Spiritual bypassing is a mesmerizing diversion commonly found among those who embrace the path of transformation. It is disassociation, disconnected feeling and thought, linked to any technique, methodology or practice that seduces us into a promise of transcendence, attainment or enlightenment. A built-in trigger is an underlying assumption, conscious or unconscious, that we are not worthy enough, as we are, to fully embrace our spiritual nature. We must be “other,” in order to capture inner peace.
Spiritual bypassing feels as if we are on a treadmill at an ever-increasing incline: It is the “one more retreat and I’ll be there” syndrome.
But where is “there?” A mythical place we have yet to reach?
Or, it is an acceptance and integration of all that we already are?
Overt and Covert
At times, the possibility for spiritual bypassing is overtly created: fear-based messages (a teacher who “saves” you from ill fate or bad health), teachers who purport an overly strict regime (as displayed in the deaths in Sedona, Arizona, after a teacher encouraged retreat participants to remain in the sweat lodge beyond physical limit) or trainings that provide accolades or titles for ever greater, money draining participation.
At other times–this is often where it gets foggy–spiritual bypassing is a covert response, arising during an everyday conversation with a friend or through an undermining inner dialogue: assumption that a person in the front row at a class or retreat is more spiritual than you; feeling you are lacking and need to attain the next breakthrough; a well-meaning, but spiritually bypassing friend, who insinuates that your feelings are your fault.
The Dialogue of Spiritual Bypassing: Overt, Covert and its Residue
- Once I become spiritually aware, I won’t have any challenges in my life.
- I will be safe from my “stuff” at a spiritual retreat center.
- Just one more workshop, and I’ll be enlightened.
- If I just loved more or was a better person, I’d see that my narcissistic family member supports my growth, learning and wellbeing.
- I will be above this: I know they really didn’t mean to emotionally/physically/sexually/spiritually abuse me. Forgiving before we are ready to process and feel; not holding others accountable.
- I need to surrender my power to a great teacher. That will take care of everything.
- Blind faith: My teacher would never take advantage of me because they are so advanced.
- She’s a strong yogi, which sometimes means being broke. In reality: Being spiritual has nothing to do with your bank account.
- It’s a One Big Love World: Just merge and love everyone equally. In reality, love can be shown through disengagement; love can be vehement; love can have boundaries.
- Greater the Spiritual Garb, the Longer the Words = More Heightened Spiritual Awareness
- I will offend the master teacher/guru if I study with other teachers. In reality: A skilled teacher honors your free will and encourages additional study.
- That guy in yoga class can get his foot behind his head. He’s so spiritual. If I hooked up with him, I’ll be spiritual too and I won’t have any more problems.
- Spiritual One-upmanship: “You haven’t been to India?”
- Spiritual One-upmanship: My yoga is better than your yoga.
In many ways, our earliest of conditioning exquisitely fashions us to embrace spiritual bypassing: To varying degrees, most of us feel unworthy, a bit freakish, or separate and these qualities conveniently serve as fodder for a tendency to eagerly give our power away to another person or methodology or practice. Or, to covertly buy into a harassing inner critic that tells us we must be something other than what we already are.
In addition, our world supports attainment-based models through rigorous standardized testing that does not recognize the nature of the child and business models that encourage competition at all costs–corporate and personal gain at the expense of cultural, social and planetary health.
Aversion to Early Emotion or Challenges
Superficially, it’s more pleasant to look toward the light, without directly confronting inky darkness. And, it’s equally convenient to look to another person as the source of power.
It’s often easier to spiritual bypass than to acknowledge, deconstruct and reabsorb the parts of our being that we do not wish to look at.
The comfort food of old familiar inner dialogue serves as mirage, when considering reclamation of authentic voice.
Our aversion to recognizing, acknowledging and deconstructing darkness keeps us subdued within the smothering blanket of spiritual bypassing. And, to this end, we often seek cohorts: By encouraging others to spiritual bypass, we further expand a safety zone that buffers our aversion to darkness. Individual aversion now becomes the compliant safety of group aversion.
Embrace the Dark and Reclaim Your Power
To diffuse spiritual bypassing, a discerning mind, paired with balanced heart, becomes the advocate.
By lifting our earliest, innermost veils, integration with our authentic self naturally arises: As we allow the earliest of conditioning to arise, so that we re-feel, as capable adults, the painful pre-speech (early childhood) hurts and feel deep grief and anger, we free a tendency to spiritually bypass and we claim the authentic power that was always present.
When was this bottomless pit of a desperate need for love birthed? Why do I feel someone is better than me? Where did my addiction really originate? Did I disassociate as a child? Is spiritual bypassing today related to my disassociation as a child in order to survive childhood spiritual, emotional, physical or sexual abuse? Just because a parent put a roof over my head and fed me, does that mean they were nurturing?
These are big, stomach-churning and heart-wrenching questions. They often uncover anger, learned hyper-vigilance, fight-or-flight responses, sadness and depression. Your central nervous system may re-live some of your earliest hurts.
But, through powerful spiritual practices such meditation (focused on being present, aware and with feeling) and alignment-based exercise (tai-chi, yoga, qigong); supportive therapy with a trusted professional; and, most importantly, our discerning and empowered adult awareness, we now have the ability to feel, re-assimilate the storyline and organically settle into our natural state of wholeness.
Once these older pathways are dusted off and cleared, we uncover an authentic freedom, which is, simply, integration of all we are.
Zoning out and spiritually bypassing becomes less compelling than the beauty of being present and enjoying all we are, as we are.
You always were enough. You always have been enough. You always will be enough.
You have everything you need for this journey of life, for we are each born, pre-installed, with a self-empowerment spigot. If we journey toward light at the expense of darkness, it reduces flow and creates inner conflict and suffering. We, possibly, become vested in a mirage known as spiritual bypassing.
Instead, in the embrace of all we are–the buoyancy of the breath, the pain found within the earliest of hurts, the joy in talents and life’s passions, the disappointment in broken love, the rebirth experienced through loving anew–we are woven together, clear and focused on our path, in authentic, empowered expression.
- Pete Walker’s two books, including The Tao of Fully Feeling
- Online Essays by Dr. Richard Grossman: Humanism, the Effects of Narcissism, the Search for Self and more.
Audition Possible Life Coaches and Therapists
- Stay in your power while open to learning more. Audition potential therapists and life coaches.
- Exercise. For additional encouragement, check out this fascinating NY Times article on How Exercise Changes our DNA.
- Re-route the inner critic. Nurture an great relationship with your inner teacher.
- Take positive action to find your voice, live your truth.
- On YouTube: Check out The Spartan Life Coach as well JP Sears.
Audition Spiritual Teachers
Consider study with spiritual teachers whose messages reiterate that you have all the tools you need to live an empowered life. Gravitate toward teachers who do not push for money; teachers who remind you that you have free will and freely share that your natural state is one of balance and authenticity. Seek teachers as well as friends who encourage you to be discerning, be open and to think critically.