Have you heard the phrase “spiritual bypassing“? It was first coined by Buddhist teacher John Welwood. To quote him, it is the “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks”.
I appreciate this definition. It’s concise. And in essence, it warns that we cannot forsake the real work of awakening with all its gritty, uncomfortable, distressing, and totally destabilizing challenges in exchange for a free pass towards open-hearted bliss, joy, and well, Divine Me Time.
Believe it or not, a lot of what I offer here through Divine Me Time could be used to spiritually bypass life’s challenges. One might choose to continually avoid a conversation that needs to take place by turning instead toward a meditation practice. Or one might use a movement practice to empty the mind rather than face a painful feeling. Or someone might use their spiritual practices to convince themselves they are doing the work when they really aren’t. This requires a rather tricky kind of discernment because it’s never obvious to the one doing it and often takes place on a subconscious level of intention.
It’s Only Human
What’s more, it isn’t necessarily a terrible thing to do. In fact, it is a human thing to do. We are all looking for ways to feel better, and if we can do so without diving to the painful roots, we might think “why not?” Sometimes, we just need space from a problem. We can’t deal with it in the moment. It’s too much or we have to focus on more pressing things. Sometimes, we’re not ready to take the action we know is necessary. And sometimes, we’re just too exhausted to feel another gut-wrenching emotion.
It’s okay to rest when we need to. It’s even okay to employ a bit of escapism and “pretend” all is fine; that can be a way of faking it until one makes it. What’s not okay is not knowing what you’re doing when you’re doing it and why.
Somebody Save Me
Another aspect of spiritual bypass is thinking that some outer power or teacher or saint can do the work for you. We externalize the savior, paying our respects on Sunday perhaps, but then during the week, we’re cheating other and hating our neighbors. And yet, having some higher spiritual power to look towards, pray to, and invest faith in is an important aspect of Divine Me Time. So how do we balance out this seeming contradiction?
The savior, if not one’s self, is actually the behavior of the teacher, saint, guru to whom we look for wisdom. We must aspire to live by their example, not expect that their compassion will rescue us. We can gain strength, support and unconditional love, but there’s no such thing as a free indulgence. We’re either sincere in our awakening or we’re not. It’s not a gray area. But if we ever find that we are indeed bypassing a difficult aspect of our journey, all we have to do is see it and recommit to the true path of awakening.
We don’t need to judge ourselves. As I’ve said, it’s only human. But once we become aware of any tendency we may have, it is simple enough to adjust course.