According to Robert Augustus Masters, the term spiritual bypass was first coined in 1984 by psychologist John Welwood. It’s as applicable today as it was then, if not more so. Spirituality is everywhere right now. But like anything, it can become an addiction, pulling us farther and farther from ourselves. Spiritual Bypassing is the use of spiritual terminology or technology to avoid the deeper psychological work needed to mature and become whole. Think The Secret, which promised everyone a red ferrari if only they imagined it so.
“Authentic spirituality,” by contrast, Masters writes in his book Spiritual Bypassing, “is radically non-avoidant, recognizing that if we flee anything in ourselves, it will multiply and fester, enlarging itself to seize our attention, seeding its outcast will throughout us, eventually exposing and deflating our spiritual ambition.”
We cannot escape ourselves. No amount of breathwork or meditation can heal us alone. Growth is a multi-dimensional process, one that requires introspection and strength of heart, a willingness to examine the complexities of our own nature.
There is a tendency in some new age circles to forfeit one’s own nature to some larger belief system, or to reduce the human experience to one of mind over matter. But to do so is to miss the point: We are here to explore the messiness, to surrender to the mystery and to embrace our humanness. While thoughts play a role, they are not independent from our emotional make up. Nor can they be changed without addressing the deeper emotional undercurrents that are tied up with them.
There is nothing inherently wrong with spiritual bypassing. It’s a form of escapism, just like anything else. And life has a funny way of burrowing its way into our psyche, triggering our unresolved material. Bypassing only delays the inevitable. The more we seek to avoid, the louder life becomes.
Because in the end, everything begins and ends with us. Our lives are filtered through the lens with which we perceive it. That lens has emotional roots at the very core of our being.
I used to amputate. This was my means of survival. If a friendship or work situation wasn’t working, I would exit, unable to look at my part. I recreated the same situation over and over again until, finally, I got the message: The issue is me. The universe provides us with the same material until we learn the lesson.
The work required to heal what was broken inside me was not easy. It’s still not easy. But it’s necessary. If I am to continue to expand, to evolve, to call in new experiences and to be able to handle them with grace, I must continue to take responsibility for my healing, to be radically honest with myself.
And here’s the gravy: In doing so, I’ve invited new experiences into my life. I’ve felt and behaved in ways that had seemed inconceivable to me previously. I have upgraded my frequency, as they say, and my life has benefitted enormously. The effort pays off dividends. That’s the real Secret.
Artwork by Michelle Favin of Whys LA for Poppy & Seed. Connect with her @whyslosangeles.