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 May 5, 2022, and today's topic is how our spiritual practice can separate us from the reality we live in. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Hello, hello, witchy listeners! Last week I talked about some, like, fundamental and kind of potentially confronting aspects of spirituality and I feel like it kind of lined up another good question that we absolutely will benefit from looking at in our practices, which is how much our spiritual practice succeeds in isolating us from reality.
And to start out exploring that question, I want to first kind of establish what I mean by that. Because I know I have a habit of saying things like, “everything is spirituality” and “there’s no divide between mundane life and spiritual life,” but at the same time ask questions like, “does your spiritual practice isolate you from reality?” And that sounds contradictory. I know it does.
And it is. Like, that’s part of the… I kind of think that we can think of it kind of like a spectrum. Because the reality is that most of us either do think of spirituality as separate from or not inclusive of some parts of reality or we have thought that way. It’s part of how we’ve come to understand spirit and spirituality because for many of us spirituality was or is rooted in some supernatural arena and therefore not part of physical reality. For many of us spirituality is or has been centered around what happens outside of our day to day life even if it does or can have impacts in our day to day life.
There’s… last week I talked about how there are things about just the basic structure of reality and existence that we don’t have the power to change through our own actions or through spirituality, like the machinations of the universe and large scale societal patterns and stuff like that. Those things impact us in various ways, but we don’t really impact them back to any noticeable degree as individuals. There are parts of our lives that we generally don’t consider relevant spiritually because they’re, you know, they’re material or systemic or fall into other categories that… I think what a lot of that stuff has in common is that we feel sort of an external obligation to them, they’re about the stuff at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs rather than the top, so we tend to write them off as not spiritual.
But all of that stuff, it does have a spiritual component, right? We relate to everything in a spiritual sense at some level, at least in recognizing that everything has some element of spirit and that, like I talked about last week, that’s how we interact with things. We interact spiritually, we interact through things that are defined as spirit.
But it makes sense to kind of view all of reality as falling across a spectrum from being entirely, intensely spiritual in nature to being largely outside of the realm of what we can either impact spiritually or which seems to impact us spiritually. And rather than it being a binary system with clear delineation, it’s a continuous spectrum. And somewhere on that spectrum, not all the way on the not-spiritual end but somewhere past the midpoint, on average, I think we all have a subcategory of situations and relationships and events and whatever that impact us more than we impact them, and therefore constitute this really challenging part of reality to deal with. It’s…
If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode I’d really recommend doing that because this is where we often do the thing where, like, these situations we can’t change become the situations where instead of working to find ways to process the ways we’re affected and impacted or focusing on looking for ways in which we can spiritually recover or redirect or even move ourselves out of the situation, we sit in it and prop ourselves up in things like faith and luck and blessing and wait in the hope that things will be changed for us. And this is just one of the ways that our spiritual practices can actually isolate us from reality because we can start to view that part of reality as something we… if our spiritual beliefs include a belief that handling things spiritually, whether through faith or magic or whatever, is superior to mundane action, then it becomes really easy if not just outright intentional to kind of remove ourselves from especially the parts of our lives that we feel we don’t have control over.
And over time, that part of life starts to expand. If you watch the people around you who fall into this way of thinking, over time they tend to, like… first it’s not getting involved in current events or contentious things like that because it’s outside their spiritual focus, it’s outside what they can impact as an individual, and over time then it bleeds out to include other parts of life that they actually have a lot more impact over or could, like the ways they could contribute to their communities at all kinds of levels. It’s really a lot easier than we think to kind of get closed into a spiritual bubble where we can keep the rest of reality outside and regard it as not worth our spiritual or mundane energy. In fact, a lot of us have or do probably regard that as kind of a goal, an ideal that we aspire to. Which is where I think we need to go next with the discussion.
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Now back to the episode!
There’s an element of escapism in modern spirituality. And in a world where there’s just, like, widespread desire for escapist stuff, it’s really easy to understand why we’re all a little prone to spiritual escapism.
And something I’ve noticed a lot since I’ve been on a mindful spiritual journey myself is that a lot of people, particularly people in the US but it’s certainly not just us, have a hard time with nuance when it comes to, for instance, the difference between escapism and something more mindful like retreat to a sanctuary. The difference between even something like the spiritually devout in the sense of like monks and that kind of tradition stepping back from the rest of whatever civilization they’re part of in order to focus on spiritual discipline and something like those of us who don’t want to confront the uncomfortable parts of existing in whatever civilization we’re expected to be part of in order to avoid that responsibility or struggle. Or the difference between a targeted retreat to fuel and rest ourselves to be able to live in and cope with reality as opposed to a general state of avoidance.
Honestly, I think a lot of what contributes to and causes us to just not differentiate and not grasp the nuance there is that a lot of us live in a state of just constant overwhelm. Unless we’ve really focused our practices and, you know, our mental health care and all of that as well, on being in touch with ourselves, on not just being aware and grounded in ourselves so we know what we need from moment to moment, but also on building an environment around ourselves, a sacred space and sacred life which supports us in our efforts to get what we need when we need it so we can respond to the demands of reality in a healthy way, unless we’ve done that work and are doing that work, what we’re really kind of expected to do is just, like, buck up and push through, right?
So when we fail to be able to do that or to, like, bubble-bath our way through the self-care thing and just white knuckle it through life, then it’s really just a logical reaction to find and embrace anything that lets us retreat and escape. No room for nuance. We just want to pull back.
Here’s the thing. This isn’t… I don’t want to do a lecture here on how we should or should not handle reality. But it’s important to recognize the ease with which spirituality can become something we hide in as a way to escape from our reality and also recognize that, despite what we’ve maybe kind of been sold about spirituality as a pursuit, even the most spiritually pure of bubbles is still isolating. And isolation isn’t good for people on a spiritual level. Even if we surround ourselves with people to kind of share in our isolation, even if that isolation is self-imposed, when we do it to sort of allow ourselves to live as though the parts of reality we don’t want to confront or face just aren’t relevant to us anymore, it’s not healthy.
Here’s the… See, I grew up, as I’ve said before, in a very religious household. My parents didn’t isolate us as much as I know they wanted to from the rest of society, but there was a definite, explicit rejection of reality in favor of isolationist spirituality. What I mean by that is that when I was in kindergarten, the family was forced by circumstance to move out of tiny rural communities where my parents had far more control over, like, who they associated with and who the kids were around and all of that, and into a larger city where we went to bigger public schools and lived in an apartment complex that housed more people than some of the towns we’d lived in, that kind of thing, and my parents always lamented that as something they saw as detrimental to us kids. That we were surrounded by bad things and bad influences and whatever. We were literally taught that as good Christians we were supposed to reject worldly things and not get caught up in what was basically, like, modern culture.
And if you aren’t an exvangelical or didn’t grow up in a similar situation, just know that there were certainly impacts of that which I had to work through as an adult. I didn’t master all the social skills I should have because I was assured that I didn’t need to worry about what other kids thought of me because once I was an adult it wouldn’t matter, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how much of that assumed that when I was an adult I’d become a mother and a wife and not have friends or whatever, just a household to maintain. That sort of thing.
And I see similar impacts from, like, how people in a lot of spiritual circles today kind of condemn most people as unenlightened and not spiritually elevated and not on the right path, rejecting the world as something they’re striving to transcend, and shutting themselves into a little spiritual bubble free of anything confronting or troublesome and only containing people who live up to their standards of enlightenment and purity or whatever.
And in a minute I want to dig more into the relational aspect of this as well as how it impedes our growth and spiritual evolution.
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I talk in my book, Deep Self Magic, about how part of our growth and evolution, if we’re being mindful about it, requires us to curate and construct our environment to support us in our authenticity and adaptation. Evolution, particularly, is about adapting to changes which happen around us, and taking charge of our evolution means taking charge of some of those changes, right? And that’s what I think we often think we’re kind of doing when we allow our spiritual practice or choose for our spiritual practice to isolate us from certain parts of reality. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s… I mean, getting away from it means we don’t have to respond to it, at least in theory.
It’s escapism and avoidance, but that can absolutely feel like a way to, like, put ourselves in an environment where we can thrive rather than remain in an environment that challenges us. And while I think it’s as bad to tell people that they need to just, like, lean into their suffering and problems and not try to change anything because it’s, like, some kind of karmic thing or their spirituality will benefit from it – which is a topic for a different episode which, you know, I might have actually done something on it already. Maybe. But while sticking it out in difficult situations without trying to do anything but survive as a form of spiritual… whatever isn’t conducive to growth or evolution, holing up in a spiritual bubble which just fails to challenge us at all isn’t either.
And even more than that, what is required of us to maintain these spiritual practices and approaches which keep us in this spiritual isolation bubble makes for really unhealthy relationships with others and with ourselves. Not just outside the bubble. Inside the bubble. If our spiritual practices and beliefs draw us back from reality, take us out of the context of the world around us, require us to decide whether, like, the people around us meet whatever standards separate us from others. Whatever we use as a boundary to separate us from the parts of reality we don’t want to deal with.
And it’s.. It’s like when I was growing up, the way my parents either judged other people or held them up as examples. If you were in the bubble, you were either someone to be close to and affiliate with and aspire to be like, or you were judged and talked about behind closed doors. And everyone else was just not acceptable.
And I kind of see this sort of thing in all kinds of spiritual circles, and not just spiritual circles, also in groups that are united around some kind of… I’ve talked before about how there are lots of belief systems that we don’t think of as spiritual but which stand in for spiritual beliefs today. And every time, what happens is that those judgments also get turned inwards. Ultimately, when we let our spirituality take us away from reality and isolate us, we’re not really doing what we think we’re doing as far as elevating ourselves or creating an environment which supports us spiritually by focusing on the spiritual rather than the mundane. What we’re really doing is creating a context and putting ourselves in an environment which fosters inauthenticity and self-judgment and all the things that damage our spiritual growth rather than support it.
And it’s not just our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with people inside our spiritual bubble that suffer. The way in which we benefit from community, from social contact, from the exchange of spirit in all its forms between people isn’t only a thing when it involves people we deem as spiritually, like, acceptable or whatever. It’s the people outside that bubble.
I think the biggest aspect of our spiritual beliefs and practices which prompt us to cut ourselves off and isolate us from reality is this tendency we have in modern, particularly modern American society, is this whole, like, main character energy that we like to carry ourselves with. Centering our spirituality on what can be done for us, what can elevate us, what can enlighten us, and fixing our environment to essentially remove any need or any call for us to be that kind of support for others. And I’m not talking about proselytizing. I’m not talking about communicating our spiritual ideas to others or imposing them on others. I mean acting on our spiritual values. Participating actively in community. Being positive change in the world.
I think it’s really easy to see people as messengers, as spiritual actors in our lives, as the tools for our own lessons and enlightenment, but then shy away from being that for others because it would require us to, like, go out in the world and experience things and struggle with things and be active in relationships that aren’t easy and spiritually aligned and whatever. It’s worth considering how our spiritual practices not only isolate us from reality, but also take those of us who fall into that out of the world and out of the roles where we could be actively contributing to the growth and development and evolution of others and of society as a whole. It’s easy to trust the forces of the universe to push humanity in whatever direction it needs to go, but it’s also easy to forget that we are part of humanity and therefore also part of the forces at work.
Reality may not be easy, but it is where our spiritual practice is most valuable and powerful.
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.