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 April 8, 2021, and on today's episode we'll be discussing different meanings of intention and what it really looks like to live and do magic intentionally. Are you ready to grow your soul?
You know, I hear a lot of people day to day talk about how much they hate being on social media, and while there’s a lot not to like, there’s also a lot that’s good. For me, it’s kind of like being able to eavesdrop on lots and lots of conversations, and when it comes to finding inspiration for not just this podcast but for all kinds of things, I feel like if it wasn’t for social media my creative pursuits wouldn’t move forward quite as fast as they do. My magical practice wouldn’t evolve as fast as it has.
You know how I talk about spirit being this, I envision it as a soup of knowledge and ideas and thoughts that we swim in, take in, transform, manipulate, and put back out, and that’s how I see social media. It’s not all GOOD ideas and thoughts, but then that’s always been true with or without social media. But it’s this huge, global, accessible flow of human brain output and if there’s one thing our magical practice needs to thrive it’s an influx of ideas and inspiration. Not just instruction, not just people telling you how to do things, but little images and ideas and facts and creations that you can combine and modify and use in creative ways to build an authentic magical practice.
Not that that has much to do with today’s topic, but that is, once again, where this topic comes from. Me coming across posts on social media and having thoughts about it. Reading something and not just going, “That’s a great point, very profound,” and clicking like and moving on, but going, “That seems like a great point, but is it? Is it really profound?” and spending some time thinking about it.
And this was kind of a random post about living intentionally… Honestly, I didn’t read the whole thing. I saw the phrase “living intentionally” and realized that it can mean more than one thing. Which then, of course, made me wonder if some people might not benefit from a dig into the difference between those meanings. And I’m sure there are some out there going, “What different meanings?”
Well, there’s a couple of different definitions of intentional. One simply means “not accidental.” It’s the idea of doing what you meant to do in the moment. It’s a very momentary sense a lot of the time. Like, you discover that the door to your house was left unlocked by your spouse, you might wonder if they did that intentionally. As in, they meant, in that moment, for whatever reason, to not lock the door. And that sense of intentionality applies to our lives and our spiritualities for sure. It ties in with mindfulness. Being deliberate in our actions. Not being careless, being able to say we meant to do and say things. That we thought about our actions, our choices, and that we’re not letting our reflexes, our unexamined impulses run the show. And yes, we want our magical practice, our spiritual practice, to be deliberate and thought out. Considered. Undertaken with care.
We want to craft our workings and spellwork and whatever to do the things we intend and not be careless and risk accidental consequences. That’s all very true. But that’s also not the main sense of intentionality. “Not accidental” is a very different meaning of intentional than “in alignment with a purpose.” Saying you intentionally unlocked the door because you’d gone to get the mail is very different from saying you unlocked the door because it was your intention to allow friends and neighbors to come in without having to be let in. One is a momentary choice, one is about having a future intention or purpose guiding your choices.
That’s the one we most often mean when we talk about intentions.
But I think we need to consider both, especially in magic. Intentional living, intentional magic, intentional spirituality means shaping your actions to fit your values and priorities and worldview. Intentional living can look like making decisions and choices based on an intent to minimize your impact on the environment, always thinking through the environmental consequences of each of your actions. Intentional spirituality, intentional magical practice can look like shaping your actions and workings based on a larger spiritual purpose like the pursuit of enlightenment or whatever.
But we can very easily be intentional in that larger sense, that long term guiding principle sense, and still not be particularly intentional in the momentary sense. People intentionally do things that end up harming other people all the time without it being their intent to cause harm. Right?
So when we talk about living intentionally, acting intentionally, doing magic intentionally, we really have to think in both senses of the word.
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Getting to the root of your intentions was the topic of the very first episode of this podcast, so I’m not going to dig really deeply into that again. Check out episode one for more on that.
What I did originally want to delve deeper into in this episode was this idea that we need to balance momentary intentionality with guiding intentionality. Because being too far in either direction has some distinct consequences to how our lives, our practices, our careers, whatever play out.
I know in episode one we talked about getting to the bottom or what drives you, the reasons for your reactions and desires and such. Getting to the bottom of what it is you want in life. But that’s honestly not the type of intention most of us think of when we think about intentionality, is it? Digging deep into ourselves? That’s the first part of figuring out what our deep intentions could be. You dig into what drives you to do what you do, to want what you want, and then when you start to really know yourself you can figure out where you want to go from there. But getting to that is just a first step.
When I talked about intentions last time, I talked about this realization that I had about my career goals being driven for a very long time by what was really a deep desire for belonging and freedom. But when we talk about intentionality, knowing what drives our desires doesn’t point us automatically to a guiding intention. Figuring out that I was choosing the career path I was on, that I was working towards a certain kind of success in my life because my deeper motivating intention was to build a life where I felt accepted and stable and I thought being wealthy and successful was necessary to have those things might clue me into why I was choosing the career goals I had chosen, but it doesn’t point me towards a better goal, a guiding intention. That’s something I had to figure out for myself.
And in the end, trying to figure it out didn’t turn out to be that important in my life. It didn’t help me live intentionally. It didn’t help me feel purposeful.
Because like I touched on earlier, it doesn’t often work very well to shape our lives around a single goal like that. Setting our sights on a career goal doesn’t help guide us, doesn’t help us be intentional when it comes to other priorities in life. And if the career goal conflicts with some other priority or important thing in life, it’s easy to actually make pretty bad decisions if we hold that one single goal as the guiding one.
I see this, actually, all the time, too, when it comes to political activism. Trying to shape a whole life around a single important issue inevitably leads to times when we find ourselves trying to justify compromising on other priorities because we have obligated ourselves internally to prioritize that one issue. That form of intentionality leaves very little room for reality. It distills things to a single or a very narrow set of priorities, which doesn’t play out well in real life.
It makes it very easy to cause a lot of unintentional things, unintentional consequences and harm, to ourselves and to others.
So balancing that kind of intentionality, that long term, purpose-oriented intentionality with momentary intentionality is important if we want to really want to have an intentional life or an intentional spiritual practice in a holistic sense. Shaping your whole spiritual practice around, let’s say, the pursuit of enlightenment can actually lead to a very self-centered, self-consumed practice where we forget that our actions, right down to our spellwork, has an impact on other people that we are responsible for. It takes that mindful momentary intentionality, the evaluation of our choices and actions day to day in terms of consequences, in order to balance things out and truly be intentional.
But here’s the catch in all that: When we look at day to day choices and endeavor to be intentional about the effects of our actions, what is the intention? What are we using as a guideline to measure against?
I think it’s really an attractive idea to a lot of us to guide our lives, our actions according to an ambition, a goal, a vision for how we want something to be. But that’s really rooted in this idea of everything being about goals and measures of success and whatever.
And it also… let’s get straight to the point here, what we’re really looking for that single purpose to be in that case is a stand in for our sense of personal ethics and values. And a goal is not the same as a set of values. That’s what it takes to be truly intentional in either sense of the word. It takes a set of principles, values, to use not just as a measure for day to day actions and decisions but also as a vision or idea to put in that goalpost spot that guides us along.
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Let’s get down to the fundamentals.
What is the point of intentionality, anyway?
And I think this is especially important for practitioners of magic.
The concept of intentionality is a reaction to societal patterns. It’s something that’s popular or relevant right now because there’s so much unintentionality. There’s so much living on autopilot, getting swept along by what’s going on around us, what’s expected of us, doing what is assumed to be the right thing based on what we’ve seen other people do.
There’s a lot of it in spirituality, no question. There’s a lot of it in magical practice. Not thinking through the whys of what we’re doing, not considering all of the consequences, not holding a particular purpose up as a guide to what we spend our energy and attention on, just doing what we’ve seen other people do on the same path.
And so it all comes down one more time to authenticity. Spiritual authenticity. And a huge, huge, central part of spiritual authenticity is getting deeply in touch with your soul-deep values. Not just ethics, not just what constitutes good and bad outcomes, but your deepest values. The things you consider priorities high enough to shape a life around. The standards you use to weigh the potential consequences of your choices.
I mentioned earlier things like political or social issues that we often hold up as the priority when we talk about living intentionally, acting intentionally. And I think it’s important to differentiate between shaping your goals, especially the issues you prioritize, based on your values and substituting those goals and priorities, letting them stand in for your values.
We back ourselves into some pretty tight corners when we try to live and act and even practice our spirituality intentionally but put the focus on a goal, an issue, a vision rather than on a set of values.Tweet
So I think there’s two main things when it comes to what it looks like to act intentionally, especially when it comes to magical practice. Practicing intentionally.
The first thing is for those who may be kind of new to this idea of intentionality in life, in action. What are the steps to learning to be intentional? And I think the key to this is to look for the times in our lives, our past patterns, where we’ve been unintentional. Where we’ve followed other people, other things down paths without any deep consideration and find ourselves in those places where we look around and wonder how we got there or what the point of it all was. Times we’ve rejected our own goals and desires and values to follow someone else’s expectations instead, to do what we know others will find acceptable even though it’s not what we would intentionally choose ourselves. And also to look for the times in our lives where we made momentary decisions which had unintended consequences, especially where we made a choice based on a single idea, a single goal or issue and ended up compromising some other priority or even causing harm in ways we regretted.
Basically, the best way to learn to act intentionally is by learning from our mistakes. And it’s not a bad window into our values, either.
But the second thing is for those who are maybe trying already to be more intentional but aren’t deeply in touch with their soul-deep values. Who have a desire to be more intentional, who recognize the unintentionality in their past patterns but are maybe struggling with how this plays out in their life. Struggling with what that looks like or what it means, and the key to that is to get down to those values, to unearth what it is we truly stand for and what our priorities are. Because until we understand that, it’s pretty hard to be truly intentional. The intention, the guiding intention, ends up being either some stance or single focus priority that we hope can stand in for our values, or it ends up being the approval of others. We end up making all our decisions based on what we understand is expected of us, what we believe will make certain other people happy.
So the key to this is authenticity at its root. What we prioritize, what is important to us, what we care most about. You can download a guide on journaling to uncover your patterns of unintentionality and on establishing your true values below.
Because the bottom line is that living intentionally, having an intentional spiritual practice isn’t ever about following certain rules. It’s really about having a reliable inner compass, a sense of authentic mindfulness, and a confidence in your own authentic values.
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.