Personal Growth


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Content warning: Brief mention of drug use.



Yucca: Welcome back to the Wonder Science-Based Paganism. I'm your host Yucca

Mark: And I'm your host, Mark.

Yucca: And this episode, we are talking about personal growth. So both, or all three of the past, present and future.

Mark: Right, right. Because one of the things that is incumbent on us as science-based pagans is to recognize that a personality is a process that life is not about arriving somewhere. It's about. Taking an ongoing set of steps forward. And we as pagans choose to pursue those steps in the pursuit of being better people, being kinder, being more effective being more competent in being happier. And so those are places you never completely arrive. There's always more that can be done in order to teach yourself about those things. And that's what we're going to talk about today.

Yucca: Exactly. So the journey is never done, right. There's always more to learn more, to grow more, to change.

Mark: So frustrating for those of us that are oriented towards perfectionism. The idea that you never actually can get there is incredibly frustrating, but I kind of made my peace with it a while ago.

Yucca: You can make tremendous changes. You can really change your experience of life.

Mark: Indeed. And you can change your experience of yourself. I mean, one of the things that many, if not, most of us are saddled with is harm. That was either intentionally inflicted upon us or accidentally inflicted upon us through processes like neglect from our earlier years. And we benefit by growing to heal from those experiences and taking what wisdom we can from them, but no longer laboring under the messages that they send us it's about who we are and how valuable we are and so forth.

Yucca: Yeah. And no matter how wonderful of parents or families we might've had, they're still human. And we're still part of larger societies. And there's a lot of work, at least for my perspective, that our societies have to go. And lessons that we pick up about ourselves, value judgments about us. That probably aren't very healthy and not very helpful in the long run for living a happy and fulfilled life.

Mark: Yes. And this to take one of what I'm sure it will be many trajectory, side trips. This is a gift that was given to us by the humanistic psychology movement of the 1960s, because until then, at least in the United States and in Europe, people were living to role. The idea was that you were to fit into your expected role as best you possibly could.

And that was supposed to give you fulfillment. And of course it didn't, and that's why the societies were filled with alcohol abuse and kind of quiet misery of people feeling in a trap, but in the human potential movement and humanistic psychology movements of the late 1960s into the early seventies, the idea of.

Really fleshing out and living in the fullness of our individuality became something that was celebrated. And that is now something that many of us see as the worthy pursuit of a conscientious life. And. So we're here to talk about some of the ways that we can help ourselves and one another to be happier and freer and less in pain than we have been because if our spirituality isn't for that, then what exactly is it for really? We don't believe in deities that are going to judge us. We don't believe that we are involved in some kind of a great cosmic balancing act. That's going to measure our quality and then make a determination about whether we reincarnate as cockroaches or not. We have this life. It is the life that's given to us.

And so being ourselves as fully as possible and doing that in a way that's as joyous and as beneficial as possible, becomes the obvious answer to the question. What is the meaning of life?

Yucca: That's beautiful.

Mark: Thank you.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: Thank you.

Yucca: Well, let's dive in. Why don't we talk a little bit about doing work for healing some of that stuff from our past and forming new patterns for things that really aren't serving us anymore, even if they might have at one point, if they're not what we want, now we can choose to change that we can choose to work on that.

Mark: Indeed. And we talked about that a little bit when we talked about the inner critic in a previous episode. So we won't necessarily go into that a lot. Right now the inner critic is sort of the enforcer of the injuries, the hurt places get reinforced by the inner critic voice. All of us have some kind of place where we felt put down, less than inadequate, unloved. Some of us like myself come from a really pretty, not so great background and had a lot of, a lot of growth to do. And I guess. I guess when we start this conversation, where I would go is to say that really the best place to begin is with humility because there's a lot of pride in clinging to your damage.

This is just who I am. It's how I am. This is how it's going to be.

That's fine if that's what you want, but it doesn't sound very happy to me. There is a tremendous letting go that's required in order to humbly acknowledge that you're damaged and that you need to get better.

Interestingly, the Humble Moon, according to the atheopagan calendar is tomorrow night, the full moon of the Humble Moon.

So if you want to do some kind of ritual around humility I invite you to do that. I'm certainly going to be putting out bottles of moon water to capture the Moonlight and give me humility that I can pour out onto my alter my focus all year.

Yucca: That's. I like that. The Humble Moon. Yeah. Well, I love that. That's the place that you started with that, with the being humble around that. And the recognition of that.

I would also a place that I think is starting at the same time is the self-reflection, is the taking the time to really look at yourself and observe. What is going on? Where are you hurt? What are these patterns? Why do these certain things trigger you so much? What is it? That is, what is it that really riles you up or is getting in the way and trying to trace that back backwards, see where it's coming from. And that can be a really painful process.

And it's one of those places where the critic comes up a lot and the voices of all the people who shamed us and all of those hurts to can, you can, it's a very raw and vulnerable thing to do, but it's so critical, right? How do you dress a wound without looking at it?

Mark: Yes. Yes, exactly. That's so well said. The willingness to look in the mirror in a really unflinching way without letting that critic voice take over. But just to be very dispassionately aware, you know, what keeps happening in my life over and over. And what's my part in that. What do I do that keeps facilitating that thing again and again. Because it's not about destiny. It's the. Actions cause reactions. And if you keep getting the same sort of phenomenon in your life again and again, the odds are good that you did something that contributed towards that kind of reaction.

Now, I want to be careful here because I'm not saying that people are responsible for their abuse. That is not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that if there is a repeated pattern, Of something that you find damaging in your life, getting a handle on how you participate in that is an important step towards stopping it from happening further.

Yucca: Yeah, that's a, it's really empowering, right? Because when you figure out what your role is, what the actions that you are having, those are the things that you can change. Those are the things you have influence over you can't change that you, what happened to you 20 years ago, that's done, but little by little today, you can start to change the patterns that grew out of whatever that was.

Mark: Indeed. And it's important that as we do that, we always bear in mind that everybody has blind spots. We can work hard and therapy is actually a great framework within which to work on some of this stuff, to become aware of those things, those patterns, and to do it in a way that's contained within a loving, helpful environment without the critic voice going crazy.

But we should always be aware that however self-aware we get, however wise, we may become there's stuff. We miss. There's always stuff we miss.

Was that your phone?

Yucca: That was my phone. It's a frog. I'm sorry. I forgot to silence it, but I said it to, the phones are so disruptive. Right. They disrupted the conversation right now.

Mark: Yeah, I liked the ring tone. That was great.

Yucca: Yeah. I have the frogs and birds and things. I put birds that aren't for my area. So I'll go huh? What is it? But it is, it doesn't bring that BEEP BEEP or the electronic thing into.

Mark: Huh?

Yucca: Into the environment. So

Mark: Haha

Yucca: it's on silence now. Sorry.

Mark: I did an a, I did an ADHD thing, which is common for me cause that's a condition that I live with. So we were talking about blind spots. And the hope over time is that we become more and more aware of the complex of personality traits and impulses and responses that encompasses who and what we are.

There's a reason why older people are associated with being wiser. It's because they have more experience. They've had more time to figure this stuff out. And the work of being a younger person is often not about that. You know, it's about finding your place in the world and, you know, working out survival and those kinds of things. So as we talk about personal growth, I just want to put that, put a pin in that idea that there's always something you don't know about yourself, which means there's always something new you can learn or that someone who isn't, you can reflect back at you and just because you didn't see, it doesn't mean you should reject it.

Yucca: You don't have to try and tackle everything at once. Just because you are aware of these patterns does that mean that you can snap your fingers and fix it? All right. This is, these are things that take time and depending on your personality, you might want to grab, to find one and really work on that one, focus on that one and then come to another. Or another personality might be okay, I'm going to do a few of these and gradually work on all of them, little by little, but there isn't really a right, the right way to do it. It depends on you and what these things are and what your comfort is. And what are the other stuff that you're dealing with and doing in your life right now?

Mark: Right. Yeah. Because especially when you're talking about really kind of root principles, core beliefs that you have, deep seated axioms that reside within your personality, that color everything that you do, you can take that one thing and you can explore it in terms of how it works in your social life, how it works sexually, how it works in your work life, how it works in your relationship to power in your relationship to money, all of those different things.

And it's still just one thing. But it can play out in all those different aspects of your life. And so identifying something that is a truly deep wound is a gift that can keep on giving for a good long time as you, as he worked to figure it out.

Yucca: Isn't that funny, right. Finding the wound can be a positive thing. Seeing that it's there. Right. Because we think about having the wound we think about, Oh, that's bad, but then the awareness and the knowledge that it's there, that's power

Mark: It is. It is, and it is kind of paradoxical. I agree with you. It's you know, you would think that discovering this would be something that would be sorrowful, but instead it's more like aha. Okay. Now I understand why I respond to this particular thing in this particular way. Now I have power to make different choices. Now I have the power to say, Oh, I recognize this situation. This is the same situation again. And it's provoking that same wound again. Now, what do I want to do in response? And it gives you the option for new choices. So yes, it is paradoxical that identifying the wound is kind of a gift, but honestly it really is.

It really is. I remember. I had a hallucinogenic experience with ayahuasca one time. Which is a very powerful shamonic drug that's used by Brazilian tribes. It's made of the Banisteriopsis vine and another plant that serves as an MAO inhibitor. So, what it ends up doing is delivering dimethyltryptamine to your frontal lobes, but then suppressing the enzyme that digests dimethyltryptamine, which is something that we actually naturally produce in small amounts.

And so instead of having this momentary sort of experience of awe and wonder and connectedness, it goes on for six hours. And in my particular experience this time, I was having a hard time in my life at this time.

And to be honest, I probably shouldn't have done this at that time. But what I came to realize was that one of my deepest axioms was a sort of baffled, sorrow at humanities, in humanity to other humans. And I hallucinated watching Joan of arc burn. For hours. Okay. She's burning, she's screaming.

She's burning. And it was horrifying. It was a terrible experience. But what it taught me was this is one of the things that I just wrestle with internally, constantly. How can people do that? How to torturers managed to live, how do, how do people that make policies that cause people to starve or how do they rationalize that?

And I don't have answers to it. I'm just baffled by it. And so I've worked with that piece for many years. And what I've discovered is that when you pull up the carpet of that, what's underneath is a tremendous kindness and generosity. I really want what's right for people. I want people to be happy. I don't want them to have those things happen to them.

And so this went from being a wound to being something that I felt really good about. Something that I could feel, something that I could own instead of constantly being in a state of rejection. I think those kinds of experiences and I'm not saying that they necessarily need to involve hallucinogenic substances or any of that, but those kinds of experiences, those moments when we have that aha discovery about ourselves are incredibly powerful and they help us to grow into better people.

Yucca: So that's a lot of the kinds of work that we have for self-growth coming from the past, but there's other angles that we could take a look at it. We can talk about what we want to become. So looking really honestly, at where we are today, which you can't really do without seeing where you came from as well.

What caused that? But then looking forward and going, okay. I really want to cultivate these particular parts of myself. Right. I want to change those patterns that aren't serving me and build ones that are.

And once again, one of those first steps is the awareness and the honesty with ourselves about where we are now and what we really want. And getting that, you know, there's things that we can say, Oh, I want this but do you really want it?

Mark: Is it, you that wanted it or is it your mom that wanted it or is it the culture that wants it?

Yucca: yeah. And try to piece that together. Before you can even start making those changes, why? And then the, how can start to come into place.

Mark: I think that this is part of what the Buddhists talk about when they talk about beginner's mind, because Buddhism is very focused on being in the present, not being burdened by the past, or by hopes and aspirations and fears of the future. And there are. There are many great aspects about that. I think, you know, Buddhism offers kind of an amazing toolkit for working with consciousness and parsing out of the different voices in our heads and dispassionately looking at them and not necessarily just acting on them because they're talking.

But particularly in this beginner's mind piece, the idea is let's try to approach this situation as if we never been here before. As if we were like an infant observer, what would we do?

I love those birds. I hear them. That's wonderful.

Yucca: Bird gatherings and squabbles and all kinds of things. It's wonderful.

Mark: Well, we're look, we're pagans. We're going to take time out nature. So anybody that's that has a problem with the flow of the podcast. We'll just have to deal.

Yucca: We have various different flocks out there that have a lot to say in my background.

Mark: Nice. So the beginner mind to the degree that we're able to get dispassionate about our injuries, about our wounds and past that frees us then to approach situations with new eyes. So we can walk into that same meeting that you have at work every week, but you can say. You can approach it differently.

You can talk differently, you can listen differently. You can observe the other participants in the meeting with new eyes and see new things that you never saw about them before. And that I think is another piece that personal growth can give us is the opportunity to be more observant. And to have more options in behavior in the moment, because one of the things about being really driven by your wounds is that you're kind of asleep reprogrammed to follow these behaviors that were programmed in order to defend yourself from the wounds that you've suffered.

And that means you're not entirely awake and alive. And I think being awakened alive is something that.

Yucca: This we've talked about quite often.

Once you're gone, you're gone.

So it's a pretty great it, frankly.

Mark: It's a fantastic it.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: So we don't want to sleep through it. And we don't want to be kind of robotically, repeating the motions over and over, or in situations where we might choose to behave differently. And so when it comes to the question of personal growth in the context of the present, I think that beginner's mind piece becomes really important.

And it can even be so much as, okay, I'm going to go into this meeting and I have a habit of feeling like I'm small and I ought to not say anything because of past stuff, but what if I didn't have that? What if I was just here in this meeting at this moment? And when I have an idea or a thought, I just said it? And you might find that when that happens, suddenly people respond to you differently. Suddenly there's a different dynamic in the room.

And that kind of brings us to the future.

Yucca: Yeah. Now, before we go too far into the future, there is a practice that I want to bring up. We've talked about it before, but it's the idea of grounding. And this is something that I think can be a really helpful tool to work on that, that, in moments like that. Okay. Before stepping into that room, And having that shift of, okay what if I was instead, what if I behaved this way? Right? That, that taking a moment to refocus, to become very present. And calm yourself is, could be really powerful too, to experience that what we often call grounding. And that's a thing that you cannot do without practicing it. But it's something that we can develop and become really good at.

In the beginning, it might take to get yourself into that state might take 10 minutes of dedicated, close your eyes, breathe, focus there. But the more that you practice, you can shorten that length to the point where with enough practice, you can go, okay. And it just takes a breath and it can be really life-changing and it sets you up to be able to then make those choices, make those observations. Pause for a second. All right. It's like hitting that pause button and then you get to press play as soon as you're ready.

Mark: Yes. It's an incredibly powerful skill. And what it does is not only sort of. Banish the demons, but it also brings you back to your deep understanding of who you are. You know, when you ground, you know, that you're worthy, you know, that you belong in any room you walk into, you know, that you can do the thing, whatever the thing is, and that you will to the best of your ability.

And that's good enough. All of those things come when you practice this grounding technique. And it's really something that's worthwhile doing for people. It's what pagans do at the beginning of rituals all over the world and some of them better than others, but as a, as an ongoing practice, something to have in your toolkit, it is definitely something we recommend.

Yucca: Yeah. So sorry to have interrupted the flow there, but I just thought that was a really important thing to pause and mention when we're talking about being present, right. Is the practice of grounding, is that stepping into presence. So, but let's step to the future.

Mark: Yeah let's do that because the future is kind of an interesting topic to talk about. For one thing, we have no idea of what it is. We can project the trajectory of our current movement. Presuming that we're self-aware enough. We can kind of say, all right, this is where my behavior is going and where I'm likely to be.

If I'm not hit by a train, if my partner doesn't get pregnant. If right, there's so many variables that we have no control over, but what we can do with the future is we can say, this is the kind of person I would like to be in five years. I would like for these kind of squealing hurts that I have inside me to have calmed down.

By that point, I would like to be more generous. I would like to be more outwardly compassionate. So, you know, I'd like to, I'd like to be doing some sort of charitable work. For example, that's an expression of my compassion. That kind of goal setting can be very powerful for your personal growth because growth itself is sort of a morphous, right?

It's just well getting bigger growth bigger. And then

Yucca: Bigger. I'll get better, better, better at what? Bigger how, what, yeah.

Mark: I'm just going to get bigger, which is an easy ideology to buy into in the capitalistic framework. Let's be honest because growth, right. On the other hand, if we actually frame that in terms of tangibles, I want to be this kind of person.

Well, You would be amazed at how much of a choice you have about what kind of person you will be if you make decisions about being that kind of person. And that's where the personal growth of the future comes into play rather than saying, Oh, I'll never get out from under the terrible thing that happened to me when I was eight, you can say, I can heal that.

And it can teach me compassion and it can motivate my efforts to make sure that never happens to another child again. And that is a growth agenda that you can be proud of, that you can feel solid about, that you can build a life around. Those kinds of agendas of growth agendas are very powerful.

And I really come in to our listeners to be thinking about, you know, where do I need to grow? Where and what would I like that to look like on the other side of it? Because, as we said once, as we said, at the beginning of the episode, you don't ever get there. Right? There's no, there's just better than now. And then you can go for even better than that. Depending on how much time you have.

Yucca: Yeah. And there's a lot of different frameworks to approach this, but, one thing that you can think about is looking at the person that you want to be, right. Or the thing that you want to cultivate. And I already started using the language that we start, that we use often in our is growing. We want to grow, we want to cultivate.

So if you think about it like a garden, what do you need to do? What kind of environment would you need to grow, whatever your plant is that you're growing? How can you take care of the soil now to start to make sure that when you plant those seeds in the spring, that they're going to have soil that can hold moisture?

Do you need to put some compost in there? And compost is something that you make from the past. Right. Sometimes you take the dead, the old stuff, you compost it and it gets eaten up by all those little microorganisms and transformed into the substrate for the future.

So what are the steps today to create the environment that would allow for you to be that person?

Mark: Very well said.

And in many cases, for people who are particularly suffering in many cases the first decision is I've got to get out of this toxic context, because what happens with people that are really suffering from old injuries is that they tend to settle for situations that aren't very good for them.

And so becoming self-aware and looking around and realizing this is toxic. I got to go is a first step towards either making that context less toxic, which is great, or getting out of there and moving on with life in a way that enables you to grow and be the person that you want to be.

Yucca: Yeah. So working with that metaphor. Instead of trying to grow on asphalt to find a little patch of dirt to grow in it. And it might not be the, your lush forest soil. But it's dirt. You can dig in it,

Mark: Right.

Yucca: Right.

Mark: And it's good that it's not the lush forest soil, because then you have to compete with all those trees.

Yucca: Yeah. And where is the sunlight coming from? Yeah, exactly. And it depends on what you want to grow, your pH might not be quite right for your lettuce and carrots. Right?

Mark: Right, right. Well, I feel like I've pretty well wrapped up everything that I have to say about this topic right now. I mean, obviously the whole subject to personal growth is both fascinating to me and really personal to me because I like to tell myself that I'm doing it myself. I like to believe that, and when I looked over the arc of my life so far, I believe I have. But it's an interesting thing, you know, sometimes words can come out of your mouth and then the rest of you can kind of go, Hey, you should listen to that.

Yucca: Exactly. Yeah. Well, that's one of those things that you can do in those quiet moments, because. I really do think that we have a tremendous amount of wisdom and it's just setting ourselves up to be able to hear that and then to be in a position to act upon And,

Mark: I so agree.

Yucca: you know, we really do have so many tools to help us move in that way.

And we've, and on this podcast, we talk about those tools a lot. We talk about ritual. We talk about things like grounding and meditation and these journeying, and just perspective changes and taking the moment, taking that moment out.

And also a really important thing to consider too, is often talk about it from the spiritual or quote unquote magical side of things, but there's also the really practical, mundane things of your physical environment, making sure that your circadian rhythm is functioning healthily, that you are getting the nutrients that you need. You're getting the sleep. You're not getting toxins in your body. All of those things, those play into our emotional state, just as much or more than all of these other things we're talking about.

They really. They're not separate. We talk about these, all of these as if there's two different categories, you know, there's the mind and the body but not really. They, I mean, the body creates the mind and the mind then tells the body how to be. And it's just this back and forth. Is this interconnected, cyclical, jumbled, beautiful mess.

Mark: That's pretty much the size of it. That's as good. A way to end is I can think of actually. So we invite you to explore your own jumbled, beautiful mess and identify the places where it's not serving you and where you can be better. Identify some ways that you would prefer to be, if you do the work to get there.

And I'm in the moment, look around, look with new eyes. Don't don't let that critic voice tell you what you're seeing.

Yucca: Yeah, enjoy the journey.

Well, thank you Mark.

Mark: thank you so much Yucca. Always a pleasure.

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