The Spiritual Bypass: The Illusion of Avoiding Your Difficulties

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Here's a fun phrase: spiritual bypass. It's gotten popular as some people have realized that's what other people are doing on the spiritual path. As always, it's easier to point out what others are doing wrong rather than to look at oneself, but there is a lot of truth about this.

What's a spiritual bypass?

A spiritual bypass is attempting to use spirituality to avoid whatever it is you need to address.

Often times, this is about making yourself feel good all the time and/or avoiding specific difficulties. It is an attempt to make life safe and predictable, and it is couched in "spiritual" words and done by doing "spiritual" things. Sometimes, it's done by leaving "society" for spiritual communities to get away from all these "unconscious people." Sometimes someone ignores or abandons difficult relationships because they're not "spiritual" enough people. It can be attempted in a whole host of ways, but ultimately, the spiritual bypass is an attempt to avoid oneself and the difficulties and pain inside of them.

The truth is there is no such thing as a spiritual bypass, and if you are attempting to avoid aspects of yourself mirrored to you by life, then you are still unconscious and are not walking the spiritual path at all.

Rose-colored Glasses and Promises of a Better Life

As I've already described it, you already can see that a spiritual bypass isn't a reality. You can't get away from yourself. But not all spiritual traditions and spiritual teachers are good ones or are deeply realized. Many are trying to offer you a feel-good experience that they once had to help you feel better because that's what they think everyone should feel. Feel-good experiences aren't bad things, but they're not the whole of life. The bliss state people talk about is either a passing experience or if we use the term in the sense of higher truth, it is the state of awareness that embraces all states of awareness. That means bliss embraces pain, anger, hatred, sadness, guilt, and all the rest as well as joy, ease, happiness, and so forth.

But most people don't understand this distinction in their terminology. Bliss just sounds good, so sign me up! And if you've had a lot of pain in life, hearing someone promise you a better feeling and happier life will have a strong allure to you. Here's the truth: you have to feel to heal. You have to experience old pain stuck inside you to release it. If it sounds like hard work, it's because it is. Most other things are simply masking the pain for a little while, and then that pain will come right back.

Seeking the Elusive Spiritual High

Covering Up and Masking Your Pain with "Spirituality"

Yes, there are lots of promises being made, and plenty of people too early on their paths and immature to be able to discern this reality. And who wouldn't want to feel great all the time? Just give up everything and live with this guru and the guru's community. Then meditate for years, and you might get somewhere. This is the carrot on a stick method, and it doesn't necessarily bring immediate happiness. It brings the promise of happiness, and this isn't inherently bad. I'm not telling you to not do these things, but unless this type of teacher is turning you towards your inner pain, then you are very likely running away in hopes of finding something to make you feel good. This is a kind of self-insulation. It's when you are trying to remove as many triggering situations so that you insulate yourself from pain. But life doesn't "make" us feel pain or anything else. Our feelings come from within.

On an even more superficial note, many people try to fill their spiritual practices with yoga highs, orgasmic bliss experiences, meditation high-state experiences, psychedelic drugs, and more in an attempt to feel good. But all of these experiences--without fail--will arise and pass. That is the nature of the human experience. It arises and passes. The clouds come, and they go. You're on cloud nine for awhile, and then it gets stormy and rainy again. This it is, but as we dedicate ourselves to our spiritual growth, we can learn to step out of a lot of storms by letting go of pain and unconscious beliefs.

Losing Yourself in Spiritual Experiences

Letting Go of Spiritual Beliefs Instead of Piling Them On

A lot of times people let go of a few beliefs only to grab a whole heap of new ones on the spiritual path. They let go of trying to find a rich sugar daddy, but replace that with the quest for a soulmate. Someone lets go of their superficial drinking buddies, and then replaces them with a bunch of spiritual seeker friends. These are inherently the same things. The deeper desires and issues are still buried underneath these new beliefs and actions.

Especially with spiritual beliefs, people use them as a way to feel safe, but what part of us is feeling unsafe? What part feels unworthy of love? Don't try to hide these deeper issues with spiritual ideas that we're all love and nothing real can ever be harmed. These are spiritual truths, not ideas. And believing in them doesn't mean that people will now be nice to you or that you won't occasionally stub your toe and feel pain.

But most people only understand them as an idea at best, a fantasy of a good life with a happy ending at worst. These truths become more real and profound as you understand something in your heart and body as well as your mind, and that requires going deeply within. But most people don't want to go through that inner work. Or those that do think that then they'll be safe and they'll feel love all the time.

And so they bypass the deeper inquiry of what the ego is actually trying to do and what they're really trying to get. These deeper ego issues and primal drives will then stay covered up, and this type of "spiritual"person  is just as trapped as ever.

A Spiritual Belief System Vacuum and Filling the Void

Giving Up the Quest for Good Feelings

Giving up the quest for good feelings typically takes us into more of them. I know that people will attempt to manipulate this truth, but it is true nonetheless. The less we're trying to fix ourselves and make life safe, the more easily we can rest in truth and love.

However, many people initially need the quest. When someone is stuck in addiction, stagnation, apathy, illusion, and much more, the spiritual quest to improve themselves helps them get moving. It helps them start to go inwards. But to do this means--as I've already said--going into the inner pain. If you've been addicted to meth or cocaine, you need the drive to get help and break that addiction. But if you come to spirituality for a new kind of high experience, then you are avoiding the deeper causes of the addiction. People only add things to themselves to feel better if they do not feel good. So the question becomes, "Why do you feel bad?" If you go within in this way, you can start to get to the roots of the addiction.

When "Why do you feel bad?" becomes one of your points of self-inquiry, whole new levels of inner work appear. And it's not fun. It's not like a spiritual bypass where a guru supposedly can lift all your pain and free you of all your karma lickety-split. If you have karma and pain, you put it there. You are responsible for it, and in taking responsibility for it, you are taking back your power in a profound way. In this way, you become your own guru.

Taking Responsibility for Your Life

Frustrated With Your own Pain

If you've been busy chasing spiritual experiences to bypass your pain and difficulties, then the first time you try what I'm talking about, you're probably not going too feel good. It's easy to get frustrated. It's easy in part because we have a Western belief that we can have everything now. It'll twist spiritual truths into something like this, "If bliss is here and now, why can't I feel great all the time?" Ah yes, the ego just wants to feel good. It doesn't want to acknowledge how it is making itself feel bad. And as I've said, no human being feels great all the time. The deeper we drop into peace, the more clear we are. But pain still comes and goes. There is no pain-free human life; we simply learn not to get stuck in pain when it comes which then turns it into suffering.

So if you have finally stopped running from yourself through spiritual retreats, yoga workshops, guru energy transmissions, psychedelic drugs, and whatever else you've been doing, congratulations. Now have patience with yourself. It is a practice to learn how to be with inner pain, to listen to it, and to allow it dissolve through your awareness. It is not a comfortable one, but the true spiritual path embraces both discomfort and comfort, light and shadow.

Cultivating Patience on Your Spiritual Path

Lost in Self-avoidance: The Never-ending Spiritual Bypassers

Some people won't be ready for this message. They'll be too busy trying to find error in my words than to feel the truth that is resonating before their sternums. And that's fine. The Divine embraces this too as it embraces all of life. I am sure you will have many lovely adventures and meet lots of interesting people. But I am not interested in spiritual tourists or giving people high-state experiences. I'm only interested in the way out of suffering. 

Because the fewer people who are trying to run away from their pain and the fewer people who are suffering, the more peace will arise naturally in the world. The more at peace people are, the more they engage in the roles most true to them to help resolve war, disease, poverty, hunger, environmental change, water, the energy crisis, infrastructure, and other issues to help our world come into a more sustainable future. And the more peaceful we all are, the more we will treat each other better in our families, communities, and our global human family. That's really what is at stake, and when you are ready to come home from your spiritual sight-seeing and look at what's inside, all of your truth and mess will still be waiting for you.


  1. Would you agree that unconditional self love is the antidote to the incessant searching?

    From my experience conditional self love learned during early years created the vacuum and spirituality was the final attempt at filling that void...


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