Spiritual Bypassing - from Jonathan Toniolo

I first heard about spiritual bypassing on one of my favorite podcasts, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour.

For those of you that haven’t had the privilege of hearing Duncan orate, it’s kind of like listening to a raspy hybrid of Alan Watts and Jim Breuer — wise enough to capture your attention, with a certain stoned goofiness that keeps it all playful.

Duncan talks about spirituality in nearly all of his interviews — most guests will happily indulge him in doing so. Naturally, spirituality is a big reason why people tune in to the podcast. So it took me by surprise when he mentioned that spirituality, as a set of ideas and practices, could actually be selfsabotaging.

Spiritual bypassing, a term coined in the early 1980s by psychologist John Welwood, refers to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs. The concept was developed in the spirit of Chögyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which was one of the first attempts to name this spiritual distortion.

According to teacher and author Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, hiding behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it “not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality.”

My Own Bypassing

In Masters’ groundbreaking book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Mattershe writes:

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 side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.

Before listening to Duncan wax lyrical about this, I never imagined there could be such subtle and complex consequences of pursuing spiritual matters. And thinking that I, a cautious and sincere spiritual seeker, could be suffering such consequences seemed equally absurd.

But after reading the detailed description of symptoms, I knew it applied to my situation. I realized that at a certain point in early adulthood, I had perverted spirituality into a defense mechanism — a mechanism that enabled me to disavow any negative quality or behavior in myself.

I recall a few specific patterns taking place:

  • Whenever I became anxious, I would immediately reach for the nearest Eckhart Tolle or Alan Watts text on my bookshelf. Instead of sitting with the anxiety and checking in to see if it was coming from an innocuous source, I would quickly find refuge in spiritual philosophy.

  • I would strive to maintain the appearance of someone who is constantly at peace with oneself, even though inside I may have felt like the weight of the world was crushing down on my soul. This kind of faux spirituality had a complete stranglehold on my speech and behavior and caused intense cognitive dissonance.
  • Whenever I had done something hurtful or wrong to another person, I would rarely take responsibility for it. I deflected that responsibility by saying things like “that person just needs to grow spiritually” or “it’s just an illusion anyways” — all in a naïve tone reminiscent of the time I thought I was a bonafide professor of quantum physics.

The process of realizing when you’re to blame in any given situation is no easy task. But spiritual bypassing enables one to ignore that difficult process altogether. It led me to believe I was always right because I was more “enlightened” than all the ignorant sheeples who just couldn’t see the damn light. But the harsh truth of this spiritual arrogance is that I was ignoring the pain I caused in others because I was ignoring a similar pain in myself.

Reinforcements From Our Culture

Masters writes:

Part of the reason for [spiritual bypassing] is that we tend not to have very much tolerance, either personally or collectively, for facing, entering, and working through our pain, strongly preferring pain-numbing “solutions,” regardless of how much suffering such “remedies” may catalyze. Because this preference has so deeply and thoroughly infiltrated our culture that it has become all but normalized, spiritual bypassing fits almost seamlessly into our collective habit of turning away from what is painful, as a kind of higher analgesic with seemingly minimal side effects. It is a spiritualized strategy not only for avoiding pain but also for legitimizing such avoidance, in ways ranging from the blatantly obvious to the extremely subtle.

The subtlety of recognition seems to be the root of why this affliction is so widespread and under-diagnosed. Psychologist Ingrid Mathieu also notes this subtlety in her article Beware of Spiritual Bypass:

Although the defense looks a lot prettier than other defenses, it serves the same purpose. Spiritual bypass shields us from truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in — and the difference is so subtle that we usually don’t even know we are doing it.

Considering our culture generally shuns negative emotions, it’s no surprise many of us respond to those emotions with repression.  Prominent manifestations of repression, such as alcoholism and drug addiction, are forms of relief whose conspicuous quality makes them easier to identify and intervene. Spiritual bypassing, while seemingly more benign, is much more difficult to notice because it’s guised in the appearance of wholeness and wisdom.  It’s much harder to recognize our repression when we’re chanting “Om Shanti” on a regular basis or repeating positive affirmations that “everything is okay” or “all is love.”

Yoga, meditation, psychedelics, prayer, affirmations, deeply engaging with the present moment, etc. are all incredibly powerful spiritual tools if used appropriately. But sometimes, and if we’re not careful, those things can end up masking deeper issues lingering both inside and outside of us.

To me, spiritual bypassing is fundamentally about taking a so-called absolute truth — such as “everything is okay” — and using it to ignore or deny relative truths — such as the grief we feel when we lose a loved one, or the shame that arises when we fail at something important. On the personal and interpersonal level, sometimes everything isn’t okay. And that’s okay. 

That may seem trite, but in the context of spiritual bypassing, it’s a platitude that I feel requires frequent repetition. 

Before we can heal our pain, we have to be honest about it and accept it — which is ideally what spirituality should help realize. As Masters suggests, this is certainly easier said than done and requires a level of vulnerability which most of us are uncomfortable with.

Nonetheless, if we grant validity to the many claims that spirituality is shaping the evolution of humanity, it seems wise to confront the intricacies of our own bypassing sooner rather than later. Doing so could not only prevent years of developmental stagnation, but also help implement new angles of self-awareness that our world so desperately needs. Acknowledgment and acceptance were the first major steps for me, and I sense a deeper spirituality is following in their wake.

by Jonathan Toniolo

Jonathan Toniolo also goes by Tony. When he’s not having an identity crisis, he enjoys researching the intersection of technology and the evolution of consciousness. He also likes kicking soccer balls, stand-up comedy, and traveling the world. Add him on Facebook to connect and discuss the meaning of life.

Written by a dear friend Warren Nebe - on the passing of Madiba

By Warren Nebe

President Barak Obama's statement on the pasing of Madiba: "At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

And Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us -- he belongs to the ages.

Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa -- and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings -- and countries -- can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings. The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.

To Graça Machel and his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him the most. And I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family.

To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal, and reconciliation, and resilience that you made real. A free South Africa at peace with itself -- that’s an example to the world, and that’s Madiba’s legacy to the nation he loved.

We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived -- a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. May God Bless his memory and keep him in peace."

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

In 1991, I had the privilege of shooting a movie of the stage play ‘Sarafina’. During one of our shoot days we had the unique honor of being visited by Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela on set. It was bizarre, we were meeting the man we were making a film about. As I shook his hand and looked into his eyes I was overwhelmed with an intense surge of emotion and awe. This moment ranked as one of the greatest highlights of my life.

It is with deep sadness that I heard the official news last night that Madiba is no longer with us. Where to begin? When someone has had such a profound impact on so many?

When I was in high school and college in apartheid era South Africa I would hear his name spoken with deep reverence. We all heard stories of his 4 hour speech during his trial when he said:

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

These are the words of a great man. Indeed he did make a sacrifice. He was sentenced to life imprisonment (of which he served 27 years).

I got a call last night from a dear South African friend reminding me of the day he was released from prison. We reminisced about how we ran up and down the streets of Johannesburg screaming with jubilation like crazy people. We were crazy. Young, passionate, fierce and euphoric. This great man was finally free! Seeing him become President was like a dream come true. It was the South Africa we all yearned for. Today, coupled with these fond memories - I feel a deep pain. A light has gone out in the world.

My sadness, as well as perhaps 50 million other South Africans, knows no bounds. His goodness and unyielding principles cause an aching inside of me. The beauty of who he was, leaves me crying my heart out. His life meant something. He showed us a way. A way to be a truly great human. If I could be 1% of the man he was, I would be proud.

Mark Vicente
December 6th, 2013

The Gift - from Big Lazy Robot

I found this phenomenal short on Vimeo. I found it on the Biglazyrobot Vimeo Channel. Below is their intro of the video.

"Directed by Carl E. Rinsch, ‘The Gift’ Belongs to the "pararell Lines" Phillips Cinema campaning. Placed in Russia, The Gift is a Sci-Fi short with a savage Chase sequence on it. We made more than 20 full CGI shots for the short. Check out the animated pictures to see how it has been done. We also made the vechicles and some characters desings. We enjoyed creating such an unusual atmosphere and sense. Not the regular Sci-fi film we are used to see..."