Recently I was introduced to the term “spiritual bypass.” I actually hadn’t heard that phrase before, but I have heard that spirituality can keep us in denial.
As I consider the concept of spiritual bypass it is easier for me to see it in others, of course. Reflecting on a past relationship in which my partner had been following a “guru” since he was a teenager and would meditate with the techniques he learned on a pretty regular basis, I couldn’t understand how he could be so spiritual and yet his life be such a mess.
I also remember participating in a yoga class with a friend. It was a beautiful and magical morning with the sun greeting us as we practiced yoga on the beach. I felt so connected with all the beauty around me, and I felt at peace.
Shortly after the class ended I was jolted out of my peace and connectedness by one of the participants rudely and loudly telling a passerby to leash their dog and to keep it away from her. It felt a bit surreal. My image of yogis was shattered. I thought that everyone who did yoga was spiritual, which meant being kind and respectful.
My experience of taking the spiritual bypass first started at the beginning of my journey of healing and recovery from alcoholism. In 1987 I decided to stop drinking because it was causing me much hardship in all aspects of my life. I made appearances to the support group that would help me stay sober and offer tools to change the way I was living.
I enjoyed and appreciated the peacefulness and lightness I felt when I made these appearances, but eventually I was back to the way I had been living — drinking down my feelings. I didn’t get that just not drinking was not enough to change my life. It was about me doing my part, and that meant getting to the core of what I was covering up with alcohol.
The time came for me to consider that there was much more to my journey than just being in constant bliss of peace and love, while still feeling like something was missing. I decided to surrender to the awareness of my denial of the need for doing the healing work.
During this time I attended a sober women’s conference where the main speaker was a Catholic nun who, at the time, was over thirty years sober. This was around the time when the secret of Catholic priests molesting boys had just been exposed. One of the participants at the conference asked the nun how she felt about the scandal, and her reply was powerful, confirming and life changing. She said, “It doesn’t matter who we are, what title we carry, or what our stature may be, if we don’t deal with our stuff it will come out one way or another.”
Dealing with our stuff can be terrifying, but the willingness to take steps towards healing the parts of ourselves that keep us from truly being alive is the best gift we can give to ourselves and others.