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 October 14, 2021, and on today's episode we'll discuss the dangers of chasing a spiritual high, how spiritual growth doesn't just happen in profoundly transformative moments, and ways we can learn to embrace the small experiences as we evolve. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Something I’ve probably not ever mentioned on the podcast before is how my wife and I met because of a boy band. And I promise this story is relevant, so bear with me.
So, sometime in late 2000, and I don’t want to get really into this part of the story just for the sake of time, but let’s just sum it up quickly by saying I ended up being exposed to nothing but MTV and VH1 on TV for a whole three day weekend, and by the end of it I was listening to *NSYNC. I was, um… I would have been 24 at the time, just turning 25, just for reference, but I’d been really into New Kids on the Block when I was actually a kid, so it wasn’t totally weird, it was just…
Anyway, this isn’t the part about meeting my wife, but it’s adjacent to it. Some time later, and I’m leaving out all kinds of fun details here, I ended up going to an event to get Chris Kirkpatrick’s autograph. I’d never done something like that before, never really met a celebrity or anything, and it was so exciting. Even at, you know, 25. I waited in line for the better part of a day, and despite having spent that time chatting with other people in line about what we were going to say to him, when I finally got up to the table to get my thing signed, I could barely speak words. I was kind of overwhelmed by the, you know, the celebrity factor. This was someone I’d only seen on TV, on an IMAX screen, from a distance on a stage, I was awe struck. So it was this significant experience to me, right?
Now, for a while, that was my only real celebrity encounter. It sat in my brain as this thing, like… I kind of expected that that’s how those things would always be. Like, I kind of figured that it was just my… If I ever got to meet another celebrity that was significant to me that way, I’d be a weird, fumbling, nonverbal mess.
So, fast forward a few years, and my wife and I donated money to a thing and in return got passes to a backstage autograph thing at a Nine Inch Nails show. So now it’s the same thing all over again, except with an even bigger celebrity, right? But this time it was not a huge deal. We got our autographs, I was able to get words out, I even cracked a joke while we were getting pictures taken and made Trent laugh. Like, I was still awestruck, but it wasn’t the same level of emotional overwhelm.
A couple years after that, we started to go to comicons, and one of the staple activities at comicons is getting photos and autographs from the celebrity guests. So over time, the more conventions we went to, we got photos with actors from Dr Who and Harry Potter and Supernatural and so on… and at some point I realized that really no matter who it was, I didn’t have that totally awestruck feeling. I was excited to meet them, I was excited to get the pictures, it wasn’t like I didn’t care, but at some point you realize that, you know, they’re people. They’re people doing a job that happens to make them famous. They’re there to make money, right? I’m paying money for those autographs, those photos, and that’s how they make a living, just like I show up every week at my job.
So yeah, they’re famous. But that ends up not meaning much to me emotionally anymore.
It’s kind of like any experience that has an emotional impact, but particularly today I want to talk about how that’s like spiritual experiences. Because it’s like…. You know, I grew up in church. Not just going to church, but as the preacher’s kid I grew up in the church, seeing the behind the scenes stuff, knowing how things worked. So it was never a particularly profound experience as a kid, and then when I went to Europe in college and had experiences in cathedrals and monasteries and whatnot, that just blew me away. At first, at least. I mean, I’ll always find cathedrals beautiful and amazing spaces, but there’s always this diminishing response over time if we do the same things again and again.
When we stayed at La Tourette and I cried at vespers and sat in the silence and solitude in the little monk’s cell listening to the rain outside and writing down profound thoughts, it all felt utterly life changing. And now I can go find myself solitude and silence and even rain and sit around until I think profound thoughts, and I can sit in on vespers all over the world, hypothetically, but it’ll never feel like the first time did.
I mean, the monks do it all the time and it’s just their routine, right? They don’t get all tied up about it. If they want to find some kind of profoundly impactful experience like I had being in their world, they have to seek it somewhere else, right?
And if that strikes you as weird, I want you to sit with that and dig into it. Because, of course, the irony there is that if anyone is living a spiritually profound, dedicated life, it’s monks in monasteries, right? But their lives aren’t filled with exciting, earth-shatteringly profound spiritual experiences. By design their lives are routine. Repetitive. That’s not to say they don’t have profoundly spiritual experiences, but their lives aren’t centered around chasing the next spiritual high. And in a moment I want to dig into why that’s important for us, too.
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The point of spirituality isn’t to just feel so spiritual and so enlightened all the time. Spirituality is an activity. Spirituality is essential for life, for growth, so when we have an experience which hits us really hard, really deeply, it’s because we’re experiencing something that is showing us something. There’s usually a feeling of illumination, discovery, epiphany, or connection.
But the problem is that, because of how we’re wired up in our brains as humans, sometimes we chase the feeling instead of chasing the lesson. Profoundly spiritual experiences impact us deeply and give us that same brain chemical reward as anything else we can get addicted to. It’s different from what we feel day to day, and especially if we have a hard time getting positive, connected feelings in day to day life, when we find something that gives us a profoundly positive feeling it’s only natural to want to chase it.
But the thing about highs, even spiritual ones, are that we can’t stay there all the time. If our entire life is shifted to that higher level of experience, it becomes the norm. It becomes routine. Just like the stuff that profoundly moved me as a visitor is routine life to the monks that live there.
The essential element of a spiritual experience isn’t the experience itself, it’s the resulting internal reaction. It’s that moment of feeling something different, something enlightening, something revelatory. And it’s like seeing a great movie for the first time – you may continue to love and want to rewatch that movie but you’ll never get to have that first reaction again. You can experience different reactions from that movie, even share it with others, or you can seek the same kind of feeling with a new one. But if you want that kind of first time experience again, then it works better to try and figure out what it was about that experience that you connected with.
The thing is, what we find deeply spiritual will change over time as much as what excites us or what interests us. That’s natural. We’re spiritually growing and evolving, or at least we should be, and those experiences that hit us the hardest are the ones that can show us what we need most in the moment, reveal our deepest spiritual motivations, and guide our evolution. So they’re going to shift over time.
Plus what constitutes a spiritual experience is different for each of us. For me, it’s a sense of disconnect and separateness, of being in a pocket of existence which is more connected to the universe and it’s vastness than it is to the regular world. I’ve found it in a monastery in France. I’ve found that feeling floating in the ocean at night when the dark of the ocean blends into the black of the sky and it’s like I’m floating at the edge of space. But I know that if I try to repeat those things, chase those experiences hoping to have the same reactions as I had before, I’m not going to have the same grand epiphany or the same emotional reaction each time.
That doesn’t mean they’re not worth experiencing again, by any means. But it’s so easy to get addicted to the awe and the exhilaration of seeing something in a new way for the first time, of having ideas and understanding revealed to you, of having your whole relationship to the universe shift around you. It’s easy to get addicted and chase those feelings and feel like our spirituality isn’t worthwhile, isn’t working right if we’re not able to get those feelings.
But that’s not what spirituality is supposed to feel like.
It can’t feel like that all the time. Nothing in human experience is going to feel brand new forever. Even if it is brand new forever, brand new eventually feels not so new. Our expectations, if they get reset every time we hit that high, become so high nothing lives up.
It’s kind of like… honestly, when I went to Stonehenge, I was disappointed in the size of it. It was still a really great experience, but I think after seeing so many other things on my travels before that, I had just built it up in my head to be something a lot more… I mean, as mysterious and significant as it is, it’s also just some big rocks in a circle about the height of a one story house and… I mean, it’s not that much bigger in floor plan than a large house. Is that big for ancient monoliths? Uh, yeah. It is. But if you’re expecting more, and that’s what the problem gets to be if we’re always looking for blinding enlightenment and great epiphanies and awe-inspiring spiritual experiences, if you’re expecting more then at some point you’re going to get disappointed.
So I want to go back to the thing about how monks, who ostensibly are among the most spiritually dedicated people on the planet, are focused not on chasing profound experiences but on living simple, repetitive routines. That’s not… I absolutely don’t recommend that as a path to spiritual evolution, but it is important to be able to find our growth, find our evolution in the small things. To see it in everyday life. To pick apart the experiences we do have that are profound and enlightening and lifechanging so we can figure out what the lesson was, what it was pointing to, and then seek more of that, seek to practice and explore those lessons in small, everyday ways.
Like, my experiences in Europe that I found so powerful, I realized that what I experienced there but didn’t have in my spiritual life otherwise was a sense of ritual, of tradition, even a focus on the emotion more than the belief. The truth was that I’d never been in a spiritual context that was meant to make me feel a certain way. It had always been about making me think a certain way. That was the profound thing. That was the nugget of profound revelation. And I could have sought out those experiences again and again and been frustrated forever if I hadn’t taken time to get to the root of why I was so affected in the first place.
It’s like realizing that the reason I was so dumbstruck when I met Chris Kirkpatrick that time was that I believed, then, that there was some kind of fundamental difference between celebrities like that and regular people like me. And ultimately I realize now that that’s not true. That was a guy making a living by spending what was surely an absolutely exhausting afternoon having the same repetitive interaction with a few hundred weird strangers.
So if we want spiritual enlightenment, spiritual evolution, we have to chase the lessons and not the sensation. Being continually awestruck by the universe doesn’t get us anywhere if we don’t actually do the work to learn from it.
If you love The Waxing Soul, connect with me online! BridgetOwens.com is the central hub for all my projects including books, card decks, and resources. Go there to get my latest book, Deep Self Magic, to connect as a potential podcast guest, and to find out all the latest news. Also find me on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook as bridgetowensmagic.
As I’ve been doing the past few weeks, I’d like to end the episode by reading a passage related to today’s topic from my upcoming book, Deep Self Magic: A Step By Step Roadmap to Spiritual Authenticity. The book is an exploration of what it means to be authentic, how to get to know our authentic deep selves, how to emerge and live our true identity, and ultimately how to leverage its power to transform ourselves, our spiritual practice, and our world. It will be available in ebook and, as long as there aren’t delays with printing, in paperback starting October 28th.
“We tend to cling to visions and concepts of what a fulfilling spiritual life and practice should look like, even if these ideas are unrealistic and come from questionable sources. If our vision for our spiritual life is daily meditations, leading weekly prayer groups, and spending every summer doing charity mission projects, then a reality check is probably in order. I used to envision some future reality where I’d be able to regularly meditate and do yoga in a dedicated spiritual space and engage in special morning and night rituals without fail.
But that’s not authentically me, and that vision isn’t rooted in who I am, who I ever have been, or what my reality is like right now.
Even if our vision for our spiritual reality is reasonable, it’s super important to keep that vision in the present. Even if it’s aspirational, it still should be reasonable, and spirituality isn’t a goal for the future. We don’t want to get in the habit of thinking of spirituality as something we will perfect and achieve somewhere down the line.
Spirituality isn’t a goal in itself. We don’t win a prize or get bonus blessings for meditating most or being the most super spiritual. We don’t gain anything by waiting for “someday when I’m super spiritual.” This is about authenticity, and authenticity is rooted in the present. Who we are and what our material limitations are right this moment are part of our authenticity. Our authentic self will live a naturally authentic life if we’re not forcing it to live inauthentically.
We’ve just never lived authentically before because we’ve never given our authentic self that much power to determine things in our world.
This doesn’t need to be a whole-lifestyle makeover. There are ways to work our spirituality into our mundane life. Our spiritual activities don’t need to be different and separate from the rest of our life activities. Our cooking can become kitchen witchery, our book club time can focus on spiritual books, our vacations can be pilgrimages. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s spiritual life; it only has to make sense to us.
This is where our values and our personality manifest in our lifestyle. We behave the way we behave, and truly embodying our authentic nature means embracing those things we like without questioning why or sparing a thought for the opinions of anyone else.”
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.