Everyone who has walked the spiritual path will have experienced themselves using spiritual practices in order to avoid facing painful emotions or unwanted truths. We do this by thinking rigidly positive and denying the negative (“Me, angry? No way!") or by rationalizing how we should feel instead of simply acknowledging what is going on inside of us (“I can’t be angry. Anger arises from the ego and I am NOT my ego!"). This tendency is known as spiritual bypass or spiritual bypassing and often causes people to stay stuck in their journey.
In my opinion, spiritual bypassing is not a problem in and of itself. It’s a natural mechanism of the ego which is part of our journey and eventually helps us grow. But it’s important to shine light on the mechanisms in order to transcend this egoic tendency and move further towards the integration of the soul and the ego. The mechanisms can be very subtle and convincing, making you believe that you’re mastering the spiritual principles and most of all, that you’re mastering your ego. Uncovering and letting go of a spiritual bypass can be very tough, because it feels like you have to surrender to your ego. But paradoxically we first have to acknowledge the human side of ourselves - including all its negativity and limitations - in order to awake our spiritual side.
Generally, you can catch yourself in a spiritual bypass when you’re either being overly positive or if you find yourself wanting to achieve quick results. There are many techniques out there which promise to deliver quick and instant results. Some people might benefit from them, but I see it as a way to not want to commit to the deep and intense feelings we keep inside. It’s like a house that has been built in a short time and from low quality material: You can live in it, but the structure is not solid and one day it will simply fall apart. We simply can’t run away from the pain that wants to be felt and acknowledged. Furthermore, you can be pretty sure that you’re in a spiritual bypass when you feel that you’re overthinking your spiritual practices. The moment you catch your mind to be in a high thinking mode, you’re probably subconsciously looking for ways to avoid the feeling that’s underneath.
But as I mentioned already, the fact that you’re bypassing is not the problem. We all do it, it’s part of our nature. Eventually, even wanting to get rid of our spiritual bypass would be a form of a spiritual bypass. Essentially all our egoic tendencies - also our spiritual bypass - hold a message for us which want to be uncovered. By denying our tendency to bypass, we also deny that there’s a valuable lesson to be learned. The bypass is not the problem, whatever surfaces is never the problem, but you can choose how to deal with it. I never really thought of how to deal with my spiritual bypasses until this month, where I found myself in a very intricate dance between the egoic part of myself and the spiritual part of myself. I’m grateful for having explored the link between those two entities within myself previous month which has greatly helped me this month to make sense of my feelings and behaviours.
Let me start by giving you the background information. My father is currently in intensive care. He caught corona which has led to severe complications due to the fact that he already suffered from COPD. He is generally extremely fit and healthy, so this really came as a shock to me. Initially I found myself in denial. When he first told me he had corona but only slight flu symptoms I assumed he had a false positive and he was suffering from a simple flu (obviously, I was aware that with his COPD this could lead to serious complications). When he told me a couple of days later he was in hospital I seriously thought he was kidding. I simply didn’t want to accept the pain that would come along with my dear father being in such a position. But when the next day he was put in an artificial coma and placed in intensive care I couldn’t help but feel the feelings coming to the surface.
Initially, I felt so overwhelmed by the feelings that I couldn’t even manage to try to suppress them. But soon after I realized I was soothing myself with spiritual slogans like “Everything happens for a reason” and “His soul will know what is best for him”. If you’ve followed my blog a bit in the past year you’ll know that I have tried to befriend my negative emotions by giving them a place in my life. I quickly felt that these slogans were not allowing my grief and pain to arise. This was the spiritual bypass number one, which was soon followed by bypass number two: I tried to suppress the “positive” slogans in order to force my negative feelings to come up - so I could quickly transcend those feelings and come back to peace. Obviously, it didn’t work and all I could feel was confusion and exhaustion.
I found myself thinking about what I was supposed to feel instead of feeling what I felt. My mind was racing like crazy, looking for solutions how to best deal with this tragedy. How could I best respond to it? How could I get through this situation without having to feel too much? In my confusion and emotional pain I didn’t have the strength anymore to find any solutions. I simply surrendered to the human being I am. I realized what was going on and that I was stuck in a spiritual bypass which was contradicting itself and I decided not to do anything against that either. In the silence of the surrender I came to an important insight: that allowing vulnerability and weakness, not only regarding myself, but especially regarding my parents, was very frightening to my Inner Child.
When I was young my mother suffered from depressions which made me feel very helpless as a child. Throughout the years I’ve subconsciously developed anger towards the victimhood and weakness of my mum. Finding guilt in her was my way of avoiding the deep pain underneath my own helplessness. Obviously, I couldn’t use this defense mechanism in my dad’s situation. All there was left was feeling the pain I had tried to deny for so long. In the perception of my Inner Child my parents are the source of my own life force, so experiencing their lack of strength and health feels like my own life is at risk. Once I realized how deep rooted this childhood trauma had been anchored in my soul, I instantly understood that the human part in me had to ward off this pain in order to not get overwhelmed.
This insight led me to allow myself to have an emotionally protective wall. I acknowledged how painful it would be to really allow this feeling of helplessness and vulnerability without a filter. I essentially allowed myself the spiritual bypass, but I did it consciously. I continue watching myself, my behaviour, my thoughts and feelings. I allow myself to accept as much pain as I can take. It’s very important to have an inner observer for this process. This observer is what makes the human part in you feel safe and cared for. Only with the guidance of this caring part of yourself, can you learn to really ease into your pain. This process is not to be controlled and takes whatever time it takes. By wanting to achieve instant spiritual results - including instantly feeling all of your pain just so you can transcend it - you’re not being guided by your Inner Being, but by your Inner Dictator which is a colleague of your ego.
Once I fully allowed myself to be human, to not be able to fully take the pain and at the same to want to ease the pain with spiritual slogans, things slowly started to shift. I started to witness true moments of great hope, love and interconnectedness and of intense gratitude. These feelings didn’t necessarily come along with thoughts, they simply arose. The pain also came and at times really seemed to suffocate me. My heart was aching and my body seemed to be drained of all energy. I didn’t fight against it anymore and just let things happen. It was the purest pain I had ever felt and in a way it has brought me closer to my dad, to myself and to life just as it is.
Of course, I regularly fall back into my thinking mode, which is always a sign to me that I’m holding off some kind of feelings (and therefore find myself in a bypass), but I continue to allow myself whatever arises in me. In the meanwhile, my Inner Observer keeps a close, but non-controlling eye on me which gradually leads to a more open heart. In this period my heart is extremely open which allows me to feel so much love for my dad and all the loving and caring people around me. I feel intensely interconnected with everyone which in the midst of this horrible period makes me feel so wonderful.
At the same time the openness of my heart also makes me very vulnerable and receptive to the pain. Especially when I go to visit my dad, when the horrible situation is so real and tangible, the pain seems to consume me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much pain and despair as in those moments, but by now I also know that my Inner Being is with me and feeling these feelings is part of what I need to go through.
Now I can see that this situation has given me the opportunity to reconnect to this unbearable childhood emotion which I obviously needed to keep covered in order to feel safe in life. I learned to understand my reactions (and everyone else’s reactions) and I can see how our egoic reactions are legitimized. The spiritual path is wonderful and the goals along the path are definitely worth going after, but we need to understand that the spiritual path is not made to be followed in one straight line. Everything comes at it’s right time and there’s nothing we can do. All we can do is to be aware, to observe the state we’re in and to know that we’re right where we need to be in in order to learn our individual lessons. We should release the idea of what a “spiritual person” should act like and how this person should feel and think and simply shine some awareness on how our being arises just the way it is.