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 February 4, 2021, and on today's episode we'll be starting a 7 episode series on emotions in your spiritual life with a discussion about the fear. Are you ready to grow your soul?
It’s spring! I hope everyone had a wonderful Imbolc! Seasonal changes are a huge huge part of my own practice, my own spiritual year rhythm, which is something I was going to be talking about next week but I’ve changed my mind – I’ll get to that in a moment.
But since we are now transitioning into spring in the astrological sense, we’re midway between the middle of winter and the middle of spring, I’m in this mood to switch stuff over, shift from – and I’m fully aware that this is probably different from the correlations you may be used to – but it’s a switch over from an Earth-focused season to a Water-focused season. This time of the earth beginning to wake back up after winter for me shifts from a very grounded, very material-reality-focused time to one where we start focusing on connections and feelings and creativity.
Feelings and emotions.
I already just happened to have put an episode on fear on the list for today, and something made me think that perhaps we should spend the first part of spring, from now until Ostara, talking about various emotions as they relate to our spiritual and magical practices. We’ll spend some time exploring some of our most dominant feelings and emotions and how they shape our paths, how we treat them in our practices, and how they may sometimes stand in the way of us having really deep spiritual connections in our lives.
So let’s start with fear.
Fear tends to be a huge part, a huge motivating force for our spirituality. It has been theorized that the ancient, prehistoric roots of our spiritual beliefs have to do with our fear of death, fear of the unknown, that kind of thing. And that may be possible, I actually kind of disagree with that on a few levels, but I don’t want to dig too deep there. But I mention it because whether or not our ancient ancestors feared death, modern humans certainly do, and that’s why death is a huge part of modern religion and spirituality. We talk about the persistence of the spirit, everlasting life, increasing our lifespan, depending on your path the approach is different, but as someone who people know to be an atheist I can verify one hundred percent that fear of death is maybe the central issue in religion and spiritual thought.
The single most common question I get is, if I don’t believe in a god, what do I think happens to us when we die? The other one I get is the age old, if there’s no god to tell me not to, what is there to keep me from just killing and stealing and doing whatever I want, which gets straight to the other core fear at the heart of modern spiritual thought – which is a fear of other humans, a fear of what other people can do to harm us.
Now, one of the reasons I have embraced neopagan, magical type practices in my own spiritual life is that I’m much more drawn to a tradition which is empowering in the face of things like fear than one which leans heavily on the idea of divine intervention, divine protection. Not just because I don’t believe in the existence of a divine force which can be relied on that way, but because even if there is such a force, the best solution to fear is not necessarily to raise boundaries to hold the things we fear at bay.
I’m not talking just in spiritual or religious terms here. Asking for a higher power, divine or mundane, to keep what we fear from happening to us isn’t ever an effective solution to fear. The fear persists even if the reality of risk changes. In the moment the feelings of fear and anxiety may be less acute, we may be able to distract ourselves from that fear, but the fear persists.
My biggest fear for a huge portion of my life was fire. Me putting a bunch of smoke detectors in my house doesn’t make me less afraid of fire. Which I can assure you is true because I definitely remember a long sleepless night in college when I was alone in my on campus cottage with the fire alarm chirping low battery warnings, and I couldn’t shake the worry that maybe it wasn’t the battery and it was just detecting small amounts of smoke intermittently.
But the important thing in all this is to realize how much of our spiritual life really boils down to us seeking some kind of way to alleviate and push aside fear. In some ways, I feel like paths which include a magical practice of some type are much more forthcoming and upfront in the relationship to fear. Because those of us who deal in magic, who deal in intentions, it becomes much more like mastering the tools to protect oneself than calling on a higher power to take away threats. Not always, not one hundred percent, but there’s a generally higher likelihood of a magic practitioner to go, “I don’t trust the people in my neighborhood, I’m going to do a protection thing to ward off people with bad intentions,” while mainstream religion tends to take a much more, “I’m going to pray that god blesses me with safety” approach. Broad generalities. here.
But I do think it’s a much better thing to start looking at the details of our fears, which is more likely in magical practice.
It makes us acknowledge what our fear is really about, makes us pay attention and take ownership of our fears.
However, what this is not going to be about this episode is how to magically protect ourselves.
The deeper issue, as I see it, is that the more we focus our spiritual energy on things we fear, the more our spirituality becomes centered around that thing and rather than growing spiritually, we essentially zone in and can actually become obsessed with the object of our fear, or at least what we think is the object of our fear.
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 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. And come back next week when we'll continue the series on emotions by talking about joy.
One of my very earliest clear memories was seeing a huge house fire from my bedroom window. Now, everything was fine, no one died, the house was vacant, even, it wasn’t some huge trauma thing, but I was really young and I didn’t have a lot of context for something like that. And I’m not one hundred percent sure that that is why, but it certainly could be the root of my longstanding fear bordering on phobia of fire.
Birthday candles made me nervous. Pilot lights in furnaces and stoves. Electrical hazards. Imagine what a big candlelight vigil is like for someone who can’t help but stand there wondering how many people were wearing flammable clothing or too much hairspray.
I’m way better now. I can light my own fire pit and leave things simmering on the stove without watching over them. But this was a fear for a long time in my life.
You know what else was true for that portion of my life? I was fascinated by fire stories. Forest fires. Nightclub fires. Spontaneous human combustion.
The things we are most afraid of so easily become the focus of our attention to the point of obsession.
And it makes sense, right? If you’re in danger of being eaten by a lion, you’re going to be paying really close attention to all things lion related. It’s a defense mechanism. It’s natural behavior. But when we think of our spiritual lives, or, I guess, our lives in general, do we really want the central focus to be an obsessive concern with things that make us afraid? Even if we put our focus on whatever we see as the solution to the fear or the best way to protect ourselves from the fear, it’s still ultimately enshrining the source of that fear as the center of our spiritual existence.
And here’s maybe the most important underlying concept to all this stuff on emotions:
Emotions are energy. Attention is energy. If we are pouring energy into a feedback loop driven by fear, what kind of spiritual life does that create?Tweet
And what I see happening in magical circles is that all the tools, divination, spellwork, every bit of magical, spiritual energy gets focused on whatever is the big unsolved problem, the big unconquered fear of our lives to the point where that’s all our spiritual existence is about. Loneliness. Scarcity. Pain. The people and forces in life we feel threatened by. And yeah, I do think it’s better to turn our own powers, our own intentions towards solving those things, but it’s not that much better if we’re talking about a situation where we’re so focused on it that it not only overtakes all other considerations, all other things we could be focusing on, but also when we center everything on one issue so much that it becomes a thing that we can’t step away from or solve without destabilizing the life we’ve built around it.
If a major focus of your life is centered around a fear, even a solution to that fear, it actually leaves no room for that fear to go away. What’s left in its place?
The things we obsess about, the things we place in the center of and as the biggest structural support for some significant part of our life, those things become so intrinsic to the system that it becomes difficult to impossible to remove them. If your spiritual life is built around a fear or a way to deal with a fear, what room is there to actually manage that fear and still have the same spiritual life?
It’s kind of like the struggles of people who have built a whole career around an industry which collapses and is left without skills and knowledge relevant to other industries. Or parents who focus so much on their childrens lives that when the kids grow up and leave they don’t have a strong sense of self anymore and don’t know what to do with their lives. Or people who get sucked into a cult-like belief system and cling to it because it’s become so intrinsically woven into their worldview that they don’t know what reality is outside of that.
So if we get into a position where our spiritual lives are centered on fear, avoiding it, obsessing about it, whatever, we also get into a situation where that fear is the foundation and structure of our spiritual lives, and without it the rest of our spirituality collapses.
It’s not beneficial for our spirituality to give fear such a primary spot because doing so actually makes it less likely that we’ll actually find an escape from that fear, a solution, because what would happen if we did? What would be left of our spirituality?Tweet
The more central our fears are to our spirituality, the harder that makes it for us to let go of those fears and the easier it is for other people, other ideas, other forces to use that to leverage that fear for their purposes rather than our own.
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I feel like sometimes we like to imagine we could get to a place where we didn’t have fear in our lives, where our existence is free from worry and anxiety and we’re in control of everything. Or at least able to put permanent barriers and distance between ourselves and the things we fear.
And I know that those kinds of visions play very heavily in spirituality and religion.
But I think we do ourselves a disservice and a lot of times actually do damage when we focus on removing or conquering fear rather than learning to have a healthy spiritual relationship with it.
Because fear serves a purpose. All emotions serve a purpose, which is one of the reasons I’m getting into this series on emotions. They aren’t a problem, they’re a system with a purpose. They’re part of our spirit, they’re a form of expression for what’s in our soul, and to try and rid ourselves of the more unpleasant ones stunts our spiritual growth. Stifling that energy doesn’t allow it to work for us, doesn’t allow us to use it for good.
Fear tells us that there’s a danger to pay attention to. It’s not a hard stop feeling meaning we need to run or hide. The things we fear aren’t always things that need to be escaped or eliminated. But some of them are, so learning to ignore fear or to not feel it at all isn’t a good thing, either.
Fear is… Well, I’d say all emotions, really, are a call to mindful awareness. It’s a signal to take stock of what’s going on, to assess the threat, to choose our response. And that’s super important because it’s not realistic to think that we can control the things we fear. Not all of them.
And that’s really at the heart of the issue when we center our spiritual lives around our fears. If our whole practice, all our beliefs, all our focus is on something we fear, it’s really an effort to be in control of that thing. To control death. To control people around us. To control the good and bad things that come to us. To control whether we feel good or bad. To control outcomes. But in the end we can’t actually gain and hang on to that control. We can control our own responses. We can control our resources, our energy, our reactions. But we can’t always control the things we fear.
And the more we try and control the things we fear, the more we put that at the center or core of our spiritual life, the more it’s possible for us to be spiritually controlled and manipulated by anything and anyone who can leverage that fear.
We’re pouring out all that energy, emotional energy, attention energy, into whatever seems like a potential way to reduce the fear, but when we do that we give power over to whatever we’re pouring that energy into. And fear often makes us not very attentive to who or what we’re giving that power to.
So how much is your spiritual life centered on fear? How much power have you given over to other people, other things because you hoped they’d protect you from the things you fear?Tweet
Bottom line: it’s important to keep fear in its appropriate place in your spiritual life. In appropriate context.
So first, it’s super important to get to the root of why we fear what we fear and remove that fear, remove that thing from the central position in our spiritual life, to put things in perspective and use our spiritual tool kit in an empowering way to respond when we feel fear. Part of this is doing our shadow work, actually looking at the root of our fears, working to become more aware and more conscious of what causes us to be afraid and why. The types of fears we’re prone to kind of enshrining as the central focus of our spiritual lives are often things that have some kind of deeper history in our experience, some foundational experience out of which our larger fear grows. So most of the time when we’re dealing with fears, we’re dealing with our own experiences and traumas and it’s about us more than it is about the thing we think we fear. And if we allow that to become the thing we focus on in life, in spirituality, we are making those traumas or experiences the foundation for everything else.
Another part of this is to do the groundwork of confronting the reality of our fears, getting past our purely emotional reaction and getting a more rational grasp of our relationship to the things we’re afraid of. Of course, there’s no silver bullet for all of that work. It’s deep self, deep soul, personal shadow work.
But there’s also the part of all this which comes down to looking at how we can use our spiritual tools and skills to actually address our feelings of fear and shape how we deal with the things which cause us to feel fear, which is the subject of today’s download.
Keeping our fear in proper perspective and focusing on what we can do ourselves to address those fears is a form of empowerment. If we don’t keep our fears in proper perspective, it’s all too easy to build a spiritual life that stands in the way of our growth and evolution because we end up with a spirituality which reinforces those fears, holds them up as not just legitimate but necessary, and erases the potential of us moving past them.
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.