Spiritual Bypassing Is Bullsh*t Escapism – How Not To

spiritual bypassing jemima house

When I was young, I heard people say that life was painful and there’s just no getting away from it. I never believed them.

I thought they just hadn’t figured it out yet or were too lazy to overcome their cynicism.

Although I keep more than a sliver of naiveté and prefer to look through love-coloured lenses – now I am older, I know that life includes pain. I understand that it takes courage and bravery to keep inviting connections with an open heart when there are no guarantees. I understand it is a challenge on all fronts to be honest about the soft animal creatures we all are and how much we get it wrong and hurt ourselves and others. I understand the patience it takes to look beneath occurrences that might offend or upset and ascertain their origins as rooted in humanity rather than malice. I understand the work required to tirelessly be present with the self in a way that illuminates all of our aspects and does not deny the shadow that scares us so. I have learned that there is no peace and little health when the mind is separated from the body or seen as superior and that the effects of ignoring the body’s natural response to pain results in an accumulation of toxic residue that colours the mind and diseases the body.

Humans understand themselves and the world by assigning meaning to what they perceive with the goal being to enable enjoyable survival and minimise pain. Relating to things and people in a way that prevents us from killing ourselves is necessarily a priority, satisfying our animal needs for connection, comfort and pleasure is too. We adhere to the laws of nature (gravity for one) and of the land (legalities) to smooth our passage and create more ease. We behave in specific ways to ensure our needs get met. As we have evolved rapidly beyond the direct hand to mouth experience of survival, we have access to privileges of all kinds, giving us more time for thinking about meaning in general, specifically human behaviour (as very few live out their days completely alone) and spirituality.

Humans

We are autonomous but we do not live in isolation. Human interactions are mutable and complex. Matters of the soul/human spirit cannot be separated from our human condition although they are often misguidedly seen as superior to it. Every aspect of us is an expression of the spirit or life-force within us. Like the weather, some aspects are clement and conducive to harmony and others are violently disruptive to life as we know it. The fact remains that being housed in a 3D body, in this 3D world is the only way we currently have of interpreting the manifestations of the spirit in all its fluctuating glory.

These fluctuations show up as inconsistencies in behaviour and emotion.  All living creatures conform to homeostasis (the avoidance of extremes that would threaten life) of some degree to allow life to continue, which means fluctuations and changes are often met with suspicion if not downright fear. You only need look to the natural world to see that the purpose of life is expansion – to beget life, to evolve, to grow. Balancing the requirement to survive (and thrive) safely, with an unbridled, joyful, creative expression of living fully becomes a constant question to be held up to the light and inspected. It is easy to see how the inclination for safety and comfort and avoidance of pain might lead us towards stagnation and smallness and away from opportunity.

Detailed observation reveals a common trap that prevents expansion and leads to a dulling of feeling and a vastly reduced capacity for connection – the deluded and divisive tendency towards what is now widely known as ‘spiritual bypassing’.

Spiritual Bypassing

First coined by John Welwood in 1984, it involves diluting or dismissing emotional responses to others’ or one’s own humanity using concepts, philosophies and platitudes in order to retain a perceived modicum of control and avoid honest self-reflection or responsibility. Rooted, usually, in legitimate intentions for peace and a desire to escape any looming threat to our carefully constructed identity, this phenomena proclaims that love and light or destiny trump all – without discernment – like a safe, comforting blanket to hide beneath. Either refusing to call out toxic behaviour or excusing one’s own, without shining awareness on such discomforts as they arise, creates a false veneer of unity within and without, that prevents development and reinforces separateness. How so?

Escapism

Ignoring the impact and consequence of flawed human behaviour does not make it disappear.

All actions result in karma. Maintaining the illusion of peace while denying any felt experience creates residue in the body and the heart-mind. This residue not only affects the physical body but forms filters in our consciousness through which we view and affect any subsequent experiences, clouding our discernment and adding to the ‘samskaras’ or grooves that prevent clear awareness. Hasty declarations of so-called higher wisdom, given before the human processing has run its natural course, are merely a temporary coping mechanism designed to keep us where we feel safe and unchallenged, reducing the capacity for positive change and increasing the probability of incongruent, disconnected relating with ourselves and others. In the refusal to acknowledge or be with our own pain and discomfort, we limit the ability to see and be present with it in others and consequently we refuse to link the impact of our actions with the effects they have on other people. Not looking at the impact of our choices or behaviours on others may make it far easier to not take responsibility for them though it makes it far harder to enjoy good mutual connection. Unresolved trauma proliferates. To the extent that we reduce our awareness of any aspect of self, we become less adept at remaining in connection. What is denied in self becomes denied in other, replaced with judgement and fear. The desire to be heard, seen and felt and thus connected is great in humans and cannot be substituted, though addiction and violence to subtle and varying degrees will often take its place. The inability to connect gracefully with others means we carry huge potential for unwittingly becoming an instrument of their pain and at the same time remaining wilfully blind to this. Counter to the righteous intention for peace, connection and positive influence, we become walking disasters of unintegrated and mismanaged reactions, ready to fire off harmful responses that perpetuate suffering. The intention is a pipe dream prevented from actualising by our own refusal to see clearly and act according to what is being presented to us.

Spiritual bypassing is a convenient tactic for abnegating all personal responsibility and anaesthetising pain – a convoluted trick to absolve us from the consequence of our here and now experience of living. (You can see the appeal…) Furthermore, when insisting on wilful blindness to our own faults, we usually also dismiss the potential of our own greatness. If love, light and destiny run the show why do we bother to get out of bed in the morning? Because we are here to participate! The dimming of our own light results in dissatisfied frustration, depression and graceless derision of others that do well. We play small to stay safe. Without the integrated heart-mind and body that is based in good awareness and processing and that allows energy to flow freely we are much more likely to get stuck with expression whether that be sexually, emotionally or creatively. It takes courage to do this work both in terms of fully inhabiting your potential and deeply connecting with others.

If the ultimate intention is harmony, enjoyment, thriving and positive action that unites rather than divides, how are we best to make room for all the varying perspectives and levels of competency we will encounter in our close relationships and communities? How do we use universal principles, not as escapism but to support living well and fully NOW ?

Equilibrium

Soham: I am that. Not to be mistaken for the ‘everyone is a mirror’ misnomer. ‘I am that’ implies that we can be that, we can have been that in the past or may still be that in the future. It implies that there is no separation. It speaks of the divine spirit in each of us and of the perfectly imperfect human manifestation. It is not another ‘spiritual’ stick to beat oneself with, assuming that every instance of idiotic or hurtful behaviour in another actually represents a piece of ourselves we have overlooked. Sure, we can check our personal integrity using this – it can be useful – but its real value lies in the potential of its meaning. A little like ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ – this tenet encourages temperance in our dealings with others. Our perception of other’s depends very much on the clarity with which we are able to observe ourselves. Pausing for clarity (as it is rarely found in the midst of reactivity) before responding not only reduces any negative charge we may add to a dynamic but provides necessary space to look behind the words or behaviour and welcome the glimmer of spirit along with the messy, fucked up human it resides in and in doing so – welcome ourselves. All of ourselves. Kindness results and kindness is one of the best environments for humans to flourish in.

Communicate

There are no absolutes. Our black can easily be someone else’s white. Communicating with care and precision becomes an essential foundation to defining and maintaining the kind of personal boundaries that act as a container for our growth not an inhibitor to it. It is a wise and kind action therefore to know oneself, accept oneself and communicate often the parameters that constitute healthy relating. This way, we provide full opportunity to ourselves to receive in alignment with who we are and full transparency for others. Because conscious, awake humans are constantly evolving and choosing – our preferences and boundaries have proclivity for change too. Close, clear awareness on our own processes and current limitations together with authentic communication minimises the risk of becoming a confusing and potentially damaging force upon others. To the extent that we are willing to assume full responsibility for our communication and how it lands with the other, we are not only stating clearly who we are and how we wish to be met/treated but also giving others the option to choose and adjust correspondingly in line with their values. Our clarity gives them clarity, promoting agency, confidence and a smooth easiness which is far from the blaming, inflammatory, disingenuous space of manipulation and co-dependence that can only flourish in disconnection.

Interdependence – a natural state

If we are to remain focussed on being a force for good wherever possible, while honouring the realisation that life unfolds in ways that we cannot fathom or control, then it is essential to take care of our awareness, to polish it, to look curiously and honestly at the things we would rather gloss over and ignore. To be fully informed about our own tendencies and reactivity in order to more ably access our equilibrium. This equilibrium is the answer to being present, engaged and feeling secure as we embrace a life of unknown potential. It is the bridge between differences and the balm to mitigate drama and hurt. Acknowledging the social nature of humans and how we affect each other is a key component in even wanting to take this approach to living in the first place. Until we admit that we need other humans, that we have an effect on each other and that our choices and actions define that effect – we are dangerously arrogant in our perspective. Though we may benefit short term by imagining we can never be at fault, our actions then have no context other than of our own making and without context, they also have very little meaning. When we see the lines of cause and effect between ourselves and other humans, rather than being self-referencing automatons, both accepting and offering support becomes instinctually pleasing and mutually beneficial for growth and expansion.

Staying in clear awareness is a practice. It is only ever a snapshot. You don’t do the work, reach wisdom then stop. It is a constant process. Good knowledge of the human self is only ever temporarily realised because we are always changing. Although our true nature is ever-present and ever-the-same and it is without doubt essential to tap into this as often as possible – the point is – we are spiritual AND we are having a human experience. The human part is messy, chaotic, unruly, changeable and diverse and the point of any spiritual practice is not to change that but to be at peace with it, to do our best to respond with equanimity, to minimise negative impacts on ourselves and others, to create harmony and bring our creative urges to fruition to breathe and exist in the world.

As we expand in line with the nature of the life-force that informs our existence, it is natural to have more compassion not less. More connection. More creativity. More patience and understanding with the difficult path of the human. It is hard to be present with pain and it is just as hard to be present with heart-breaking beauty but we were not meant to hold onto it. We are the conduits, the channels through which life wants to flow, wants to express its wonder and wants to play with its own creations in the form of us and our fellow humans. Keep your channel clear, use your emotions to expand and feel more, to open up possibilities for newness, depth and intimate connection. This affirmative signal invites life to love you without reserve. If only you will have the courage to say yes.