Spiritual Bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.
It happens when we avoid the complexity of our human experience by locating completely in the spiritual or existential realm. It’s tricky, because while it’s exquisite to bask in the bliss of Oneness, we are indeed human beings and still have to navigate being human, on our own and in relationship with others.
In Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters, Robert Augustus Masters says that some of the aspects of spiritual bypassing include:
Many of our pop culture self-help gurus carry the spiritual bypassing torch. Eastern and Western spirituality, old and new, each have their versions and methods for pushing away painful feelings.
I subscribed to these things for many years. I became a master at daily affirmations. I journaled. I chanted. I meditated. I created altars and lit candles. I visualized my chakras as the most colorful, flowing energy centers you can imagine. And I worked very hard to avoid facing or feeling pain. I avoided studying, working through or healing my past wounds. Eventually I realized that nothing was actually changing in my life, except that I was exhausted from all the spiritual maintenance I had to do to stay afloat. I continued to attract relationships where I was disempowered, feared decision making, believed I wasn’t “good enough”, couldn’t truly receive love. I continued to watch myself behave in ways that were not who I knew my true self to be, not who I wanted to be.
I knew that I had to stop trying to numb the pain, had to stop expecting my spirituality to make me feel better… but I was afraid of what I would find and feel if I really looked at what was there.
Eventually I found my way to mindfulness-based counseling. At first I judged myself for working at such a lowly human level as psychotherapy, feeling like I’d failed at what I thought were more enlightened paths to evolution (a common judgment for spiritual bypassers).
Over time I learned that mindfulness was a way for me to witness my experience at the same time I was having it. I learned how to feel my feelings, think my thoughts, sense my physical and energetic bodies, and study them at the same time. When it showed up, my spirituality was included. With the help of my therapist and by using mindfulness, safe space was created for me to work deeply and heal old wounds directly. Over time I came to know my true self. I released the layers of protection I’d developed as my mask to the world. I felt solid and empowered.
And I suddenly started to experience a true connection to the Divine.
Not one that depended on going to the right workshops, wearing the right clothes, using the right lingo, or spending all my money at the local spiritual supply store. I found myself in communication with the Divine at random times, quite naturally. My life felt not only true, but spiritually supported. It was like the Divine was smiling and thanking me for getting real. That was when my healing practice really began.
I believe that we must work with our physical, emotional, social, psychological and spiritual dimensions to locate and make habit our sense of wholeness and aliveness. With mindful, experiential self-study, it becomes easy to notice when we’re not living authentically.
I’m all for using energy healing, meditation and journeying to reach a state of relaxation or open to the energetic and spirit realms – I do it regularly! I will do it with you! And if you’re just wanting darshan, relaxation, energy work or physical injury healing, we certainly don’t have to dive deep (or even speak) for you to receive that Light. That alone is deep and powerful work, and I am solid enough in my spiritual practice – a willing, open conduit – to gladly serve you in that way.
But psycho-emotional issues and core wounding cannot be worked out by spiritual practices alone. They were not generated in the spiritual realm, but in the human realm. No matter how many times you imagine yourself bathed in white light, your core human wounds will not be healed. They were created in the human realm, and that’s where they’ll wait for you, reaching out and hitting you every so often until you finally look at them. You’ll still feel separate from groups, insecure, overpowering, self-reliant, physically tense, or whatever your special wounding and strategies may be.
This is why I offer integrated spiritual healing.
Yes, I will flow Divine energy to you. I will listen to my spiritual guides and yours, and I will follow their direction. I will surely hold a sacred crystal and pray while I do it. But I will also guide you in mindfulness to witness your very human experience. I’ll use all my tools and training to gently shine light (literally and metaphorically) into the shadows, and help you to heal whatever keeps you distanced from your partner, keeps your chest puffed up or sunken, keeps your shoulders up around your ears… whatever makes you think you have to do everything or that you’re not good enough… whatever unique things keep you uniquely suffering.
I won’t prescribe a way of being for you. There’s no way I can tell you what spirituality looks like for you. I will just help you, from my own place of wholeness, to heal and to embody yours – your full humanity as well as your shining essence.
With an open heart, a soaring spirit, and feet planted firmly on the ground,
3/20/2013 07:23:18 am
3/20/2013 07:18:36 pm
Awesome. Great points and great personal illustrations of how that shows up. The most annoying one to me is "It must have been meant to be this way" or similar sentiments. Yeah, maybe...or maybe you're avoiding making your own choices, or avoiding feeling disappointment. Maybe you are making up a story to avoid uncertainty or responsibility.
3/23/2013 07:06:20 am
Beautiful Aowyn. What an insightful way to begin your blog. I appreciated your personal sharing as well as research of the subject.
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