Around the terrain here in Tahoe, you’ll occasionally see the bumper sticker “Too ascended to be offended.” This always makes me shake my head — it reminds me how quickly WE enjoy doubling down on all the things we imagine THOSE people can’t stand. Because by now, everyone should have gotten the celestial download on spiritual bypassing, but they aren’t if they haven’t learned that far from ascending or transcending, spiritual bypassing represents complacency and paralysis. There’s always more to work on, no matter how much you may think you have grown.
Seen through the lens of mental health, spiritual bypassing denotes a means of evading psychological pain and mental anguish through one’s spiritual practice. John Welwood, the psychotherapist and Buddhist who coined the term back in 1984, suggested it came from a conflation of the absolute truths sought in a spiritual practice and the relative truths we struggle with here on earth: “It’s in relationships that our unresolved psychological issues show up most intensely. That’s because psychological wounds are always relational—they form in and through our relationships with our early caretakers.”
And as I like to say, WE are ALL recovering from something. It’s what brings us to the healing path in the first place. But healing is hard, and sometimes, people use the practice itself to avoid the necessary work they need to do to truly grow. In those times, a gentle recentering is necessary. So allow me.
THE ORACLE OF COVID
“WE are ALL spiritual beings having a human experience, yet WE must learn how to embrace the human experience first”
Once COVID began to eat away at all of the creature comforts we once enjoyed, WE were all given a choice with regards to our health and our spiritual growth, whether we knew it or not. Guidance was muddled and confused, with far more questions than answers. You either took the journey inwards, or you didn’t.
Those who didn’t fall prey to the spiritually bypassed, those who spent most of their time on crafting the images, messaging and mystique needed to seduce lots of people attempting to escape their fear and pain by any means necessary. One of them, of course, being conspirituality, which in my mind is intertwined with certain types of spiritual bypassing. While they lose faith in their mainstream media sources, they refuse to question their brand-new social media gods and the algorithms that beat a path to their doors. This all serves as a distraction to the self and the hard work one has to do with confronting one’s own shadow, rather than the easy scapegoating and demonizing so common in the seedier corners of the internet.
The real work that must be done is in the depths — facing our fears and really owning up to them, and truly integrating the damage and anger that has been inflicted upon us and have even inflicted upon others. It means coming to terms with our own messy humanity. The alternative is to get sucked up into an online cult that projects this darkness upon others, or tells them that they have transcended it. If that’s you, then I’ve got some news for you: from now until the day you die, you will be a human being, momentarily descended from the heights to which you aspire. And that’s the point. To suggest that you’ve moved beyond one’s own humanity is to evade the truth, and there’s nothing less evolved than that.
BEING, NOT DOING
If I had to identify the most ascended people in my life, some of them might wear the face paint, crystal jewellery and the face paint that we identify with spirituality. But more often they’re out there in the community wearing their blue jeans, riding their bikes and helping out whoever in their world needs it. Their practice of spirituality is not a performance, but a natural, authentic expression of their own spiritual search. Above all, it requires a touch of humility, which can be pretty hard to come by in the wired world. After all, it’s just work, and one can’t simply disappear into one’s spiritual practice and expect the work to be done through that alone.
Unfortunately, our modern-day modes of communication do not incentivize this sort of work. Social heat and engagement define authenticity for the spiritually immature, and at its worst, it can hurt communities and damage the environment. Tim Ferriss recently wrote a blog post calling out practitioners of kambo for sanctioning animal abuse against the frogs which can’t help but produce it. Yes, those burns upon your arm are just sooo stylish and photogenic, but Tim has a point: “If you couldn’t tell anyone about your experience or put it on Instagram or social, would you still do it? Are you really doing this for healing or expansion, or are you doing this for a story you can share later?”
For embodying the shift you have derived from plant medicine isn’t a static moment. There will still be struggles and failures and backsliding. And by the way, this goes for our plant medicines, too. You can use the Happy Belly, but without changes in diet, lifestyle and outlook, it can only do so much good on its own. It is often said in plant medicine ceremony that when you confront something scary or ugly within oneself that one should not avoid it. One has to sit with it and show it who’s boss. But just like the beginning of the pandemic, or just about any other moment in your life, the choice to take the opportunity or shrug it off is yours. But every day is a day that you can change your mind. Now is as good a time as any.