Having delved deeply into the subject of spiritual bypassing over the past few years (and especially over the past few months), my thoughts are starting to coalesce into something coherent now, assisted by my own learning and studies. In my world, that means it’s time to write about it!

What is spiritual bypassing?

The term “spiritual bypassing” was originally coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984. As he explained in an interview, “Spiritual bypassing is a term I coined to describe a process I saw happening in the Buddhist community I was in, and also in myself. Although most of us were sincerely trying to work on ourselves, I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”

Robert Augustus Masters, author of the book Spiritual Bypassing-When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters gives a more nuanced description:

“Spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with 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.

“Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, 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 elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.”

The triple paradox

Spiritual bypassing is a complex and deeply embedded pattern in our current culture, and unwinding it takes awareness, practice, and the willingness to witness and confront these patterns in ourselves. Here are a few of the relevant ideas I feel aligned with and have been teaching for quite some time:

  • Resistance is futile. Whatever we push against, we empower and feed with our energy. A “war against” or “battle against” anything is doomed to fail, as we’ve seen, for example, in the war on drugs and the battle against cancer. What you resist, persists. When you engage in pushing against something, that something (or someone) will inevitably push back.

So how do we dismantle systems of oppression without fighting against them?

  • The only way to change outer reality is to change inner reality. In the big picture, what happens in our lives is an out-picturing of our inner reality. As soon as we stand in the victim role and blame, we give away our power.

But what about the actual victims, like children who are sexually abused?

  • We are each part of a collective consciousness. All of humanity shares collective, often unconscious, agreements, beliefs, and unexamined shadow. We all contribute to and receive from this powerful mental/emotional energy field.

What the heck can we do about all that collective muck?

In 2020, I participated in a wonderful course with a spiritual teacher and high priestess whose work I’ve been appreciating for many years. Her name is Ariel Spilsbury and the course is called Awaken and Rebalance Yourself and Our World Through Feminine Alchemy. It’s invited me into a deeper study of the alchemy, which provides a relevant map for inner (and therefore outer) transformation.

The word “alchemy” gets used a great deal, but do you know what it actually means? I only had the vaguest idea, but I’m diving deep now. While it’s best known as the process for turning lead into gold in ancient times, it’s actually something much deeper and more profound. Simply put, it’s a spiritual technology that goes back many centuries and is still very relevant today. Per Ariel’s recommendation, I’m currently reading The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation by Dennis William Hauck. It’s blowing my mind.

It’s not spiritual bypass if…

Ariel teaches that alchemy works through the tension of polarities. For example, right/wrong, good/bad, masculine/feminine, masks/no masks. She said that when we are willing to view the polarities we experience through the lens of alchemy, we have an opportunity to harness the vast energy that is being released and focus it toward personal growth and cultural change.

I had a profound moment of understanding during Ariel’s course when one of the participants was sharing her experience of talking about holding the vision of the imbalanced masculine and feminine being healed and whole on our planet. She said she would then sometimes receive feedback that she was spiritually bypassing. Ariel’s response was “It’s not a spiritual bypass if you are truly transforming on the inside.” And, we still need to do things to initiate and catalyze change in the world of form, such as take action to right the wrongs… it’s both/and.

Ariel went on to say that if we hold the vision of humanity and our planet as whole and complete, it will become that… and that vision goes out to all beings and uplifts the whole planet. Conversely, the more we hold it as broken, the more we go in that direction.

She referenced the work of Rupert Sheldrake on Morphic Resonance and the 100th monkey theory, where the monkeys on one Japanese island began washing their yams. Spontaneously, monkeys on other islands began doing the same thing without being taught. The power of our thought as a species to affect the collective is unimaginable. What we do within ourselves affects the whole.

How I’m personally navigating:

    • I am holding the vision for a healed, whole Earth and all her residents and trusting the process, even and especially when the process is incomprehensible. I acknowledge that many disempowering systems must collapse and be re-visioned, and that this process is well underway.
    • I’m digging into my own personal shadow material, taking every opportunity to excavate, heal, and integrate my still-wounded inner parts as they reveal themselves. This is a lifelong process, but it gets easier and faster with practice.
    • I’m taking action in the ways that are aligned with my path and my being, such as writing, speaking, posting, and educating about the global changes that feel necessary and important to me, including systemic racism. How I take action may look different from how others take action, and that’s totally appropriate. We are each guided by our own soul’s compass.
    • I’m on the middle path, holding the polarities. Rather than being for one thing and against another, I’m holding all possibilities. As I say often, I don’t know what I don’t know. I hold myself as a chalice, a crucible, in and through which transmutation occurs.
  • While I have investigated many interesting theories regarding what’s going on in the world and what the future holds, I am not judging any of them as bad or wrong… just interesting points of view.

In order to create anything, we must be able to dream it up or at least have an idea of what we want. We don’t have to know HOW it will be created, but we need to know what we desire. That’s where I believe imagining and holding a vision for what kind of future I would like to live in is imperative.

Alchemy and transformation

Consider the caterpillar who becomes a butterfly. Ariel described the entire alchemical process of with its seven stages using the caterpillar into butterfly process as a brilliant metaphor. It’s a metaphor that applies succinctly to what we are experiencing on the planet right now… a natural process where one stage successfully completed leads to the next. And according to her example, we, as a planet, are in the fermentation state, the 6th step (of 7) in the alchemical process, which carries the necessity of identifying, owning, and dissolving the shadow material that has not been addressed so we can grow into spiritual maturity. That includes dissolving within ourselves the old structures that mirror the outer structures that no longer serve.

  • Are you willing to dive deep?
  • Are you willing to hold the polarities as a balancing point, a bridge to harmony?
  • Are you wiling to embrace diversity in humanity as a rich blessing?

As above, so below. As within, so without.

I purposely left some open-ended questions in this article and invite you to ponder them for yourself. I have my own thoughts and ideas, but I’m not here to be an authority on anything except myself and what works for me. I am here to share what has worked (and worked very well) for me as a contribution to anyone who resonates with what I have to offer. And I’m here to be part of a conversation. I invite you engage by leaving comments below, and I will answer each of them.

I’ll be taking a deeper dive into the alchemical process in my self-guided online course, The Sacred Feminine Path to Sexual Wholeness-The Alchemy of Abundance. 

Blessed be, Amrita

See Amrita’s full bio here