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 17, 2022, and today's topic is what things you can do right now to deal with what's going on and help change the world for the better. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Welcome back, witchy friends! Before I get back into my story and the lessons that I’m going through in this series, I want to come back to my intentions for this year, this season of the podcast. Because what I really want to do is give some ideas, some inspiration for actual things we can all do, actions we can take because frankly it’s really easy to talk about theory and philosophy and all the meanings and reasons behind the actions that people with an active spiritual practice take, but the sticking point for a lot of especially newcomers to practice is knowing how to actually practice.
Especially in magical circles, there’s a lot of general, pretty vague discussion about what to do and all of that, but there’s not a lot of specific actionable steps or examples of what to do. And part of that is, of course, that there’s not one way, one set of things to do. The possibilities are vast. But that’s overwhelming for a lot of people, can be confusing, so my intention was to do what I could this year to put out ideas. Not instructions, not prescriptions, but ideas and inspiration.
And it’s an important part of the discussion I want to have around this series because I very much believe that we can’t think our way out of what we’re feeling. We have to, you know, actually process the feelings and then actually do something. Not to fix things, but because nothing changes without action.
Now, I do think it’s important to differentiate between the things we do for different purposes and different reasons. Like, there are things we do because we think it’ll change our circumstances, and there are things we do because we think it’ll change the way we’re feeling, and rarely are those two things actually the same thing. We often do the circumstance-changing, problem-solving thing thinking that’s the way to fix the feelings, but it’s not.
And that’s important to remember in times when we feel fearful and anxious and all of that.
The things that we fear can be far bigger than our actions can fix, and that doesn’t mean that we can’t still do something to alleviate or address the fear. It also doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to do things to try and have some impact, however small, towards the things we fear, the things we want to change about the world. And when it comes to our spiritual and magical practices, it’s absolutely worthwhile to put our practices to use in trying to impact the world around us as long as we’re doing it with well thought out intentions and a lot of self-awareness.
This is a really prime opportunity to do some shadow work, specifically by taking a hard look at what our first instincts are about what actions to take or not take. Many of which may be entirely appropriate and in line with our authentic self and our deeply rooted intentions, but probably a lot of them aren’t.
This is… I’ve been doing some interviews and guest spots and stuff in promotion of my book lately, so I’ve been finding myself explaining shadow work fairly often, and one of the things I talk about in my book and that I think is a good place to start when it comes to doing shadow work, digging up and revealing our shadow, is to look at those times when we’re… inconsistent. When we do something, say something, make some decision and then are like, “That’s not me, I don’t know why I did that.” Usually after, you know, after someone calls us on it or whatever. Or the times when we say one thing, hold others to some kind of expectation but know we don’t live up to it. The stuff where we end up needing to justify ourselves because others perceive us or we know others could perceive us as hypocritical.
I’m going to get back into my story here in a minute and get into how I learned to kind of evaluate the value of the actions I was taking and the things I was participating in, and that’s important, but the foundation of that is understanding our motives, our deep ones more than our superficial ones. Because… I’m going to be getting into some of the pitfalls overall of the sorts of things we do ostensibly to help and to benefit the community or even a broader, like, change the world stuff, but those things… As without, so within. You’ll see what I mean in a bit, but there are absolutely things that are done which are big on PR and very low on actual benefit for those impacted by whatever the cause is, and by the same token there are things we do individually which are mostly to soothe us, to manage our emotions and make us feel better and, similarly, have very little real impact for others.
Which is, I have to say, it’s fine at some level as long as we’re aware that we’re doing it for reasons that have more to do with ourselves than what’s going on in the world.
And what happens is that when we get really in touch with…, when we do our shadow work and figure out what the roots are of our feelings and our impulses and whatever, what almost always happens is that we find more direct ways to operate.
So, anyway, I’m going to talk about the, like, how do we evaluate all that, what does it mean to actually put in the work to respond to the stuff going on, how do we simultaneously deal with our personal and internal issues, and then after that I’m going to get into actual things we can do, actual ideas for stuff to do to help get through this, to feel better, in a way that’s in integrity for us on a spiritual level.
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Now back to the episode!
So back to the storytime. And last time I left off where I’d decided that I was going to center my own activism around feminism, around women’s rights, and it just kind of happened that at the same time there were a few people working to get a local chapter of the National Organization for Women started. Or, well, restarted in the area.
And so I went to the meeting they had to see what kind of interest there was and ended up becoming a founding board member. We got I think it was 11 people together to form the board and it was a really diverse group, different backgrounds and perspectives and types of experience and all of that. And that really was the bulk of my activism from that point forward. I also had already decided I was going to run for local office, but at this point even the start point of that campaign was at least a year away.
And very early on we decided that we didn’t want to be just, like, another group that met just to have meetings, we wanted there to be a purpose, a call to action if we called everyone to a meeting. Now, the thing is, most of us had experience working with charitable organizations, not activist organizations. And there’s a difference. In terms of nonprofits, there are the, like 501(c)(3) organizations that are what most people think of, that do outreach, charity work, education, that kind of thing. But organizations… and sorry this is veering into the technical… but things like NOW are classified differently because it’s not a charity, per se. It’s not directly going out and helping people, it’s working the opposite direction and advocating for social change. So, like, where your usual charitable organization would feed the homeless, this kind of nonprofit would lobby and advocate for policies that expand access to food for the homeless. But also, 501(c)(4) organizations can’t be partisan or endorse or fund political candidates, they can only deal in issues and legislation.
And what happened was that in our first general meeting, we put out the word that we were starting up the chapter, we worked as a board to get an agenda of events and projects planned out and all of that, and we had I think 135 people show up to that first meeting. And very quickly that number plummeted. Not that we expected 135 ongoing active members, this isn’t a “omg we failed” story, we totally expected there to be a drop off. Because what keeps people engaged in a group, and we all knew this, is activities that make them feel warm and fuzzy or at least give them an outlet for their frustration. So, like, charity projects, fundraisers, protests, and political campaigns. And we did some of those things, we partnered sometimes with charitable organizations for projects, we definitely had some protests and marches, but the stuff that was, like, really high priority for us were things like voter registration drives and inviting in experts to teach things like intersectionality and training people on how to effectively lobby and communicate with elected officials.
Most of the people who came to that first meeting were really either mostly interested in either charitable stuff or the political stuff, and we weren’t either one. We couldn’t offer people that confrontational partisan political outlet and we didn’t offer the chance to go, like, do the feel good help the needy stuff.
And I don’t tell this part of the story to, like, complain. It was just, that’s the reality of actually advocating for change.
Like, going back to the example I used earlier, feeding the homeless is important, but it’s a short term solution. It will never solve the problem of homelessness or lack of access to food. To solve the problem it takes activism and advocacy, all the boring and tedious stuff, and the reason people would so much rather do the charity outreach is because it feels good and, also, is short term commitment.
And that’s not me saying don’t do those things. The vast majority of us can’t give ourselves over long term to that kind of stuff. The only reason I was able to really devote myself to activism is because I did quit my job, I took time off, then I started freelancing, I have no kids to devote time and energy to, and so I had the freedom to choose to spend my time and energy that way.
Anyway, like I said, that was one of the main things I did in my life for well over a year. In that time there were quite a few other local organizations which had kind of the same thing happen, a lot of initial enthusiasm and then a drop off and some of them imploded kind of like the racial justice group. And eventually we had a rift of our own which boiled down to, ironically, the issue of, like, were we actually doing exactly the same thing on an organizational level as a lot of the people in the community were doing. A lot of what we were asked to do, invited to do, a lot of the ideas that came up of events and projects started to be a lot more, like, partnerships and PR stuff than actual activism. Not that we weren’t doing anything productive, but it was definitely becoming clear that we weren’t experts ourselves, that our most effective and impactful projects were really just in support of other organizations and people who were experts and did know what they were doing, and the rest was more about, like, just trying to keep people interested in our mission. Which started to look a lot like PR and not much like activism.
And after that, I’m kind of going to skip ahead and I’ll come back and fill in some blanks next episode, but eventually we ended up closing down the chapter after a few years because when we sat down and said, you know, what does it look like if we really fulfill on our mission, it was a sobering reality. A lot of what we’d been doing was supporting other organizations which had their own niches to focus on like the local LGBTQ advocacy group and the local NAACP chapter, where our missions overlapped but they had the expertise.
So if we took all that off the table, the stuff where we just didn’t need to be front and center because we weren’t the experts, what was left? That left us with, like, local issues that are directly related to gender equality because there honestly aren’t groups that focus locally, and otherwise everything was covered by someone else who did it better. And since there’s a huge lack of avenues by which the same activism that gets done at the state and federal level can happen here locally, not to mention that none of us were the kind of experts who knew how to blaze that trail, and that meant that the work needing to be done just didn’t appeal to members…. Well, what was the point of the group, then?
We closed because it was self-serving and useless for us to have a group which didn’t do anything on its own, just contributed its name and time to supporting other groups, which we could all just as easily do without putting our name on things for PR. Like, if you want to build houses with Habitat, go volunteer with Habitat rather than joining NOW and waiting for us to have collaboration days with Habitat. You know? And, I mean, I’m sure you know where this is going to go as far as lessons, but we’ll dive into that next.
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So here’s the deal. There’s three types of actions we can take when the world around us is causing us to be stressed and fearful and whatever, when we’re going through these Tower moments. And remember that all of this is spiritual, all of our engagement with our inner self, all of our engagement with the world, in an alchemical sense is spiritual. But I am going to prioritize the stuff here that’s, like, spiritual in the way a lot of people think of spirituality.
First off, we can take action to deal with the fears and the feelings, the emotions themselves, the personal side of all this. Because honestly that’s what often drives our need to do the other stuff. It’s those feelings, the anxiety and fear and sadness and uncertainty is what makes us want to get into action, makes us want to be one of those people who visibly demonstrates their concern for the future and the state of the world.
So in practical terms, I want to emphasize that if you can and if you need to, see a therapist. If the emotions around world events or anything else is impacting you in a significant way, that’s definitely… take care of your mental health. Now, aside from that, like I said in the beginning, this is a great opportunity to do some shadow work. Start with journaling, keeping note of what you feel day to day and reflect on why. Specifically do some examination of where your feelings come from and what they’re really about.
Because it seems obvious, right? But if you specifically examine what you’re afraid will happen on a personal level, in your life, to people you actually know, other things will come up. Same for… Think about what you want other people to do, what you feel prompted to do, think about whether those thoughts are reasonable, practical, what the deeper implications are.
And then, this is the important part, deal with those thoughts and feelings. There are lots of physical practices which are good for dealing with emotions either by being an outlet or by helping regulate feelings. And don’t forget that feelings are physical. They aren’t the thoughts you have about the feelings, the feelings themselves are just physical sensations we give meaning to. So whether you do yoga or go running or take relaxing baths or get massages, whatever it is, I think we have a tendency to stop taking care of ourselves when it feels like there are significant things going on in the world, but that’s actually when we need to take care of ourselves better. Personally I like using my accupressure mat or doing a meditation with some breathwork or using binaural beats to get myself balanced. Also, spiritually, I find it really helpful to do release ceremonies, writing things down and burning them, for instance, or even using divination to help give context to my feelings and thoughts.
Just remember that this isn’t about changing the world, it’s about dealing with the way we feel. That’s important because it’s easy to turn that into a bypassing type thing when we start equating our own well-being with some type of magical influence over world events.
So, that’s the personal stuff. And really, that’s the most important thing because you can’t effectively do the rest if you don’t do that.
I haven’t mentioned it in telling my story, but part of what happened a lot, and I mean a lot, a lot, was burnout in activism circles. If you don’t take care of you, deal with the feelings you’re feeling, and I mean actually process them, not suppress them, then that’s it. You’re not going to be able to do anything else for very long.
Second, there’s the stuff we can do to impact our immediate environment where we actually have the ability to create tangible change. This isn’t the saving the world stuff, this is focused close to home, close to our experiences.
So think about the tangible ways that the state of the world actually touches you and impacts your life. Most of us will have people in our community who are more directly impacted by things than we are. Like, one of my coworkers is Ukrainian and has family members who are still in Ukraine. I think most of us would know people who have been impacted by Covid more severely than we have. Maybe there are things going on which are local to you, policies being enacted or disasters happening or increases in things like homelessness or unemployment or shortages or whatever.
But don’t limit it just to the things that have to do with whatever situation is stressing you most. Because if you do your shadow work around this stuff, you’ll probably figure out more specifically what feelings you’re struggling with most. Is it that you feel guilt for not being engaged enough? Is it feeling like if you’re not open and visible doing something and talking about what’s wrong with the world, people will judge you? Is it feeling vulnerable and not connected enough? Whatever those emotions you’re feeling are and are rooted in, that’s going to kind of point you towards ways to take some action which will help you feel better, and as long as you’re mindful about the real impact of it and follow the lead of those who know what they’re doing it’s fine to center your actions on that.
So, for instance, if you feel guilty for what you have when others have less and you want to do something to help, think about the organizations in your area who help people in need and ask them what they need and how you can help.
And don’t neglect the spiritual element, not in the sense of sharing your spirituality with others, proselytizing or that kind of thing, but engaging with a community with which you share a spiritual connection. Share your talents and knowledge, learn from others, connect on a personal level and nurture those relationships in a mutually supportive way, and work with them to do good and have positive impact as a group together. Maybe it’s an actual spiritual or religious community, maybe it’s just a group of people with similar missions to yours.
Again, this is good for your own spiritual and emotional state, but the more we contribute to and connect with our community in a positive way, the greater our tangible positive influence in the world.
And then third, of course, there are things you can do to impact the world at large. This stuff doesn’t tend to be the fun stuff. On a practical level, it’s engaging with policy makers and those who influence and work with policy makers. Some of you might have skills and qualifications that let you more directly work on things, even if that means really making some life changes to allow you to do that. You may have resources you can share on a much larger scale than most.
And if you’re called to do those things, that’s great. Just be mindful of the mindset you have about doing them. The world doesn’t need heroes. And no matter what you contribute, on a spiritual level your actions have a much much larger impact on you than they will on the world at large, so don’t neglect the self care and self knowledge. Never neglect the part where you take care of yourself and process your emotions and do your personal spiritual work.
And on a spiritual level, consider what your larger spiritual mission is. Like, what is the point of your spiritual practice when it comes to the world at large? As within, so without, as above, so below. I know part of my spiritual worldview is that the ideas and inspiration and such that we share with others is essentially the legacy we leave, the way that our spirit persists after we are gone. So as much as things happening in the world can distract us, they can definitely distract me from my personal, you know, the need to share and write and teach and do the research and thinking necessary for all that… As much as we can get distracted and feel like we’re not doing enough, I would say that if events going on make us feel like our spiritual calling is meaningless or whatever, it’s time to do some much deeper self-searching.
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.