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 January 14, 2021, and on today's episode we'll be discussing the impact of dissonance between our spiritual paths and our life paths, how to reconcile our life goals with our spirituality, and how to build a personal spiritual life that is truly authentic. Are you ready to grow your soul?
So, let’s talk dissonance.
I feel like this is a particularly relevant thing to talk about right now, and I’ve got a planned out set of notes so I don’t stray off into ranting or whatever, because I really do try to keep these episodes around the 20 minute mark. But definitely it seems to be past time in a cultural sense for a discussion of how we respond and react to cognitive dissonance in our lives. When the things we align with and our core beliefs stand in opposition to each other, I think it should be pretty obvious by now that the way we deal with that matters.
And I want to take a moment before we really dig into this topic on a spiritual level today to talk about the connection between spiritual topics and all the other areas of your life, including politics. Which I know is one of those connections that we tend to tread lightly around, but there is literally no way that our spirituality, which crucially includes our view of how the universe works, how the world around us works, our place in all of it, there is literally no way to separate that out from our political and social views if our spiritual beliefs are deeply held. That doesn’t mean that we allow our spiritual leaders, spiritual communities to dictate our political behaviors and alliances. But if we truly have a spiritual path, one that we are connected to on an authentic, soul deep level, that set of beliefs about the larger context in which we live can’t really help but inform our positions on everything else.
So yeah, sometimes when I talk about spirituality, it dovetails very neatly into the realm of politics. A lot of times, actually. Or, I’m going to be careful with my words here. Sometimes when I talk about spirituality, those spiritual concepts tie logically into certain social and ethical beliefs, which therefore align naturally with certain political positions. Because, if we’re speaking about dissonance, there is actually a difference between political alignment and the underlying social and ethical issues we care about. Topic for, well, a completely different venue, probably.
But there’s a parallel here in terms of today’s real topic in that there isn’t always a direct match between the religious affiliations we claim and our deeper personal beliefs.
So the thing is I have a whole list of potential podcast episode topics going, and this one has been on it since long before I started the podcast, so the initial reason for talking about this had nothing to do with current events. If you haven’t caught on yet, the thing that has driven a lot of my spiritual activities and pursuits is this issue of finding the right spiritual path, finding one that’s authentic and personally resonant. And from that comes this discussion of why so many of us end up sort of aimlessly wandering the spiritual landscape looking for the place we fit, and part of that is the question of what drives us away from the spiritual paths we’ve followed in the past. That’s where this came from initially, because I know that for me, for a lot of people, probably I could safely say all the people I know of who have left one religion or path to seek something else, a lot of what drives that process of leaving a tradition or group or religion is this idea of dissonance between who you are, what is important to you and what those traditions or doctrines stand for.
Back when I was actively blogging instead of podcasting, I wrote a few times at least about this idea that it’s when we acutely feel that dissonance that we start pushing away from our old paths, old traditions, and start looking for something else. And if you think of spirituality in a holistic sense, the idea that it encompasses all forms of spirit, then it’s not just about what we think of as religious ideas. It’s also the disconnect, the dissonance between your life path and your religious tradition in terms of issues like how you define success, how you set your priorities, whether or not those spiritual beliefs support and hold space for the things you consider important goals and standards and choices.
But here’s the thing: now that I’m pulling this topic up out of the list to cover here on the podcast, I’m also realizing that this idea that dissonance causes distancing isn’t always the case. Sometimes when we feel that cognitive dissonance between what we think and what we are told we should think, for some of us it can be more likely that we change or at least make an effort to change our way of thinking than to follow our own conviction.
Depending on a lot of factors it’s not uncommon for people to silence that inner voice that tells them there’s a problem, that speaks up against what they’re being taught, and get rid of the dissonance that way. Either way, though, it’s this disconnect, this conflict between what’s going on inside and what’s going on in the context we’re in is a big factor in what drives us into and out of spiritual paths, and we’re going to dig deeper into why this is important to examine after this.
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The reason I even picked this topic out to talk about is that my whole spiritual history has really centered around finding a spiritual path that made sense for me. That was authentic. That made sense TO me. And it’s not an easy process, largely because we’re not clear on what we even need spirituality for in our lives, but even more so because it’s really difficult to find an established tradition which fits who we are.
We are complex individuals who all have a different take, a different need for spirituality, different combinations of motivations and beliefs and backgrounds and worldviews. And WE ARE BAD AT KNOWING OURSELVES.
Kind of a vicious cycle in some ways, where we don’t really know ourselves well and we want our spiritual lives to help us discover who we are, and then we end up in spiritual traditions and religions which tell us who we should be or disparage the things we’re discovering about ourselves and that just muddies the waters even more. And when we can’t make ourselves fit into the space we’re given within a tradition, within a religion, that disconnect and dissonance is the number one reason people leave one tradition in search of something else.
It’s what drove my path.
And yeah, I talked a couple of episodes ago about how your spiritual path also needs to ping those fascination centers in your brain and all of that, there’s a difference between being bored with a form of practice, bored with a tradition, and feeling that itch of just not belonging there.
Now, it’s funny, because when I write these episode ideas down sometimes the act of sorting my thoughts and recording them turns up ideas and points and ways of thinking that I didn’t expect when I made the initial note. And this is one of those. I didn’t really think this would end up being about belonging and conformity and social pressure and such. My initial thoughts were all about how one important thing which needs to match between your spirituality and your core values is what motivates you in life. What you want most. Which is true, but this has dug deeper down, and the core issue is whether you choose to conform to the expectations of your spiritual path or whether you find a path where you don’t have to try and reshape your soul based on some outside set of specifications.
Including the things you believe. The things you think and believe about the world and why.
It’s so deeply important to be aware, to be mindful about what we do and how we respond when there’s a conflict, when there’s dissonance between what’s inside us and what we’re trying to connect with. When things don’t resonate, when there’s contradiction, when the church tells you that who you are isn’t okay or when your tradition is dismissive of your values and priorities or even openly hostile to them, when your spiritual life makes you feel bad or guilty or just not quite right. When do you go your own way? When do you work to change yourself? How do you figure out when it’s just not a good fit? How do you know when there are lessons for you to learn and work on?
Because we are all different. This isn’t a case of “everyone should think this way or the other way.” Like pretty much everything I talk about here it comes down to being deliberate. Mindful. Aware.
And here’s why this is so important, and keep in mind that when I say this is a spirituality issue, all sorts of things that we engage in, hold to, identify with, are part of our spiritual lives as well. Spirit is life force. Spirit is motivational energy. Spirit is thought and communication and exchange. It’s so very important to be thoughtful and mindful about how you react and respond when there is dissonance between you and the spirit in which you are immersed is because this isn’t just an issue of who you are to yourself.
Who you are to others is based on what you say, what you do, what you choose, what you put forth spiritually into the world.Tweet
It matters what you surround yourself with, even if you internally reconcile your position in a state of conflict. It matters what you imply by your presence, what you appear to support, even if you aren’t saying the words out loud. So there’s definitely something to be said for, when you find yourself on a path, in a tradition where you don’t seem to fully fit, to leave that path and choose a different and more authentic direction.
It also matters how in touch you are with your authentic self and how aware you are of your strengths and challenges. It matters your attitude towards ideas that conflict with your own knowing that not everything you think is objectively good, objectively healthy, objectively true.
And one more note before we move onto the how section. I know that a lot of us have or do think of spirituality, among other things, as a place where we can find the comfort of both belonging and being reinforced. Where our soul feels like it fits, and the spirit in which we are immersed is just an extension of what is already in us.
Sounds totally amazing, right?
But just like in the episode about discomfort and pain, the thing is that self-evolution and self-development doesn’t occur in spaces where nothing challenges us. It doesn’t occur in spaces where we are forced to be someone we aren’t. It doesn’t occur in any situation where we are either too comfortable or too completely out of authenticity.
It takes mindful awareness to find both peace and growth.
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I’ll be honest, as clear as some of these topics are to me on an emotional level, and instinctual level, and this one is one of them, putting them not just into words but distilling it into key points which make coherent sense to all of you, to people who can’t just sense what’s in my head and understand via osmosis, that is sometimes a real challenge. This one is like that, for sure.
But the more I thought about it, the how portion here distills down to examining what it looks like when we, well, I hate to use phrases like “get it wrong,” but when we aren’t mindful of this, when things are far enough out of alignment that it’s damaging in one way or another. In my original thoughts, the sort of worst case scenario I had in mind was just staying in a religion, in a tradition in which your authentic self has no place. I did that for a while as a queer skeptic Catholic, doing the mental gymnastics necessary to justify to myself that I had a place there, that the things that drew me to the church outweighed the things pushing me away. But that’s not a state we can stay in very long without really damaging what sense of self we have.
Here’s what the worst case scenarios really look like:
A – we wholesale reject anything which causes any dissonance from outside us. No space for questioning or examining on a personal level. It’s what happens when we demand our spiritual tradition reinforce our convictions, when we require it to be a little comfort bubble, a little spiritual echo chamber that continually tells us that we are perfect and we are sacred and where contradictory input isn’t welcome.
B – we wholesale reject our own inner voice and accept the authority of an established spiritual tradition or leader or teacher. We fit ourselves to that mold, we suppress our own contradictory thoughts, we do our best to replace what we think with what we’re supposed to think.
C – we negate the dissonance by deciding that all thoughts are equally valid, equally inconsequential, by adopting an approach of extreme detachment, no hard boundaries, no real convictions that we might ever have to stand up for.
The how, then, boils down to how do we avoid these? How do we strike the balance? And here’s one thing I’ve come to realize about finding balance between extremes. It’s not about finding the center point. It’s fluctuation – not from one extreme to the other – but around the balance point.
Or, let’s say, it’s kind of like driving. If you approach staying in your lane, staying on the road, as a matter of finding the exact spot to put your steering wheel in so you go straight and then holding the steering wheel right in that perfect spot, good luck. Practically impossible even if the road is perfectly straight. How it really works is that you constantly make little adjustments as you drive to put yourself moving in the right direction, right? You react in real time, lots of little turns to keep moving straight.
So dealing with dissonance in a way that supports your authenticity and your growth and your need for guidance and learning does come back to, essentially, keeping our focus on things that can guide us, internally and externally and contextually, and mindfully making all those little steering corrections to keep moving towards our north star.
Internally, this means getting deeply in touch with your soul, with your deep self, with the things that define you. What do you stand for? What are the parts of yourself that you hold as sacred?
Externally, this means determining your purpose, your vision, and in spiritual terms what you look to your spiritual life to do, to accomplish.
And as far as context, it means having the conviction of personal ethics. Knowing where your boundaries and standards and expectations are rooted and why.
And then it comes down to a consistent mindful check against those things. Are you honoring yourself? Are your choices aligned with your purpose and mission? Are you connected to the larger world in an honorable way, a way that is in integrity?
When you feel that friction, that dissonance, is it because something isn’t honoring your authentic self or is it because you’re being pushed to act against your core motivation, or is it because you’ve been pushed off your ethical anchor?
And at the very most basic level, all of this requires those guideposts, those navigation aids, to be as rock solid as you can get them. It means knowing yourself and knowing your purpose and having a strong personal ethical foundation – not morals taught by someone else, but personal ethics. Grounded in, coming from your soul.
Know thyself. Not easy to distill into a download. So I didn’t make one this time. I’m actually working on an entire book about creating a spiritual life which supports your authentic self, starting with knowing your authentic self. So subscribe to the show to keep up to date on that.
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.