I was in my Catholic phase then.
The thing is, we’ve all known those couples who have to talk about which tradition they’ll raise their kids in, and it has everything to do with how important religion and spirituality is to the parents and literally zero to do with anything else. There’s no way to know what any of us are going to grow up to need most from a spiritual path. So we start out either indoctrinated into a very serious religious tradition like I was, or made to go through the motions like my wife was, or with hardly any tradition if any at all, and that forms the start point for our journey later in life. And it’s all decided for us, largely by chance.
I think it makes sense to think about this as a journey, but where you start out on the journey doesn’t decide anything about the end if you don’t let it. It’s an important factor in how the journey unfolds, but it doesn’t determine anything about the end. Some of us might not end up that far from where we started out, and that’s okay. Even if we’re leaving behind a tradition that doesn’t fit, it doesn’t mean we have to be looking for something opposite or drastically different. The thing is, if you’re on a search for something that feels relevant, feels significant, feels like it’s fulfilling to you, you have to think more about who you are and what you need than you think about what’s good and bad about whatever traditions and faiths are on your radar. What’s really important is getting to the core of what it is you need out of a spiritual path so you can go find it.
If you're enjoying this episode of Waxing Soul, subscribe to the show! Each week we will dive into a different part of the world of spirituality, magic, and self-evolution. Check out last week's episode for a discussion of the ways we shut ourselves off from seeing and recognizing paths to manifestation that don't fit our expectations, why we shouldn't try to micromanage the universe, and how to train your brain to see greater possibilities. And come back next week when we'll talk about spiritual community and leadership dynamics, why we even need spiritual communities at all, and how to go about finding or forming a community which enriches your spiritual life.
Okay, so why does it even matter how we go about our search?
We all start off in one tradition, and we either stay in it or we go off in some other direction. And If you’ve been at this search for a while, and I know I bounced around between different traditions for quite a while, you know that during all that bouncing you’re mostly learning about yourself, about what does and doesn’t work for you, more than you learn about broader spiritual concepts. And it’s a way forward, sure, but you may never actually find a path that brings you anything of real spiritual value.
Randomly trying out different religions and groups and traditions isn’t the best way forward.
So, wherever we started out way back when was decided without us. Like I said, I was raised Evangelical Protestant. From there I decided to become Catholic because all the really intensely personal spiritual experiences I’d ever had were in cathedrals and churches and monasteries and such in Europe, and I wanted more of that. Then I met my wife, who was dabbling in Wicca at the time, and someone I knew told me about a pagan meetup that she might be interested in and I started going with her to help her meet people. Pretty soon I was interested too, and kind of meandered my way through a sampling of neopagan things, transhumanism, different flavors of atheism, etc. Kind of a random path. And where that left me, a few years ago, was wondering why, if I didn’t believe in a deity, because I believe in lots of things but none of them are all powerful or outside the laws of nature… Given that, why did I still really want some kind of spiritual life? Is it really hard coded into us as humans, like some people think? Was there really any evidence for it in human history, and while we’re at it, where DID spirituality and religion start?
So I had a ton of questions just from my own feelings and what I felt like I needed for whatever reason. I started thinking very deliberately about how a person can go about finding a spirituality that means something to them without doing what we usually do, which is find ourselves not agreeing with something or drifting away and getting dissatisfied with whatever church or tradition or path we’re involved in and we’ll start looking around for something else that looks better. Maybe we look around at our friends and find some that seem really into their spiritual lives and try it out. Maybe we’ll focus on whatever made us want to leave wherever we were and look for whatever path seems to be the opposite. Maybe we’ll start reading up and studying a whole range of things to try and make an informed decision about what might work for us. Every single person I’ve known who left one religion either scrambled towards or fell into another one or kind of renounced it all and went anti-religion for at least a little while if not permanently. Some of them bounced from path to path like trying on clothes. And some just settle into something else and maybe are happier but don’t think really deeply about it.
Really, most people I know who have ever left a religion or a spiritual tradition end up kind of picking something to point to as the closest thing to what they believe but they pretty much stop actively participating in religion or spirituality. Which is fine. Totally great, totally cool, religion isn’t for everyone. But depending on how you define the spirit, there’s a good chance even if you don’t frame it in what you’d call spiritual terms, you do keep searching for something to fill what’s really a spiritual void in your life and STILL do it in a random, tossing darts kind of way.
Whether you think of it in those terms or not, we all have stuff we do to enrich our spirits even if we do it outside the context of how we think of spirituality.Tweet
But back to my main point, which is that kind of wandering around trying on different spiritual paths could eventually lead you somewhere good, but it’s a pretty hit and miss way to go about it. And really, if that’s the prevailing methodology, it assumes that the religious and spiritual options already prepackaged for us are going to fit everyone one way or another and I want to challenge that way of thinking.
What if the best spiritual path for each of us is the one we put together for ourselves?Tweet
Crazy, right? What if, instead of searching for a place we fit, we deliberately and purposefully worked to build up a spiritual life around us, wherever we already are?
Spirituality and religion have changed every time human society changed. Every time there’s been a change in human history, every time cultures shift and societies rise and fall, religion and spirituality changes with it. And now more than ever we live in a world where we get to guide our own evolution, so for most of us it makes much more sense to craft and evolve our own tradition, our own path.
If you have a question, comment, or a suggestion for future show topics, you can submit them by hitting me up on any of my social media accounts:
If you’re looking for a spiritual path, where do you begin?
There’s something really important underneath that question. If you’re looking at and choosing from between many different potential paths and traditions, there’s an implicit understanding that all of those potential paths are legitimate to some extent. You’re looking for what fits you, but you recognize that all the ones you don’t choose are also legitimate belief systems for other people. By even just recognizing that there are options, what that means, what that implies, especially once you consider that human spirituality and religion is constantly evolving as humanity evolves and changes, is that there is no one right answer, and that there are lots and lots and lots of ways to approach and think about a spiritual life.
So given all those choices, the first step in finding or building something that works for you is asking yourself the right questions about what it is you’re looking for. And like I talked about in the episode on intentions, lots of times we’re not really good about knowing what we want or what we’re looking for without doing some deep self work.
Now, I’m kind of prone to comparing the spiritual search to the search for a career. It’s about finding a place where you fit in a wide range of possibilities. It’s not just about whether it’s a place where you CAN fit or where someone wants you to fit. It’s about your fulfillment and advancement towards the goals you have for yourself in life.
So, my undergraduate degree is in architecture. And when I got close to graduating, I did what all my peers were doing and went through the books of… Okay, let me explain that I’m in my 40s, I’m a Gen-Xer, and when I graduated from college we totally had the internet but it wasn’t totally useful for everything just yet. So we had to go through these volumes of listings of architecture firms all over the country instead of just Googling it. So I knew where I wanted to live and what kind of projects I wanted to work on and I went through this encyclopedia of architects and made this list of the ones who were everything I wanted: right place, right projects, right size of firm. And then I made a list of second choices, then my third choices. Long story short, I ended up getting hired by one of my third choice firms. I worked on hospital and prison projects.
Now, it was interesting. I learned a lot. It was really good for three years, and then suddenly it wasn’t. I lost that job unexpectedly, and I had a moment where my first instinct was to do exactly what I was talking about before with spiritual paths, and start sending out resumes to other firms that maybe were different enough to be better fits. And after about fifteen minutes of me mentally scrambling through the process of updating my portfolio and sending out resumes I finally stopped and asked myself probably the most useful question I’d ever asked myself up to that point:
“Am I doing what I want to be doing with my life?”
And I realized that I one hundred percent dreaded looking for another architecture job. The problem wasn’t finding another version of the same job with better characteristics, I needed to build up a new vision of what my career would look like. So I started asking myself the really deeply important questions about what I wanted from life, what made me feel fulfilled when I did it, all that stuff. It was the start of a spiritual journey all its own.
My point, though, is that that’s a really good analog of what a spiritual journey should look like. Sure we can start with asking what wasn’t good for us in our old path, what actually was good, what things in the past made us feel connected and inspired, but we definitely shouldn’t stop there. We should be asking questions like, “What has my spiritual or religious life given me that I can’t get other places in life?”
Bottom line, here. Most of us have a preconceived notion of what spirituality is, what it gives us, what we need it for. And more than that, most of us haven’t really deeply questioned those things for a lot of reasons. And that’s where we really need to start on a journey to something more meaningful, because those assumptions, those concepts are really what drives us forward on the journey.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for or even why you’re looking for it, how are you supposed to find it?Tweet
What I’ve got for you to download, if you want to delve deeper into this and want a little bit of guidance, is a list of questions to ask yourself as you think about your spiritual journey. Use them as journal prompts or for meditation or maybe write them in your planner or on a post it at your desk or something and just, you know, remind yourself to think about them during the day. You can download the list below.
Thank you so much for listening. Look for a new episode of Waxing Soul every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are © Bridget Owens. Music is Dream Catcher by Kevin MacLeod https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4650-dream-catcher License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily. None of this happens in a bubble. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.