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#4167 - Thursday, February 17, 2011 - Editor: Gloria Lee

The Nonduality Highlights -  
"If you must begin, then go all the way,
because if you begin and quit,
the unfinished business you have
left behind begins to haunt
you all the time."  

~Trungpa Rinpoche   

posted to Daily Dharma by Amrita Nadi  


by Alan Larus


  The following is excerpted from Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality
Disconnects Us from What Really Matters, by Robert Augustus Masters,
available from North Atlantic Books.

Avoidance in Holy Drag: An Introduction to Spiritual Bypassing  

Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in
1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our
painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is much more
common than we might think and, in fact, is so pervasive as to go largely
unnoticed, except in its more obvious extremes.

Part of the reason for this 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.

Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in
many forms, often without being acknowledged as such. 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

The explosion of interest in spirituality since the mid-1960s, especially
Eastern spirituality, has been accompanied by a corresponding interest and
immersion in spiritual bypassing -- which has, however, not very often been
named, let alone viewed, as such. It has been easier to frame spiritual
bypassing as a religion -- transcending, spiritually advanced practice or
perspective, especially in the fast-food spirituality epitomized by faddish
phenomena like The Secret. Some of the more glaringly facile features, such as
drive-through servings of reheated wisdom like "Don't take it personally" or
"Whatever bothers you about someone is really only about you" or "It's all
just an illusion," are available for consumption and parroting by just about

Happily, the honeymoon with false or superficial notions of spirituality is
starting to wane. Enough bubbles have been burst; enough spiritual teachers,
Eastern and Western, have been caught with pants or halo down; enough cults
have come and gone; enough time has been spent with spiritual baubles,
credentials, energy transmissions, and gurucentrism to sense deeper treasures.
But valuable as the desire for a more authentic spirituality is, such change will
not occur on any significant scale and really take root until spiritual bypassing
is outgrown, and that is not as easy as it might sound, for it asks that we cease
turning away from our pain, numbing ourselves, and expecting spirituality to
make us feel better.

True spirituality is not a high, not a rush, not an altered state. It has been fine
to romance it for a while, but our times call for something far more real,
grounded, and responsible; something radically alive and naturally integral;
something that shakes us to our very core until we stop treating spiritual
deepening as something to dabble in here and there. Authentic spirituality is
not some little flicker or buzz of knowingness, not a psychedelic blast-through
or a mellow hanging-out on some exalted plane of consciousness, not a bubble of
immunity, but a vast fire of liberation, an exquisitely fitting crucible and
sanctuary, providing both heat and light for the healing and awakening we need.

Most of the time when we're immersed in spiritual bypassing, we like the light
but not the heat. And when we're caught up in the grosser forms of spiritual
bypassing, we'd usually much rather theorize about the frontiers of
consciousness than actually go there, suppressing the fire rather than breathing
it even more alive, espousing the ideal of unconditional love but not permitting
love to show up in its more challenging, personal dimensions. To do so would be
too hot, too scary, and too out-of-control, bringing things to the surface that
we have long disowned or suppressed.

But if we really want the light, we cannot afford to flee the heat. As Victor
Frankl said, "What gives light must endure burning." And being with the fire's
heat doesn't just mean sitting with the difficult stuff in meditation, but also
going into it, trekking to its core, facing and entering and getting intimate with
whatever is there, however scary or traumatic or sad or raw.

We have had quite an affair with Eastern spiritual pathways, but now it is time
to go deeper. We must do this not only to get more intimate with the essence of
these wisdom traditions beyond ritual and belief and dogma but also to make
room for the healthy evolution, not just the necessary Westernization, of these
traditions so that their presentation ceases encouraging spiritual bypassing
(however indirectly) and, in fact, consciously and actively ceases giving it soil
to flower. These changes won't happen to any significant degree, however,
unless we work in-depth and integratively with our physical, emotional,
psychological, spiritual, and social dimensions to generate an everdeeper sense
of wholeness, vitality, and basic sanity.

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