Let’s begin with a simple definition from Wikipedia, spiritual bypassing is a "tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks". The term was introduced in the early 1980s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_bypassd psychotherapist)
It’s a popular term these days. Rightfully so, as it is a method of avoiding uncomfortable and painful feelings. As we face systemic racism in our country, our communities, and among friends and family, we have to face the discomfort of that reality. The Namchak team recently sat down with Lama Tsomo to discuss how we can identify and avoid spiritual bypassing. Here are some highlights of that discussion.
Ways spiritual bypassing may show up…
- Misuse of Shamata: Sometimes we use meditation to slow down our thoughts and often that is beneficial. This can be problematic depending on our intention. For example, we could use Shamata as a way to press “pause” on the movie in our minds so that we don’t have to think about what is really happening. That becomes more like zoning out rather than learning to focus our minds on an object. If we are zoning out and avoiding feelings, then we aren’t learning how to focus; we’re escaping. And escaping is not going to help us unlearn racism. One way we can avoid this is to take extra time to carve out our true intentions for our practice.
- Misuse of ultimate truth or relative truth: The Buddha speaks of ultimate and relative truth. Diving into relative truth and ignoring absolute truth or vice versa comes at a great expense. We can monitor ourselves and watch for signs that we need to reassess how we are holding onto these two types of truth. Here are a few signs:
- Thinking that we don’t need to worry about living a compassionate life, because there is no such thing as pain or suffering;
- Thinking that what we do doesn’t matter or that we are powerless against an issue as enormous as systemic racism;
- Living with the idea that we’re separate from each other, rather than living as though we are all waves of the same ocean.
Please add more ideas in the comments!
For most of us, our first response probably will be that we aren’t doing any of these things. But spiritual bypassing isn’t always a conscious choice. We may automatically do it in discomfort, because escape is a natural human response to pain. We don’t have to label our go-to responses as right or wrong. Instead, we can learn to be aware of them. Let’s challenge ourselves to take an honest inventory of our intentions, our beliefs in ultimate and relative truth, and how that plays out in our off-the-cushion lives. Our innate sense of self-preservation may tell us to run the other way. Our beginning work right now is to sit with the discomfort of uncovering our coping mechanisms and increasing our awareness of spiritual bypassing.