Every once in a while I come across a concept that helps me understand or more clearly express some of those things that seem to float at the edges of my consciousness. This morning I was led to read about spiritual bypassing, a new concept for me.
Rumi once said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Being with, and sitting through, the pain is the only thing that ultimately liberates you from it.
As you read this today, I’m asking that you do this: be brave enough to sit with some discomfort. Let it seep in so you can grow, transform and find your allyship.
Let’s collectively own up to the fact that we have incorrectly used our spiritual toolkit to avoid accountability.
It’s a tough pill to swallow. But think about it: Are loving-kindness and compassion complete if they don’t extend out to others? If we choose to only move through the world with ethically sourced rose-coloured glasses, are we truly living? Are we healing? Are we healers?
“Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.”Robert Augustus Masters, PhD
In simpler terms, spiritual bypassing is characterized by an active avoidance of pain and reality. It is deliberately deciding to cut out the discomforts of life, backed by a privileged perspective of spirituality and life. The notion that spiritual healers and leaders were never involved in politics and took a passive stance on the political issues of their time is not just an unfounded assumption, it goes against the very examples they lived.
The inaction of the spiritual healing community during times of injustice not only betrays the very principles of the 8-fold path, but helps maintain the system of white supremacy whose foundation is maintained through indifference and minimizing. What do I mean by this?
- Walking away from the discomfort of dismantling your privilege.
- Not understanding the negative impact of avoidance language like “good vibes only.”
- Being complicit in a system that does not see all lives as worthy.
- Actively choosing to turn a blind eye to injustice.
- Not recognizing that remaining overly detached and idealistic is what enables discrimination, mass incarceration, police brutality, lynching, hate crime, the school to prison pipeline, etc.
Spiritual bypassing helps me understand a few of my frustrations with my faith community, Quakers, also known as Friends.
- As a teenager trying to figure out what I would do about registering for the draft (Selective Service System), I saw few Friends resisting. This was in contrast to the previous generation, where many Quaker men and their families choose to go to prison for draft resistance. (You might wonder about my own decision. It took a while, but I eventually turned in my draft cards.)
- At 20 years of age I felt I could no longer own a car because of the terrible damage being done to the air, water and soil. I didn’t find many other Friends who stopped owning cars even as the evidence of the environmental harm became increasingly clear.
- Most Quakers today still struggle with White supremacy and choosing to be anti-racist. I still have work to do on this. I did become involved with a Black youth mentoring community and learned a lot there. But there are a lot of pieces to this struggle.
- Even fewer Friends have engaged with Indigenous peoples. Most of us are White settlers, with a long history of cultural genocide and stealing naïve lands. This is another area I need to put a lot more work into. I have taken advantage or numerous ways to develop friendships with native people. Quakers in particular usually exhibit enormous Spiritual bypassing related to the tragedies from the forced assimilation of native children. Quakers ran some of those Indian boarding schools. And we are living on land stolen from indigenous people. Trespassers, really. What are we going to do about that?
In a pyramid, every brick depends on the ones below it for support. If the bricks at the bottom are removed, the whole structure comes tumbling down.
Here is the hard fact: your good vibes are doing nothing. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t showing up to KKK meetings dressed in white sheets. It doesn’t matter that you do not kill the individual yourself. It doesn’t matter if you have a black friend. It doesn’t matter that you hold egalitarian beliefs internally. Remember what your school teachers told you? A bystander can be just as bad at the bully. If you choose spiritual bypassing you are choosing to avoid the topic of such painful realities that allow these atrocities to exist… and it is killing us.
Let that sink in for a moment… that choice of pain and reality avoidance is killing us.
So, one more time, I am calling on each of you to start doing the work. Sit with the discomfort, work through it, and recognize that your decision to be a spiritual healer means that it is your purpose just to spread “love and light” — your purpose is to show up.