“Spiritual Bypassing” – what is it, and what is it not?
It means something akin to pretentious self-righteousness to the point of willful ignorance and/or unhealthy selfishness. A psychologist coined the term in the 1980s referring to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to sidestep uncomfortable feelings and avoid authentic, vulnerable connection. Harsh, right?
An example of SB (funny how it mirrors the acronym for bullshit, isn’t it?) from my own experience is as follows:
A person in a position of leadership, actually a spiritual teacher, was repeatedly acting in a dismissive, judgmental, and unsupportive way toward multiple members of the group. It became deeply distracting from the purpose of the group, negatively affecting the majority of people within it. At one point, I spoke for the silent majority and suggested we address our concerns. The leader responded with barely veiled anger followed by a complete dismissal of the issue, suggesting the group explore our feelings as our own issues and that this person had spent “too much time and energy on the negativity already.” It was devastating to the group dynamic and a few individuals. After the dismissal, this person acted as though nothing had happened.
The main elements of SB in that example are that the person attempted to hide genuine emotion, refused to confront or discuss the issue, and dismissed it as nonexistent or unworthy of attention – all while citing the “level of energy” as being “too negative.”
The person flatly refused to do the work.
True spirituality is about doing the work. We grow by diving deeply into – rather than away from – our experiences. We become mindful about what we feel and how we react, even if it is negative, hard, or painful. Being mindful means being present with these emotions, observing them, and digging more deeply into them.
This is where the light comes in! We can believe that “only love is real,” or “we are all made of light,” or “love wins” – only after we understand it to be true because we have found it within our own shadow.
And this isn’t something we do once to earn a gold star of spirituality which – like the Pardons of old – exempt us from future spiritual work. It is an evolution of spirit. We are spiritual beings on a human journey. We’ve come here to experience! To feel! To learn!
Truly spiritual people acknowledge the experiences of others and seek to further their understanding – by offering compassion and love – at all times.
When the profoundly spiritual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” he didn’t intend it to become the anthem of dismissive spiritual bypassing. He meant light and love as verbs – as intentional action. To drive out darkness is to actively fill space with love and light. Anything less is inaction.
(I wrote a lengthy piece called “7 Ways to (Actually) Send Light and Love” if you’re looking for ideas.)
Spiritual bypassing is dismissiveness. Spirituality is compassion. Spiritual bypassing is arguing or ignoring. Spirituality is listening and caring.
When we really do the work and dive into our experience – and seek to understand the experiences of others – we grow in our spirituality. We find the light and love beneath the shadowy pain. It’s there, in all of us, collectively and individually.
Once we start to see, feel, and engage with light and love from a space of authentic mindful exploration, we can turn it into a verb and shine it out into the world. At some point, we may even begin to see everything as Love. But we certainly will not be able to show others that profound truth unless we meet them with authenticity and compassion somewhere inside of their experience.
What did I do about that BS I mentioned above? The work. I dove into my anger and pain, found the qualities in myself that I was avoiding and rejecting, sat with the sadness and shame, and found my way back to my core. I am stronger and more sure of the loving power that I Am because I did the work.
BS Spirituality is an excuse for inaction. Spirituality is actively Be-ing.
Let’s end with some Mary Oliver, shall we?
“You, too, have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
(to shine: verb; to engage in contrast – with the intention of brightening)
This is beautifully said and perfect. I’ve experienced almost this same thing in the local community – through stories from colleagues, conversations wirh clients and customers, and even firsthand with people I considered close friends. Its like we fall into two camps – those who want to hide behind “love and light” and those who want to go deeper.
I notice this a lot when tragedy strikes on a large scale. People “send good vibes” and “love and light” and use this to condemn those who get angry and passionate, claiming platitudes of feeding the fire and fighting with hate only makes things worse. But I think these things are spiritual BS too – anger is NOT the same as hate. Anger is useful. It flares hot and intense when you need the energy, and burns away when you’re done. Its passion. When I get passionately defensive about a topic, and am met with “your negativity isn’t the way” and “I’m sending you love and light” (I’ve really come to hate that phrase), I feel so brushed off. When did fire become a bad thing? When did spirituality become the shield that prevents us from fighting, from examining those things which make us uncomfortable?
Thanks for this post; I’ll be sharing. Glad I’m not alone. 💜
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You’re welcome, Angela! Anger & passion, fire and action are indeed useful. Even yoga philosophy includes the virtue of “tapas” or fiery, passionate dedication. We use it to purify, and to change the density of situations, self, and emotion. Just like heat changes water to vapor, fire can change darkness to light. It is – as you so eloquently say – a tool for examination. ❤️