When we are lulled into the sweet song of spiritual pointers and platitudes, we so easily find our sensations and emotions dulled by their hypnotic melodies. Spiritual bypassing isn’t just some trendy new phrase. It’s probably the most vital discussion we can have with each other while joining together on this pathless path to life as it is. In its simplest definition, spiritual bypassing is using the mind to avoid having to feel.
Oh the promise that words offer . . . They are so easy to speak. They can be arranged in the most eloquent ways. They can speak to our hearts. They can resonate on a deep level. We can feel their vibration. All of this is wonderful. It’s the beauty of expression. Artists, poets, and songwriters have known this for centuries and have churned out expressions that make us swoon, feel, hope and dream. And there is certainly a place for spiritual poetry, for it can have its own transformative effect. Just hearing certain words can cut through stuff, bringing about a simple clarity that was unknown before hearing the words.
But all too often, spiritual words do something else, something unintended. They become our greatest block!
So many times in my own experience and in the countless lives of people I’ve worked with, spiritual words so easily become a hiding place, a landing point. It is much easier to talk about reality or Truth than to actually live one’s life naked, open and vulnerable to what actually arises on a moment by moment basis. No wonder we hide out in these words. It is easier to talk about Truth than to actually sit with the pain, contraction, restlessness, emotion or boredom that arises when the lullaby of spiritual promises is seen to be empty. It’s easier to say “It’s all One” than to actually let dualistic relationship with all of its triggers be the gateway to something deeper than a three word phrase like that, something really vulnerable and loving. Our storytelling hasn’t truly been seen through when we hang onto these spiritual phrases. It has simply shifted from personal storytelling to spiritual storytelling. It’s a game of substitution, another way to protect ourselves from the vulnerability of living an authentic human life with all its beauty and ugliness, joys and sorrows and ups and downs.
I’ve sat in sessions with people speaking endlessly to me about how wonderful presence is, or how everything is this or that, or reality is this way or that way, or how the goal of their spiritual practice is to reach some state they have projected onto a dead or living guru. I’ve listened and listened, just waiting for the moment when they stop speaking to ask them this: what is really going on? What are you looking for? And, if you stopped for one moment and actually felt that pain, contraction, restlessness, emotion or seeking energy and let it be, would you still be singing this tune? Would you still be in your head that much? Would you still be parroting the latest, greatest conceptual framework or pointer heard by the last teacher to come to town? What would happen if you stopped contemplating all the spiritual levels and deciding which level you are on and which level your teacher is on?
What do our spiritual languages, religions, political or worldviews really promise other than protection from the pain of being wrong? Isn’t this why we cling so tightly to them, to protect and shelter ourselves from the pain of seeing that we really have no clue at all about what is really true? To see that house of cards come down is downright scary. And so we stay enamored with the same song, repeating it over and over hoping that no one will destroy our beliefs or challenge our comfort zones and make us feel what is really happening under all of that. Fear mostly.
What would happen if you found that the entire game of seeking anything, from enlightenment, to feeling better, to intellectual certainty, to changing yourself or others, was really just a big cover up job? A way to avoid having to feel THAT, whatever THAT is in your body.
I’m not purporting to speak on behalf of humanity. I’m not trying to be some preachy authority. I’m just trying to piss you off a little bit or at least lovingly light a fire within you and keep the fire lit and sit with you until everything you and I have avoided comes to the surface and is set free. In this way we can love each other, but not in that clingy, needy way. No, in a mature way that allows each other to actually be who we really are, however that actually shows up, with total forgiveness and compassion for everything as it happens.
This is not about standing on some false mountaintop proclaiming truth about bypassing as if that is the final landing point. That would be as empty as the white you see behind that sentence. I’m speaking from my own experience. I’m opening a discussion, sending an invitation to look. I have done this cover up job myself. And others loved me enough to continue inviting me out of the dream in every moment so I could face the humanness underneath, crying for attention. I’m also speaking for so many I’ve worked with who don’t have a voice. They found that the cover up job was happening in their own experience.
I’ve watched people start to go really deep, only to back out and be lulled back into the latest spiritual lullaby of the mind, the latest conceptual framework. I’ve watched so many others explicitly or implicitly claim to be awakened or “done” with seeking only to find that, when they start looking with the inquiries, real pain comes to the surface. And that’s about when they run away, many of them. It’s all so innocent. But its innocence doesn’t mean we don’t call it out when we see it.
I can’t count the number of times I have waited for someone to stop singing the latest spiritual song or poem or conceptual framework or stop claiming to be “done” only to find that what lies beneath all of that is just old childhood pain, never dealt with, never welcomed, never given room to breathe and be. When all that talk stops, the gut level honesty begins. The tears come down. The sobbing comes to the surface. That old sense of self-protection and defense has nowhere left to hide. The words are not there to cover it up anymore. And so the pain comes. Finally and thankfully, it comes. This is human stuff, through and through. It shows up only when all the magical thinking about higher transcendent states and unions with God falls away for a moment. And in those moments where this pain is deeply felt and allowed to release, there is an opportunity for a palpable transformation out of those childhood wounds, a change in the way we experience everything, a change that can never actually be captured neatly in words, no matter how profound or magical they sound.
Deep inquiry or looking can finally take place then. Not the kind of inquiry that promises anything, but the kind that brings everything to the surface, even the empty promises, so that pain is allowed to be what it is (fleeting energy) and then allowed to die its sweet death so that something new can be born. A new way of living that isn’t about hiding anymore. This human stuff that finally comes into the light ends the game of bypassing for good.
This is the stuff that everyone experiences, from your mother, to your boss, to your neighbor, to your enemy. This is our common experience of feeling separate and being unheard, unsafe, unloved or not good enough at the core. This is the pain we all share and that we can all use as a vehicle for a richer human life and for more honest, more compassionate relationships, once the avoidance stops. This is what we really have in common. We don’t have spiritual language in common. What constitutes “truth” is a moving target. You’ll hear a different definition of truth with every mouth that opens. Very rarely can we ever agree what the truth or God really is, according to the mind. But what we have in common is a big cover up job. We want to feel better. We don’t want to feel pain. We want only positive emotions, not the negative stuff. We want a good story, not a bad one. We want a profound spiritual phrase, not an unsexy, honest account of our experience. It is so innocent and yet so glaringly obvious for almost all of us. That’s where the cover up job starts, in the wanting to go beyond instead being with what is in the moment. And the covering up keeps going as long as we remain lulled by the latest set of tunes about what truth is or how reality really works, dulling out the humanness that hides underneath.
Even the most enlightened-sounding phrases can be cover up jobs. They appear on the surface to speak to the totality of life, to something transcendent. And often the speaker truly believes it, with deep conviction or says “this is just God or life speaking through me.” What if it isn’t life or God speaking through you? What if God didn’t rubberstamp that mind game at all? What if the current words are just ways in which we are fooling ourselves or lulling ourselves back into some false sense of certainty? If so, those phrases won’t save us from the pain. Nothing will. The pain will be back, again and again, until it is faced and not bypassed anymore. We won’t be saved by earth-shattering spiritual experiences either, when they are turned into fancy, neatly-packaged pointers, places where we hide once again.
While we are at it, let’s add these words to the fire of spiritual bypassing: awareness, consciousness, beyondness, awakening, love, living in the moment, the now, the absolute, evolution, integration, etc. Let’s also add in all of our philosophies as well as all of our scientific theories which make us smarter about particles and quantum theories but not one step closer to vulnerability.
And yes, even the phrase, “being with what is” can be its own bypass, for it too is merely a set of words. There is ultimately no findable self there who can be with what is. There is only that phrase, repeating itself like the latest trend, the latest way to dull the senses. When we drop those words and we no longer have any words for what is actually felt in our bodies, we go beyond this most trendy phrase of “being with what is” to actually being with what is. This subtle bypass is perhaps the most stubborn and deceptive. People can sing the tune that they are being with what is for years without seeing that the phrase itself is but another mental con job. This trendy phrase is being dolled out like candy these days on Facebook and in spiritual books about bypassing. And yet I’ve personally sat with some of the strongest proponents of that phrase (including teachers), who have fought me when I have invited them to stop taking refuge in those words and sit with what actually comes up when they stop mentally convincing themselves that they are living in the moment with “what is.” The fight comes from our tendency to bypass, to fool ourselves, to land, to avoid.
We are just more comfortable in the descriptions than in our bodies. And we don’t avoid this refuge-taking by landing on phrases like “there is no body” or “the body is not me.” Our bodies remember triggers even when our minds are lulled into these kinds of trendy platitudes about selflessness. Our bodies continue to be triggered quite easily when we drop these platitudes and actually feel the reactions to the various stimuli we find in relationships, in disagreements, and in everyday challenges at work and in every other moment of life where we experience the slightest sense of boredom, anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, guilt or doubt. The reason I know this particular phrase is a con job is this: for every person I’ve worked with that has no longer settled on that phrase as a landing point and gone deeply into their body, the phrase has lost its appeal. The song has died its sweet death. It is seen as yet another platitude of self-protection. And its no longer needed as a place of refuge at that point.
Our bodies are so rich. They are universes for a profound discovery. But so often we stay disconnected from their riches by staying in our heads with the latest platitudes and pointers. Discovering the richness within and in the midst of that pain is well worth it.
Nothing will save us because we don’t need saving. There is nothing wrong with us. Nothing to change about who we are. The only thing needed is to let the lulling be seen for what it is, a cover up job, and to no longer dull out the body. Bypassing ends right there. And so does seeking. This kind of deep looking is its own reward.