Spiritual Bypassing: Are You Guilty?

So, you’ve committed to a rigorous daily routine of yoga and meditation, perhaps accentuated with the help of some shamanic substances to help you ground.

A friend excitedly tells you about the latest psychic she’s working with and you quickly book an appointment with that person too.

But wait! In one of your social media apps you see that another friend is going to attend a plant medicine retreat in another country for ten days. Is there room for one more? There’s always room for more in the quest to be more spiritual. 

Or is there? In your quest to find yourself, you just might be losing something very important.

When you tell me that your quest takes up a good portion of day, every day for months on end, I might ask you one question.

“What is it that lies underneath all these lengthy practices that you’re trying to hide from?”

You might just be guilty of spiritual bypassing.

First of all, what exactly is spiritual bypassing? This strange term was brought into being by psychologist John Welwood, in the 1980s.  According to this  article in Psychology Today, Dr. Welwood described spiritual bypassingas “using “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks with the ultimate goal of attaining enlightenment.”

These practices can be anything from meditation, yoga, retreats, plant medicine, or very restrictive diets, but this list is by no means complete. While each is a worthy path on its own, they are frequently used in some combined form on a daily basis with the idea that more is better.

In my therapy practice I work with a number of clients who profess to using various substances quite often. The two that are probably the most popular right now are cannabis and rapé, also spelled as hapay. Both of these plant medicines are legal to some degree depending on where you live, and easily obtained.

During intake, when I gather information on the client’s history, one question I always ask is if they are using any kind of substance, and if so, what it is and how often. And then I ask them why they use it.

To be clear, I’m not against the use of any of these things as long as they are used judiciously. I’ve spent many years with indigenous peoples who consider plant spirit medicines to be sacred sacraments, but they generally do not use them every day or in great combinations.

We in the West have taken their traditions and rituals and often twisted them to fit into our definitions of what is spiritual. What I see quite often with these particular clients is that in general, the more so-called spiritual practices they engage in, the more messed up they are. It’s not so much that these disciplines are the cause of their issues, but rather that they are more like a heavy blanket that covers it.

Here’s an example. As I listen to one woman talk about her marriage and husband, she paints a picture of a happy union on the surface and all the wonderful material things they have. Yet as I tap into the energy behind her words, I can see that they are just a façade, that there are actually deep problems between the two of them that are not being addressed.

So instead of looking at what might be the actual cause of the discord, she engages in spiritual bypass: daily hours-long yoga and meditation practices, frequent heavy use of mushrooms, cannabis, and other teacher plants, and just about anything else that serves as a delusion that she is working on the problem.

She and her peers strongly believe that by engaging in so many spiritual practices, they will be enlightened any day now and all those pesky problems will vanish. But when we pull back that blanket that I mentioned earlier, those pesky problems are still there.

I’ve observed groups of young women engage in extended snuff (hapay) sessions in the belief that they are being very spiritual. Indeed, many of the commercial blends of hapay that are available on the internet right now claim to open your heart or third eye, connect you to the celestial realms or some other woo woo nonsense like that.

As a long-time shamanic practitioner, I can tell you that just snuffing powdered herbs will not open your chakras or give you magic powers.  Attaining the clear vision that an awakened third eye is supposed to give requires years of work on the self. It’s that process of suffering and introspection that opens the doors, but we Westerners are impatient and don’t like to wait.

The real work that needs to be done can be very scary. For my partnered clients to admit that their relationship is no longer healthy and that something needs to be addressed is often terrifying. Being able to face the truth of the matter is much harder than engaging in a soothing practice in the belief that it will raise their energy and fix the issues.

The same goes for any teacher or retreat center that promises you enlightenment or miracles as long as you spend thousands of dollars in their programs. No one can guarantee anything like this because this is an intimate connection between your soul and the Creator. Awakening can happen anywhere—in a cave, in a forest, at your own kitchen table. You need nothing more than to sit quietly in awe as it unfolds.

Don’t go around important issues!