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 March 3, 2022, and today's topic is spiritual and magical bypassing during times when the world is chaos. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Back in season 1, by which I mean last year, I think it was episode 25, I talked about magical bypassing and avoidance. And I say magical bypassing rather than spiritual bypassing on purpose.
I explained in that episode that, if you’re familiar with the term spiritual bypassing, it’s about using spiritual concepts and beliefs to essentially let ourselves off the hook for confronting the hard things, to let ourselves wrap the difficult parts of our reality in spiritual justification so we can avoid examining, confronting, and dealing with those things. It’s even a way of wrapping our psychological issues up in spiritual packaging so we can cling to them rather than healing or addressing them. And I differentiated that from magical bypassing, which is when we use our magical practice to make us feel like we’re taking positive action when in reality we’re avoiding a more mundane and tangible action.
I encourage everyone to go back after this and listen to that episode just for a more in depth dive into magical bypassing but I wanted to bring it up again, discuss it again today for reasons that, like, are probably kind of obvious. Lots of stuff is going on in the world, lots of stuff that is disturbing, frightening, stressful, horrific, and not only are we likely to find ourselves in a state of, like, outrage or fear and wanting to do something about the state of the world, we’re also likely to find ourselves not really knowing what we can do about it.
Which, if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t a state of being which is really all that different from how life always is and how we always are.
Every single one of us is perpetually facing aspects of life which are difficult and upsetting and threatening to various degrees and every single one of us regularly faces stuff in life we want to change or fix when we don’t know how. It’s just that when the world around us kind of ramps up in the chaos and destruction department, all of that far more relentlessly top of mind. So it’s really not surprising that, and I’m sure lots of you are noticing this stuff, that more and more people are talking about how all of the things going on in the world are part of a global energy shift and they’re intended to teach us lessons, which is a problem not because I don’t think it’s true, but because it gives us an excuse to just disengage and not deal with things like our fear of confrontation or lack of boundaries or responsibility to others.
You’ve probably noticed more and more people turning to their spiritual and magical practices for protection and to act against negative forces when there often are actual mundane protections and ways of standing up to threats that they’re not doing, which is bad not because I don’t think magical or spiritual protections or actions do anything at all, but because the magic and spiritual doesn’t address the need for the mundane action and we get to pat ourselves on the back for not actually doing what is most needed.
You’ve probably seen lots more attempts to use divination to anticipate what’s going to happen in the world, which is bad not because I think we shouldn’t try to divine the future to get reassurance for ourselves, but because it helps us to be able to ignore the real impacts of these events on real people and absolves us of the need to actively do anything to help.
And this is not to make anyone feel bad or to say that we shouldn’t leverage our spiritual and magical practices in really difficult times. But spiritual bypassing feels like wisdom and resilience when it isn’t. And magical bypassing feels like action when it isn’t.
It’s all avoidance.
It’s all an effort to satisfy our natural need to respond to what’s happening without confronting our feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability, guilt, fear, shame, whatever other feelings we’ve never learned to adequately process.
The thing is, this is absolutely what spirituality is. We absolutely should be turning to our spiritual practices when we’re internally in the most turmoil. But what happens when we spiritually and magically bypass is that the healing and the spiritual resilience and fortitude doesn’t actually happen because we focus only on the stuff which doesn’t bring up the hard to process emotions and feelings, and the real action doesn’t get taken either because we throw our entire focus into the spiritual and magical.
I said in that prior episode I mentioned that the point of mastering magical practice is not to be able to escape from the burden of having to actually do hard things in life. That magical practice doesn’t make life easier. There are things we are able to do because of our spiritual and magical practice, there are things we are able to better through those practices, but I think if we all take the time to really examine things, we all know that truly being spiritually engaged and truly practicing magic adds work and adds complexity to life.
So what’s my point? What I want to get into today is really dissecting and parsing out what we can do with magic and spirituality and mundane action and what do to about the things that, you know, we honestly can’t change despite our desire to change them. What does a healthy and impactful approach to life in times that are really tough actually look like?
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Now back to the episode!
What I want to do now is tell a story.
As I’ve mentioned before many times, I responded to the events of 2016 by getting involved in activism. It started out with…
Okay, immediately following the presidential election, I immediately ran into discrimination at my job for being gay. Literally the next day, like a switch had flipped. And that… That was jarring for me to say the least. Suddenly I was seeing in really stark detail the things that were threatening and destructive and harmful in the world around me. And the first thing I learned from how things unfolded was, and this is part of what made it worse, made it harder, was that it wasn’t so much that the world had gotten worse, it was that I had gotten more aware and the bad in the world was more revealed.
Like, it wasn’t that my boss suddenly became a bigot. She always was, I just wasn’t looking for clues and she hadn’t felt able to act on her beliefs before. Which is… This is a horrible thing to realize. Sudden clarity and insight isn’t always a pleasant thing. It looks like the Tower card more often than we want it to.
But suddenly it was really… visceral. It was bearing down on me, the impacts were real, and even though I didn’t immediately lose my job or anything I noticed more and more ways that, you know, that the dynamics of everything really impacted the people around me, including me. I felt a need to do something, to do literally anything to push back, right?
So I went to a protest. I went to a couple of protests. I honestly didn’t have any real grasp on what needed to happen going forward, but I felt like the world, especially my little part of the world, needed to see that the other side was real, that we weren’t just a few radical weirdos, that we weren’t going to just shrug and go on with life and let them do what they wanted. So I went to protests. It was great, it was empowering, it felt really meaningful, but I did have an understanding that the marches and protests themselves weren’t going to have any real impact in the long term.
But what did happen there was networking. I ended up signing up at a protest with a local anti-racist group that was just starting up, and I started attending their meetings. And things… this was about the time the Women’s March happened, and my wife and I went to march in DC, but there was a big one back here at home as well, and lots of different organizations started forming out of it. Different groups with different niches. I think everyone pretty quickly realized that there were lots of different issues to tackle and one group couldn’t do it all.
So I started working with this anti-racism group which honestly didn’t last long. Because the biggest lesson that we learned there, and a lot of groups that formed learned, was that leadership is super important, and not everyone is a good leader, and without good leadership not much good happens. By which I mean both someone that has good leadership skills and someone who has the knowledge and understanding of what needs to happen to create the intended change.
Because what did happen is that none of us knew what we were doing enough to do it well or in a helpful way. Ego got in the way. The person who started the group had her own ideas about what needed to happen, and mostly that meant getting into conflicts with anyone who disagreed with her. Like a lot of people, this wasn’t just like one bad apple, her intentions were good and her desire to help was strong, but like a lot of people she conflated pushing for her intentions to happen the way she believed they should happen with pushing for positive change. Her passion for the mission as she saw it and as she understood it eclipsed everything else, and it all became very ego-driven and, frankly, totally useless in terms of actually doing any good. And at the same time, there were others in the organization trying to pull things in their own way and eventually it just had to fall apart.
So this was… That whole thing was educational for me in a lot of ways that wouldn’t have, like, I wouldn’t have learned some of those very very valuable lessons if things had gone smoothly. Which led to… I started to really come to terms with the idea that everyone has their skills, everyone comes to the work with a different set of skills and levels of experience and understanding which makes them well suited for some things and also means there’s education and skill building that needs to happen.
So this is when I decided that I was going to set about creating a coloring book of mantras and affirmations for activists because I could see that if the activist community, especially all of us who were new to it, didn’t do the work we needed to do on ourselves, didn’t take the time to learn to be activists, to learn what it took to do the things we wanted to do, we were going to be more detrimental than helpful.
And this is also when I started reading more. Started expanding my own understanding of not just what the current issues were but where they came from and what the racial justice activists and feminists and economic justice advocates and all of that, what they had done in the past and how we got to where we were. I think in a lot of ways that was the part of my activism journey that felt the most, like… It was the work that did the most, that went the farthest towards alleviating my sense of powerlessness, of being at the mercy of the world, of not knowing what to do.
Now, this is a much longer story, and this is going to absolutely be a two-part series at least, but that’s where I’ll stop the story today because I think what is behind most of our bypassing in a spiritual and magical sense is just not knowing what else to do to deal with our feelings, to get out of that place where we feel compelled to act but unable to fix things. This is how we start getting out of that. How we take a more critical look at what our intentions are and how we maybe actually acting against our intentions in ways that make us feel the opposite.
So I’m going to pause the story here and dive into the lessons I learned and what we can do in practical terms rather than bypass.
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I want to go point by point through the story I just told and really drill into some lessons. And I want to start with this idea of being in a Tower moment and the ramifications of sudden clarity. Because while I think it’s absolutely true that every experience, even the horrific ones, are part of a chain of events that generally trends to the positive, that doesn’t mean that those horrific things are good. It doesn’t mean they happened in order to bring something good down the line.
This is a frighteningly common form of spiritual bypassing where we absolve ourselves of the responsibility to deal with and confront trauma and destruction and harm, to let ourselves off the hook for any uncomfortable feelings of concern, obligation, or even fault in some cases, and instead reassure ourselves by wrapping it up in divine plan and future blessings.
This looks like people talking about how the pandemic and the war in Ukraine and whatever else is going on is just the universe elevating humanity, particularly when that sentiment comes with a, like… “Oh, isn’t it great that we’re being guided to something higher and better?” It’s… All of that ignores that there is a real human cost in all this, that there are ways we contribute to the destruction and can, if we choose to, contribute to helping others get through it.
When we get the kind of clarity that makes us realize the world is always full of destructive, harmful forces, that bad things are always happening, it’s natural to feel absolutely helpless and demoralized, and that’s why this way of thinking is so easy to fall into. The thing is, believing that everything trends positive over time or that the universe has a plan so that the destruction has a purpose doesn’t actually mean we have no place or responsibility to do what we can.
We’re not spectators in the universe, we’re spiritually connected to everything else, right? If good is to come out of the bad, we have to contribute to that good. We’re part of the force that makes that happen.
It’s… I hate to hearken back to this but it’s a perfect example. In Harry Potter, that moment where Harry is watching the dementors and is waiting for his dad’s patronus because he’s seen this all happen, and then realizes it’s his, that he is the one who has to save the day… That’s a good analogy for this. It’s not bad to believe and take comfort in the inevitability of positive change, but we also need to recognize that we have a part to play in it.
Now, that said, let’s talk about group work and leadership. Because the second big point I want to make is that none of us can change the world by ourselves. The people, the figures we see doing big things aren’t doing that alone. They’re doing that as, you know, leaders and as people with others they’re connected to as a support network.
And I think there’s kind of some instinctive understanding that we have of this, which is why we tend to either engage in magical bypassing by setting ourselves into that, like, leadership spot in whatever way we do know how, trying to build our own network around ourselves of people who can magnify and elevate our efforts. Which is how we get, like, people gathering groups of witches together to hex world leaders or people essentially performing activism and gaining more personally from it than ever gets accomplished in reality. It’s people inserting their own agenda into the mix as driven by ego rather than reality.
Either that or we engage in spiritual bypassing by completely relinquishing our active role in favor of the stuff that feels good, feels more personally soothing. Which looks mostly like the “thoughts and prayers” stuff or, you know, in the magical community it’s positive energy and good vibes. The stuff where we talk about issues and change our profile pics and put stickers on our cars and stop there. It’s all… In both cases it is very performative. The thing that…
When the anti-racism group I was part of was falling apart, and the same thing happened to lots of other groups at that time, what tore those groups apart wasn’t that people just got disillusioned and left or that there was too much infighting. What happened again and again was that people who were well meaning, people who wanted to contribute, let their egos and the egos of others guide their actions in ways that the people most impacted by the stuff going on didn’t care about, didn’t need, and weren’t helped by. But it felt good because it got attention. It didn’t feel like sitting on the sidelines. But at best it was ineffective the vast majority of the time, completely inconsequential, and at worst it was detrimental to more tangible efforts going on elsewhere.
It’s absolutely possible for us, as we’re magically and spiritually bypassing and putting our energy into stuff that puts us visibly out in front of people, sending ouiji boards to Greg Locke and hexing Putin, in doing that to be interfering with the work of others and even potentially making the situation worse more than we make it better.
When we get into that type of bypassing, the stuff where our own spiritual abilities and influence and even interests get substituted for knowledgable leadership and the guidance of those most impacted, we’re doing it because it distracts us from the feelings of inadequacy and inability to contribute the way we think we ought to.
But what I learned is that there are really two sides to what happens when we’re engaged in any kind of activism. We don’t ever come to the task of making the world a better place already having the knowledge and skills we need, so if we want to contribute to whatever purpose, whatever cause, we have to work on ourselves. So if there’s something we turn our spiritual abilities and practices to, it’s more useful to actually do the inner work, to confront the stuff we’re prone to avoiding and bypassing, to educate ourselves, to deal with and heal our traumas and our fears and our guilt and our anger than it is to try and spiritually stop a war. Because there’s also the side of activism where we follow the lead of those closest to the problem and those with the most experience and expertise on how to have an impact who are not going to ask us to do any of the performative stuff we might choose to do otherwise.
The good news is that, you know, if we want to help those who are most effectively active in making change in the world, usually it’s simple to do that. It’s boring, yeah, but there are always organizations who are tangibly engaged in the boring stuff like mounting legal challenges to unjust laws, distributing aid to people impacted by disasters, doing outreach in places that need it, providing resources… And I’m not talking about vanity stuff, the vanity charity work and missionary type stuff, providing resources nobody actually needs. When in doubt, look to those closest to the action and what they say they need.
So that’s… If you’re feeling stressed and bad right now about the state of the world, the things going on around you, here’s the two things you can do right now to actually contribute to positive change.
Number one, really spend some time letting yourself feel your emotions and do what you need to do to spiritually deal with that and nurture yourself. Any of the ways you’ve felt called out in this episode or elsewhere, reflect on that, acknowledge how you’ve been avoiding and bypassing and start working through that stuff.
And number two, pick one issue, one bit of the chaos of the world that is stressing you out the most, and find one mundane way you can tangibly contribute towards addressing it. Maybe it’s a donation of money. Maybe it’s spreading the information to people who can donate if you can’t. Maybe it’s boosting the voices of those closest to the issue so they can be heard and understood. Maybe it’s a phone call to a lawmaker. Maybe it’s volunteering your time to a local organization. Maybe it’s literally reaching out to someone you know who is more directly impacted than you are and asking them what they need and how you can help.
Do those two things, and then live your life. Take care of yourself spiritually, do one mundane thing to tangibly contribute, and then mindfully live your life in a way that overall contributes more good to the world than anything else.
And next week I’ll continue my story and keep digging into how we can more effectively create positive change.
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.