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Avoidance in Holy Drag: An Introduction to Spiritual Bypassing

Last night I was honored to be invited as a guest speaker on the Cultural Appropriation in Spirituality zine and workshop at a really interesting conversation/”webinar” hosted by my friend Sobey as part of the Evolver Network called “Decolonizing Consciousness”.
<Here’s a link to a recording of the event>
Participating was a diverse group of really knowledgeable and articulate speakers and over 50 participants from all over North America and Australia. There were so many awesome links and resources shared in the chat window as people spoke and this one really jumped out at me. I had never heard of this term before, but upon reading about it I absolutely am familiar with this behavior and it was great to get a word to describe it. There was so much positive feedback from those involved last night, it seems like they’ll be doing more events like this and when I hear about them I will let folks know on the blog. The below excerpt was originally posted on Reality Sandwich, an online magazine that seems connected to the Evolver Network.

The following is excerpted from Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters, by Robert Augustus Masters, available from North Atlantic Books.

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 is much more common than we might think and, in fact, is so pervasive as to go largely unnoticed, except in its more obvious extremes.

Part of the reason for this is that we tend not to have very much tolerance, either personally or collectively, for facing, entering, and working through our pain, strongly preferring pain-numbing “solutions,” regardless of how much suffering such “remedies” may catalyze. Because this preference has so deeply and thoroughly infiltrated our culture that it has become all but normalized, spiritual bypassing fits almost seamlessly into our collective habit of turning away from what is painful, as a kind of higher analgesic with seemingly minimal side effects. It is a spiritualized strategy not only for avoiding pain but also for legitimizing such avoidance, in ways ranging from the blatantly obvious to the extremely subtle.

Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many forms, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.

The explosion of interest in spirituality since the mid-1960s, especially Eastern spirituality, has been
accompanied by a corresponding interest and immersion in spiritual bypassing — which has, however, not very often been named, let alone viewed, as such. It has been easier to frame spiritual bypassing as a
religion — transcending, spiritually advanced practice or perspective, especially in the fast-food spirituality epitomized by faddish phenomena like The Secret. Some of the more glaringly facile features, such as drive-through servings of reheated wisdom like “Don’t take it personally” or “Whatever bothers you about someone is really only about you” or “It’s all just an illusion,” are available for consumption and parroting by just about anyone.

Happily, the honeymoon with false or superficial notions of spirituality is starting to wane. Enough bubbles have been burst; enough spiritual teachers, Eastern and Western, have been caught with pants or halo down; enough cults have come and gone; enough time has been spent with spiritual baubles, credentials, energy transmissions, and gurucentrism to sense deeper treasures. But valuable as the desire for a more authentic spirituality is, such change will not occur on any significant scale and really take root until spiritual bypassing is outgrown, and that is not as easy as it might sound, for it asks that we cease turning away from our pain, numbing ourselves, and expecting spirituality to make us feel better.

True spirituality is not a high, not a rush, not an altered state. It has been fine to romance it for a while, but our times call for something far more real, grounded, and responsible; something radically alive and naturally integral; something that shakes us to our very core until we stop treating spiritual deepening as something to dabble in here and there. Authentic spirituality is not some little flicker or buzz of knowingness, not a psychedelic blast-through or a mellow hanging-out on some exalted plane of consciousness, not a bubble of immunity, but a vast fire of liberation, an exquisitely fitting crucible and sanctuary, providing both heat and light for the healing and awakening we need.





    • gmsmg

      The author of the excerpted text is: Robert Augustus Masters, the author of the blog post is Aja Rose Bond

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