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 December 3, 2020, and on today's episode we'll be discussing the problem with treating spirituality as something that has an end goal, the nature of personal evolution, and where discipline fits into authentic individual spirituality. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Welcome back, everyone. Hope your Thanksgivings were safe and full of gratitude if you are in the US and celebrate. Thanksgiving is kind of a weird holiday for me because I shape my practice around the Wheel of the Year and specifically the changing of the seasons, and if the solstices and equinoxes are the midpoints of the seasons in a celestial sense, then Thanksgiving falls firmly in winter, but it’s treated as a late fall harvest thing. But I’m all for eating feasts and baking pies and stuff, and I do love fall more than the other seasons, so the space between Samhain and thanksgiving becomes this weird dual season no-man’s land where it’s simultaneously pumpkin spice season and egg nog season.
But talking about year cycles and all that is a subject for another time. Specifically, two weeks from now. Today, I wanted to talk about discipline and spiritual goal setting. And as someone who works with entrepreneurs in the business coaching space, I spend a lot of time on social media networking with other types of coaches, and so my feeds are just absolutely full of messaging about setting goals, about having discipline, about how to achieve your dreams and be consistent and all of that.
Which is great. If you want to be successful in business, in your health and wellness, it takes consistent discipline and focus and all of that. 100% true.
But recently, especially as I’ve been working on my latest book project, I’ve been more and more kind of weirded out by how much spiritual messaging is centered around the same kind of thing – end goals and discipline and that sort of thing.
Because here’s the thing: the book I’m currently working on is centered around building an authentic spiritual life, and by that I mean personally authentic. And somewhere in the thought process I started really digging into this idea of spirituality as a journey to some end destination. That there’s any sort of end goal to it. How can there be?
What would it even mean to be “successful” at spirituality, like it can be graded pass/fail?Tweet
I’ve mentioned the local pagan meetup group I organize, and a few months ago we were onto the topic of regular magical practice and being disciplined about it. And I’ve struggled with this daily practice thing for a long time. Not just spiritually, but any kind of regular daily routine. And what I’ve realized over time is that, first of all, I’m not sure where we got this idea that it’s reasonable for any average Joe spiritual person to expect to be able to live the kind of disciplined spiritually-focused life monks are able to do. Same activities every day without fail, all of that.
And second, that’s clearly not my natural state of being. Constant discipline, unfailing daily practice, means essentially building a lifestyle that doesn’t change much over time, and that’s just not my speed.
Change is good. Change drives evolution. And it’s taken me a really long time to realize that I’m far more interested in evolution than consistency.Tweet
So we were talking about that in the group, daily spellwork and such, and one of the group members said that they go back to something they were told by a mentor that, basically, “If you want to be part of the one percent, you have to be more disciplined than the 99,” or something like that. But here’s the thing: What would that even mean in a spiritual context? Is there any context at all where spirituality can be competitive, where there is some kind of elite status or achievement you can reach?
I mean, I get the point, right? If you want to be really good at something, you have to practice it, develop skill. And that’s true for various things we want to learn, but is spirituality really a skill?
Does it even make sense for us to think about our spiritual lives as a routine, a daily practice, something that takes discipline and consistency?Tweet
Now, that’s not to say that discipline and consistency has no place in our spiritual practice, but I know that there are so many people out there, maybe you, who feels that their spiritual life is lacking or not good enough because they aren’t consistent with a particular practice, they don’t journal enough or pray at the same times every day or whatever. Because somewhere along the line, we’ve shaped spirituality in the same way we’ve shaped business and other pieces of modern life in a capitalist society – made it into something we expect to be able to excel at rather than something that exists primarily to enrich us and help us evolve personally and individually.
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 nature of our power moods, why our emotional and mental states are so influential on our ability to function, and how we can do mood magic on ourselves. And come back next week when we'll talk about fitting magical and spiritual practice into our busy lifestyles, why knowing how to simplify your practice makes your practice more effective, and ways to streamline things to maximize the magic in your life.
So, I mentioned evolution earlier, and I want to talk about that for a bit because I think it’s a super important overall concept.
Part of what the purpose of spirituality and spiritual life is is to evolve. To grow. To become more than we were yesterday, right? And I think if that’s not part of your spirituality, if that’s not the idea of it all, to lift you up and give you a way to grow and develop, then I’m not honestly sure what the point of it would be. Even if your spirituality is centered around the guidance and expectations of some other power, that relationship is centered around your growth over time, right?
And I know that sounds like a goal in a lot of ways. To become your best self. To constantly improve. To be better. But here’s the thing about evolution: it doesn’t have a future end goal. The point is to adapt as things change, but it’s an ongoing process without a blueprint. And I know that’s not kind of how a lot of people think about it. Especially in terms of biological human evolution, I think a lot of us have this idea that modern humans were kind of the end point of something, some kind of exemplary example of what animal life can be, or that we’re still not at the end point but that it’s out there somewhere.
But that’s really not the truth.
Nature doesn’t have its eye on a final form into which various forms of life transform. The real nature of evolution is that it’s adaptive. Evolution happens when there is some kind of change going on that puts stress on the ability of a life form to survive and thrive, and because of that environmental change – plus because of variability in various traits exhibited by whatever life form it is – then the life form changes over time. Or it dies off.
So, I think of the moth that I read about, I think in London if I remember correctly – I should look this up again – but for a long time the wings on these moths were white and they would blend in with their environment and not get eaten by predators, but then when heavy industry resulted in a lot of smog and pollution and their environment was coated in dark soot this species of moth changed to have dark colored wings so they could still hide, and then when the air cleared it changed back. This happened over time, over generations for that moth, because of two things – a) that there were always occasional moths born with darker wings, even when that wasn’t ideal and b) that the black soot on surfaces made the white moths stand out too much and therefore the odd dark colored moths started to survive at higher rates. The environment changed, basic genetic variability and the pressure to blend into the environment made it so that the average appearance of the moth changed dramatically. Nothing planned it. And when things in the environment changed back, so did the moth. If the pollution problem hadn’t been cleared up, that change would have become more permanent.
That’s how our evolution works, too. Our best self is the one that functions best – however we define function – in the environment we’re in right now. And as long as our environment keeps changing, we keep changing too. There is no end game. The world will always keep changing.
I think the biggest problem with imagining spirituality as something we can center around consistency and discipline and strict adherence to some kind of routine, the biggest problem with that is that it essentially tries to create a change-free environment. And a change-free environment may seem the closest thing to peace for us, but it’s static. It halts evolution. And we are built to evolve and adapt.
That thing about the moths only being able to evolve because, all along, there are occasional odd moths with dark wings even though most of them are white is key here. We don’t do consistency and lack of change. We fail at it because life isn’t meant to defy change.
Life breaks the rules. It couldn’t evolve if it didn’t. And neither can we. We don’t evolve if we don’t break the rules.Tweet
Now, that’s not to say that there’s no place for discipline or regular practice in spirituality, but that’s not the core of what spirituality is about. We don’t succeed at being spiritual people just by doing spiritual things really well. The stuff we do in our spiritual lives should have a purpose, either internal for our own spiritual benefit or external as a way to connect with others or live our values in the world.
Does some of that stuff we do for a real spiritual purpose require practice and discipline and consistency? Yeah, sure, it can. Totally depends on what your spiritual life looks like. But overall? Our spiritual lives don’t have an end point. There isn’t going to be a place where you go, “Well, I’m enlightened or blessed or evolved as much as I can be, guess it’s time to retire from spiritual stuff.”
Self-growth never ends. Our relationship with ourselves and the universe isn’t something we graduate from. So it doesn’t make sense to treat it like a challenge or a competition. You can’t have a race without a finish line, right? Without a finish line, it becomes about the joy of running and the journey along the way.
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If you’ve been trying and failing at super disciplined spirituality or if you’ve been treating your spiritual life as if it had an end goal, how do you go about shifting your approach? What place does discipline play in your authentic spirituality?
Well, the real question is what your spiritual MO really is and where things like discipline and regular practice and even achievement fit into that. There’s no one right answer for everyone. It’s about balance and authenticity.
So here’s a few things to consider as far as what might be an appropriate role for this stuff to play in your spiritual life:
The first thing is where you’re learning skills. And not everyone’s spiritual life involves skills, but I imagine most of us have something that we’re wanting to get better at as a way to enrich our spiritual lives. For instance, especially in more pagan practices, practicing spellwork, learning tarot, that kind of thing absolutely is beneficial to spiritual life overall, and they require some regular practice and study and whatever to become comfortable and skilled at those things. But even when I was Christian, part of my regular spiritual life was that I played the organ at church, so that was a skill that took study and practice and learning.
But here’s the important part: becoming a highly accomplished organist or a tarot expert in itself isn’t the goal of spirituality. We learn skills so we can use them, right? Skill mastery isn’t the point of spirituality.
The second thing that might involve discipline and practice and consistency is things we do that continually provide some kind of benefit to our spiritual life. Like meditation or journaling or prayer or whatever. And these practices aren’t about mastering something. It’s not that we think we should meditate every day so we can be really accomplished meditators or whatever. It’s that what we get from doing those activities is an ongoing thing. You don’t meditate once or twice and then never have to do it again.
So in some sense it’s like a medication. Some meds you take daily, some you take as needed, and it all depends on what you’re treating with it. Like, if I have a backache, I’ll take some pain reliever. If I have a backache every day, I’ll probably end up on a daily medication or have to do regular massages or go to physical therapy or something. So that’s kind of what I learned after a long time of feeling like I should have a regular daily meditation practice but never succeeding in sticking with it long term. In the end, it was about not needing it every day. When it came to those days when I didn’t feel the pull to meditate, those days were like days when you don’t have a headache so you’re not going to want to take a pain reliever, right? Because for me, meditation is an energetic realignment kind of thing. And I don’t need that all the time. So if I guilt myself for not doing it when the only reason would be to put a check on the list for that day, then I’m actually damaging my overall spiritual mindset. I’m working against that sense of personal peace that so many of us are really going for, right?
The worst way to find inner peace for yourself is to set up unnecessary standards and goals to meet for no good reason, to criticize and guilt yourself for not being impossibly perfectly consistent at something when it doesn’t truly matter.Tweet
So here’s the deal – I’m going to practice what I preach today. And that means not having a download. Just an assignment for you. Because I’ve been super duper busy this week, I didn’t get the stuff pre-done for the podcast before the week started, and that’s okay. I’m letting myself off the hook, and my assignment for you is to do the same for yourself. Let yourself off the hook of some thing you feel you’ve been failing at. Keep your focus in the moment but don’t hyperfocus on momentary perfection.
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.