I sometimes shy away from using the term Spiritual, because there are so many practices that fall under that moniker which are really spiritual bypass.
Spiritual Bypassing - although it is an unfamiliar concept to some, is incredibly common. It could be considered a shadow side of a lot of spiritual practice.
In essence, it is present whenever we use spirituality to disconnect from - or bypass - things that are challenging, difficult to look at, painful, or that we are ashamed of.
It is in action when our spirituality enables us to disconnect from or gloss over what really matters. And it seems to happen in most spiritual traditions. Many Christians bypass their sexuality, many Buddhists their anger (yes, these are generalizations), and so on.
But why does it matter?
Because most of us have learned from a very young age to cut off, bury and disconnect from vital parts of ourselves. And while it should be obvious that any conscious, healing path requires us to re-connect with those disowned aspects of self, it is not unusual for individuals to use spirituality to perpetuate the same patterns of emotional suppression, disconnection, projection, narcissism and numbing that we see in the culture at large.
Sometimes it's just done with a little more pizazz, more pageantry, and occasionally an aura (no pun intended) of self righteousness.
The angsty Meditation Teacher
I once studied with a meditation teacher who had spent extraordinary amounts of time refining his practice, and who saw his teachings as a clear path to enlightenment.
One day, we were travelling together in his car when he became distracted and got into a minor fender bender.
It was completely his fault - he had momentarily been focusing elsewhere and slowly coasted into the side of a parked car.
He and the owner of the other car got out to assess the damage, and I saw my venerated, master meditation teacher transform before my eyes. Instead of humbly accepting responsibility for his mistake, he somehow blamed the other person for not having seen him coming.
This didn't go over well, and a heated argument erupted. When my teacher made it back into his car, he shook his head in disbelief, turned to me in the passenger seat and said: "Can you believe how unconscious some people are!?"
I was in disbelief - but not at the unconscious bystander - at the man infant of me, and the distance between his spiritually enlightened persona, and the behaviour I had just witnessed.
It dawned on me in that moment that my teacher's spiritual journey had taken place in a bubble - on the meditation mat and within the confines of controlled settings among like minds. None of his training had seemingly prepared him to engage with the challenge I had just observed with humility, grace or integrity. He had focused on transcending (bypassing) such mundane things, and it showed.
He was a very gifted and beautiful person - he simply had a big blind spot, which is obviously normal - but his spiritual elevation had made it much harder for him to see or acknowledge this.
That story really captures the essence: Our lives on earth are divinely coordinated to deliver us the most vital lessons for our soul's development, moment to moment. We don't want to bypass this for some transcendent experience - our grounded, day to day lives are already completely infused with divinity. They are the messy stage upon which our most vital growth occurs.
The Comforting Bubble Bath
I engage in a number of spiritual practices that are akin to taking a bubble bath - they are comforting, nurturing, and I consider them extremely important. I don't, however, confuse their place in my life with the challenging, sometimes terrifying heavy lifting that comes from showing up in the messier areas of my grounded, daily life.
From challenging myself to be open and honest when it would feel safer to withhold, to making hard choices I know are my truth, to navigating the complexity of relationships in a conscious way - my daily life is perfectly constructed to push me where I need to be pushed.
My nurturing spiritual practices are sometimes a way of stepping back, getting centred and re-orienting myself. They are vital. But when you want to stay in the comfort zone all the time, you can risk turning your back on the treasure that is our grounded existence. We grow through resistance, through challenge and change - not by perpetually transcending or extracting ourselves from such things.
Spiritually bypassing our problems is awfully tantalizing, because it's way easier than turning towards them!
How to Check Yourself For Spiritual Bypassing
So, how do you avoid spiritual bypassing?
First, recognize and own your tendencies toward avoidance. Whether we use spirituality to bypass our challenges or not, most of us have developed methods of putting distance between ourselves and certain feelings or challenges. Know that these "obstacles" are your gifts, and that a conscious spiritual path walks us directly into such things.
My mentor often told me: "Miles, you need to get used to feeling like shit."
He didn't mean I needed to torture myself or become depressed, he meant that I needed to learn how to lean into my fear, my resistance, my shadow and my shame - all those things I had learned to run and hide from (and in doing so, had been controlled by).
For most of us, this is an ongoing discipline and a high art: learning to turn towards what we would have traditionally buried or denied. This is at the core of a conscious, healing path.
If you want to escape your life and yourself with any anaesthetizing spiritual practice, I encourage you to acknowledge what you are doing. It's not that the more abstract, etherial spiritual practices are not valuable - it's that our complicated, messy life on earth is the holy ground where we learn and grow in the most vital ways.
It would be a mistake to try and transcend that.
What about you? Do you have experience with spiritual bypassing? If so, I would love to hear about it - leave a comment below or send me a message to share your perspective!
About The Author:
Hi, my name is Miles. I am a writer & facilitator that helps people step into an aligned, beautiful and empowered life through conscious relationship work, emotional work, shadow integration and much more.
I am passionate about this work because when we step into alignment with our souls, pure magic happens - and I know of nothing more healing or beautiful.