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Spiritual Bypass - Are You Pretending Everything is OK?

By Sarah McLean

"It’s All Good" was the bumper sticker I put on my car when I first adopted a meditator lifestyle years ago. I didn't really believe everything was all good, instead, it was what I thought I should think. But life at the time wasn't all "good." It wasn't "good" when my partner left me and my heart broke. It wasn't "good" when I got a diagnosis of cancer, and it wasn't "good" when I didn't have enough money to pay my rent. But I overrode what I actually felt, and instead, put on what I thought was a spiritual attitude. Now, in the case of karma or the big picture, yes, perhaps these experiences were "good", as I do believe life is conspiring to enlighten each and every one of us, all the time. However, when I was experiencing these challenges, I took a spiritual bypass; I pretended everything was okay. That's because what I really felt - sadness, anger, and hurt - didn't seem spiritual to me. I ignored what was going on in my inner landscape because I thought spiritual people only felt light-hearted, joyous, and free. Boy was I wrong. The idea that I could simply focus on the positive and will it into being didn''t work. Instead, being spiritual required being: being with everything you experience, or think, feel, say, and do. Being with what is, whether you or I like it, or not. Spiritual bypassing is a term first coined during the early 1980s by transpersonal psychotherapist, John Welwood, who defined it as a "tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks." Spiritual bypassing is a dangerous habit. It prevents us from acknowledging what we are feeling and distances us from both ourselves and others. It includes: · Denying or avoiding feelings of anger, hurt, or sadness because they don't seem spiritual, · Acting more spiritual than you actually are to overcome feelings of fear or insecurity, · Believing spiritual practices like meditation or prayer should only involve positive feelings, · Trying to meditate away feelings rather than being present with what is happening right here, right now, including how you feel about it, · Allowing yourself to only focus on the positive or being overly optimistic, · Pretending that everything is fine when it clearly is not, · Thinking that you and everyone can overcome real world problems through positive thinking and other spiritual practices. Spiritual bypassing is a superficial way of glossing over problems. Though it might offer temporary relief in the short term, it ultimately solves nothing and just leaves the problem to linger on. That being said, in moments of severe trauma or distress, it can be a coping mechanism that offers temporary respite or sanctuary. When adopted as a regular attitude, however, spiritual bypassing can have negative effects on your wellbeing and can lead to disassociation, anxiety, codependency, a disregard for personal responsibility, lack of emotional intelligence, feelings of shame, and excessive tolerance of unacceptable or inappropriate behavior. Instead of pretending it's all good, here are practices to be present with all that is: 1. When emotions arise, practice being present with how they show up for you, physically and mentally. Remind yourself that emotions are energy in motion and are only temporary. They come and they go. They don't usually stay for long. While they are here, you don't have to make them anyone else's drama, or fault. Instead be present with them. 2. Remember that your body doesn't lie. It responds to your emotions. Resist the urge to suppress them, or to zone out, or label them as good or bad. While some emotions may be unpleasant, or make you feel contracted, they do serve a purpose. Signals and signs are often your inner wisdom expressing itself. If you make the choice to ignore them, you dishonor yourself and your integrity, and this causes stress and dis-integration. 3. Rather than avoiding painful thoughts or feelings, practice being your own best friend. Instead, be compassionate toward yourself and your human experience, rather than ignoring what you feel. Uncomfortable emotions can serve as an opportunity for transformation rather than a burden to avoid. If you spend your time avoiding discomfort, situations that cause you distress will stay the same. While spiritual bypassing isn't a sustainable coping mechanism, spiritual practices certainly can be, whether they include prayer, ceremony, meditation, creativity practices, martial arts, journaling, or earth based practices. They can't change what is going on or feeling what you feel, but they can make a bumpy ride less bumpy. In addition to the scientifically proven physical and mental health benefits such as increasing resilience in the face of distress, increasing self-awareness and emotional regulation, reducing depression and anxiety, spiritual practices can restore a sense of serenity, safety, and give you insights into what really truly matters to you. I count on them to bring me to the centerpoint of peace so I can be present to the wisdom of emotions and as they arise, and invite them to enlighten me.

I hope you do too. Love, Sarah P.S. I have been featured in an award winning movie on how to handle the diagnosis of cancer. It's now available to rent, here. P.P.S. Below you'll find certification programs and other events you might enjoy. I hope you'll take a look.

Sarah McLean considers herself an American Transcendentalist. She’s dedicated her life to exploring meditation: living as a resident of both a Zen Buddhist monastery and a traditional ashram in India, as well as living and working in a Transcendental Meditation center. She headed up the education programs at Deepak Chopra’s center in California and Byron Katie’s School for the Work. Now she's a best-selling Hay House author of the books Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation and The Power of Attention: Awaken to Love and its Unlimited Potential with Meditation. Sarah is an acclaimed teacher and thought leader who is determined to create more peace on this planet by helping people wake up to the wonder and beauty of their lives and the world around them.

© By Sarah McLean, reprinted with permission.

1 Comment

Unknown member
Jun 27, 2021

Sarah, Thank you for this thoughtful and inspiring post. So much truth!

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