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 September 30, 2021, and on today's episode we'll discuss the role of thought, action, and belief in spirituality and how action is the key to exploring the world and evolving in your authenticity. Are you ready to grow your soul?
A lot of my topics for episodes come out of discussions I have or overhear or relational dynamics in my life which press me to kind of make sense of and reconcile, sort through everything for my own spiritual growth. If you’ve listened to much of the podcast, you’ve probably heard me talk about how it’s more important to do than it is to be, by which I mean that we can say all we want about what we are, who we are, what we believe, what we don’t, all of that, and it doesn’t mean anything if that’s not what comes out in your choices, your behavior, and your priorities.
But recently I’ve come across a nice handful of people who have very adamantly spoken about how it’s more important to be than to do.
So first of all, there’s this… I think we all have that first reaction when we hear something that seems to contradict what we believe, and I was like, how could it not be important to do? A world of people just being is… I mean, nothing grows or evolves that way. That’s… That’s just stagnation and pretense. Right?
Because in my head, I go back to my spiritual background, my spiritual upbringing, where belief was everything. Labels were everything. Perception was everything. And I know how easy it is to say the right things, claim the right beliefs, look right in the eyes of… whoever, but not back that up in reality. That’s not something I bring up because of people I knew, even. I don’t know that I was ever… I mean, I believed what I was told to believe growing up. Actually believed it. And I didn’t have to work really hard at jumping through the hoops of all of that.
Like, as the preacher’s family it was harder for me to NOT be the good Christian kid I was supposed to be than it would have been to go my own way. I believed, but other than, like, performative stuff, I didn’t really live out those values. I mean, I was a kid, so there weren’t that many choices I was making, but even as an adult it was very performative until I got way more authentic in my spiritual practice.
That’s the root of my take on all this – performative action in support of what we purport to believe, the thoughts and beliefs we want to claim and identify with, is always going to be outweighed by the rest of our actions, the ones that stem from our deepest values.
So what about this whole thing of it being more important to be than to do? It’s one of those things that, it’s a good lesson in not just assuming that we’re all talking about the same thing, using words in the same context or to mean the same things. Because the doing they were talking about is not the same doing I mean. In fact, sometimes, a lot of times, the things we spend our time doing isn’t the stuff we choose to do because it furthers our values and interests, it’s the stuff we do because we feel obligated. Because we think doing more and more and more and more is going to stand in for all the deeper self work we need to do to figure out who we are, what we believe, what it means to be authentic. It’s often just going through the motions, just staying in motion because we’re afraid not to be.
In fact, this is that performative stuff, right? Or at least it can be. There’s lots of doing that is meaningless.
And that’s the crux of the argument that it’s more important to be than to do. It’s a call to remain present and intentional and authentic. It’s saying that being, in the sense of really striving for being grounded and rooted in a true sense of deep self identity, is more valuable than meaningless action. Which is one hundred percent true. I agree. Authentic being is more valuable than performative doing.
But meaningful action is more valuable than appearance-based being. It’s saying the same thing at some level, right? It’s about authenticity and deep self understanding holding the value and spiritual impact over performative, obligatory inauthenticity. We can do all the things, claim all the things, jump through all the hoops, make people happy, look right, act right, say the right things, and it is all spiritually meaningless.
But even thought it’s all saying the same thing, I still stand by the idea that when it comes to truly being, authentically being, that means not just sitting around thinking about who we are, thinking about what we believe, doing that part of shadow work. All our beliefs and thoughts and values mean very little if we don’t live them. If we don’t put them into action. Because who we are only comes out in action. In interaction with other people. Spiritually speaking, it’s the exchange of energy, that relational connection, which has a spiritual impact in the world. And even more than that, it’s our actions, our spiritual connections and networks and exchanges, which point to our deep identity.
I don’t know that we can really know who we are if we’re not in action. If we can’t look to our behaviors and choices to tell us what our values are, to suss out what drives us and what our motivations are, aren’t all the things we think or believe we might be just a bunch of hypotheticals?
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 where I interviewed Laura Greenwood, the leader of a local initiatory coven as well as a hobby biologist, about her exploratory approach to spirituality and why we are sometimes too afraid to follow our spiritual curiosity. And come back next week when we will discuss the mechanics of forgiveness, why forgiving doesn't mean excusing or ignoring what has been done, and how I finally learned to truly forgive.
When we think about our values, we often think those are our thoughts and our beliefs, right? The things we choose as important, the things we claim as our values. But that’s not always… Actually, I’d say that most of the time that’s not the same thing.
The point about only finding out who we are once we’re in action is linked to this. There’s… When I talk about inauthenticity, this is what I mean. How often do we claim to believe something, claim that something is important, intellectually identify with a cause or understand that something is important, but when it comes to acting on that thought or that belief we fall short? We all do it all the time.
And it’s easy to think about it as hypocrisy. It’s easy to feel guilty about it. Like, we feel it when our actions don’t match what we believe or want to believe are our core values. All the times when I’ve… Like, when I was very deeply into social activist work after 2016, I was really really committed to putting my authentic values into action. I did a lot of stuff. I got involved in various organizations, I ran for office, I went to marches and demonstrations, I donated to organizations, all of that kind of stuff. But there came a point, or a bunch of various points, where I… Like, for a while I decided to donate a portion of my online profits to the ACLU. But after a while I got to where financially that was a little difficult for me. So I stopped. And since that was, I knew that was an important way of me living out my values, putting them in action, and I felt bad for that.
When I decided not to run for office a second time, I felt a little guilty. It was a matter of… It’s back to this whole thing of performative action and core beliefs. Because first of all, I’d fallen into the trap of equating certain actions with certain identities. Those things, running for office, leading organizations, donating money, those aren’t the only ways of living out those core values, right?
So if those aren’t right for me, don’t fit with my authentic self and way of life at that point in time, that doesn’t mean my values have changed necessarily. It’s still totally true that the choices I make and priorities I am motivated by and all of that point to my core values, but if I get hung up on the things that others can see or on what other people will think of me choosing to do or not do things, it’s performative again. Right?
And that’s kind of a fast track to inauthentic living. It’s the bad kind of doing. It’s the going through motions, jumping through hoops, putting on the right appearance, staying busy in the right way thing. It’s not deep. It’s not rooted in our core being. Even if it’s kind of for the right reasons, if we do it more to fit the bill, to make others pleased with our values, it’s coming from a deep core value about looking good and putting the right face out there for people rather than the core value that we want to think it’s about.
Like, me doing any of my old social justice activities so that people aren’t disappointed or judgmental isn’t about social justice, it’s about people being disappointed and judgmental. Like, if I don’t feel called to run for office again but I do it because I’m afraid that there are people who want me to run and will be upset, that’s not about whether I think it’s important to represent my values in local government. It’s not about it being important for people to run for office. It’s all about putting a priority on the feelings and expectations of others.
And that’s what I mean when I say that it’s our actions that reveal our values. I can say all I want about what’s important, but if I do things to please others, then it’s pleasing others that’s truly important enough to motivate me. If I want to do something but I choose to do something else, the reason under all of that is the core value. It doesn’t matter what I think, what I sit around believing. It’s what I actually do when it’s time to act on thoughts and beliefs that matters.
And even beyond that, if we want to evolve as a person, evolve spiritually, if we want to learn more about the world and more about who we are, it’s action that allows us to find that out and make those changes. We can think all day long about what we want to become, how we want to change, what we want to find out about the universe, but until we get into action, practicing the things we want to embrace, changing our habits, trying new things, none of that thought will matter.
That’s, you know… That’s why it’s spiritual practice, right? It’s about the action. It’s about doing.
Intention can be a powerful motivator, a powerful form of thought and belief. And that’s the kind of being that people mean when they talk about it being more important to be than to do. It’s the intentionality which turns action into meaningful action, transformational action.
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For the next month or so, I’d like to end the episode by reading a passage from my upcoming book. It’s called Deep Self Magic: A Step By Step Roadmap to Spiritual Authenticity, and it will be available starting October 28th.
“Spirituality is an activity more than anything else. It’s not just philosophy or belief; it’s something we participate in and practice. And while spirit may be a universal resource, spirituality is about how we utilize spirit to fulfill the individual needs of our souls. What I seek to gain from my spiritual life is going to be different from what anyone else seeks. There are common threads, for sure, but spirituality is individual in the same way medical treatment has to be individualized. We all go to the doctor for different ailments and needing different treatments, and two patients with the same condition may need very different treatment regimens.
Spirituality is the same way. We don’t all show up to church (or whatever the equivalent is for us) needing or wanting the same things. That’s because we’re all different people with different lives and different struggles. Unfortunately, most religions are pretty much one-size-fits-all in their solutions to whatever challenges we’re facing, not to mention their standards for how we’re supposed to live, think, and behave. There’s very little way to adhere to the tenets of an established religion and do so authentically because when religion determines for us what is right and what is proper, there’s very little likelihood those beliefs and behaviors are authentic to us as a unique individual. Religion tells us we are not okay unless we allow it to shape us to fit a specific mold, and that is drastically different from spirituality.
It seems kind of obvious to say, but it’s really not how most of us have been taught to think about our spirituality. In all of our searching for truth, enlightenment, salvation, or whatever the end goal of spirituality has been in our lives, even if we’ve been aware we’re trying to find the path that resonates most with who we are, most of us have never stopped to consider what that really looks like.
There’s a good chance our spiritual paths have consisted largely of trying out different traditions and religions to try to find one that felt right to us.
I’d be willing to bet a lot of our spiritual experiences have ended with us feeling somehow unwelcome as we are, that we don’t fit the mold, or that we’re expected to believe things that don’t sit right in our souls.
And I think it’s safe to say that most humans seeking a spiritual home are really looking for something other than truth. We’re looking for a place where we feel encouraged to grow rather than change. We’re looking for a spiritual environment where we feel a sense of hope and optimism about our future. We want to be embraced rather than torn down.
The most fulfilling form of spirituality is the one that resonates with our authentic self.
Of course, authenticity is one of those buzzwords that gets tossed around a lot in pop culture. We all want to be more authentic, and we have an instinctual understanding of what that means. We want to be more true to ourselves and do less pretending to be what others want us to be. Spiritually, we want to find a place where we are accepted as who we are and not expected to drastically change ourselves or hide parts of ourselves away. And that’s an incredibly important mission.
I can say from firsthand experience as a queer woman in the Bible Belt that there’s no spiritual benefit to staying in a religious community that rejects who we are.
The problem with our pursuit of authenticity is that true authenticity demands a lot of us. It demands an extreme amount of self-honesty, which isn’t easy. It’s far easier and less uncomfortable to point to an ideal of who we wish to be and consider it our “authentic selves,” rather than who we are in the moment, to substitute ambition and idealism for authenticity.
We’ve all dealt with parts of ourselves, aspects of our behavior or thought patterns that we felt were not truly who we are. We do and say things we regret later and feel shame about. I’ve started taking mental note of when people say things like, “that’s not who I am” or “I can’t believe I did that, it’s so unlike me.” Recently a colleague was talking about how she’d realized she had a lot of very judgmental thought patterns towards other people and insisted that part of her “wasn’t part of her soul.”
But that’s where we get authenticity and spiritual authenticity wrong. My colleague may feel bad for those thoughts and want to change that habit, but they’re a pattern and they are part of her authentic self. Our souls are not flawless or free from shadow aspects. Being authentic doesn’t mean being perfect. It doesn’t mean liking all of who we are. Spiritual authenticity doesn’t mean finding a comfortable spiritual environment that makes us feel positive about ourselves.
The challenge of authenticity is finding the courage to embrace who we are in the moment, even if we wish to be something else. Authenticity is radical self-honesty. It’s not a choice between whether we need to change or whether we’re perfect the way we are; it’s really just an acknowledgement and affirmation that we are who we are and we came to be who we are because of the experiences we’ve had in life. We can absolutely desire to be different, and that desire is part of our authenticity, too.
Authenticity in its most simplistic sense is about knowledge of self. It’s like with intentions: We have to do some deep digging and self work to figure out what we really mean and why we mean it. We have to uncover the parts of ourselves we don’t like and come to terms with those aspects and how we came to have them. We can’t practice radical self-acceptance if we don’t know ourselves as completely as possible.”
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.