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Spiritual Bypassing

July 2, 2018


written by Kristina Renée



“What gives light must endure burning” 
― Victor Frankl


As we step into the unchartered territory of ourselves and build a more intimate relationship with our whole being, we can easily get caught in something called Spiritual Bypassing. 


We live in a time where spirituality, yoga, meditation, self-help and empowerment has become not only an industry but a way of living. There has been a great amount of good that has come from this and also, with it a lack of boundaries and confusion. We have been witness to the unfolding of "spirituality" throughout years and as one who is immersed in this field, navigating the waters of what resonates, feels true and allows for the deeper healing, I have learned much. Personally, I have seen where I myself have gotten caught in the trap of what was coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984 as, "Spiritual Bypassing" and on a collective level, I too have been witness to this happenstance among peers, communities and especially in social media.

Spiritual Bypassing is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. The tricky thing with Spiriual Bypassing is that it is a softer and kinder, some could say even elegant way of avoidance. It is a nicer way of not showing up.


But the point is, we aren't showing up then. So, how do we acknowledge Spiritual Bypassing and what are ways we can move through it, "checking ourselves before we wreck ourselves?" 



(and that's ok - we can't change what we don't acknowledge)



Not honoring the Narrative

The idea that because we have understood our story that it doesn't have value anymore, therefore neither should someone else's. This can look like "telling someone to get over their story or to let it go." 
Your story doesn't have to define you but it will be a part of you. Honoring the narrative to learn from it is essential  in our healing. It also provides us with medicinal tools to understand our patterns and triggers. Lastly, by seeing and feeling the narrative for what it is, we move towards choice based listening and living to re-wire and create new narratives!


Overly Positive

This is the notion that to be "spiritual" one must always be positive, which when practiced means we shut off certain feelings or shame them, not allowing ourselves to feel all the feelings of our humanity. This can also look like choosing to not be present for someone else who is having a hard time because we have already "been there, done that", as if to place ourselves on a pedastool. It can have sayings such as, "don't take it personally" and "it is all an illusion anyway" and "everyone is your mirror". It will often be associated with a sensation of floating above, a loss of ground being associated with the idea that you are in connection to spirituality and a lack of patience to learn more.
When we place our feelings into labels or what I like to call the duality boxes of light and dark/good and bad, and choose to only feel the "good", we are avoiding the work. Spiritual bypassing can use statements to distance oneself from the pain and others. This doesn't mean these statements cannot be used. Like all words, what is the intention behind them? Are we using the "mirror" statement to then inquire and feel the pain or are we leaving it at that and moving back into the light box? Spiritual Bypassing moves away from the pain, whereas the real work is moving towards the pain, becoming intimate with ourselves. We cannot know the light without taking in the heat of it.



Blind or Overly Tolerant Compassion.

This can also tie into another Spiritual Bypassing behavior of having weak or too porous of boundaries. Blind compassion is the sense that to be spiritual you cannot rock the boat, speak up or have boundaries. This is also the notion that to be spiritual you must have compassion towards all beings. 

The fact is, you are human. Compassion is a practice and there are times, probably a lot, that you won't feel compassion -- that is a clear sign that you have some work within yourself to address; there is medicine here for you. Creating clear boundaries is essential in waking up to ourselves and how we will navigate in a healthy and whole way with the world. Being spiritual doesn't mean we say yes to everyone or everything. In fact, having the ego strength paired with the wisdom of our higher self to be able to set a boundary to say no is powerful and necessary. 



Many believe that to be spiritual, one must float on an angelic cloud, neutral and all knowing. Anger is an emotion that most define as aggressive and not healthy. Whenever we find ourselves avoiding any emotion, it is the same as trying to stay in the "light box" of what society has dubbed good. Anger-phobia is another expression of Spiritual Bypassing. It can be avoiding anger {or any emotions} towards ourselves and also in avoiding others who are okay with expressing their anger {or emotions we are avoiding}.
Anger, like all of the emotions is a tool for us. In fact, there is a difference between anger and aggression, and as we become more intimate with ourselves, perhaps working with someone who can hold our space for this journey, we realize that we can live in the heart of anger, not controlled by it but in a healthy relationship with it. When we avoid the pain that it brings up, we are missing an opportunity to be present with it and ourselves. 



Judgement to Shadow + Devaluation of the Personal

These are often described separately, yet to me they seem to bleed together a lot. Any deliberate judgement to someone else's negativity or shadow elements is Spiritual Bypassing. This ties into the devaluation of the personal over the spiritual aspects.


In short, anytime we find ourselves belittling the humanity of our own or another's journey {the emotions, the patterns, and the actions} we are distancing ourselves from the other, as if to say we are better than. We are spiritual beings, yes, AND we are having a human experience. It is essential to our growth to have these human experiences. When we devalue the personal and aim or seek only the spiritual aspects, we lose connection to ourselves. The longest journey we take is from the head to the heart. We are not trying to transcend the ego. Instead we are creating a harmonious partnerships between our ego and higher self or one could say between our Human Being and our Divine Being. What a gift that is! But if we judge the shadow side of our humanity and devalue our personal aspects, we lose this connection. And in truth, most of reconnect to ourselves because of this precise disconnection.



So how do we move through this? 


 Traditionally speaking, Yoga is a way of life, not simply postures to practice, though they are an integral piece in the tapestry. This "way of life" is to be in the moments; to practice present moment living and using our gifts known as body sensations, emotions, mental thoughts and perceptions as tools for experiencing the moments. Thus, the way forward is through living the experiences and being present to life's medicine. So when we resist, find ourselves defensive, dissociating and numbing out, we are no longer moving towards the situation and being present to what it has to offer. And remember there is something in the moving away from the Self as well for us to explore.


We all have done this. And at one point, we needed to do this to survive. 


The thing with waking up to this work, is that we wake up -- we are bringing the unconscious to the conscious realm; the unseen to the seen.  We wake up to who we were and who we are becoming, and more importantly we embrace the intelligence of how we survived the uncomfortable pain of our lives and how to continue to become more intimate with our pain.


But the waking up is never complete; this isn't a race, it is an ever evolving journey. This journey exposes our rawness, our vulnerability and our deepest fears. It is uncomfortable and thus as we partake in it, we shift and re-wire ourselves. And this can be sticky. Those patterns or safety mechanisms have been with us for a long time. They have served us well. 


These are some mindfulness practices I have found to best assist this process. When used in combination with working with someone, they are really profound.



When you find yourself caught in Spiritual Bypassing, immediately stop what you are doing. Pausing brings our cognition into the present moment {into consciousness} and we can begin to see where are thoughts are taking us. Typically, it is very far away from our hearts. 



After you pause, find your breath. First notice what it is doing. Is it fast, slow, rapid, short, and/or are you holding the breath? Try not to judge yourself. Just take note of the breath in the moment of the pause. Then begin to take a deep breath in and an even longer breath out. Do this five times. You may even have to do it more than five times. This will slow the thinking mind and allow you to bring your body and mind into the present moment. 



This is an incredible tool for our self-discovery. As you pause, take note of your breath and without changing anything notice your body. Is there any part of you that has a feeling? Maybe the stomach or chest is tight? Perhaps, a sensation arose, like heat, excitement, a lower or higher vibration, etc?  Bring your awareness this part of the body. This is the somatic trigger and it can serve you in becoming an awareness tool to understand when you acting in a way that is not in connection. Remember, Spiritual Bypassing is simply disconnecting ourselves from ourselves and others. This leads us nicely into the final tool for practice.



A practice I have learned that assist in recognizing Spiritual Bypassing after we have checked in with our breath and somatic triggers is to ask ourselves, "is this loving? Is this kind? Does this move me towards my compassionate heart or away from it? 


No matter where we are on our path, we are still in this together. All of us. Yes, all of us. When we forget this, and a division is born. This is another opportunity to show up for ourselves and to look within and see our own division within ourself. Where have we gotten intoxicated with the dualities again and to whom is it serving most? Ego? Old Pain? Wound? The story? 

Robert Augustus Masters shares, "true spirituality is not a high, not a rush, not an altered state...authentic spirituality is not some little flicker or buzz of knowingness, not a psychedelic blast-through or a mellow hanging-out on some exalted plane of consciousness, not a bubble of immunity, but a vast fire of liberation, an exquisitely fitting crucible and sanctuary, providing both heat and light for what must be done."



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