2018-02-28

True Spirituality and Bypassing Spirituality

The Spiritual Bypass, part 2

True Spirituality

Robert Augustus Masters’ book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters cautions about ways that spirituality can become a way of hiding from ourselves, denying parts of who we are, avoiding acknowledging and coming to grips with what is painful. He’s not arguing against spirituality. Rather, his point is that various forms of faux spirituality preclude authentic spirituality. True spirituality enters into our pain rather than bypassing around it. The road in, as opposed to the road around, can be quite messy and seem not at all spiritual, but the path of liberation requires going in. Masters describes it this way:
"Life after spiritual bypassing is a committed apprenticeship to What Really Matters. Every situation is part of the curriculum and practicum, offering the same fundamental opportunity to deepen our awakening, especially when we release our experience from any obligation to make us feel better or more secure. In so doing we can still the mind and ground the body, breaking open to what we were born to do and be. Spiritual bypassing is worth outgrowing. All we have to do is stop turning away from our pain and consciously enter it. This means an end to disembodied living, an end to spiritualized dissociation, an end to emotional illiteracy and relational immaturity. As we commit ourselves to a full-blooded awakening rooted in the cultivation of intimacy with all that we are, we find a willingness to bring what ever we have kept in the dark out into the open. And from this newfound openness we emerge with the gifts of our hard work: firsthand wisdom that benefits one and all. Authentic spiritual life is the opportunity of a lifetime. It is a constant dying into a deeper life. Emerging from our own ashes becomes no big deal; it’s just the way things are. Here the ten thousand sorrows and the ten thousand joys intermingle in unparalleled song, and we are the infinite music that goes on, in the one moment that is all moments." (Spiritual Bypassing, 176-77)
The practices and insights of spiritual wisdom can be liberating. But they can also become stuck places -- ways of avoiding directly coming to terms with the pain in our lives that needs confronting.

First I’ll mention some spiritual-sounding slogans that I don’t say, and then, in a segment called, “But I don’t mean…” I’ll go through a longer list of things that I often have said and caution against misusing those points in a “spiritual bypass” around what we need to face.

Things I Don’t Say

“Everything happens for a reason. There’s no such thing as coincidence.”

I don’t say this because I do believe there are such things as coincidences. I’d agree that everything has a cause, but many things happen without any particular purpose.

It’s true that there’s almost always something that can be learned from any experience. It’s a good practice to reflect on things that happen to us, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and see what lesson may be discerned. But that doesn’t mean that the experience happened for the purpose of giving us that lesson.

Some one who says “things happen for a reason,” might be expressing what I would call a sense of grace. Cultivating the sense of the grace of the world and of life is a wonderful aspect of spirituality connecting us to the all the unearned, undeserved conditions that support our life. Life FEELS more wonderful when we simply notice that it IS wonderful, and we didn’t have to do anything to make it so.

It’s also true that we can choose to make meaning of something that is a coincidence. On New Year’s Day every year, LoraKim and I shuffle a deck of animal cards and draw a left-hand companion and a right-hand companion for the year ahead. My animal spirit guides for 2018 are the antelope (which, according to the book which accompanied the deck, represents action) and the weasel (stealth). The pure coincidence of the cards produces a message: be active, but maybe look for ways behind the scenes to make things happen. That’s a good message and worth taking to heart, howsoever random was its generation. LoraKim’s animal totems for 2018, by the way, are the dove and the porcupine. I’ll let you ask her what she understands that to mean. Choosing to make meaning of certain coincidences can be a good spiritual practice, a practice of reflecting on messages that we didn’t ourselves generate – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t coincidence.

To say that “things happen for a reason” seems awfully ego-centric. Suppose you got stuck in a terrible traffic gridlock and missed your appointment, but because you missed that appointment, something else happened to you, and it was really great. I would resist the temptation to say that the reason for the traffic jam was to give you this really great other thing. What about all the other 500 cars? Did they all have to suffer just so you could have this great thing? The world doesn’t revolve around any one of us that way. (I suppose you might imagine that every single other person stuck in that traffic jam also found that the delay somehow turned into a good thing for them – but that’s too much of a stretch for me.)

“You create your own reality.”

I don’t say this either, and for similar reasons. It's awfully self-centered to imagine that you have that much control.

I think connecting with people – love, and friendships, empathy and relationship – is at the center of a good life. In order for that to happen, we have to have a shared reality. If we’re each wholly making up our own reality – as though we’ve all selected a different virtual reality game to play – we can’t connect with each other. A self-made reality is very lonely.

Also: the world couldn’t teach us its important lessons if we decided everything for ourselves.

The slogan that we create our own reality often leads to self-blame when reality doesn’t work out well. Such a path of guilt and shame leads away, not toward, true self-accountability. We’re responsible for how we respond to conditions, and what we’ve done in the past often has some influence on what conditions are now, but a large part of those conditions never were under your control.

NEXT: Some things that I do say -- but could be misused as spiritual bypasses

* * *
This is part 2 of "The Spiritual Bypass"
See also
Part 1: We're Here to Help Each Other Get Unstuck

The extemporaneous version:

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