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 April 21, 2022, and today's topic is idealism and its impact on our spirituality. Are you ready to grow your soul?
As everyone knows, the tax deadline just passed, and because I can’t help but be super extra, our taxes aren’t the funnest thing in the world to do. And I’ve been doing this whole shadow resolution thing where I’m leaning into my procrastination tendencies, which means that I didn’t file until the day the taxes were due.
Now, I knew I had all the things I would need to file our taxes, all 4 schedule Cs and those fun things included, because between my wife and myself we’ve got 2 freelance businesses, my spiritual stuff with the books and tarot decks and whatnot, and an Etsy shop we’re in the process of closing down, plus I now have a regular salary-paying job… And yeah, I do our taxes. I always have, through all my entrepreneurial adventures.
So I sat down Monday to do the taxes, got everything organized, and went online to file them. Now, my wife actually works for one of the tax filing companies, so we file through them online because we can use her employee code thing and do it for free, otherwise I think I would just mail in the forms because, like, with all the extra crap our return would be kind of pricey to file and can’t be done through the federal free thing. Anyway, so I enter all the stuff in, and just before midnight I’m about to hit the button to file when it comes up with some weird error in the accuracy check saying social security numbers are supposed to be 9 digits and only have numbers in them. Which… they are. LIke, I kept clicking the “fix it” button and re-entering our numbers which were already correct and it just wouldn’t take it.
Over and over. I tried logging out and logging back in and all of that. Maybe a tiny hissy fit. Got my wife up after she’d worked a whole, like, 13 hour day or whatever since it was tax deadline, and she didn’t know what to do, so I was like, I mean, we file for free, right? So surely if I do the paid help thing, it covers that too? So I’m like, yeah, sure, connect me to chat for another $141, why not? But the chat couldn’t help, the live call center was closed, and so I did that for no reason. Finally I worked my Google skills and figured out that the bad social security numbers were on the form I uploaded from the health care marketplace, so I had to delete it and manually enter everything.
And then when we went to check out, it wouldn’t take my wife’s code. And with the totally useless help fee, we now owed more in filing fees than we did in taxes. And I was pissed off. We ended up just paying the filing fee and my wife said she’d see if the company would reimburse her since the code didn’t work, and ultimately we were, like, 45 minutes late filing the tax return.
Now, some of you… I’m going to play psychic here for a second. Some of you are listening and going, “See? This is why procrastination is bad. You wouldn’t have had that trouble if you’d have gotten it done with plenty of time before the deadline. Guess that shadow resolution isn’t such a great idea anymore!” So… And I promise I’m getting to a point here, not just justifying my procrastination.
So, I went to bed kind of frustrated that night and I indulged in not exactly sleeping late but doing some of my work from bed so I didn’t have to, like, get up and feel even worse for being tired and grumpy. No reason some of the work I do can’t be done from bed, so I did that. And there was absolutely the voice in my head reminding me that some people would be very judgy of all of that. The waiting until the last minute to file taxes, the not jumping out of bed at the break of dawn like successful people are supposed to, and rather than make me feel bad for all of it, it did two things: First, it reminded me of exactly why this has been such a good idea, the resolution to master the art of procrastination, because it really is about me getting out from under this lifelong subservience to the idea that if I please other people, if I do what other people want me to, then eventually I might get to do what I want and make myself happy. This thing of others coming first all the time.
Because yeah, the tax thing didn’t go as planned, but it’s not the end of the world, either. We handled it, it’s further evidence that “handling it” is a totally acceptable alternative to going out of our way to make sure there’s nothing to handle, you know? It’s an exercise in resilience.
And second, all of that made me realize that there’s really quite a bit wrong with this idea that if we do the “right things” and avoid mistakes like procrastination or sleeping in or… Actually, let me rephrase that. There’s a lot wrong with the idea that if we fail to live up to an ideal and instead engage in behaviors that are considered things like “lazy” or “sinful” or “negative,” then it’s a personal failing and that the pressure to be better is spiritually and personally positive.
And if you’re still sitting there thinking I’m completely nuts, stick with me. I’ll break it all down for you.
Join the Bridget Owens/Waxing Soul mailing list for podcast updates plus all the latest news and more fun stuff.
Now back to the episode!
One of the first thoughts I had as I was finally getting up the day after tax deadline, finally getting my computer back to the office and getting dressed and preparing to sit down at my desk and do the rest of my work was this: a lot of people would look at last night and say it was my fault that I didn’t do my taxes earlier. That the frustration was my fault. That had I known there would be technical problems I would have started sooner, so I should have anticipated that technical problems were possible or maybe even likely and therefore changed my actions accordingly.
And I realized that that thought made me feel exactly the same way I’ve always felt in situations where I feel like I’m unjustly blamed or held accountable for more than is my fault. And it occurred to me that, you know, any time there’s a power differential, whoever is lower on that scale is expected to do extra to make allowances for the mistakes or even negligence or malice of whoever is in the higher power position.
Like, why exactly is it on me to make accommodations and take action to mitigate the effects of tech problems that the tax filing company and the health insurance marketplace are actually responsible for? Why, when I tell this story, do I absolutely know that most people are going to be like, “Well, that’s why you don’t procrastinate, because you know something’s going to go wrong” rather than asking why, with all this time where people were filing tax returns and running up against these errors, because you know I wasn’t the first or else google wouldn’t have helped me, why the companies and entities involved didn’t fix the bugs in the system?
Why have we framed as an ideal this world where individuals put all their focus and energy on being unnaturally perfect so that the power structures and systems around us can continue to be chaotic and challenging and oppressive?
On the other hand, I’ve also worked inside a lot of companies and organizations and whatnot and know that it’s impossible to make any system bug free. If I had a nickel for every time my boss was like, “I want these things to happen exactly this way” and have then had to repeatedly explain that, like, Zapier doesn’t have an option to integrate things exactly that way or that there’s a tech glitch somewhere that I have no way of finding or fixing or whatever, I’d be able to buy me some Starbucks. So the good alternative is not a world where we individually bear no responsibility for our own behaviors and habits and it’s the systems and powers around us which are supposed to be perfect.
And so my next thought was, and I’ve gone down a similar rabbit hole before, but it was, “Why are we so hung up on assigning blame when the world is just not perfect?”
And this is the problem with idealism. We equate ideal to perfect, when the universe isn’t perfect in the way we like to define perfection. There is no ideal where nobody struggles and everything happens the way everyone wants it to happen because we’re not, like… Humanity isn’t a hive mind. We’re individuals with individual experiences and desires and sometimes those things come into conflict.
We can’t all create and have the things we want without it requiring damage or destruction of something someone else wants. Death and destruction are part of reality, part of the natural universe, and our desire to control and eliminate that is why we imagine things like the Christian heaven where no one dies and everyone somehow is happy forever. In reality, a huge part of spirituality since the rise of human civilization has involved these efforts to explain or justify or just make bearable all the imperfection and conflict and whatever that we deal with in day to day life.
Which is exactly what I think spirituality is for, honestly.
But when it becomes organized religion, it pretty much fails at this. And we get this thing of, like, there’s a perfect life after this one so just endure this one with grace and you’ll get that as a reward. Or we get the thing where there’s a divine purpose behind the ways we suffer or whatever because we’re being shaped into this perfect, ideal, evolved, elevated and enlightened being over the span of lifetimes. Or we get the thing where our suffering becomes our fault, that if we just try to be super disciplined and take responsibility for the ways we’re impacted by the world around us and we strive to be as perfect as we can, then we’ll be great and if we can’t achieve that it’s because we’re not doing it right. We get whole religions where there are tons of restrictions and rules and expectations for individuals while the actions of the deity are completely nonsensical and often just downright destructive even to the followers of the religion but to question why is unacceptable.
And the more you dig into that, the more obvious the link between power structures and spiritual idealism becomes. Because there is absolutely a difference between a spirituality which supports us all as individuals along a path of growth and evolution and connection and one which sets a single ideal vision that we’re all supposed to strive for whether that benefits us individually or not. Usually not, right? If we’re being honest?
Like, back to my story as an example, me filing my taxes earlier… what’s the benefit there? Would I have still been frustrated? Yep. The only difference would have been that I would have spread the frustration out. I probably wouldn’t have paid extra for help, I’d have sent my wife to ask her coworkers what the deal was, but from what I know now they wouldn’t have probably known because they don’t deal with the online returns. I probably would have ended up printing and mailing my return which would have come with its own frustrations and taken longer, which would have been time I had to sacrifice, no impact to anyone else.
And if I’d have gotten up early the next day and forced myself to do work at my desk out of a sense of discipline and whatever, what would that have helped? Who would have benefitted? Because I one hundred percent promise that those extra hours in bed were glorious and did wonders for my mood the rest of the day. I wouldn’t have gone down this thought-provoking rabbit hole if I hadn’t been what some would call lazy that morning.
So what is the benefit of the ideal? Who benefits from us holding ourselves to behaviors and patterns that take so much effort and work and discipline? It’s people in power, right? It’s those who need us to be predictable and controllable and to accept responsibility for the impacts of their ideals on us, especially when those impacts are negative. And we map that into religion and, unfortunately, our personal spiritual practices.
How much of your spirituality revolves around being better able to cope with the pressures of living up to difficult or even impossible to achieve ideals? Because there is an alternative to ideal-based spirituality, which I’ll get into next.
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.
You know, this whole thing of setting an ideal for human behavior is something that’s come up in my thoughts a lot lately, especially around the idea of health, both physical and mental health. So much of the way our society works relies on some kind of ideal imaginary human that the rest of us are compared to.
Like, if you think about what it means to be neurodivergent, it’s defined against an ideal concept of how a human brain is apparently supposed to function, which is defined in terms of how well it functions given the demands and expectations of the society and systems we live in. Take away the requirement that everyone conform to best benefit and maintain the systems, and the ideal no longer makes sense, and the definition of “divergent” doesn’t make sense anymore, either.
The opposite of idealism isn’t mediocrity or even evil, it’s realism.
Anyone out there who has also heard that perfectionism is a tool of white supremacy? There you go. But that’s a topic for another time.
Spiritual idealism stands in the way of personal evolution because instead of adapting to thrive in our reality, we end up shaping ourselves to attain an unrealistic ideal which has been set up in relation to an artificial system that, you know, probably doesn’t even exist the way we’re told it does.
So if we choose not to participate in this ideal-based type of spirituality or religion, what does the alternative look like? What does reality-based spirituality look like? And when I stopped to think about this, what came up was actually a form of animistic spirituality. Not the animism where we, like… I know I’ve talked about this before, but I used to think of animism as a belief system where spirits inhabited everything in existence. Like, um… Here’s Bob, he’s a spirit, he’s an etherial being of supernatural origin and he’s chosen to live in this special tree and he demands that I bring him offerings as a form of worship so he’s not angry with me. But I realized at one point that that’s not really how animism works. It’s more like, you know, this tree is Bob. Bob the tree has a spirit just like I have a spirit, and therefore we have a relationship just like I have a relationship with my neighbor which is why I bring him offerings just like I give gifts and do favors for my neighbors. Hopefully that’s a clear explanation.
Anyway, my point isn’t that the opposite of centering our spiritual practice on unattainable ideals which uphold unhealthy power structures is to instead worship all the things around us. But that form of spirituality, one that’s actually centered on the relationships we have with each other, with the land, with the energies and entities around us and how we can nurture and celebrate those relationships is really the antithesis of ideal-focused spirituality. It’s not about everyone trying to live in ways that someone else has decided would be ideal, it’s about everyone trying to live in whatever way is best for us on an individual level and in relation to our individual place in the communities we belong to. It’s not the kind of spirituality that is individualistic, but it’s the kind that creates space for us as individuals within it.
And that’s a huge difference there. Individualistic spirituality embraces more of a competitive type of practice, where we’re all striving towards some central ideal or trying to at least reach as high on some type of scale as we can. It’s not a type of practice which connects us or even nurtures our connections, and because of that it’s really difficult to make that kind of spiritual practice a truly nurturing one. But connected, communal spirituality makes space for us as unique individuals with different needs and who are on different paths without requiring us to compare ourselves to each other or compete towards some common ideal state of being.
It’s like how… You know how a lot of people like to think of early human history, like paleolithic era human history, as a time when if you weren’t really fit, really skilled, really up to a certain standard of, like… Well, I mean we think of it like survival of the fittest, right? If you can’t go hunting or you can’t keep up with the group, you’re left to the predators, right? But we know that that wasn’t the case because we have remains that show disabilities and injuries and things that if these were hard core competitive ideal-driven groups would have been… these people would have been rejected and abandoned as weak. And yet they weren’t. They were supported by the group and taken care of. It indicates that the human spirit thrives in a context where we’re all individually valued without having to strive to be better than others or achieve some kind of idealistic vision of what we could be.
So if we focus our spirituality on that kind of connection, we can actually focus on our spiritual growth and not on the burden of perfection.
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.