The Varieties of Truth

Episode 14 – The Varieties of Truth The Waxing Soul

Episode Transcript:

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 28, and on today's episode we'll be discussing the different kinds of truth, what it means for there to be different kinds of truth, and what kinds of truth we can use as a foundation for our spirituality.
Are you ready to grow your soul?

This may not be a common problem, but one of the big challenges along my own spiritual journey has been figuring out how to even label or describe my personal belief system. Lots of terms apply to a certain extent, but none are truly accurate. And it doesn’t necessarily matter to me that I have some kind of spiritual label, but it’s insanely frustrating to not be able to convey it to people in a concise manner.

Because I do think it’s important to discuss spiritual topics with other people to some extent, it’s something I enjoy doing with the right people, so it’s kind of like an entrepreneur needing an elevator pitch. I don’t want to spend a whole evening just trying to get someone to understand my beliefs so that eventually we can move on to actually discuss broader spiritual ideas.

I can say I’m pagan, but that carries expectations of either goddess worship or some kind of classic pantheon or nature worship. Which, nature worship isn’t totally inaccurate depending on how you define nature and worship. Technically, I’m an atheist, but that makes people think I don’t really have beliefs. Humanist comes closer, but doesn’t get to the foundation of what I believe in.

And the reason why I’m bringing this up is that what everything boils down to for me, the kind of core of my belief system, has to do with how much we don’t know about the universe, about our reality, about life itself. Everything else grows out of this realization that our understanding of everything is primitive. As a species, we tend to measure our level of advancement, our level of understanding against our own past, giving us this sense that we are evolutionarily advanced, highly technological, all of that.

But if scientific inquiry tells us anything, it’s that our understanding is a drop in the bucket when measured against all there is to know about reality.

So I do a lot of thinking about knowledge and fact and understanding and truth and what all of those things mean, what place those things occupy in terms of spiritual belief systems. And the bottom line is that it does matter that there are different types of truth, different levels of understanding, and it’s important for us to have a good grasp of where we sit in that jumble of ideas. Especially since these days we think of spirituality, or at least it’s one of those generalizations that we can make that for the majority of people their beliefs rest on a concept of truth.

And it may feel weird to question that.

I mean, why would we willingly believe things that aren’t true, right? But the obvious elephant in the room is that not everything we all believe can possibly be objectively true because there are so many things we consider truth which contradict someone else’s truth. Not to mention that we all embrace certain things as truth which cannot be proven, things we consider truth but which are not fact and therefore are open to being questioned by others.

And then back to the obviously huge amount of knowledge and fact and understanding that we simply don’t possess as a species.

So as much as we may like to think that our spiritual beliefs are rooted in some level of truth, what does that even mean? How important is truth to spirituality?

And this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately just because I do sit in a space of leading a community of people with vastly different sets of beliefs and spiritual convictions and navigating that means confronting my own relationship with truth. There’s a difference between fact and truth.

There’s a difference between what my life experience shows me to be true and what your life experience shows you to be true.

There are small truths which point to certain logical conclusions which are completely transformed when our perspective opens to reveal the much larger, broader truth.

Truth changes based on context. Truth changes based on our level of knowledge. Truth changes based on perspective. Truth is far more fluid and far less real than we like to think it is.

Which I know is triggering the crap out of some of you right now. “Truth isn’t real” sounds like an argument which invalidates belief in general.

But after kind of grappling with this over the past few years, what I’ve come to realize is that our need to justify our spiritual beliefs as truth actually undermines our relationship to our beliefs. I know that might sound illogical, but bear with me. We’re about to take an interesting journey.

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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 how we can track our spiritual maturity, what spiritual growth looks like from year to year, and how to find our footing in whatever stage of life we're in. 
And come back next week when we'll talk about the relationship between fear and belief, why it's spiritually important to get to the root of our fears, and how to reframe our thinking so obsession doesn't open us up to being spiritually manipulated.

When I say there’s different types of truth, I think that hits people’s brains in maybe a weird way, and so I want to walk through what I mean by that. And sort of recently where this thought process came from.

And I want to start with this: that facts and truth are not the same thing.

Truth is an interpretation of fact. It’s a conclusion, shaped by perspective, following some personal sense of logic, jumping off from what is at least perceived to be a fact. There are different types of truth because there are different interpretations based on different perspectives rooted in selective sets of facts.

Now, being an atheist who believes in magic is one of those oddball things that tends to throw people for a loop, where on the one hand there’s this question of how in the world someone who doesn’t believe in a supernatural being is going to believe in supernatural powers, and on the other hand there’s the question of how someone who practices magic can do so while rejecting a lot of the underpinning beliefs about how magic works. And I struggled internally for a really long time with reconciling all of this for myself. I do believe in science, that everything in the universe is subject to the laws of science, just that we don’t understand the laws of science as well as we like to think we do. And a belief in magic doesn’t necessitate a belief in powers that exist outside of science in a larger sense. It was important to me for a long time to find a nice little pocket of possibility alongside some more factual, logical sense of universal truth in which to nestle that belief.

So that’s the first kind of truth I want to deal with here: universal truth, which ideally would be based on universally accepted facts, logically sound, from an elevated perspective rather than our own. But that’s not something that’s within our grasp, is it? This goes straight back to that bit about us just not understanding as much of reality as we like to think we do. So if we don’t have an abundance of that kind of factual knowledge, and our perspective is much narrower than necessary for this kind of higher level logic, universal truth is just simply not something we can possess. Even if you consider truths being somehow given to us by something or someone higher, that would be a truth based on the perspective of whatever, whoever that is, and the validity of that is subject to our perception…

It’s a bit of a house of cards.

And today isn’t really about faith, that’s something I might talk about another day, but that plays a huge part here, and faith isn’t logical.

Yes, I think it’s totally worthwhile to include in our spiritual practices some amount of effort towards advancing our understanding, moving us closer to universal truth, but on an individual level we almost undermine our spiritual pursuits by focusing on truth. Because what we consider to be truth, what we often hold up as universal truth for ourselves, is really either cultural truth or personal truth.

Cultural truth is shaped by some kind of group authority, sometimes tradition, sometimes dogmatic, but it’s rooted in a shared perspective. Some of it is given to us, taught to us. There’s an agreed upon sense of what is fact, and more than that there’s an agreement on what is important fact, and what is important perspective and priority that is taught and shared and passed on between members of a group, even if it’s not super organized.

And then there’s personal truth, which really rests more than anything on what experience teaches us individually about the nature of reality. Our experiences shape our perspective, shape our perception of what is fact, and the truth we build out of that is super individual to us.

It’s so easy to get caught up in this question and conflict over whether our experience can be objective or definitive in a factual sense. If we’ve experienced something that has been profound to us, which shows us what we think is the factual nature of reality, but that experience is profoundly different from someone else’s, let’s back up and be as objective in our viewpoint about this – both people’s experiences are a type of truth – they both experienced what they experienced and it’s one hundred percent probable that we all have contradictory experiences within the same overall reality – and pitting one against the other is never going to lead to a resolution, no matter how much we want our own personal truth to be accepted as universal truth.

It just isn’t.

And this is where we get in trouble mistaking our truth as fact. I know I’m not alone in having had these discussions with people where my own experience and understanding is different from theirs and it leads to you both trying to defend your truth against theirs and vice versa. If I had a nickel, right? For me, it usually comes down to other people experiencing a connection with god, with ancestors, with the spirit world. And while I have never considered it part of my spiritual mission to convince anyone that their experiences aren’t real, I wouldn’t even say that I don’t believe those experiences are real, but it always comes down to this need that people seem to have to convince me to not only internalize their experiences as my own without having experienced them for myself, but also to then draw the same conclusions from them, to adopt and validate their truth.

What if, instead of needing our personal or cultural truth to be universal truth, instead of treating those disconnects as a call to establish a collective truth, we simply embrace the personal and non-factual nature of truth?

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I’ve mentioned before that the backbone of my spiritual practice is research and writing, particularly digging into the origins of spirituality in humanity. And despite all the things I expected to learn or discover or justify or whatever through all that research, what I’ve actually come away with is this:

Our spiritual lives have always been rooted in our unique experience of unique reality at whatever unique moment in time we are in.

Reality is transient, which means truth is transient, too. All of the stuff we embrace in our spiritual practices, our religious traditions, it’s not universal. It’s not global. It doesn’t transcend time. It may relate to things our ancestors believed and experienced, but our understanding and experience is different from theirs. Our perspective is different. Our truth is different.

And we can worry about where that leaves us, but where does that get us?

So here’s my assertion here: It doesn’t matter at all whether your spiritual beliefs are factually real. Essentially, spirituality isn’t even really about belief. When we focus so hard on what’s truth, whether our truths are accepted by others, backed by fact, who is right and who is wrong and all of that, we’re not doing anything.

That’s what I’ve learned most out of all my spiritual uncertainty. I can think all day long, but if I don’t do anything with it, it doesn’t mean anything, and it doesn’t benefit my life.

So where does truth even fit in your spiritual life? If truth doesn’t matter, what does matter?

Well, let’s start with Universal Truth. Universal truth is aspirational. We don’t have it. We’ll probably never have it as a species. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. So within your spirituality, it’s totally valuable and worthwhile to pursue an expanded understanding of universal truth. Learn more, think more, converse more, exchange more, expand what you know, alter your perspective, all of that. Do it for you, do it for your own spiritual evolution, do it to contribute to the larger understanding, but don’t lose sight of the fact that what you know, what you believe, what you understand is going to be totally subsumed into the knowledge and beliefs and understanding of those who come after you and therefore it cannot be definitive.

There’s no point in trying to justify the correctness of your version of that larger aspirational universal truth. Focusing on proving or defending it just stops you from the pursuit of a larger and more complete understanding.

Because spirituality is about doing.

The download today is a list of prompts for the types of activities associated with giving these versions of truth the proper place in your spiritual life instead of endlessly arguing and defending them.

Because doing is more important than thinking or believing, which brings us to cultural truth. If we don’t have universal truth, is cultural truth something that exists or is important? Well, of course it is. That doesn’t mean it’s fact, but it’s real truth. Cultural truth is rooted in a shared perspective and experience and it’s a manifestation of group values.

Cultural truth manifests in behavior. It gets acted out in some way. So if you’re part of a larger group in a spiritual sense, if there’s some larger collection of people that’s important to your spiritual life, the role of that truth you share is to be a foundation and a springboard for the active parts of that group culture. It’s the common rituals, common language and stories, common values and traditions, the stuff you do together. And I think it’s important to enshrine cultural truths as more than just a piece of an identity.

Recently I posted a quote from another episode on my social media, like I do, and one of the comments was about spirituality being who we are, not what we do. And I know where they were coming from on that. In response to the quote, I agree, but as a standalone statement I really don’t. Because what does it matter who we are, how we identify, what our identity is made of, if we’re not actually doing anything with it? It becomes just a label.

By all technicalities, I’m Catholic. I was baptised and confirmed and they count you in forever even if you don’t practice. But I don’t practice. I don’t participate. So what does it matter?

I’m a member of a sorority, but I haven’t actively done anything with them in a long time, I don’t hang out with any of my sorority sisters, it’s not something that plays an active role in my life at the moment, so it’s currently meaningless. Doesn’t mean it will never be relevant or have meaning, but if I’m not doing anything based on that cultural truth, it doesn’t mean anything of spiritual importance.

So what about personal truth? Our personal truth is completely based in our experience, our perception, our individual little piece of the universe. And it’s never going to be generally adopted. No matter how much we tell our story – which is important to do, for lots of reasons – but no matter how much we share of our truth, it will never become anyone else’s truth.

What it can be, though, is the foundation of our authentic spiritual practice.

The more we work to try and justify it, pick it apart, make it fit other molds or compare it to what other people hold as truth, the more we slide away from our authentic selves, our authentic personal truth. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change over time – it needs to. That’s evolution. But our personal truth is an expression of our authentic self. It’s never going to constitute universal truth, it’s never going to be something we can prove to others. It just isn’t. It’s a step away from ego and embrace our personal truth for what it is – just as imperfect as we are.

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.

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