Episode 19 – Magic and Spirit During Worldwide Upheaval, Part 2: Embracing Reality – The Waxing Soul
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 10, 2022, and today's topic is how to come to terms with new realities during times of upheaval. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Welcome back for more on how we can spiritually navigate our way through a world in chaos! Lots of fun, right?
I honestly don’t know how many parts this is going to be, I don’t really have a plan except that I know I want to finally share all of my journey post-2016 because before that, before then, even as a queer person in the midwest, even as a witch in the bible belt, I really wan’t actively involved in what was going on in the world. Not that I didn’t care about it. I definitely cared. I had pretty strong opinions and feelings and beliefs about it. But I definitely existed in a place of, like, I had other things going on. I had my life. I wasn’t interested in being in politics, I didn’t want to be out marching the streets or gathering petition signatures or whatever, I didn’t have the time or energy to spend doing charity work… I was working on my professional development, I had a career, I had my marriage and I had bought a house and I had an Etsy shop just starting up and I had hobbies, and I really was… I think it’s absolutely natural for us as humans to be focused on our own matters, our own personal lives, and not to want to risk all of that or look away from all of that to focus on fixing the big problems in the world.
And before I get back into the story, that’s the first thing I want to talk about. Because not only is it normal for us to be in a state of, like, “Man, the world is in chaos, that thing is bad and that thing sucks, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” And we leave it to the people who are more passionate, more invested, more personally connected to whatever is going on to solve it, to fix it, to do what we can’t. That is not just a natural thing, a natural reaction to have as a human being, to some extent it’s kind of true.
But there’s a difference between recognizing that there’s no reasonable way we can be expected to or that we even are able to do enough as individuals to completely change the trajectory of whatever is going on in the world, there’s a difference between recognizing the reality of our role in the situation and willful apathy, willful avoidance.
I want to talk about this before I dig into the rest of my story and the main point I want to make today because I know there’s lots of… When stuff goes on in the world, when there’s disasters and oppressive laws and wars and diseases and economic crises and heartbreaking tragedies and all of that, when that stuff happens it pushes all of us, the vast majority of us who live in that state of disconnect, of focusing on our personal lives, we are pushed into a state of not just wanting things to be fixed, not just paying attention and caring, but of feeling guilty and feeling pressured for all the things we haven’t done and now don’t feel able to do.
And that pressure, because inevitably there are also suddenly a lot of other people asking for help, making a show of giving and contributing and protesting and whatever, and there’s a lot of… It’s like peer pressure. People are suffering, don’t you care? Won’t you help? Can’t you give? The planet is dying, aren’t you going to do every single thing you possibly can? It’s uncomfortable to live in a world where you know things need to change, you see that others are calling for change and working towards change, but you also feel the limitations of your ability to have an impact. It makes sense that we tend to either choose apathy and bypassing, like I talked about last week, or we choose desperately grasping every opportunity to have any impact that feels positive, whether it is or not, just so we can prove that we care, prove that we’re trying.
And I want to do a little bit of a skipping to the end, giving you a spoiler here for what I learned between 2016 and, like, 2019, which is this: we aren’t meant to be heroes.
In fact, the world doesn’t need heroes. On a spiritual level and a practical level, we are not called to be saviors for other people. There is no reasonable expectation that we are supposed to drop everything and go save the day. It can feel like that, but that pressure to not just do anything but to do as much as we possibly can do doesn’t come from, like… It’s not those closest to the problem calling for us as individuals to drop our lives and go rescue them. That’s… What we feel that makes us want to do that isn’t responsibility, it’s guilt about not paying attention until it’s a catastrophe. It’s shame at not being, like, not being engaged in that kind of work all along, at maybe being selfish. It’s… It’s not wanting to be seen as uncaring, it’s wanting to demonstrate our level of dedication, all of that, it’s wanting to give to the level that others do and beyond. It’s driven by those outside the problem pointing fingers at each other, criticizing each other, pushing each other.
But all the feelings of guilt and whatever that come up for us is, frankly, not anyone’s problem but our own. As important as it is not to get lost in spiritual bypassing like I talked about last week, it’s also true that our level of stress, the sheer intensity of spiritual energy we put out in the interest of caring, doesn’t and won’t miraculously change the world to be the way we want it.
Keep in mind that our emotions and thoughts are spirit, they’re spiritual energy, and I think it’s helpful in this kind of situation to examine what types of energy we’re dealing with, where it’s coming from, and where it’s going when we put it back out. I did a series of episodes last year about emotions in spirituality, and I definitely encourage you to listen to that. It starts with episode 15 from last season which is about fear, and it carries on through joy, anger, etc.
The thing is, no matter how much we try to do to be a hero, to sacrifice of ourselves to change the world for the better, none of that will change our emotional state in itself. Not really. We deal with our emotions by doing the internal work, and we deal with the problems in the world by doing the external work.
And I think it’s really important to be honest with ourselves about how vast the impact can be to our lives and the lives of others when we put in the effort to deal with and heal our emotional selves, as well as how limited we are in our individual ability to do the external work to fix what we see as wrong in the world. It doesn’t make the external work we can do inconsequential or pointless, but I’ll get into that more as we go on. Just, please go listen to the series on emotions if you’re being overwhelmed with sadness, fear, anger, or just pressure to do more than you reasonably can. That’s the number one lesson I want everyone to take away from this. You can’t do it all, and the world doesn’t need you to be a hero.
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Now back to the episode!
I want to continue the overall story for context, and then in the last section of the episode I’ll get into the lessons and what I kind of want everyone to take from it.
So, last time I told the beginning of my activism journey, and I talked about getting involved in a short-lived racial justice group and seeing what happened when those without leadership skills and all of that try and lead and let their ego get in the way. And I mentioned that after that organization fell apart, the next thing I started doing was reading. I realized I didn’t have a good background on the history of, just, how we’d gotten to this place, what the activists before us had accomplished, what the… you know, what the context of all of this was.
Because what happened, and it happens with just about everyone, is that when there’s that sudden shift of consciousness, there’s also this realization that these problems have existed for a long time. It’s not new, it’s just that the buildup has been much slower than we realize, and it’s just that, you know, like with an earthquake how the pressure builds up over time before it releases, and we just didn’t have reason to notice or ability to see the tension before then.
And I knew, I’d already kind of witnessed the impact of it with the other group and just what was going on elsewhere in the community, I knew that despite great enthusiasm, despite a real deep desire to do good in the world, despite a sense of dedication and all of that, for those of us, including myself, who hadn’t ever been deeply involved before and were suddenly rushing onto the activism scene, our sense of what needed to be done wasn’t accurate. We could and often did do more harm than good in the sense that it’s really easy to jump into the fray and think you’re helping and really all you’re doing is drawing attention and resources away from effective work that’s already being done. It’s really easy to speak over and interfere with those whose work is less interesting but more impactful.
My idea of what social justice work and activism work would be like and what it would entail really wasn’t what it turned out to be, and I think, actually I know that there was a lot of… A lot of people were really hit hard by that. That’s why, you know, there were initially so many people coming out to marches and protests and signing up as volunteers and starting organizations left and right and then it really rapidly seemed to, you know, if you were outside the scene looking in, it looked like a lot of people just giving up. From the inside, though, it was… I don’t think any of us like doing things that don’t work. So either we find a way to convince ourselves that it is working, or we find a way that does work, or we stop. And it became really clear really fast to especially all of us newbies to activism that painting signs and chanting and buying t-shirts and signing online petitions wasn’t going to have the impact we wanted.
So some people found ways to convince themselves that those things were working or would work if everyone just did them more or in the right way or whatever. That’s… That’s essentially what happened with the first group I worked with. It was people blaming the lack of effectiveness, lack of results, lack of meaningful impact on, you know, other people just not doing things right, supporting the right thing, believing the right stuff. And there was plenty of ill-informed infighting. People like me who were new to this, who hadn’t taken the time to listen to others, to read up on things, to get a good understanding of what was going on, coming in thinking they knew what needed to be done, that the problem was that activists working on this all along weren’t doing it right and that they could lead the way, that their experience and perspective was unquestionably right, and doing whatever it took to cling to that. To not have to say, you know, “I’m here trying to do things my way and it’s not working, maybe it’s time to listen to those who have been in the trenches all along.”
Also, you know, a lot of people just stopped. They went to some marches, nothing significant changed, so they stopped. Went back to their lives. Hoped for the best.
For me, I… Injustice and inequality and racism and sexism and all this wasn’t something that just emerged as a brand new thing in 2016, I realized there were already movements and people and organizations doing the work, pushing for change, and doing that work with a real depth of knowledge and resources and all of that. And I wanted to be part of moving that forward. I wanted… I’m a patient person, I was raised in a family that is staunchly anti-abortion and has persistently been part of that whole movement despite decades of not really seeing that activism result in anything, so I kind of knew that was part of the thing. No matter what position you’re advocating for, real progress happens slow.
So I started learning. I started reading. I spent time reflecting on my own life, my own experience, where I fit in all of it, really making an effort to get as broad a perspective as I could. I even got to, like, really understand some of the women in my life better, particularly my mother, because reading The Feminine Mystique gave me some insight into the social forces that shaped her understanding of the world in her formative years.
And in the end I came to the understanding on a personal level that my own experience, even the part that had to do with my queerness and economic inequity in my job, really was all tied in fundamentally with misogyny and patriarchy and that feminism and gender equality was really where I wanted to focus.
So when I heard that some people were working to revive the local chapter of the National Organization for Women which had been dormant for, like, nobody actually could remember when it was closed down, I felt like that was really the direction I wanted to go.
So that’s where I want to leave off the story today and pick up next episode so that we have time to dive into the broader lessons of this part.
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I’ve referred to the kinds of crises and stuff that we’re going through right now as Tower moments, and for those who aren’t fluent in tarot-speak, this comes from one of the major arcana cards in the tarot deck called The Tower. It’s one of those cards… A lot of people assume that, like, Death is the card you don’t want to see come out of the deck but if you’ve ever done any work with tarot at all you know it’s actually the Tower everyone dreads.
Because it means… Well, in the most common depiction or imagery on the card, it’s a tower getting destroyed, often struck by lightning, cracking apart, sometimes people, like, falling from it. It’s about things falling apart. It’s destruction in a dramatic fashion. But the thing about the Tower card is that, yeah, it’s no fun to go through, it’s always a kind of traumatic energy, but it’s never the end of the world. It’s not the end of whatever it is that’s falling apart. That’s… If you want final endings, that’s the 10 of Swords. This is something falling apart in a way that reveals truth. Maybe it’s that the Tower that seemed really sturdy and strong was actually falling apart structurally, maybe something was hidden in its walls, maybe things were going on there that nobody knew about, that kind of thing.
Not always a super fun thing to know, of course, but something that… It’s revealing something that needed to be revealed, that it’s valuable to know. And I think it’s crucial to understand that the hardest part of getting through these Tower moments in our experiences is that they shake up our perception of reality in a way that reveals potentially uncomfortable things.
I’m sure, like… We’re probably all confronting that or have confronted that over the past few years. Even those of us who have been really lucky through all of this to not have to worry about job security or having to juggle difficult life changes or whatever have still had to deal with realizing that there are parts of our lives, parts of our world that weren’t as stable as we thought or didn’t work the way we thought or whatever. That’s the kind of experience I had in 2016 as well.
But here’s what I learned through all that: These tower moments aren’t about the world changing drastically around us. The world didn’t get more screwed up, it was just that the screwed-up nature of the world that I hadn’t ever fully perceived was revealed. The change is a matter of perception.
And if we don’t take the time to adjust our understanding now that we know what we know, all our efforts are based on the old illusion and aren’t going to have the results, large scale or on a personal level, that we want them to.
And we can’t just go back to that world, go back to where we felt like we had answers and knew what to do. We can’t unlearn something we’ve learned.
It’s like the year I peeked at the Christmas presents early. I could pretend I didn’t look, I could pretend to be surprised, I could work to maintain the surprise for everyone else, but I couldn’t unsee what I saw. We can’t unlearn what we learn about the world when the tower falls apart. We want to, yeah, that’s natural. That’s why we bypass. That’s why we look for a way to spin things as positively as possible and embrace ideas that let us not engage, not feel bad, not feel responsible. That’s why conspiracy theories take hold, because we want to go back to not knowing what we learned.
But I think it’s important to recognize that those efforts don’t… Even if the ideas that we bypass with, even if the conspiracy theories were true, that doesn’t return the world to the way it was before. We cannot change reality to fit back into the false reality we used to think was real, we can’t unlearn what we’ve learned individually and we certainly can’t make an entire society go back to pretending everything is the way it used to be. We can’t un-destroy the tower, even if we are able to build another in its place.
The thing is – and this is the most important part of my message today – while it’s true that our perception of reality was limited before the truth was illuminated, that some of our perception was an illusion and some was just incomplete understanding based on a very narrow perspective, reality hasn’t actually changed much, right? Just our perception of it.
This is what enlightenment means.
There isn’t more evil or more bad in the world than there used to be, we just didn’t recognize its presence before. We realize it now. And this is, ultimately, a spiritual problem for us individually. Not the wars and crises and all that, if we’re not actually directly impacted, but the way we experience the burden of that awareness. That’s a spiritual problem. That’s why these times are hard. It is revealing something to us not in the sense of, like, seeing the divine plan for humanity, but in the sense of revealing that our understanding of the universe and our place in it wasn’t complete, wasn’t accurate.
Spiritually, that is the foundation of everything else, right? And if before we start pouring ourselves into trying to fix the world, for ourselves or for other people, if we first take the time to explore and think through the implications of what we now know, what we feel, what has been revealed now that the tower is crumbling, we find that it doesn’t invalidate the joy or the love or whatever is good in our lives. That’s not the illusion. That’s not the tower, that’s not what is falling apart. The thing about the Tower card is that it is never an end. It’s not final destruction. It’s a plot point in the middle of our story. And we do get to choose for ourselves how we move forward.
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.