Spiritual Bypassing is a term coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984. In a nutshell, it is defined as the use of spiritual beliefs and practices to avoid dealing with life’s painful feelings and unresolved wounds. In other words, it is a practice that many spiritual seekers use to avoid creating and maintaining that oh so important deep connection with their inner self because it is too painful or distressing to do so. It could also be a matter of one’s spiritual ego telling them that this deep kind of work is not necessary to their spiritual progress, and to focus on higher concepts and theoretical ideas instead.
I am writing about this today because I have had a few clients this year who have been using spiritual bypassing in their own evolutionary process, to the detriment of their own healing. As those of you who have worked with me know, each client needs to have an issue to work with during a healing session. By this I mean something that is current and real, and something that they are investing in changing. For most people, there is so much going on in their lives that coming up with something is not a problem.
For just a few others, they are so disconnected from their deep inner self that it has been next to impossible to elicit any kind of workable issue from them at the start of their session. I hear things like “I want you to pull me out of the synthetic matrix”, “MKUltra is after me and sabotaging my dreams”, “If you can just help me connect to my Higher Self, my life would be perfect”, “I think that XYZ spiritual group did something to me 10 years ago, but I don’t know what it was, and I want it fixed.” It has been difficult at times for me to try to pull these clients back to some sort of everyday reality that we can work with. The best issues are always practical, current and distressing.
In addition to expressing these not so practical issues, these clients are very much in their heads and not very well grounded or connected to their bodies. Having a mental understanding of an issue is necessary most of the time, but the aspects that get left out are the emotional and physical body reactions. Your body is your barometer and if you are getting either emotional signals or body sensations that are not the norm for you, it is trying desperately to get your attention about something. If you are not grounded and in your body, you will miss these signals. On top of that, you won’t be able to use this very important body mechanism to point the way for your healing.
When I get a client who has these difficulties, they do what I call “spinning” when trying to nail down something that I can work with in a session. They bounce from mental concept to mental concept, all the while failing to make any kind of connection with their deep distress. By sticking with a concept that is more theoretical, they avoid feeling the feelings that are being generated by the buried an unhealed aspects of their lives. Last week I had to stop a session with a client 20 minutes into the intake interview because of the spinning. Usually, I can verbally lead them to something fruitful to work on, but not this time.
So here is a little story to explain what I am talking about. You are out on the ocean in a small sailboat and pull into a cove for the night. You drop your anchor, and it gets imbedded in the deep muddy muck of the ocean floor. In the morning, when it is time for you to pull up your anchor and set sail, you find that it is still stuck in the muck. What to do? Being a lazy kind of sailor, you simply cut the anchor rope and get on your way, forgetting all about the anchor you left behind. Come evening, you find another cozy cove to spend the night in and suddenly realize that you have no anchor and must remain adrift during the night. In addition to that, you have to stay awake to watch for any dangers that come your way.
The next morning, you are determined to go back to the place where you cut loose your anchor and retrieve it. You dive down to the ocean floor and attach a new rope to the anchor. After much struggle and strain, you are successful in bringing your anchor to the surface and into your boat. Whew!!! If only you had put that kind of effort into it the first time around! Lesson learned.
Your anchor rope represents your connection to the realm of your unresolved issues, in other words, your shadow self. The anchor is what keeps you embedded in that muck and mire for as long as it exists in the shadowy depths. Freeing yourself from that mess requires engagement, determination and lots of hard work. There are no shortcuts. By cutting that rope, you float off and remain adrift. You have avoided the work of engagement and healing for something that appears to be more pleasant in the short term, but the unresolved issue with the anchor will come back to haunt you again and again until it is resolved.
There is a positive side to all of this. Each time you dig in, more of the muck gets cleared away, and the whole process becomes much easier. If you use spiritual bypassing as an avoidance strategy, you just drift on forever. The anchor stuck in the muck will remain there until you double back to retrieve it.
There is a fine art to the introspection and inner connection that is required for true healing and evolution. For some this comes easier than for others, but for none is it impossible. It is always a pleasure for me to work with someone who has taken the time to go within and examine their issues before a session. It makes the whole process more worthwhile for both the client and me.