The Great Spiritual Bypass

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The Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist John Welwood coined the wonderful phrase “spiritual bypassing”, which means, in his own words, “trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it.”

Read our article by John Welwood on Spiritual Bypassing here.

I so agree with John Welwood. I think one of the biggest shadow sides of spirituality in general is that it can make us lose touch with our humanity. We dream of the heavens and forget the earth. Which is ironic, since our deep humanity IS the source of our most profound spirituality, so we’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot there.

In the name of peace, we go to war with ourselves. In the name of being non-violent, or at least seeing ourselves as non-violent, we repress, suppress, deny and hide aspects of ourselves that don’t conform to that ideal, that image. We bury our anger, our grief, our fear. We swallow words we need to speak, say yes when we mean no, avoid setting boundaries in order to be “compassionate” and “kind” and “unconditionally loving”, and not hurt others’ feelings. We stifle our passions, our creativity, our sensuality, our deep, raw, intense, messy humanity, in order to appear to be “still” and “silent” and “calm” and “non-reactive”. We smile when really we’re breaking apart inside, stay quiet and still when we feel like screaming. In other words, we ignore our buried trauma. We push away those painful, inconvenient, shameful and embarrassing parts of ourselves. We avoid the darkness and try to reach the light, and then call ourselves… “spiritual”!

But whatever we suppress and repress in ourselves doesn’t go away. However enlightened or peaceful or “deeply rooted in Pure Awareness” we pretend to be, those un-met, unprocessed, unseen and unenlightened energies stay rooted in our bodies, in our nervous systems, in our muscles, manifesting in our dreams and nightmares. The monster inside us doesn’t go away by singing mantras, contorting ourselves into yoga postures, praying to the guru or visiting ashrams. The monster only goes away once it’s met in a really embodied way. And to meet it we’re going to have to be brave and stop pretending. We’re going to have to stop being perfect and spiritual and unconditionally loving and wise and good and calm and neutral, and tell the truth of our actual human experience. We’re going to have to really meet our inner child. Feel the grief, the anger, the terror that’s lurking inside. Feel it and process it and validate it and give it expression in a healthy way. And then, and only then, the darkness inside us may turn out to be our greatest light-source. Our wounds may give us an insane amount of wisdom and courage. Our pains may help us find our passions. But we can’t skip over the trauma. We can’t skip to en-lightenment without en-lightening ALL our parts. Without making room for the sorrow, the joy, the tears and the laughter, the anger and the awe.

I have learnt this the hard way. I used to run from feelings. I used to be scared of them, judge others for having them. Now, feelings are my dearest friends and companions, and sources of joy and creativity. I used to believe enlightenment was a transcendent state, free from sadness, free from anger, free from doubt. But that was my mind telling me that. That was my spiritual ego, the part of me that wanted to be special, that wanted to escape, that wanted to be superior and safe. I came to realise that enlightenment, if there is any such thing, is a deeply vibrantly alive ocean, filled with beautiful waves of anger and sorrow and fear and doubt and joy and bliss, filled with all of humanity, filled with deep feeling, and no feeling is pushed away, and all feelings can be felt and can move through and can be expressed in a truthful and authentic way. I don’t need to pretend to be free, or pretend to be peaceful, or pretend to be wise, or pretend to be neutral, or pretend to be more evolved than anyone else, or pretend to be anything at all. Just being alive is enough – alive, and open, and curious, and playful, and deeply human, and committed to this path of ever-deepening adventure in the Unknown.

We cannot bypass our trauma because then we are bypassing life itself, and life won’t let us bypass it anyway. Our trauma, when faced, will heal us, break us open to more life, make us more compassionate, more authentic. When not faced, it will drain us, make us act out unconsciously, it will hurt us and the ones we love, it will make us addicted, it will make us sick, it will destroy relationships and make us false beings. So we can’t bypass our hurt and angry places in the name of spirituality, because we want to be true, real, authentic. We want to heal, and be Whole. True spirituality calls us to face everything. Everything inside of us that needs to be faced. It calls us to face our hot, sticky, dark, embarrassing, angry, scared, shaky and sexy and fiery places. It calls us to speak up, even if we are terrified and feel like we want to vomit. It calls us to finally express what’s inside us, even if we lose all our friends. It calls us to be deeply human as much as we are Pure Awareness, deeply humble as much as we are divine, earthy and messy and imperfect as much as we are absolute and transcendent.

We don’t get to be perfect, but we get to be real… and that is the greatest prize of all.

~Jeff Foster

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