Spiritual Bypass: or What Happens When We Deny Our Darkness
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There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung
Spiritual practices are meant to help us cope with and integrate the suffering in life – not ignore it. Focusing purely on the light – on positive energy, optimism, gratitude, joy – can be tempting. But when you avoid exploring the darker, more painful topics, you deprive yourself of real growth.
Spiritual bypass is escapism
When we spiritually bypass, we utilize spiritual practices to avoid our unresolved emotional wounds and uncomfortable feelings. We push our feelings down and deny our shadows. We ignore our suffering.
Like many others, I spent many years of my spiritual development journey bypassing my issues. I believed that in order to ascend, I needed to stop identifying with my pain. I needed to choose positive thoughts over negative ones as well as be conscious of where I was directing and investing my energy. I believed that in order to heal, I needed to blindly forgive, release all judgments, and commit to the light.
And as time passed, I grew more detached from myself and the problems I never resolved continue to grow beneath the surface.
I was in complete denial.
The path of spiritual development is not always pleasant, but we cannot sidestep the flawed realities of the human experience. When we try to, we deny the lessons that the darkness can teach us.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was using spiritual practices to avoid facing my inner wounds and unmet needs. I overemphasized positivity and skipped over negative thoughts, convinced that like attracts like and if I focus on The Bad Stuff, The Bad Stuff would happen to me. I said I was grateful for my bad experiences without ever learning from them. I repeated empty mantras, engaged in naive optimism, and convinced myself that I was spiritually evolved by subscribing to a series of “shoulds” (I should be more loving, I should be more open, I should not show anger).
But really, I was repressing my negative emotions and deluding myself into believing that it was progress.
FEEL IT ALL
True spiritual transformation requires us to connect with the darkest parts of ourselves. We can’t keep pushing it down or denying it exists. In order to experience wholeness, we must embrace light and dark.
So let yourself feel it all. Be with your pain. Don’t hide from it.
Danielle LaPorte explains, “‘Being’ with the pain is the opposite of ignoring it when something bothers you. It means that instead of changing the subject, or eating a whole bag of chips, or justifying someone’s bad behaviour (including your own) — or glossing over your pain with fake gratitude — you take a minute (or a morning, or a solo weekend) to feel into how much it really sucks. This isn’t wallowing. This is curiosity, compassion and respect.”
Sometimes things aren’t okay, and you are allowed to feel it and even to express it.
Life is not all light.
Life is imperfect and messy. There is pain, loss, and suffering. There is darkness.
Unconditional positivity is not just inauthentic, it actually condemns an entire spectrum of human experience. It numbs us. You cannot avoid your pain and you cannot substitute spiritual practice for facing your demons. Our pain holds many lessons. If you want to change, you need to do the dirty work.
We are not enlightened, ascended masters. We are not Buddhas. And while much suffering is avoidable, it is also an inherent part of the imperfect human experience. Just as much as joy and love. It simply is what it is and non-acceptance only pushes it deeper. You can control and redirect your thoughts, but denying pain is not spiritual progress. It is spiritual bypass.
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