I first met the use of the term “spiritual bypassing” during my centring summer when I used some of Teal Swan’s teaching. This talk of hers is a useful description of spiritual bypassing:-
This link-image is from the opening of her talk, and she goes on to say “Spiritual bypassing is the act of using your spiritual beliefs to avoid your un-met needs, deep pain and unresolved wounds. Spiritual bypassing is a form of avoidance. Because it’s a form of avoidance it is resistance. Spiritual bypassing is in fact the shadow side of spirituality.” She then goes on to describe different aspects of bypassing, all of which I accept as part of bypassing and therefore a problem.
In this I also focus on Connie Zweig's work as she is a reknowned expert on shadow. In her book “Meeting the Power of Spirituality: the Hidden Power of darkness on the Path” (I will be focussing on this book in Zanshadtao, it will be known as Spir in references), Connie Zweig gives a description of how shadow can arise from parents – “Of course, individual psychology is formed in a cultural milieu. Our susceptibility to authoritarian personalities begins at home and is fostered by our social institutions as well. Many parents override natural feelings of vulnerability, dependency, and sadness in their children, banishing these emotions into the unconscious shadow. They teach their children that these emotions are not acceptable because they were taught to disown them through their parents’ contempt or their teachers’ punishment or their clergy’s shaming words. But these feelings remain in the darkness over the years, so that no matter how independent an adult appears, an inner child’s longing for a powerful, protective parent remains.
“Or adults may punish a child for temper tantrums, teaching him that his anger, which may even be justified, is not acceptable. Eventually, the anger, buried in the darkness, no longer surfaces. And when the young man is abused by his father/priest, he cannot feel his rage; he can only continue to protect his abuser and blame himself.
“Many schools and institutionalized religions add to the mix because authoritarianism is woven into the context and content of their teachings. In fact, their ideologies, as well as their means of transmitting those ideologies, often lead us to mistrust ourselves by rewarding obedience to external authority, punishing independent thinking, and seeding guilt and shame” [Spir 17.85].
Here is an interesting shadow that Connie has seen rise in meditators – “If a child associates feeling loved with feeling shamed, flawed, and worthless, then these feelings will seem familiar when they arise in religious discipleships. Several long-term meditators whom I know feel ashamed before their guru because they have not attained a certain level of practice after many years. Each of them had a father who demanded a high level of performance from them; now they seek spiritual perfection in order to gain approval from their spiritual father” [Spir 17.85].
Connie's descriptions of shadow are similar to Teal's. At 6.20 mins in her spiritual bypassing clip, Teal says “The path of Spirituality is meant to be a path of reintegration. It’s meant to bring you into an aspect of wholeness in and of yourself.”
When Teal describes the practices of spiritual bypassing she is describing seekers or teachers who are not following the path. When people discuss spiritual bypassing they are indicating an important ego but a sad consequence of repeated discussions is that they are discouraging the following of the path. Maybe these discussions do not have effect, but this is how I have experienced it recently. Throughout my life the most significant problem has been different, people I have met are afraid to validate their spiritual experiences and are not willing to follow the path. I don’t wish to gloss over the issues of spiritual bypassing, but the priority is for “everyone” to follow their spiritual paths - encourage seekers as much as possible.
To reiterate, what concerns me are the consequences of attacks on bypassing. Do these attacks encourage seekers to follow their paths, or at a vulnerable time do seekers become afraid because of the attacks and consequently not follow their paths? These attacks usually arise from academia - the intellectual establishment; Teal is not part of that, I have yet to evaluate if Connie contributes to this discouragement - I don't think so BZ. My experience has been that during discussions with intellectuals in general they are unable to experience the fruits of following the path, and therefore deny its existence.
This bypassing gives the intellectual additional ammunition to deride the path. Listen to Teal’s criticisms but please don’t use them to avoid the path, following the path is what we are meant to do and brings with it great joy.
However, is bypassing the shadow side of spirituality? In my own case I am conscious of weaknesses, ways in which I am not following the path. Mindfulness teaches me not to be weak in this way but consciously I fail to stop and continue. This is not shadow because I am conscious. If you listen to Teal’s video and are conscious that you are doing those things, this is weak discipline but not shadow. You can consciously make changes if you choose.
The issue with shadow is that we are not conscious of the shadow, the shadow has been fragmented leading to a split personality disorder – minimal or possibly traumatic. I am conscious of being weak, but with shadow there are actions we take that are beyond our control because they have emerged from shadow - not from consciousness weak or otherwise. Dealing with shadow is usually a process of making the shadow conscious so that we can control actions that arise from a conscious shadow. Making shadow conscious and dealing with the actions is a process of integration, but we cannot deal with unconscious actions - integration must first make shadow conscious.
In I examined the role of solitude in my path, was I bypassing when I went off on my own? So the issue of bypassing is not necessarily about particular actions but the intention. Clearly some of the characteristics Teal describes are not path, but others might on occasion be path-by-intention. Whilst judging itself is not a characteristic of a follower, what we have to be careful of is describing a spiritual person by observation when the intention might well be spiritual. The issue is mainly concerning the kilesa of avoidance. Are people avoiding their duty and responsibility in daily life when they describe their lives as spiritual? There is of course the opposite failing, are seekers avoiding their spiritual duty by hiding in activism? In the Manual I tried to look at both concluding the need for path-activism – pathtivism.
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