By Heidi Sokka

Spiritual bypassing – a term familiarised in the spiritual circles in the past few years. It refers to “a tendency to use spiritual explanations to avoid complex psychological issues”. We’ve all been on that road in one way or the other, haven’t we? As the spiritual scriptures explain, there is a Higher, spiritual solution to all the problems here on the material platform, but what if we’re not there yet? What happens a lot is that we try to jump to the rooftop right from the ground without building the foundation first and taking time to walk up the stairs, and on the way we easily end up avoiding and rejecting a lot of unfinished work or uncomfortable issues in the name of spirituality or spiritual idealism.

A typical form of spiritual bypassing is to think that one shouldn’t be feeling what he/she is feeling and so spirituality becomes a tool for avoidance, thinking that one must rise above the emotions instead of feeling them. As we start our inner process on the path of spirituality, a lot of negative emotions, such as anger, jealousy and annoyance might rise – for a reason to work through them with proper tools, not to avoid or repress them in the name of spirituality. Sometimes we can carry on with our practices for a longer time, avoiding the unwanted, also sometimes unknowingly, and unconsciously hiding behind a spiritual role or a mask, ‘detaching’ from the feelings with partial or premature understanding of that detachment.

This detaching can be a tool for escapism as well; when we try to attach to Higher spiritual ideals too soon, without facing the actual issues that are troubling us, but rather wanting to escape them by rejecting their existence under a spiritual fantasy or spiritual dream life, without spiritually maturing along the process enough to understand the consequences and the actual self-work it takes to walk on the spiritual path.

“ You can’t heal what you don’t feel”

As spiritual beings having a human experience or these ‘layers of awareness covering the real self’, we can’t really deny the existence of these other layers (such as physical, mental and emotional) and neglect the work that needs to be done to heal those aspects before moving towards the deeper spiritual dimensions. One spiritual teacher recently said that sometimes it is a gift in disguise when after years of serious spiritual practices a big truckload of negative emotions arises. We might be shocked and disappointed at first, but what we need to do is to truly face and accept and welcome these emotions as teachers carrying an important message – we can’t avoid or supress some parts of the emotional scale or deny them under spirituality. Such as “a spiritual person is never angry”. And if we do so, it will backfire and we will come back to the lessons not yet learnt before we can make actual genuine progress on the spiritual path, without spiritual roles or masking.

Many of us have met spiritual practitioners of decades who’ve become emotionally unavailable, immature or as someone from such background himself described ‘disabled’, while maybe being spiritually ‘in knowledge’ in many ways. But without rooting that knowledge into real understanding and acceptance of our human experience, what’s the use? How we can ever experience that spiritual love, let alone share it with others, if we shut off our emotions on the way? We should aim to look at the uncomfortable emotions as an opportunity to truly grow and commit to serious inner work and as an opportunity for real transformation, eventually becoming less affected or led by the emotions and genuinely less emotionally reactive, so that we can be true instruments in helping others to do the same.

Spiritual bypassing as a defence-mechanism?

When we skip our inner work to reach the Higher spiritual platform too soon, it might lead to rigidness and to projecting that lack of own inner work onto others in a way of not accepting something uncomfortable or negative we don’t accept in ourselves, in them either. This can lead to self-righteousness or a judgemental attitude and experiencing oneself to be spiritually superior and detaching from those who have feelings and are openly expressing them as spiritually inferior.

Holding onto idealism instead of being honest about the experience is spiritual bypassing in its essence and it can lead to dishonesty and lack of sincerity in one’s personal life. Whenever within a spiritual community the spiritual ideal is very High and unreachable to most, it can lead to most things happening behind closed doors without honest discourse and platform to practically help each other to reach that High ideal. That is not a sign of a healthy spiritual community.

Even teaching others can become a form of spiritual bypassing. When we use spirituality as an object and disregard our own inner work and in the name of service start teaching that object to others, but without going through the actual process we can’t really be the transmitters we’re supposed to be, and the service can become eventually a disservice (for the greater purpose). We can’t recognise the needs and wounds of others without truly honest and sincere self-work (under a guidance of a competent and qualified teacher) which includes that acceptance of all aspects of our humanity, and therefore teaching others without this wholesome understanding can lead to using philosophy or the spiritual scriptures as a fix behind which we hide with our humane side and we can actually end up destructing something with the well-meant verses and the dryness of philosophy without rooting it to real self-awareness, genuine acceptance of all emotions and not suppressing them in the name of spiritual practice.

One spiritual teacher in the Bhakti tradition, HG Mahatma prabhu, said on a recent class that sometimes even the leaders in spiritual communities end up spiritually bypassing a lot in their attempts of helping others, as they can end up not validating or acknowledging the emotional and mental experiences of the people and just offer a fix from the High ideal platform where the people haven’t reached yet. Instead what would be beneficial is to give something that strengthens the faith in the process to eventually reach that High ideal and while not there yet, be realistic with the current state and help in uplifting from there in practical ways.

Another form of spiritual bypassing and a tool for avoidance is participating in spiritual activities in order to feel superior and to avoid acting and taking responsibility on a certain issue. The problem is not the engagement in these activities, which obviously are beneficial and recommended, but to use them as a shield to make yourself feel better – actually then engaging in spiritual activities becomes a form of temporary sense gratification!

There are many other forms of spiritual bypassing as well, such as bypassing on a bodily and sexual level; instead of transforming the sexual energy and learning to channel it in a proper way, we end up suppressing this strong force and demonizing the bodies or sexuality through this repression of emotions in the name of spiritual idealism. But as we know, nothing suppressed will lead to long-term results. Toxic positivity (permanent optimism) is another form of spiritual bypassing, while actual true positivity is rooted in deep self-work and aiming towards the Higher spiritual principles while accepting the full scale of emotions on the way. In some spiritual communities, the importance of externals as a sign of one’s true dedication can become a form of bypassing something spiritually as well, when one is not genuinely dedicating to the internal process but finding acceptance and praises through externals from the outside and so the process, sometimes unknowingly, becomes a spiritual role-play rather than a true, genuine practice.

Therefore the importance of finding right association and a competent spiritual teacher, as recommended in the Yogic scriptures, is so essential in order to progress on the path. Alone we can only do so much, and often end up taking many wrong turns on the way without proper guidance from those who’ve already walked through the same path. So the answer to tackle spiritual bypassing is found in the scriptures, the same scriptures that we want to respectfully approach with someone who helps us to understand the spiritual ideals in practical ways, mirrors our progress, helps us to be honest and not avoid or reject anything on the way and guides us forward, encouraging and empowering us to one day reach that spiritual ideal through a genuine process.

Hare Krishna!

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