Difficulties, impasses, and setbacks on the spiritual journey
From Grace and Back Ten Common Pitfalls of Spiritual Practice
Four Benefits of Spirituality
Reconciled Differences Out of Body, Out of Mind
Two Common Forms of Spiritual Bypassing
From Grace and Back
A Spiritual Practice Problem
Abiding in faith one lives life from one’s true nature. This means worldly success and happiness is not defined in the same way as it is for others.
If one is spiritual one lives life by different rules determined by spiritual principles. And in doing so is living as soul in the world.
Identification and communion with Spirit is the focus of soul’s life in the world.
This special relationship with Spirit requires the regular practice of surrendering one’s will to God/Spirit.
Soul honors this relationship with God and respects that God’s will determines its good fortune. This entails letting go of blessings by returning them to God.
Soul remains strong in the world by resisting spiritual materialism.
However, if one becomes attached to what one receives one’s spirit will be diminished.
Not relinquishing gifts and triumphs bestowed upon one, darkness confuses and controls, and soul feels it is only of this world.
Soul will mistakenly believe it is so powerful that it alone can create and/or obtain whatever it wants.
Acting independently soul leaves behind an unnecessary God.
Strong willed soul believes it alone knows what form its own destiny should take and will lust after more personal success.
With this attitude, wayward soul acts from a divinely insatiable and ethically corrupt desire for more.
Attached to its personal wants again, soul will separate from God, and a subtle insecurity will begin to arise within soul.
Feeling less spiritual one feels more challenged by life’s adversities. Soul subconsciously believes God is failing it.
As feelings of loss of its Beloved increase, soul will feel alone and powerless in the world. Thoughts and feelings will become negative and sadness will turn to despair.
Having forgotten its true identity, soul feels dead and paralyzed. The heavy darkness does not lift.
Pain will overwhelm motivation to engage in spiritual practice to restore one’s spirituality. Soul is at risk of spending a lifetime in this grief and self-pity.
One feels one has failed and one’s spirituality destroyed. All love and joy have been lost.
Soul will attempt to return Home but its intellect and willpower will prove insufficient to change its condition. Devotion is practically nonexistent and one will feel like giving up.
Feeling it is facing death, soul must now choose between the mundane and the sacred as if for the first time.
Only returning to right formal practice, without reflection or argument will restore one spiritually. Unselfconsciously entrusting one’s life to God is the only solution.
Soul again submits to Spirit’s principles and rules, sacrificing will and personal power to restore harmony between oneself and Spirit.
Through soul’s effort God will once again recognize It’s nature in soul and enable soul to live in communion with its Beloved.
Transpersonal feelings of unconditional love, peace, and joy slowly return. Aligned with the purpose and plan of the cosmos one begins to feel whole again.
One’s original identity is restored. The spiritual person understands his/her true nature as spirit. And living as soul, follows Spirit’s ways and receives blessings.
One’s mind is Spirit’s Mind. And the less there is of one’s individual self, the more there is of the liberated soul.
Now more truly knowing God’s magnificence, soul appreciates its rightful place in a world of love and abundance.
Grains of wisdom are granted through spiritual pitfalls endured and overcome.
What special characteristics do you ascribe to the soul?
What is it that protects you from falling into spiritual materialism?
How often have you gone through the cycle described above? Describe it in your own words.
What is the action you have taken that ends the darkness and paralysis, that brings you back to your right spiritual practice?
What do you think Spirit’s purpose is for you?
Ten Common Pitfalls of Spiritual Practice
With all the helpful information on what and how to practice, developing spiritually seems straightforward and easily achieved when in actuality it is not. There comes a time when one must go beyond what some refer to as a secular spirituality; feeling better about oneself and getting what one wants in life. If one does not identify greater spiritual goals for oneself practice becomes routine and confused, discipline wanes, and belief weakens. This lack of direction and/or impasse can result in disappointment in oneself and envy of others spiritual development. These then contribute to one becoming hostage to mundane societal norms and also to religious-spiritual dogma. The alternative is to remember one’s transpersonal identity and its responsibilities, what one is doing and the impact it is having, and what one’s purpose is in doing as one does. This prevents one’s practice from stalling and becoming self-centered. It also insures one’s practice does not become “everyone’s practice” and instead creates the personally fashioned and uniquely lived one it must be.
Spirituality is nothing if not mind altering. And being able to discern common psychological awareness from spiritual occurrences and awareness is of utmost importance. One needs to know the difference between spacing out and the “not-thinking” of raised awareness, intuition versus inspiration, lucky guesses from true clairvoyance, and auditory sound distortions versus true messages from spiritual guides and other helpers. Misperceptions mislead and harm us, while only true experience informs and guides us.
It is easy to misperceive the change in one’s character and one’s spiritual abilities as one evolves spiritually. Feeling transpersonal attunement following a retreat does not mean one has altered one’s mind; only that one has experienced this state of awareness. Nor do visions through prayer or in a sweat ceremony mean one is visionary. Change in awareness does not equal permanent change of mind or one’s character. Sustaining one’s experience through practice, and preparing for and accepting the high probability one will return to traditional awareness are best practice. And doing so actually contributes to the likelihood that one day one’s mind will have evolved into a permanent higher stage of awareness.
When one does not recognize the state of mind versus stage of mind phenomena one’s ego can become inflated. One thinks one is more and can do more than is actually true. Most commonly the ego thinks of itself as having the worth and power of the Divine, a clear case of mistaken identity. A common form of this occurs when one credits oneself with positive manifestations in one’s life. Whether on the level of the proverbial parking space or the million-dollar miracle, if one does not credit the Divine Source one is deceiving one. And this eventually leads to a cessation of desired manifestations and/or the manifestation of negative ones. Being respectfully humble and grateful for what one receives, while sustaining worship results in ethically securing what one needs.
Temptations are especially frequent when one is evolving spiritually and life is manifesting as one might desire. Their defining characteristic is appearing as an opportunity that presents itself as an easy shortcut to one’s next goal. And initially a temptation seems to be a good solution for a good cause with only minor drawbacks. This could be the chance to start a business with another; an all expenses paid retreat, the appearance of the love of your life. Caution is necessary because one must be certain this is not a temptation that will move you away from other meaningful objectives; causing you to compromise more than you might have otherwise, or take more risk or responsibility than you should. One must examine wisely to be sure doors are opening easily and not being forced, and this is best done with patience and faith. (See No Perfect Om, Spiritual and Religious Experience: “Blessing or Temptation”)
Some refer to it as karma, others as God’s will. No matter, life is comprised of intentions and consequences ordered in a circular fashion; “what goes around comes around”. Based on self-perception and recollected personal history one all too often misunderstands this as punishment or reward. In actuality events are best understood as multi-determined. While one has contributed, one is not the sole cause, but rather other forces have also been influential. And it is this collection of forces, as universal motivation and/or consequence that actually determines outcome. Remembering there is no individual self to blame or credit can help one remember this principle. Respecting the Nondual One’s actions as loving and beneficial, one then learns from the experience and moves forward in life.
Living in the material world but not being of the material world is too often misunderstood as a directive to reject the mundane world in which we live. Retreating from the world, hiding away from it, and disparaging what is not spiritual is a losing proposition. Instead one is to partake in the world with wisdom and the moderate action it provides; relinquishing the material aspects that harm spiritual development, surrendering to the universal rules that require sacrifice of mundane behaviors and pleasures that are damaging. Avoiding the detrimental and embracing virtue promotes a healthy spirituality, supports universal diversity, and furthers the common good.
Spiritual bypassing is a common pitfall and occurs when one uses one’s spiritual practice to falsely shore up a weak ego. This can take the form of acting in a disdainful manner toward the world conveying one does not need it or others, telling oneself one is a better person than those who do not practice, or acting the role of a spiritual person rather than actually embodying true spiritual character. Overly relying on Spirit to meet one’s mundane psychological needs is another example, for instance using God to replace one’s lost lover or partner. Addressing one’s unique psychological needs as part of one’s practice, especially monitoring the shadow side of one’s character is crucial in this regard. (See No Perfect Om, Challenges to Spiritual Growth: “Two Common Forms of Spiritual Bypassing”)
Like spiritual bypassing, spiritual materialism serves the ego. It often involves an overemphasis on securing and maintaining the material pleasures in the world. And it can also take the form of securing and reveling in the social status that comes from serving others. Rather than accepting worldly social and material gains as the byproduct of spiritual life and practice, they become the unconscious emphasis of practice. These results are usually cloaked in the language of blessings and miracles, and are garnered with little gratitude and accompanied by pretentious display. Accepting and appreciating one’s spiritual moments or material gains as commonplace, and returning them to Spirit as the originator of them can prevent materialism from tainting one’s spirituality.
The tenth pitfall is associated with one of the most sought after prizes in life, romantic love. And this has become idealized as finding the love of one’s life, one’s soulmate. The spiritual pitfall occurs when one has difficulty distinguishing Divine Love from romantic love. The latter is based on chemistry and fit between two individuals. The former is the result of two beings having the spirit within each one recognize the spirit in the other, resulting in Spirit recognizing Itself and Love resulting. Confusing the two loves results in a relationship ending when the two involved realize there is a poor fit between them that has eroded the initial Divine Love. To prevent this tragedy one must determine if romantic love is present, distinguish between chemistry and spiritual feelings, and if all are present to continue one’s spiritual practice rather than let one’s lover become the new “god/goddess” in one’s life. (See One Perfect Om, “Consider These Ten Things Before Declaring You Have Found Your Soulmate”)
Do you agree or disagree with the idea that everyone’s spirituality and practice is unique, that no two are alike?
What do you do to prevent spiritual materialism from controlling your beliefs and actions?
What is your immediate, and then subsequent response when a blessing or miracle occurs in your life?
When explaining your spiritual experiences what do you find yourself doing, describing the content of your mind or using spiritual terms to define the experience?
Describe what you believe to be some of the differences between secular and spiritual ethics.
Benefits of Spirituality
Going through some books in my library I discovered the following list of the benefits of spirituality from Sharon Janis (Spirituality for Dummies, 2000). I believe by reflecting upon what spirituality can do for you, it can help you determine if you might want to refine your spiritual practice in some way. A cautionary note here however. Taken out of context these benefits can serve to strengthen the individual ego and inflate belief in its own power. For one primarily seeking greater happiness from spiritual practice, or even more healing power in service to others this may not create too big of a problem. But strong attachment to personal benefit would certainly be a hindrance to one seeking to be naturally and reliably compassionate in thought and deed, consistently virtuous and altruistic in one’s actions, and/or self-realized or enlightened.
Sharon Janis, “What Spirituality Can Do For You:
Spirituality gives you greater appreciation for everything in your life.
Spirituality gives you more consciousness of the bigger picture.
Spirituality brings you more power, along with the intuition on how to guide that power.
Spirituality brings you to a place of independent contentment.
Spirituality is the key to overcoming sorrow.
Spirituality encourages honesty and self-acceptance.
Spirituality reveals that everything you seek outside yourself is right inside.
Spirituality makes your limited identification dissolve and expand into greater fields of awareness.
Spirituality helps you remember that it is all God, even when it doesn’t feel like God.”
In your own words describe your experience of “independent contentment”.
What is the primary purpose of your spiritual practice? Secondary?
How often are you surprised at your less than compassionate thought or action in response to a person or circumstance?
How well does “…remember(ing) that it is all God, even when it doesn’t feel like God” serve you?
How does your spiritual tradition define altruism?
You and I are not the same person, so I’m sure my god is different from your god. Because of our individual differences all gods are personal and unique, though most do not recognize this, insisting their god is the One. And not even realizing when we agree that our god is the One, we really are not referring to the same god. Oh my!
Not only that, but everyone’s spirituality is different, even though our language and common experiences might agree, and there is even theology that says it is all so real and true. However, no matter its religious origin or degree of concurrence among us, it is personal and unique. We practice differently, we seek different results, and even when in pursuit of the same objectives there are differences we do not discern. Oh no!
Equally challenging, maybe even more so, is that your reality is not the same as mine. It only appears we live on the same planet, in the same universe. We don’t. Though the principles that manifest my world and yours are the same, the result is not; the earth I walk upon, and the reasons I do so are not the same as yours. The good news and the Goodness, lies in the fact that we can agree upon so much when we are traveling such different realities. And though there is a consensus reality we can agree upon, there is much of it we do not. No matter how obvious or subtle these differences are they remain significant, affecting our every action. Oh well!
So the principles of manifestation to which we are all subject require some basic agreement. Primary is that Spirit creates diverse forms, all of Itself though never completely of Itself. Hence there is a Mystery to continually try to recognize but that will never be known. And even though the conclusive truths and personal forms of God each of us believes in will vary, it is necessary that diversity be respected, altruism lived, and love given unconditionally. All God’s true religions and spiritual practices support differing worldviews for their theologically valid truths while discarding falsehoods and misinterpretations. The resulting commonality of Truth, when accurately known, experienced, and lived leaves us all in one world, all of one people, all of one God, All as One. Oh yes!
Is the word “god” acceptable to you, and whether or not it is, explain the rationale for your belief?
What is one important aspect of your spirituality that you are convinced supports your happiness?
What do you feel when someone else talks about their spirituality and it is radically different from yours; how do you react?
Whether comfortable or not with the principle that all objects, people, and events are forms that represent God, state your reasoning and beliefs on the subject.
Given the diversity of our beliefs, experiences, and realities can you accept, and if so, how might you use the idea that humanity’s goodness is reflected in the acceptance and/or tolerance we extend to one another while living together?
Out of Body, Out of Mind
On the spiritual path, especially if a novice or receiving no guidance, one can sometimes confuse true transpersonal experiences with those of a poorly formed or weakened ego condition, a phenomenon called the pre-trans fallacy (Wilber, 2000). Two of the most common ones occur when one concludes one has had an out-of-body experience (OOBE) when one has actually experienced a psychological symptom of anxiety called depersonalization or derealization. In both cases one feels oneself to be in a different reality and divorced from one’s body. Another form occurs when cognitive awareness is altered but one does not distinguish between focused mind and non-focused mind, rationality and irrationality, and distorted versus objective reality. Rather than the transcendence it is believed to be it is actually only a misrepresentation of everyday identity and reality.
That one’s worldview is not as severely challenged with depersonalization as it is with the OOBE is one factor that distinguishes the two. Depersonalization often occurs in a stressful situation. Like an OOBE it feels surreal, but unlike the OOBE it is accompanied by significant discomfort or nervousness prior to, during, and after the experience. Also, depersonalization can usually be linked to previous long-standing anxiety complaints and symptoms. There is frequently anxiety after the OOBE but it tends to be associated with difficulty comprehending an experience that is counter to one’s understanding of reality, or an uneasiness associated with realizing you no longer know the world as you once did or the way others do. Whether or not one sees one’s body and/or moves about in a different landscape are two more significant factors in distinguishing between the two phenomena. Depersonalization does not involve actually observing one’s body, but is only an “as if” experience occurring in the mind as vivid imagination, while the true OOBE involves observing one’s body and/or finding oneself in another landscape different from the one just prior to the event. And this may even involve control of the experience, similar to lucid dreaming and astral travel in which one explores and interacts with the environment in which one finds oneself. In contrast, the interaction with, and change in one’s surroundings in depersonalization are limited to efforts to cope with familiar consensus reality
Spiritual practice across traditions emphasizes alteration of conscious awareness in which one’s cognition, sense of self, and reality is altered. In one’s eagerness to achieve this state of mind one can misidentify poor concentration with its long succession of associations, that usually generate confusion and minor separation from logic or one’s surroundings, as raised awareness. In actuality this is what is commonly referred to as being spaced out. This occurrence of losing continuity of one’s experience because of poor concentration, and then perceiving reality in an altered fashion, is misconstrued as positive while in actuality it is only a distortion of reality, e.g. a play on words that may be novel but does not reveal spiritual truth, misheard and misunderstood auditory stimuli, altered visual perceptions due to unusual light and shadow. One can be said to be out of one’s mind, irrational and out of touch, rather than in a focused transcendent mental state or expanded mind. The true experience of raised awareness, whether transpersonal or nondual, is one of presence with concentration on, and receptivity to, immediate experience. Cognition ranges from quiet stillness to non-thinking to direct knowing of truth in a given circumstance, and is experienced without conscious intent. Additionally, one experiences an alteration in mind in which one feels one has been moved more deeply into reality, that is, into archetypal and/or superconscious awareness. In sharp contrast to the spaced out condition there is an emergent wisdom in which all objects and phenomena are relationally integrated. Worldly phenomena and objects are understood as empty of inherent meaning and are formed by, and arising in reality due to Ultimate Consciousness, the Source, of which one now recognizes one is a part. Experiencing this subjective expansive feeling of one’s individual self transcendently merging with the “other” as union, or as fully experiencing nondual being the Source, is a second distinguishing factor in validating true spiritual self and reality change. Mundane understanding and rationality is maintained while simultaneously experiencing the world through the dominant raised awareness of the a-rationality of the nondual cosmology as noted above. And rather than willful action or reflection on this, one simply abides in this process of expanded identity and manifestation, commonly referred to as being in the now, or Being. Now truly altered, reality is markedly different, revealing nondual mind-matter memory and creation.
As one considers these distinctions between pre-ego and transpersonal/nondual events an important caveat cannot be ignored. It is that there are times when one’s experience is characterized by elements of both conditions, e.g. an OOBE can be preceded by an anxiety attack . Integrating the experience then requires addressing one’s psychological character and functioning and also one’s spiritual experiences, knowledge, and development so one may correctly understand and follow-up on the experience in the most beneficial manner. This also stands as an argument for the integration of psychology and spirituality, and for the advocacy of psychological wellbeing as part of any spiritual practice.
Do your religious or spiritual beliefs recognize OOBE in some form, and if so how is it described and what is its significance?
Can you think of other ways in which you personally confused a pre-ego experience with a transpersonal/nondual one? Or conversely, mistakenly assumed a transpersonal/nondual moment was a consensus reality one?
Over the course of your spiritual practice what permanent changes have you recognized in your subjective experience of self, the way your mind operates, and your experience of reality.
Some say archetypal mind is brain-body cultural memory and that superconscious mind is the nonmaterial collective-universal memory and creative force with the two minds being separate from one another (except as they interact). What do you believe?
What ways do you respect and integrate your personal psychology (e.g. self-image, habits, social life) with your spiritual beliefs and practice?
Traumatic events result in a grieving process in which one attempts to reconcile to ones loss by explaining the reason the event occurred. This provides a context for the event which gives it meaning, which in turn facilitates one’s recovery from the crisis. In the now classic model of grieving as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance this is the work of the bargaining stage. This is an existential endeavor in which one relies upon ones worldview, which for most people is their religious or spiritual philosophy. If one’s worldview is sufficient one will be more resilient and grieving will proceed more efficiently. If one’s crisis is particularly unique or worldview poorly developed, the worldview will need to be refined so it helps in one’s recovery. This process can be hindered when one inadvertently and wrongly combines principles of psychological causation with those of spiritual manifestation. An example of this is when a woman believes her mind willed her pregnancy to result in a miscarriage. Without understanding the multivariate complexity of the mind body connection she believes her thoughts have directly produced this outcome. Unknowingly she has wrongly applied the principle of spiritual manifestation in which she has elevated her personal power to that of a god. These mistakes not only occur individually but also collectively, for instance when certain congregations or societies misinterpret religious doctrine, e.g. god punishes people with AIDS because of their sexual behavior. This article will clarify some basic differences between psychological causation and spiritual manifestation and describe two ways to conceptualize common mistakes so they can be corrected.
A poorly developed worldview lacks congruency of thought and/or consistent application of doctrine that results in confusion between psychological causation and spiritual manifestation. This misunderstanding often involves the important principles of identity, power, and responsibility. Principles of psychological causation hold that there is an individual who acts autonomously, whether conscious or unconscious, in a context that influences one’s behavior. The individual is a separate and independent agent solely responsible for one’s actions, actions that reflect one’s character and personal power at the time. One is judged according to a set of ethics formulated by society and culture that dictates particular rules of behavior usually emphasizing care and social justice. One’s mind and body are integrated and believed to influence one another, determining one’s overall wellbeing. When events occur that cannot be attributed to one’s actions they are believed to be coincidence or purely chance, e.g. being in the wrong place at the wrong time. At other times they are believed to be the result of systemic cause and effect that is beyond one’s control, e.g. diagnosis of cancer.
Spiritual manifestation has a markedly different set of principles. The individual is conceived of as having an identity that transcends the usual boundaries of agency to include a spiritual aspect or soul, perhaps all of spirit itself. Responsibility for one’s actions is now shared with this transcendent self, and power originates or is augmented by the omnipotent spirit. Concomitantly, ethical principles are either decreed by a deity or understood to be the natural consequences of one’s actions over time, sometimes over lifetimes as in karma. Events in life are comprehended from either of these two rationales and are believed necessary and/or just. Additionally, one’s mind working in conjunction with spirit is believed capable of influencing life events or human beings in extraordinary ways, e.g. the proverbial preferred parking space or telepathic communication. In certain circumstances there is no collaboration between human and spirit, with these events then deemed to occur purely as the result of divine intervention.
Transpersonal Psychology, by respecting both the psychological and spiritual, does not argue which is valid but rather uses observable phenomena, psychological research, and religious doctrine in an integrated way to distinguish these principles. Misunderstandings stemming from a poorly developed worldview can frequently be conceptualized as either ego inflation, in which one has empowered oneself beyond what is humanly possible, or as a projection onto spirit or deity certain characteristics thereby negating that spirit is a mystery.
Ego inflation can be defused by facilitating one’s dis-identification with spirit. While remembering that one is wrongly professing responsibility for the event, one parcels out the cause to the psychological and spiritual by distinguishing between the two perspectives. The psychological view embraces the individual or systemic explanation and enables one to grieve according to secular issues, e.g. everyone makes mistakes, unforeseen events occur, things happen out of one’s control. Regarding the spiritual perspective, one considers the collaborative nature of one’s relationship with spirit in producing the event. This frequently requires emphasizing that being a co-creator with spirit does not mean one has power or responsibility equal to that of spirit. Also, the tipping point for the event in question is best understood as occurring at the discretion of spirit, as is the reason for the event. Whether it is a moral decree or karmic dependent origination, a different set of ethics is implied in this arrangement.
In negating the mystery of spirit one either ascribes to an impersonal spirit or kosmos certain laws of operation that can never be fully known, or attributes to a deity qualities that are human characteristics. The primary valid consideration is respecting the mystery in one’s spiritual philosophy. This always involves facilitating the realization that one irrationally believes one knows the unknowable reality of spirit and the way in which it operates. It is incumbent on one to review and question religious doctrine that maintains one’s suffering. A healing refinement of one’s worldview is achieved when one approaches teachings in a different way, e.g. metaphorical instead of literal, considers contradictory evidence, e.g. good things happen to both good and bad people, or embraces new teachings that provide a more comprehensive understanding of what one already knows, e.g. there are both reassuring/heavenly and distressing/hellish near death experiences. Distinguished from ego inflation by its emphasis on one’s having been acted upon by spirit rather than being personally omnipotent, when one is projecting onto spirit one often believes one is either being punished or rewarded for one’s previous actions. This spiritual anthropomorphism emphasizes retribution as the primary means by which the deity or kosmos operates and ignores other interpretations, e.g. events are the symbolic or paradoxical result of previous events without judgment being levied on a person. Those who claim to be spiritual not religious, and people who resent the concept of sin, are more open to this viewpoint. Those who accept sin as a useful concept are often willing to move from the punishment perspective to reminding themselves that all things happen for the good of those who believe, thereby easing their guilt and self-degradation.
When confounding worldviews are refined through the clarification of identity, power, and responsibility dis-identification with spirit and/or respect for the mystery can be accomplished. This allows psychological and spiritual worldviews to compliment or be integrated with one another facilitating one’s mental reconciliation to adversity and trauma. One is able to finalize conclusions about the event and set intentions for new action. Psychologically one can take responsibility for one’s mistake and accept the consequences. If adversity was beyond one’s control one can accept that life has acted upon one. Either way addressing the event as learning opportunity results in a more objective understanding of oneself and the world. Spiritually one can understand the hardship as part of one’s religious or spiritual development. Emphasis might be on gaining more insight into one’s true (transpersonal) identity and/or greater wisdom about reality and the ways of the Divine. Or one might understand the hardship as a purification process that moves one toward greater enlightenment and virtue.
When facing adversity or trauma have you experienced the confusion between psychological and spiritual principles described above, or does your spirituality serve you well at those times?
In general, when events turn out the way you hope they will, what do you tell yourself about your responsibility in the desired result having occurred?
State in detail your religious-spiritual beliefs regarding the cause of events in the world, why things good or bad happen as they do to others and to humanity in general.
On a continuum of from known to mystery, how does your religious-spiritual philosophy define Spirit, God, or Source?
In the future in a time of crisis if you discovered you were struggling and realized your spirituality was maintaining your suffering would you consider revising your beliefs or application of those beliefs?
(A version of this article first appeared in the Vermont Psychological Association Newsletter in 2011)
Two Common Forms of Spiritual Bypassing
A common pitfall on the spiritual journey is the tendency to use spiritual attitudes and principles along with certain spiritual practices to manage or resolve psychological problems. This usually fails because it is one’s identity of individual self that is wounded and psychological healing is the effective way to address those types of problems. Additionally the practitioner’s spiritual worldview is usually not sufficiently developed by their practice so they do not benefit by being naturally responsive to a problem according to spiritual wisdom and principles. What follows are two examples that illustrate this challenge to one’s wellbeing and spiritual development.
One who has suffered the loss of one’s parents at an early age might, instead of grieving the loss and/or making efforts to reconcile with loved ones, pursue a relationship with the Divine parental form of God (father) or Goddess (mother). Though some relief will be given, the individual will most likely continue to engage in love relationships in maladaptive ways, e.g. neediness, co-dependency. And one usually remains angry toward one’s parents, and eventually this will transfer to the Divine love also. The prudent approach is to grieve the loss, allowing it to support a positive self-image and worth, and to cultivate interpersonal skills in intimate relationships. Spirituality is still useful and can provide limited unconditional peace and love and a useful perspective on love and life to the extent one’s wound driven behavior does not interfere. The Divine is then related to in a realistic manner, and there is benefit just as there would be in a healthy relationship in which partners are perceived accurately and accepted for who they are.
Another form of spiritual bypassing, which can be intertwined with the first, is the management and/or pseudo-resolution of negative or painful emotions with denial, numbing, detachment, or hardening while believing one is unaffected, nonattached to the feelings. This includes unconsciously behaving as if one’s spiritual beliefs and development provide one a resilient position that includes minimal experience of feelings. In truth one has suppressed one’s feelings. In contrast, the authentic experience is one in which feelings and emotions rise up, are recognized, and dissipate leaving useful information for one to consider. Additionally, the more genuinely evolved response is inherently nonattached to outcome, and so feeling is often mitigated by unconditional peace, love, and hope that exists alongside and shapes whatever is being experienced. Rather than suppress in this self-deceptive manner it is preferable to engage with and befriend one’s feelings, developing a relaxation response of calm that serves to reduce the intensity of all feelings giving one control over them, and over time to learn to grieve losses as necessary. Then they serve as resources to inform one of one’s experiences, enabling better choices and actions, strengthening the self. If not, one will most likely experience greater suffering when events go badly in one’s life with one’s spiritual worldview being of little help. One will also find that spiritual awareness will fluctuate to a greater degree than is usual in spiritual emergence, being more difficult to sustain, and/or that one’s life force, energy, or joy will be suppressed, a subtle dulling or deadness present.
What benefit of personal healing has resulted from your spiritual practice, and did you experience some difficulty with spiritual bypassing?
Describe your relationship with the Divine.
What does your spirituality tell you about feelings, hardship, and grief and do its principles conflict with psychological healing or are they compatible with it?
Everyone suppresses his or her feelings from time to time. When you do so, can you recognize in the moment that you are denying your feelings?
Describe your experience of enduring difficult emotional pain or suffering and your ability to grieve, and also describe the part your spirituality played in the process.