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 March 25, 2021, and on today's episode we'll be answering the question, "Are you obligated to use your spiritual gifts?" Are you ready to grow your soul?
I want to start with basically the inspiration for this topic, which is that I’ve seen some posts and stuff recently of either people asking for advice because someone told them they were a starseed or psychic or an empath or whatever, or instructional content pieces on social media about “signs that you have a gift” of some kind or “how to find your purpose.”
What does it mean to have a special ability, what level of obligation does that means for us? Is it really a gift? Do we have any room to say, “I don’t want this burden? I don’t want this obligation? I want to choose for myself what happens with all this?”
And it’s a deep dive into some questions that make a lot of people in the spiritual community very uncomfortable, but I know for certain that there are people out there who are privately, at least, questioning whether what they experience is a gift and if they have to give themselves over to whatever expectations come up about it. Empaths who are told they have a gift but are completely drained by everyone around them. People with visionary gifts or knowledge being expected to just give of those skills without getting paid for it because that’s their gift. In working with entrepreneurs I’ve talked to so many women who feel this sense of obligation to use their abilities and their skills and knowledge basically on demand because there’s a belief that spiritual gifts are given with the understanding that we’re selfish not to use them to help the people in our circle.
There’s tons and tons to unwrap here, and the plan today is I want to discuss this from three different perspectives. Because the answer isn’t as simple as saying, no, you’re not obligated to use your gifts at all. Obligation to others isn’t a black and white issue.
But what do we even mean when we talk about spiritual gifts?
Now, my perspective on this is shaped by a few things, first of them being that I was a gifted kid. I had an IQ test and they sent me to gifted school. Which was great in a lot of ways, so that’s not the direction I’m going here. But I got an early introduction to this idea that if you display a skill or talent or ability of some kind, it’s been bestowed on you. You’re special in some way.
And there’s a couple of problems with this idea right off the bat, no matter what kind of gift we’re talking about.
Unpopular opinion alert: being good at something or able to do something unusual doesn’t make you worth more as a human being.
And there’s really no way to get around the fact that when we talk about gifts, about people being gifted with things like a high IQ or psychic ability or a special talent for teaching or whatever, we’re designating those things as a measure of special value. And I mean in terms of, let’s be honest here, in terms of value to other people, not intrinsic individual value. It’s kind of hard to argue that there isn’t a sense of entitlement wrapped up in the way we declare certain things to be gifts.
When I was in high school, this was one of the lessons I definitely learned the hard way, that the value of this kind of gift is weighed in terms of how much other people think it’s worth to them, not you.
I had a chemistry teacher who refused to write me reference or recommendation letters for scholarships and such simply because I hadn’t chosen to take the AP Chemistry exam. Which I didn’t take because those tests were expensive and I didn’t need chemistry credits for my degree, so for my own purposes there was no need to take the AP exam. Only I had taken some other AP exams and scored well on them, and the chemistry teacher was mad that some of my other teachers got the bragging rights of having a student scoring high on these tests, but I had, in his mind, deprived him of that.
That was a hard lesson about how we put value on each other in modern society. And it’s exactly what happens when someone who has an in-demand ability chooses not to freely share that ability with everyone else.
The other issue with considering things gifts is that it means that they were bestowed, that some decision was made to give these abilities to certain people. That there’s an agenda on the part of the giver, whether that’s god or whatever. And how much more of an obligation is that? I mean, the expectations of entitled people around you are one thing, but living under the expectations that a higher power gave you an ability and that means they have expectations for you… That’s quite a burden.
But I want to go back to the thing I say over and over again about how spirituality is about what we do, not what we believe or think or who we are. Our actions define our identity. It’s our actions that define us. And the really insidious thing about having expectations placed on us by people around us or some higher power handing out special abilities is that if we take that as an obligation to act according to those expectations then those outside forces get to determine our identity. We don’t get to be authentic, we don’t get to choose our actions.
Giving of ourselves, sharing our talents and skills and knowledge is good, it’s beneficial, it’s a great part of a spiritual life, but it’s one we have the right to choose how and why and to what extent.
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 final episode of my series on emotions in spiritual life where we talked about love. And come back next week when we will talk about the importance of observing a spiritual year cycle, what it means to grow within your spiritual path, and how to know when your spiritual year begins and ends.
The whole thing about being able to choose for ourselves, seizing our own agency and autonomy, isn’t just a matter of permission to say no. I know there are plenty of people who are absolutely happy to share their skills and abilities with their communities and do really value them as gifts. Which is great!
Speaking of how there’s a sense of entitlement to the things people can do… It’s true that if it comes to something not everyone can contribute, not everyone can learn to do or learn to do well, the larger community can’t really help but value those things highly and want or need the benefit of having access to those abilities.
I know I mentioned the expectation that people with spiritual talents and skills should share those things for free or very little and not make a living doing those things, let alone make a comfortable living. There’s a lot of different points of view behind both sides of that argument. Like, no one should be expected to live in poverty or exhaustion just because they have an ability other people can benefit from. But also those who are in poverty shouldn’t be excluded from benefitting from the skills of others because they can’t afford them. On the other hand, if we value abilities that are beneficial to the larger community, we should also value the people who have those abilities enough to support them as part of the community and want them to benefit from them. And yet that still defines people in terms of the larger value of their skills and talents which results in elevating people with certain skills over other people which contributes to inequality.
So how do we sort all of this out?
When I think about this, I go back to this idea that the roots of how we socially interact with each other, how human society works, go back to our hunter gatherer days, back when being part of a smaller group meant there was an obligation to contribute to feeding and protecting and nurturing the rest of the community in some way not just because it was expected but because if you’re not contributing you’re a burden.
And of course it’s more complicated now, but we still do have obligations to our families and communities and friend circles, not because we have to do what is expected of us by others but because it’s a social contract. We all play a role in the groups and societies and cultures and whatever we’re a part of. It’s not as cut and dried as, “It’s all hands on deck so this tribe stays fed and safe, and if you’re not willing to pull your weight somehow you have to go.”
But the bigger point is this:
When I first started studying Paleolithic human society, what struck me as a little surprising at the time was that – and it shouldn’t have been surprising, considering the practical and genetic consequences – is that the roaming bands of hunter gatherers weren’t families. It wasn’t a bunch of people all related to each other, which means that people chose to marry into other groups, to align with other groups. And that part, that’s the key.
There’s a huge difference between an obligation and a commitment.Tweet
We choose our commitment. Other people choose our obligation.
Do we have a responsibility to share our abilities with the people around us? It depends on who is around us. It depends on how much we choose to be part of those circles. It depends on the dynamics of those circles. And this is super, super key to remember – there is no one rule to spirituality. ESPECIALLY not pagan spirituality. So when someone says, “You aren’t supposed to charge for tarot readings.” Well, that might be a rule in their tradition. Which they’ve chosen. For themselves. That doesn’t mean it’s a rule in your own spirituality. It certainly doesn’t have to be.
Just because you have intuitive or psychic gifts doesn’t mean you’re obligated to be a conduit for everyone else.Tweet
You can say no to the other side. You can say no to the people around you. You choose your group. You choose your circle. When you choose that affiliation, you also choose the ways in which you contribute and help. So if it feels authentic to you to freely share your abilities with the people around you, great! That’s your contribution. It’s not an obligation.
It’s important that we remember that, even if we feel like we don’t have a choice, a lot of times that’s still a choice we’ve made. We’ve chosen to let the expectations of others compel our actions. We’ve submitted to those expectations. That’s a choice, too.
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The last perspective I want to come at this topic from is all about our own benefit, our own health and well-being and evolution.
Guys, talk about unpopular opinions, but this one is a hill I’m willing to die on.
You can set boundaries with the divine, with the universe, with the other side, with the ancestors, whatever. You can and you should.Tweet
Your gift isn’t a gift to others if you’re not giving it of your own free will. If you believe that there’s a higher power picking people out to have special abilities, and if you then believe you’re obligated by the possession of those gifts to use them when others want you to, where is your own place or role in that? You’re a conduit? A tool?
I know that for some people the idea that they are a god’s tool or a conduit for a divine voice is something they want for themselves. Something good. A blessing. A privilege. I think that’s the key thing there. It’s considered a privilege. An honor. We like the thought that we’re special to a higher power, our cosmic ancestors, whatever it is we believe in.
But there are implications beyond that, right? If those things feel particularly attractive to you, there’s a super good chance it’s because you’re acutely aware of what it feels like to feel like you’ve been skipped over for that kind of special attention or status.
But I don’t really want to take the time to get into that particular detour.
My point is, first, that the idea that these things are gifts is based on a particular point of view. And it’s also something we cling to when we feel the impact of being crushed under the weight of an obligation we no longer want to carry. The people I have known who are worn out emotionally from all the energetic exertion that comes with whatever skills and abilities they have, and I can totally see this idea of “this is a gift” and “this is a blessing” becomes like a pep talk, a justification to try and make carrying the burden easier.
It’s not that every skill, every ability, ever special bit of knowledge, every talent is a burden, but they become a burden if we don’t have a choice about when and how they get used.Tweet
We all know the people who are always there to help other people but drive themselves into the ground doing it. I used to be in retail management, I managed a staff of people. And when we divorce this whole idea from the trappings of spirituality, when we just talk about someone with more power, more authority, a bigger vision and mission bestowing some piece of that power or authority or skill or responsibility on whoever reports to them, if they do that with the expectation that…
And let’s take this right to the customer service analogy, because it fits.
If I, as a manager, promoted one of my staff, gave them added responsibility, and then demanded that, first of all, they had to work whenever I asked them to, no matter how many hours, no matter what their own plans were, no matter how they felt. And then I also said that their job was always to do what customers wanted, no matter what… How will that end up? Burnout. Exhaustion. Illness. Anger. Resentment. Depression.
Isn’t that how the world works now?
In customer service it does.
And in spirituality it does, too.
And we can spend all day convincing ourselves that it’s suffering for a purpose, that it’s for a greater good, but what greater good? Giving until there’s nothing left to benefit something else? We call that martyrdom, right? And more than anything out of this episode I want everyone to think long and hard about the implications of that.
If all that stands between us living a fulfilling and healthy life now, of choosing our path towards growth and evolution now, is setting boundaries and saying no, why are we not doing it? Fear? If the powers we serve – if you serve a higher power, and even if you believe in one I recommend thinking long and hard about the difference between service and servitude – but if you have committed yourself to advance the mission of a higher power or a larger doctrine or whatever, if that higher power can’t work through you without completely breaking you down, without basically demanding you martyr yourself to their interests, what kind of relationship is that?
We’re magical practitioners. We wield our own abilities, we deal in intention and manifestation and while that of course doesn’t preclude a relationship with something larger than ourselves, it does totally include the ability to set our own boundaries. When we use our abilities, what we use them for, if we use them at all.
And that means that it’s in our own best interest and the best interest of everyone around us to set those boundaries and take care of ourselves.
It’s like when they talk about the oxygen masks, putting on your own before you assist others. So it means learning how to shut things off when necessary. If you’re intuitive or empathic or whatever, learning to put up those shields and buffers so you’re not at the mercy of everyone and everything else. Closing down the communication channels between you and whoever makes demands on your abilities so you decide when you’re on and when you’re not. Learning to say no. Figuring out how to say no. It’s simple when you’re talking about regular life boundaries, even if it isn’t easy. It’s more complicated when it’s drawing boundaries against energies, against spiritual demands, when it means asking for what you need to replenish and support you when you do give of yourself, so that’s what my download today is about.
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.