‘Spiritual bypass’ is perhaps the biggest risk as we explore what is true about ourselves and about the world.
It is a term coined by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist and refers to the ‘tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks’.
And it raises the question,
How do we understand the two aspects of what we are: the pure intelligence, presence and beingness of life and the conditioning of the body mind which is the lens through which the world is experienced without denying the latter?
I was at a non-duality retreat and asked a question about the brain.
‘There is no brain’ came the immediate reply. And, ultimately, we can’t argue with that. This is true. There is no objective reality of the brain. Just as there is no objective reality of anything. An entire reality held in perception. No self. No other. No brain.
But if we have concussion or dizziness or constant headaches, to tell ourselves ‘there is no brain’ and equally ‘there is no concussion or dizziness or headache’ seems to be only a denial. A way of avoiding facing what is there to be faced. An apparently ‘spiritual’ way to turn the gaze from something that is actually calling to be considered more closely.
This is the ultimate challenge of our evolving spiritual understanding. Ensuring that a nascent revelation of the transient, subjective nature of all reality does not veer into denial whenever our idea of self or reality is challenged.
When current experience is pushed away with ‘that isn’t real’ then all that is happening is spiritual bypass. Pain, anger, problems, shame and fears are squashed down, numbed and hidden away. Which ultimately, as we all know, only makes them find other ways to be acknowledged.
What do we do with this? How do we explore the transient nature of reality while not using it to escape that which is hard to face?
It seems there is only one way to know the difference between deep understanding and spiritual bypass and it is this:
In true presence, reality is revealed.
Presence is the light of pure, open attention, absent of judgement. It is the space of transformation. Presence allows everything to be experienced, nothing to be pushed away.
Pre-conceived ideas, beliefs, judgements, fears of self and other are met with love and in that love they transform, return as the experiences that are integral to our being and which can no longer exist as fixed and separate.
Emotions, feelings, physical sensations are fully had. No longer numbed and pushed away because of the abhorrence the mind has for them. Just simply had as the current reality of mind body.
In that presence, there is nothing to deny because everything is experienced as it is.
In that light, there is nothing to accept or detach from because there is only what is.
In that love, there is nothing even to forgive because no wrong exists in that moment.
This is not static.
Authentic, dynamic behaviour comes from this presence. Appointments can be made, treatments and operations can be undergone, information can be sought, interventions can be practiced, people can be taken to court or prison – all without any sense of separation. All without any confusion.
With spiritual bypass, on the other hand, there is no immersion in or presence to the apparent reality. It is just ignored or denied or covered over with empty concepts which only serves to make the reality more apparently concretely fixed.
‘It’s not real,’ we say as we push away symptoms, or the terror of a diagnosis.
’It’s just my thinking,’ as we try to ignore the desperation of our anxiety.
‘There is no self,’ as we numb our shame or our needs and addictions.
And in being ignored and denied, these things clamour more and more loudly within our being.
We can say ‘there is no brain’ but until we have known the brain to such an extent that it gives itself up to us (and through us to all), it remains real, separate and distant. There is a brain.
We can say ‘there is no other’ but until we are with that other in such presence that the truth of who they are shines out through all the layers of separation, the other remains. There is another.
We can say ‘there is no self’ but until we sit with that self through the discomfort, through the defences, through the resistance, the shame, needs and fears, the self remains. Nothing has changed. There is a self.
To resume the rightful place of no-self, in order to melt back into the love, freedom and potential from which we arose, it is attention that is required not denial, openness not spiritual short cuts, presence not bypass.
(Adapted from SANE, getting real with reality)