Spiritual bypass and avoidance

In the previous post, I wrote about a concept that is new to me, Spiritual Bypass.

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 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

White Privilege In Yoga Pants: Spiritual Bypassing by Tai Salih, CYT, Medium, 6.18.2020

Researching Spiritual bypass, I found there wasn’t much material on the Internet. Wikipedia includes the following warning, which makes me cautious:

American psychologist John Welwood came up with the term in 1984 after noting that some people, by resorting to spirituality to avoid difficult or painful emotions or challenges, tended to suppress aspects of their identity and needs and stall their emotional development.[5]Charles Whitfield later used the term in recovery literature.[5] The term has seen little systematic study.[6]

Spiritual Bypass https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_bypass

As I did more research, I came upon a related term, Spiritual avoidance. The section below, 5 Signs of Spiritual Work Avoidance, includes some suggestions to address avoidance.


I believe I was lead to these new (to me) concepts to help me better understand my lifelong struggles, and lack of success, to convince more people to act on injustice. This is more urgent now as our social, economic, and political structures are collapsing around us. Spiritual leaders and healers a desperately needed now.

  • 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. Their example helped me decide to be a draft resister, too.
  • 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 how 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 so many 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 peoples. What are we going to do about those two things?

5 Signs of Spiritual Work Avoidance

Just for fun here are a few signs that you are avoiding stuff on your spiritual path. Some of you may not have stalled; you may have come to a restful plateau. But that’s a completely different feeling. In that space, nothing is particularly coming up. There is openness and rest. There may be expansion and growth, which will continue on until you hit the next set of walls. But when you’ve stalled, the sensations are different.

  1. You feel stuck. In this scenario, you think you don’t know what you need to do (but you do). It’s always good to pause and take some time away from your regular life to get perspective. Spiritual friends, community, healers, and teachers can help give you that third-party perspective and show you what you are avoiding. It may seem really obvious after you see it.
  2. You think you’re done with the spiritual path. The unconscious ego is always looking for an out. Feeling complete and thinking you’re done are two completely different things. The ego may also be giving itself superlatives (grandmaster of whatever–sure there are grandmasters out there, but a lot of the time, they don’t give themselves those titles) and talking about how great it’s spiritual tools and/or life is. The ego is always looking to claim something, which in turn hides other things.
  3. You keep actively avoiding something. There’s something in your life that needs your attention. But it feels messy and uncertain, so you keep hiding out on your meditation cushion or with your chanting community. Meditation is just practice and a way to notice what is going on inside. You still have to step back outside and meet the next level of life’s lessons for you.
  4. You feel like you’re going in circles again. See if you can trace back the origin of this feeling. The great thing about karma is it is a circle. After awhile, you will be able to notice the loops and how you are setting them up.
  5. You are still doing things that don’t feel as supportive for you because they seem safe. Safety is always the language of the ego. It will get you into more trouble than you can possibly imagine. Ironically, the stakes seem to get raised as we go, and if you stop part way on the spiritual path, you can feel really stuck in an apathetic and awful inner space where nothing feels right. You are now caught between two worlds, and you will stay in this limbo until you make a choice to commit to one.

    Now, you may or may not have experience with this, but it can be extraordinary how much resistance erupts to avoid doing things that matter most to someone. Where the same individual was champing at the bit to do something, now the prospect of doing something that matters to them and which comes from this deeper consciousness inside can be virtually debilitating. But once you’ve arrived at this point, there is nothing else but action to take. Sitting and meditating won’t build the healing center you want to create. Crying out your mother and father issues won’t start the renewable energy business you want. Out-of-body experiences won’t help you to ask out that special someone. It’s time for conscious action–the most important type of action we can ever take.

Avoiding Parts of Your Spiritual Work, Spiritual Awakening Process, Jim Tolles, June 16, 2014


This entry was posted in decolonize, enslavement, Indigenous, Quaker, Spiritual Warrior, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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