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 24, 2020, and on today's episode we'll be discussing the important difference between pain and discomfort, the dangers of spiritual avoidance and bypassing, and how we can stop using spirituality to numb ourselves and embrace our evolutionary processes. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Happy Christmas Eve if you celebrate! I hope everybody had a lovely Yule if you celebrate that. In this house we actually celebrate both. And yesterday was Festivus, so if you celebrate that I hope nobody came out of the feats of strength with too many bruises.
And, speaking of bruises, today’s topic has really nothing to do with holidays, but it’s something that has come up after several conversations I’ve had recently and I wanted to take a deeper dive into. And that’s the difference between discomfort and pain. Because what I see a lot of, and I think a lot of people lean on spirituality for, is a hope or even an expectation that if we get our energy right, if we get our intentions right, we can minimize the discomfort in our life.
There’s so much messaging out there that if we’re coming up against roadblocks and pushback and situations that challenge us, it’s because we’ve attracted that, or we’ve not attracted the right stuff into our lives. And it’s not that we’re not at all responsible energetically for what comes into our lives. Like I said last week, we can’t change the larger external forces around us, but we can change how those forces change us.
But what I see so much of when it comes to messaging about raising your vibration and elevating your consciousness is that if you get it right, you can avoid a lot of negative stuff. And then the other thing that I see, the flip side of that thought, is that there’s virtue in enduring whatever pain you experience in your life. That it’s a test to pass or that there’s reward on the other side of it.
And what I find harmful in all this really boils down to evolution again. Somewhere in our spiritual messaging we’ve mixed up pain and discomfort.
And I’ve got a metaphorical example here to demonstrate the difference:
I mentioned bruises earlier, and I think the physical body example is pretty good here. There’s a difference between the ache you feel from going to the gym and working out versus the pain of real injury, right? The pain you feel when you twist an ankle or touch something hot enough to burn – that pain is meant as a warning to stop doing whatever it is you’re doing before you do real damage, or even a warning that real damage is already done and you need medical attention. But what you feel when you’ve pushed your body past its comfort level, lifted more weights or run farther or faster, that’s not the same thing. It’s discomfort.
If you never feel that discomfort, your physical abilities don’t increase. You don’t get more fit. But no amount of slamming your hand in a door is going to get you in better shape. It’s not the endurance of pain that gets you there, it’s the willingness to push through discomfort, to push past your comfort zone in order to see that positive change.
So, going back to spiritual terms, what I see in a lot of the messaging is a willingness or even a sense of bravery and honor around enduring pain or going through trauma. This idea that the circumstances we find ourselves in which really are truly harmful, which affect us at the bottom levels of the hierarchy of needs, which contribute to poverty and poor mental health and poor physical health, things like violence and injustice even, that those things are something we should shoulder with courage as a show of strength.
And what happens, in the end, is first that we work to twist ourselves and numb ourselves however we have to in order to survive that stuff. We look to our spirituality to give us the ability to endure it, not to guide us to protect ourselves or get out of those situations or push back against whatever real danger has us in those circumstances.
And then our attitude that suffering is a mark of courage and strength actually numbs us to real danger. It makes us sit silently while real harm is done.
But on the other side, we focus a lot of spiritual energy towards the things in our life that are the equivalent of muscle aches after a good workout. We turn to our spiritual lives to try and bypass uncomfortable emotions – our focus on manifestation and positive vibes. We use our spiritual thought processes to define boundaries between ourselves and ideas or people who challenge our world view so we don’t have to ask hard questions or confront difficult truths. When our lives get challenging, when we’re faced with a hard choice or a setback, we often turn to spirituality to solve or remove the problem or to justify avoiding or walking away from the situation because the idea of dealing with it is uncomfortable.
And a lot of these tendencies boil down to this resistance to change, especially changing ourselves. Because discomfort shows us what we need to change, it lets us know that we’re pushing the boundaries of what feels safe and familiar, and that’s the way to self-evolution. It’s how we grow. There’s all kinds of metaphors here about how plants have to break out of their seed hulls and push through soil to grow, birds and reptiles and whatever have to break through the shells of their eggs, that kind of thing, and if they don’t manage to do that, they don’t grow. They don’t live.
So we get our reactions to pain and discomfort switched up and so instead of using our spiritual energies and intentions to overcome truly harmful things that cause us pain and work through the discomfort that signals growth and evolution, we use those energies to avoid the opportunities for growth but to keep ourselves in harmful life circumstances.
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 calendar year as one of three personally significant annual spiritual cycles, why it's important to look at our own life patterns and cycles, how numerology can help us approach the mysteries of each new year as growth opportunities. And come back next week when we'll talk about awe and fascination as the doorway to spirituality, why spiritual paths and traditions need to resonate with us on a personal level, and what we can do to increase the awe and wonder in our spiritual lives.
What I want to focus on most today isn’t so much how to deal spiritually with real pain, to deal with the stuff that’s truly harmful in our lives, partly because it’s a complex thing and a lot of the damage and traumas in our lives are things we can’t simply avoid with spells or prayer or good energy, so a twenty minute podcast isn’t going to cover it. But mostly I’m not dealing with that today in this episode because I think we do ourselves far greater harm by avoiding the uncomfortable processes that lead to self-evolution and self-growth.
It’s the avoidance and spiritual bypassing that really gets us.
Because if we go back to that exercise versus injury example, spiritual bypassing and avoidance is like not wanting to lift weights because you don’t want to feel the ache of sore muscles, but instead you end up throwing your back out lifting a box and being fine with that because it was meant to be.
Leaning into these evolutionary processes and opportunities makes us more able to deal with even the more dangerous and painful parts of our lives. But it’s not just about being prepared for things or more spiritually fit, if that’s a thing. It’s adapting to the circumstances of your life so you can live it to its fullest.
Evolution isn’t like climbing a ladder or a staircase. It’s not a sequential process to get to some next level. But often what makes us most uncomfortable, the things that cause us to react emotionally and draw back are changes and challenges that shake up what we’re used to or shows us something about our world that we don’t like or don’t trust. We don’t like change, most of us don’t really like to have to change, so it’s no surprise that we don’t willingly face down this stuff very well. But for those of us who want to evolve, who want to grow ourselves and be our best selves, evolution means not shying away from those changes and revelations that cause us discomfort. It does mean learning the difference between real pain and simple discomfort on a spiritual level.
What kind of spiritual and emotional pain really is harming us and what is just our ego resisting change and self-development? Knowing the difference is everything.Tweet
What does this have to do with our magical practice? Our spiritual life? Well, I think this is, unfortunately, a common approach to magic and a thing that tends to draw people to magical practice, this idea that magic particularly and spirituality in general can be a way to remove discomfort from life. To make us more comfortable, to spiritually, energetically block those things that we don’t want to face.
And sure, there’s a lot of stuff we can use our spiritual energy to protect us from, but here’s what I think is going on:
Religion evolves over time, human spiritual traditions evolve based on whatever it is, spiritually, that is our biggest challenge, our biggest unaddressed issue at the time. When things in society shift, when there are changes in the power structure or when there’s war and unrest or when industry or economic changes come around, the things we lean on spirituality for tend to relate to the uncertainties and fears that these big changes cause in individuals.
When natural disasters or wars have made humans worry about starvation, threats from other civilizations, dying from plagues, etc, spirituality has been a source of reassurance, that higher powers could be called upon for security and protection, to ensure survival, to bring the victory so the threat would go away. Warding off real threats, things like illness or violence or even scrutiny and attention from forces who could bring negative consequences down on us – that’s the kind of thing we’ve long used our spiritual energies to do. But these days, we’ve got other things to put our trust in when it comes to protection from those kinds of forces. Medical science and military might and law and order and all of that. Day to day, our worries aren’t focused on whether the neighboring state or country is going to invade us or if there’s going to be enough rain to grow enough crops to feed our families.
What we do worry about are the things that cause us stress, the stuff that makes us feel unsure and uncomfortable and insecure. It’s the changes that do happen in our lives, the things which push us to shift and change and adapt. So we use the spiritual tools we have to deal with those things, but since we tend to lean on older established traditions in our spirituality, those spiritual tools aren’t meant for dealing with evolutionary discomfort. They’re meant for big threats. They’re meant to help keep us functioning, keep us from being paralyzed with fear in the face of big threats.
And the result is spiritual avoidance. Spiritual bypassing. The stunting of our personal evolution which is more crucial than it’s ever been with the complexity and fast pace of modern life.
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If you’ve not really noticed so far on this podcast journey, the three sections of each episode are kind of a what, why, how structure. And the important part is the how. We can know lots and lots of stuff, but if we don’t have ways to implement things, if we don’t have any idea what to do with what we know, it doesn’t matter a whole lot.
So what the how is in this case is how do we pinpoint not just the difference between pain and discomfort, but how do we pinpoint those things that, even if we are afraid to do them, afraid of the discomfort, they’re a step on the path to evolution. Because it’s like I said in the first section, pain and damage isn’t part of the evolutionary process.
We don’t evolve by suffering. We evolve by adapting.Tweet
I could go to the gym and spar with someone until I was bruised and sore and have it be an educational experience, one that makes me stronger, faster, better. Or I could go let someone beat me up and I would feel much the same afterwards, bruised and sore, but not get any of the benefit out of it. I’d just be in pain for no good reason. And some of you are probably going, why the hell would I just let someone beat me up for no reason? And, well, that’s a damn good question. I feel like we have a tendency to do that, metaphorically, in our lives – welcoming or at least feeling obligated to be okay with experiences which are painful for no good reason, expecting that we build character or strength that way.
So how do we tell the difference? What can we do as spiritual beings, as magical beings to embrace the discomfort that comes with self-evolution and not stay stuck in painful experiences which don’t have any purpose?
Some of it really just boils down to the why.
One of the most physically demanding, physically uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever gone through was a marathon. Training for it, running it, it wasn’t actually fun. I’m not a runner, never have been, really, but I trained and I signed up for this marathon and I finished it in just over seven hours. But there was a purpose to it. Not just to prove that I could do something uncomfortable and make it to the end. It was ultimately a spiritual endeavor. It was an exercise in discipline, and I did it because it was sort of the opposite of what my usual approach to goals has been – it was all about the process of it, the fact that I couldn’t succeed by winging it and doing things my own way.
Anyway, there was a reason, a higher state of being waiting for me on the other side of all that discomfort. And that’s what it ultimately was – discomfort. I wasn’t injuring or damaging myself, I was going through an uncomfortable experience to reach something valuable on the other side.
So if there’s not that ‘why’, that reason – or if that why isn’t for you, it’s to satisfy someone else – or if you’re ignoring signs that the reward you’re after isn’t going to be found on the other side – maybe what you’re experiencing is pain. It’s a warning that you’re harming or endangering yourself.
So I’ve put together a download today that’s basically a list of the differences, the ways of differentiating between pain and discomfort, between the warning to stop and the symptoms of growth. And here’s the thing: what I think is most important with this tool isn’t just as a thing to think about, it’s about using it as a way to direct your actions and choices.
It’s really about the strength of your commitment to your own evolution.
Are you choosing to suffer without any good coming of it, are you choosing to not feel anything because you’re afraid of those feelings, or are you seeking out uncomfortable challenges because you want what you get in return?Tweet
If you want to grow, discomfort has to become something you actively seek out and look for. It has to become something you consider good instead of bad. That doesn’t mean it becomes any easier.
Back to my original metaphor, here, it’s like this realization I had when I was training for the marathon. I think those of us who aren’t athletic kind of have this idea that people who are always in the gym, who love to run, who are super muscular, whatever, that they find it easy. That it doesn’t hurt. That if we worked out long enough to get to that goal of being thin or buff or fit or whatever, that going for a run or lifting weights becomes easy and fun and painless.
But it doesn’t.
No matter how athletic you are, if you want to be better, if you want to go farther or faster or lift more or do more than you have before, the effort to get there is going to mean sore muscles and pushing your limits and feeling that discomfort. Always.
And it’s the same with any evolutionary process. It doesn’t mean a life of pain, but it does mean embracing the discomfort of growth.
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.