Spiritual bypassing and Yoga Nidra

Spiritual bypassing and Yoga Nidra

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Spiritual bypassing, a term coined by the late psychologist John Welwood - means using spiritual principles and practices to avoid feeling negative emotions, such as pain or anger. This denial is a form of emotional repression the ego loves to use; a favourite MO is to be relentlessly positive and block all negative emotions. Essentially it’s an avoidance tactic; a subtle and appealing way of shielding us from issues we fear to face. 

Some believe their spiritual practice makes them superior, immune to the normal challenges of life. Spiritual bypassing can also be used to demean or dismiss the genuine concerns of people dealing with serious problems, by suggesting they can rely on positive thinking to overcome complex social issues. No spiritual or religious paths are immune to negating, ignoring or minimizing so-called negativity by insisting everything is perfect, and unfolding as it should – fake positivity, like fake news, is pretty common.

Others can knowingly or unknowingly adopt spiritual bypassing because by nature they are independent, and prefer to work through difficulties on their own. They don’t want to ‘make a fuss’, avoid consolation and drawing attention to themselves. It can also be a cultural trait, as in the ‘stiff upper lip’.

Spiritual practices are better than self-medicating with drink, drugs, gambling, and other addictions to numb the pain, but they never lead to true liberation unless the pain lurking in the shadows is addressed. In defense of negative thinking – quotes and video extracts from the exceptional Dr Gabor Mate (author of When the Body Says No and other books on trauma, emotional pain, addiction, compassion, spirituality etc.)

Affirmations that are fundamentally true such as ‘all is love’ and ‘all is well’ can become an ever-present tool to avoid looking at things that clearly aren’t OK on a personal or global level.

‘Negative thinking allows us to gaze unflinchingly on our own behalf at what does not work.  We have seen in study after study that compulsive positive thinkers are more likely to develop disease and less likely to survive. Genuine positive thinking — or, more deeply, positive being — empowers us to know that we have nothing to fear from truth.’

Video (first few mins intro followed by spiritual seeking and bypassing)

Video 2 hours plus interview with Tim Ferriss. If you like Gabor Mate you’ll relate to this I’m sure.

If you haven’t come across Gabor’s work, he’s an honest, compassionate, hugely experienced healer and communicator.

Deepak Chopra also confirms a quiet mind is more powerful than a positive mind.

Pain as a catalyst for Spiritual Awakening

Pain often brings people to spirituality. Happy, successful worldly people are generally less interested in it, as long as the material world satisfies their needs and desires. For some, balancing the pursuit of enlightenment and worldly goods/achievements simultaneously results in inner conflict and stress, as we feel pulled in opposite directions. Those who have experienced the pain, dissatisfaction, and the ‘zero sum game’ nature of life today are often compelled to find a way to break free of the cycle of samsara. Grief and trauma are also hugely powerful catalysts for change, and often precipitate our quest as we yearn for liberation. 

Self-sabotage through spiritual bypassing

Because we humans instinctively do our best to avoid pain, many dive into more advanced spiritual practices/stages without first dealing with that pain – hence the ‘bypass’. Unresolved issues will always sabotage spiritual practice (unless you’re one of the nano-minority to experience instant enlightenment) interfering with and sabotaging our meditation and peace.

A mind agitated by the irresistible sway of likes/dislikes, desires/aversions, hopes/fears, will struggle to devote the time and energy needed to experience true peace. For many of us, it can take years to develop a truly solid, genuine faith, a connection to source rather than a cognitive belief. Sometimes this faith is tested seemingly beyond our endurance, only to be ultimately renewed by consistent practice, perseverance and self-compassion.

Yoga Nidra and Acceptance

Admitting and accepting our pain and vulnerability allows the light to enter the wound, bringing healing and increasing resilience. Rumi’s wise words are both realistic and comforting - “The cure for the pain is in the pain”.

“Longing is the core of mystery. Longing itself brings the cure. The only rule is to suffer the pain. Your desires must be disciplined. And what you want to happen in time, sacrificed.”

Without acceptance there is no healing. When we feel our pain, confront and sit with it, we can then accept it, however unacceptable it is. Then it weakens its grip on us until finally it disappears. This is how Yoga Nidra works, allowing us to gently admit to our pain, anxiety and discomfort, acknowledge it, feel it and then let it go.

What stops us from feeling our pain, which only increases it? Fear - of pain, of loss of control, of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to cry, to accept and surrender. Perhaps the culture we were born into offers no support or guidance on how to navigate loss, failure and disappointment, only advice on how to achieve.

Some cultures actively and consciously grieve their disappointments and losses – the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso in West Africa is one of them. For the Dagara it is natural to grieve as a community – “communal grieving offers something that we cannot get when we grieve by ourselves. Through validation, acknowledgement and witnessing, communal grieving allows us to experience a level of healing that is deeply and profoundly freeing. Each of us has a basic human right to that genuine love, happiness and freedom”.

Yoga Nidra practice is an individual meditative practice, particularly helpful for the many who don’t have a close community to help sustain them in times of trouble as well as joy. As individuals heal, the community, the collective also heals. Writing this in March 2022, witnessing the extraordinary courage of Ukrainians defending their country and democracy, collective healing is needed more than ever.

Denial/bypassing of truth creates suffering – but truth is all-powerful, and it sets us free. Look within, and experience the truth of who you are. Regardless of the cause of your pain - grief, shame, anger, guilt, regret, fear, whether inflicted on you or self-inflicted, Yoga Nidra practice heals every pain in the same safe, gentle and effective way. When pain and fear are released, our light can shine.

© Jane Mackarness 2022

 “Our essential nature is boundless consciousness.  We are rooted in it when the mind focuses and settles.” 

Yoga Sutras 1.3