Authenticity and the Broom Closet

Episode 17 – Authenticity and the Broom Closet The Waxing Soul

Episode Transcript:

I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast where we're adventuring into the world of mindful modern magic and authentic spiritual practice.

It's February 24, 2022, and today's topic is how you can be authentic in your spirituality even if you're in the broom closet.

Are you ready to grow your soul?

Hello, witchy friends! Today I want to dip right into my book, Deep Self Magic, and expand a bit on a topic that I touch on there but… There’s, if you haven’t picked up your copy yet, the book is a good overview but there are definitely some topics that could almost be their own whole books or whole chapters. In the book I cover them to the extent that they relate to the roadmap I lay out there, but this is one of the things that most definitely should be its own discussion in some ways.

So, where I want to start is to spend time fully laying out the context from the book so that in the last two thirds of the episode we, you know… so you all know what I’m talking about and why this is even a thing.

And that means starting with a bit of a summary of Deep Self Magic.

The whole focus is authenticity, spiritual authenticity, particularly the need for each of us to not just be authentic, to be in touch with our authentic selves, but for that to shape our spiritual lives and for each of us to build the practice in our lives which best supports our spiritual identity and needs. And, of course, this starts out with shadow work. Our authentic selves aren’t the ideal selves that we decide we want to be and try to shape ourselves into. They aren’t a version of ourselves we used to be, they aren’t a version we’ll be someday, they’re actually who we are in the moment, including the parts we love about ourselves and the parts we don’t like so much. It also includes the parts that we hide.

So the first phase, really, in the book’s roadmap is doing shadow work, digging up and examining our shadow aspects, that process of integration and really just getting connected to our authentic self. Learning to not just accept but embrace who we are in our deep self, starting to notice what layers of inauthenticity we’re hiding behind.

Then the second part is embodiment, learning to live as the authentic selves we know we are. That’s a process in itself because the longer we’ve been kind of distanced from who we are, the longer we’ve been denying and pushing down the parts of ourselves, rejecting the parts of ourselves we don’t want to embody, think we shouldn’t embody, the harder it is even if in our minds and our hearts we’ve come to connect with that authentic self, the harder it is to actually conduct ourselves, carry ourselves that way and to really assume control in our lives, spiritually and in other ways. Because that’s really what it comes down to, right? Us deciding and setting the terms by which we live rather than defaulting to the terms set by others.

And then the third part of the process is evolution, it’s the process of finding our magic, using our authentic abilities, our authentic strengths and that self-awareness to shape who we become as we grow. And although I only kind of touch on this in passing in the book, there’s… First of all, it helps, I think, to think of this process in some ways kind of like coming out.

For all my listeners who are also in the LGBTQ community, this might be the easiest way for you to resonate with this, too.

But there’s, like, there’s the first part of coming out where it’s not really about telling anyone else, it’s about coming to understand ourselves. Figuring out what our identity is in the moment, dealing internally with the implications, all of that. Then there’s the part where we actually begin to do the coming out. Figuring out how to embody our identity as we understand it, figuring out how that changes how we carry ourselves in the world. And then, you know, that understanding and the fullness of the way it shapes our lives in the third portion.

But what I want to focus on today is that second part, that second phase. Because for those of us who have been or still are not completely open about our spirituality or our beliefs, our practices, it would seem like embodiment really requires us to be out. Like, if we understand who we are, there’s… it seems logical or reasonable on paper that if that’s who we are and we’re supposed to conduct ourselves, carry ourselves in an authentic manner, that means not hiding. It means not being fake in any way, not having any layer of pretense or hiding. I think that’s maybe one of the biggest misunderstandings when it comes to authenticity and how it looks in reality.

And, I mean, there’s the same kind of angst in the coming out process for those in the queer community. Like, some of us do and have felt pressure or some sense of internalized guilt for time spent in the closet, like it’s an act of cowardice or that we are betraying the community or doing it wrong if we aren’t open and really just neon sign level out about who we are.

Is it possible to be authentic, to have an authentic spiritual practice and live out our authentic spiritual identity and still be in the broom closet, still sometimes maybe even pretend to not believe or practice what we do in the interest of safety, of self-protection, of avoiding negative consequences? While I don’t talk about it in the kind of depth I’m going to go into here in a second in the book itself, I did explicitly say because I think it’s super important for everyone reading and listening to know, I did explicitly say that the extent to which we choose to be out or not out about our identity, about our authentic self, is also part of our authenticity. It’s absolutely possible to both be in the broom closet and to fully embody an authentic spirituality, spiritual understanding and practice and identity.

Which is good news, right?

So next I’m going to start picking apart the dynamics at work in all of this and talk about the relationship between privacy and authenticity.

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Now back to the episode!

I have my theories as to why this is, but somehow I feel like we’ve gotten the idea of authenticity mixed up with being, like, eccentric or bold or, you know, just being really defiant in the face of societal standards. But that’s… For some people that is absolutely an expression of authenticity. Who they are is bold and comfortable with all kinds of attention from people. For some people that is absolutely true to their deep self. But not everyone.

And authenticity, I can’t say this enough, authenticity has nothing to do with living up to any standard that is set by anything or anyone other than your deep self.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever voluntarily or purposefully hold ourselves to standards we have to work to meet. But doing that isn’t part of trying to embody our authentic selves. And here’s really the foundation of what this all comes down to: authenticity has everything to do with our relationship with ourselves and nothing to do with our relationships outside of that.

Our authentic understanding of self, our authentic way of being informs those relationships, but it’s not defined by them and it doesn’t define them. The difference isn’t in what any relationship looks like on the outside, the difference actually looks like…

Like, let’s go back to the thing of coming out as an example. There was a long time that I was, and I think this is pretty typical, I was out to some people in my life and not to others. In my own self, my own internal understanding of my identity, I knew I wasn’t straight, I was connected with and comfortable internally with that part of me. I had a girlfriend who is now my wife. And I also knew that there were people and circumstances that were not safe for my authentic self to fully express itself. And part of my authentic understanding of who I am included the understanding that who I am is, yes, a queer woman and also, yes, a person concerned about continuing to have a job, continuing to be financially stable, concerned about the repercussions of being out and authentic to the wrong people.

Our authentic selves include our concerns and priorities and fears and traumas and all of that, too. And if we feel guilty for not being totally out, the root of that guilt is part of our authentic self, too.

Or another example I’ve used is, like, body image. I’m fat. There have been times when I really worked hard to not be fat. That doesn’t mean that my authentic self is one way or another. Whatever I weigh, whatever size I am at the current moment, and whatever internal feelings I have about it are all authentic.

We’re only inauthentic if we’re lying to ourselves, denying our truth, not in touch with our internal reality and trying to substitute a fictional external reality in its place. My authentic self isn’t a confident skinny woman. My authentic self is the fat woman I am right now who is in the process of working through her internalized fat-phobia and therefore sometimes still worries about how she looks.

So my point is that when it comes to our spiritual identity, our internal spiritual truth, our level of authenticity doesn’t change in relation to how open we are about our spiritual practice. It changes in relation to how honest we are with ourselves about our reasons for either being in or out of the broom closet.

Which, I guess, I should say that I went through that phase as well. My wife and I used to cast circles in the living room in the middle of the night very quietly while my sister was asleep and we kept all our ritual stuff hidden in a trunk in a room nobody else went into but us. I ran my art gallery and gift shop during that time, and lots of my consignment artists were people I had met at the pagan meetup, but since my parents ran the business with me I lied about where I knew them from. And that was authentic to who I was at the time. My authentic self in that moment was emerging from a life in Christianity and was still navigating that transition while also being materially dependent on people whose judgment I knew would be negative. My authentic self prioritized my ability to practice without consequence over my ability to be open about it.

Inauthenticity surfaces as motivations, as the things that cause us guilt and shame and to repress things, deny things in ourselves. I think… I don’t think we think about this much, generally, but there’s a difference between privacy and hiding, a difference between being proud of something and yet making a conscious decision to keep to yourself and being ashamed of something, judging yourself for it and hiding it so that others don’t get to judge you because you’re doing it for them. There’s a difference between the broom closet being a safe space, being the only place where you feel totally secure being openly authentic – there’s a difference between that and the broom closet being a prison, a place of resentment and shame.

Let’s go there next.

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Another thing I talk about in my book is the concept of sacred space and the need for each of us to have those spaces – physical, social, and spiritual – where we feel unrestricted in our authenticity. Where we are safe from external judgment and pressure to be anything other than who we authentically are. It’s the idea of sacred space as protected space, and I know I went into the concept of sacredness at some point in a recent episode about appropriation and closed practices and such.

The whole concept of sacredness is all about protection. A sacred thing is something that is kept from damage, from loss or corruption. So it’s a spiritually important – spiritually in the broadest sense, not just the religion-adjacent sense – spiritually important to have, to create and maintain sacredness in our lives in the interest of authenticity.

Now, I think there’s some kind of ideal for each of us where, in our own individual and authentic way, that sacred space, sacred state of existence is continually expanded to the point where there just, you know, isn’t a significant part of our lives that feels stifling or threatening or whatever. But what that looks like is different.

For some of us, sure that can look like expanding our ability to feel secure in our authenticity so that even when we’re in situations that seek to push back on that, seek to get us to change and stifle our authentic expression we feel confident and secure in our defiance. That’s what we see in those people who are so out, so out and proud about who they are, the thing that I think a lot of us think about when we talk about authenticity, when we talk about wanting to be more authentic. That’s the form of expansive personal sacredness that we see in others.

Because the other form, or at least AN other form of this ideal state, is expanding our curated, created sacred space so that our need to exist in spaces which don’t support our authentic way of being is minimized. And there’s not… One is not better than the other. It’s not authentic for everyone to aspire or to feel called to be as open and visible as possible.

The point is that in many ways, for those of us who are or used to be covert about our practice, who spent time practicing in the broom closet, that was and might still be the core of our sacred space in life. And whatever that looks like, spiritual growth and evolution I think nearly always involves constantly seeking to expand our access to that kind of nurturing environment in our existence.

The solution… and this is something I think a lot of the LGBTQ community would back me up on… the solution to feeling like you’re too stifled, too restricted in whatever closet situation you’re in isn’t usually to just throw open the closet door and run out into whatever awaits outside. It’s to constantly find more and more spaces which feel safe in the way the closet does. More and more ways to take that feeling of safety – and by that I mean it being safe to be authentic, to be fully embodied in your authenticity – out into new spaces.

That means finding communities, even individual people with whom you can be yourself and who support you as you grow and evolve. It means literally finding, creating, and maintaining spaces, physical spaces, where you can go to feel supported and safe in your authenticity. This might be like a place to retreat, this might be like a place where your safe community gathers, this might be your own personal, private space. And all of this can even include finding social media communities and spaces. The more we actually focus on finding and then spending time in those circumstances where we can fully embody and express ourselves, practice the way we feel called to, the closer we get to whatever our ideal sacred life looks like.

And I think if there’s one more, like, really crucial point I want to make before I close the episode it’s this: Whatever emotions we feel about not being able to fully and freely practice whatever our spiritual practice is, those emotions are the keys to that closet. It’s absolutely valid to desire to change the parts of the world that are a threat just because of different beliefs or whatever. That desire to push back, to get away, even, is totally understandable and valid. But the feelings that arise around that – resentment, shame, all of that – doing the shadow work and figuring out what part of your authentic self the feelings and emotions come from and what that means about your worldview, your priorities, your core way of being, all of that is work that gets you further connected with your shadow and gets you tied into your authentic self.

If there’s a measure of authenticity, it could be the intensity of those kinds of emotions you feel about your situation. Because when we are firmly grounded in authenticity and accepting of our current reality as something that can only be changed as time moves forward, not in the present or past, it makes it easier to focus our emotional energy, our spiritual energy, on those future changes rather than on things we can’t change. And it’s those future changes that, if you’re hoping to get out of the broom closet, to get to a point where you can freely practice as you want to, it’s the future changes which make that 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.

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