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 25, 2021, and on today's episode we'll be discussing where curiosity fits into our spiritual lives as part 4 of our 7 episode series on emotions in spirituality. Are you ready to grow your soul?
We’re into the fourth of the episode series on emotions in spirituality, and I have to say I always kind of struggle a bit on what constitutes an emotion. Like, happy, sad, angry… those are definitely emotions, those are easy to pin down. But the occasions I’ve had to pull up lists of emotions – and I’ve had more of those occasions than you probably would expect for some reason… Well, maybe not. Writing. Spell creation. They take research sometimes. Brainstorming aids. Anyway, whenever I have to pull up a list of emotions, there’s lots of stuff on those lists that I wouldn’t have thought of as emotions.
And todays emotion – curiosity – is one of those things.
But poking around at lists and things this time, first of all, there’s no hard consensus of what constitutes an emotion. What defines emotion. And in the end, if you can say you feel a certain way, it’s an emotion. We can feel happy. We can feel ashamed. We can feel curious. So, then, curiosity is an emotion, too.
And that’s exciting because I think maybe this is the biggest most important emotion in the whole series when it comes to its role in spirituality. A lot of the other emotions are things that spirituality can help us manage or use or deal with, but a few of them really deserve a central role, to be a guiding force in our spiritual practice, and curiosity is the one that really deserves that spot.
If anything, this is the emotion that is always the most authentic emotion about us, the one that leads from the most honest places inside us. So in the interest of building a more authentic spirituality, following your curiosity is absolutely a good way to go. Because curious emotional energy comes from a deep desire for…
Okay, let’s back up a little bit here and talk about spirit again. Because I feel like this is something that is super crucial to understanding my take on spirituality, the way I talk about spirituality, and to really get what I’m going to say in this episode.
So, first of all, when I talk about spirit I don’t mean an entity. I’m not talking about something conscious, some part of us that exists beyond the physical. We all have spirit, yeah, absolutely. Everything in the universe has spirit as part of the makeup of all things.
One of the easiest ways to visualize this is metaphorical. One of the things I do as an alchemist is make spagyric tinctures and elixirs from herbs. And like everything in alchemy, the actual working, the lab work, is valuable and it makes herbal stuff that’s useful, but there’s a deeper meaning and bigger lesson in the metaphor of it. So everything in existence is made up of soul, spirit, and body. And in terms of plants, the body is the fibrous part, the leaves and stems and roots and flowers and seeds. And the soul is the essential oil, the stuff you want to draw out when you make tinctures. The part that gives the plant its effect. But the spirit, that’s what the plan lives on. It’s the water that the plant takes in, that carries in nutrients for it.
So, first of all, the spirit present in a plant is constantly being exchanged in and out. It can’t just hold onto its own spirit and live that way. And that’s whether we’re talking about the water or sunlight or CO2, whatever. It has to bring it in more all the time.
And second, that means there’s not enough inside the plant to use to make a tincture with. You have to add more, usually in the form of distilled alcohol for lab purposes.
So here’s the metaphor on that: We’re much more complex than plants. There’s lots more types of spirit. It’s water, it’s nutrients, it’s ideas, it’s information, it’s all the stuff we take in to keep living, to keep thriving. In terms of our spiritual lives, knowledge and ideas are the equivalent to alcohol in my lab. If we want to draw out and access our soul, we have to add more spirit. More ideas. More knowledge. More experiences.
And that’s where curiosity comes in.
Curiosity is that pull to find and take in more spirit. It’s thirst for spirit. So if there’s one emotion, one feeling that really ought to be central to our spirituality, it’s curiosity.Tweet
It’s acknowledging and being led by the feeling of wanting to know more, wanting to learn more, wanting to understand more. In this infinite universe full of more knowledge than we can possibly access even as a species, there’s no limit to curiosity. We might impose our own limits on knowledge, on understanding, and we might face limits as far as what we have the capacity to actually understand, and we might feel shame or fear about things we are curious about that we don’t want to explore, but there’s literally no limit to what we can seek to learn.
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 the third episode of this series on emotions in spiritual life where we talked about anger. And come back next week when we'll talk about sadness in part 5 of the series.
We should take a moment to acknowledge that there are lots of traditions out there which… and maybe it’s most traditions, actually… which put boundaries around knowledge and curiosity. There’s an overwhelming amount of spiritual and religious ways of thinking that center on… Well, I did that whole episode a month or so ago on truth, and the idea that there is important knowledge, important understanding, CORRECT knowledge, and that everything else should be cast aside.
And even if it’s not that explicit, most people follow some kind of tradition where there’s a somewhat finite set of things you should know, things you need to know, things that are good to know, and even if the rest of knowledge isn’t forbidden or discouraged, it’s presented as something unnecessary. Unwanted.
Certainly most spiritual and religious traditions don’t actively encourage us to be curious about what we don’t know.
And if you think about spirit in the alchemical sense, and then you think about spirit as the root of spirituality, and then think about what it means to place limits on or discourage our curiosity, I don’t know about anyone else but I think it’s the worst idea ever to not let our curiosity be the driving motivation behind our spirituality. Because the idea that we shouldn’t is really based on the idea that there is knowledge someone else doesn’t want us to have, thoughts someone else doesn’t want us thinking.
Now, one of the things I do as part of my spiritual practice is research and writing, not just to learn, but to explore ideas, to extrapolate things from the knowledge I can get into my brain, to expand my understanding and come up with creative new ideas and things to try and test. And what I’ve been researching a lot over the last few years is ancient humanity, ancient roots of human spiritual thought, and one thing that’s clear, well, two things that are clear, is that first of all, humanity doesn’t advance and evolve if we limit our access to ideas and knowledge and thought, and second, that the idea that some of this stuff should be limited and kept from people and that there are things people shouldn’t know only comes about when we get to the point in human history where knowledge becomes a threat to someone else’s power.
Animistic beliefs and the kinds of cultural and group rituals that we find in our earliest and most ancient human ancestors. There’s no evidence that there were any limits on ideas and, to the contrary, storytelling traditions were collaborative and shared, the evidence suggests that there weren’t even limits on who could be a storyteller or a teacher or a healer, that the roots of spirituality reach back to a time when exploration and creativity and curiosity were encouraged and vital to how we advanced and developed. Of course, in the millennia since, our religions have grown to include all kinds of ideas and warnings and parables and flat out rules about humanity not deserving or not being ready for certain bits of knowledge, not being able to be trusted to know or have access to things, and there’s traditions along the way where certain bits of knowledge or access to ideas that were held pending some kind of initiatory rite of passage.
So it’s not surprising, considering how power structures and cultures have developed over time, that religions and spiritual traditions now are almost expected to involve some limits and restrictions on who gets to pursue their curiosity about what things.
But curiosity is an inherent part of human existence. You can restrict how people act on curiosity, but curiosity cannot be stamped out. And being told we can’t know something, can’t examine or explore something, makes us want to pursue it that much more. So, ultimately, especially considering that our curiosity has a lot to do with who we are… Because think about it this way: if you offer to teach me all there is to know about the history of tractors. And I’d say, “thanks, but I’ll pass.” Because that’s not something I’m curious about. Other people would be, and that’s cool for them.
Our own curiosity leads us based on what we feel a connection to, it’s deeply authentic to us. So considering that our curiosity is so personally authentic, anything which tries to stifle that curiosity, which tries to get us to not explore those things we feel curious about, is going to be spiritually damaging.
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The bottom line on anger is that the feeling is usually so strong that it shorts out our logical thought processes. And for the most part, I think what we’re told or led to believe we should do about our anger is to either deny it or stifle it or at least talk ourselves out of whatever we’re feeling because anger is bad.
I grew up in a household where there was definitely a good emotion/bad emotion thing going on, things we weren’t apparently supposed to feel, and those “bad” emotions were treated kind of like sins. Things like anger were supposed to be turned over to god and prayed away and let go of because, well, god had a plan or whatever, blah blah blah. The effect of all that was that somewhere in my adult life, after I’d started embracing more empowering and magical type spiritual ideas, and once I really started digging in and doing my shadow work for the first time, I realized that I had no idea how to deal with so called negative emotions. I didn’t know how to deal with anger or disappointment or hurt or sadness or frustration. Just telling myself that someone else or something else out there had a plan and that those feelings meant I wasn’t trusting them or having enough faith had never even once worked, but I’d also never learned a better way. I’d learned to internalize things, but that’s no good either.
The thing is that all emotions, anger included, are, like I said in a previous episode, barometers. They’re warning lights. They’re detectors and reminders and alarms. They exist somewhere in that instinctual, reflexive part of our being that we share with other living creatures.
The thing about humans, though – one of the things that makes us human, in fact – is that we don’t operate from that place. It’s still useful, it’s very useful, and we need it. But we get to take those feelings, those signals, and process them in ways the rest of the animal kingdom just can’t.
So the answer to what we do with things like anger, what we do with uncomfortable feelings, is we have to process them. And that’s something that is absolutely part of what spirituality is and can be. Anger can call our attention to things we have the power to work to change. Anger can call our attention to deep soul values that we maybe don’t want to hold onto anymore. Anger can make us aware of other things we feel. like hurt and sadness and regret and shame. Anger can be – and this one’s huge – anger can be a call to build empathy, to take a closer look at why people do the things they do.
Anger is just a feeling, it’s just energy, and we get to choose as humans what we do with that energy.Tweet
And as magical practitioners, we have something of an expanded range of options for how to use that energy, what to do with it and where to direct it. That’s the beauty of magical practice. Recognizing that everything is energy and building a whole spiritual life and practice around using and working with energy lets us do way more things with and about the things around us than the average person. So when we step back from our anger long enough to look at it, to figure out what it’s pointing towards, we have tools and skills to put to use to either take that motivating energy and act on it, to turn our attention inward and work through what it’s showing us, to connect with other people and evolve our worldview, or to just see what it’s showing us and expand our understanding of reality accordingly.
Of course, the first key to all of this is mindfulness. The ability to not just act instinctively when we feel that fire of anger. To not just let it push or pull us where it seems to want us to go. To not be consumed with what’s wrong, with what seems bad, with what actions will make us feel vindicated or more in control. That’s the first place where our spiritual tools should be put to good use. Cultivating mindfulness and focus and the ability to pause and step back.
But the second key to this, then, is to have some more reliable leader and compass in your spirituality so you’re not led by the anger instead. Knowing what it is you’re building through your spirituality, where you’re traveling, what you know to be your place in the universe, all of that can be a guidepost so you can make more mindful, more purposeful decisions, discernments about what to do about and with your feelings of anger. How to use your spiritual tools to advance your intentions rather than to let anger guide your actions.
And the final key to this is that, in the end, sometimes we do just need to release the anger. Not into the hands of something or someone else to take the action we can’t, but because there isn’t any action to take. Nothing which is in our power to change to alleviate the anger, and it’s just about release and acceptance of reality.
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.