• Valentina Poletti

When Spirituality becomes avoidance


Having participated in many spiritual practices and groups at this point, there isn't been a spiritual circle where I haven't witnessed spiritual bypassing, in at least one of two main forms: fanaticism and positive over-focus.

In the first approach, spirituality becomes the practice of idealising a spiritual person, idea or thing and taking it as absolute truth over rationality, intuition and knowledge. An example of this is the way many religious groups sanctify a certain book, god or idea, and power it over any other. Christians for instance sanctify the bible and Jesus, Muslims the quran and Mohammed, etcetera. This pattern is not only present in large mainstream religious groups, even in smaller new-age ones. In Taiwan people idealise the Spring Master attributing her special powers, and in many new-age groups people over-power their leader.

This strategy goes in the exact opposite direction of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth, unlike spiritual repression, is the expansion of the human consciousness. It is the empowering choice of taking responsibility over ones action and choices, over ones emotions and feelings and of using them to guide us towards our highest purpose in this life. It is a practice of compassion, empathy, tolerance, presence, union and thus love. Love perhaps being the key word in spirituality of any discipline, doctrine and religion. Yet externalising our truth and power onto a material object, an idea, a person is the opposite of empowering. Instead of taking responsibility for our own lives, choices, emotions, feelings, we externalise this responsibility onto this person, idea or object. We refuse to step into our higher self, we deny our ability to grow into greater love, and instead we escape using this thing. It is so easy for instance to justify our lack of action into problems in the world by excusing their existence as the "will of God". Much easier indeed than actually recognising our participation in those problems as a part of the world and taking action. It is also much easier to ignore our pain and our emotions deeming them the "punishment of God" than to actually understand them and act to create a better reality.

In smaller spiritual circles this is often manifested as a disempowerment step where we give up our own connection with our highest self and substitute it with our connection with that person or thing which is merely a fragment of source. We project our idealisation on that thing or person and take it as truth over our own personal truth, at the cost of our honesty and authenticity. Yet there is no higher teacher in this world than our heart; others can merely reflect what my higher self already knows, they can validate what I already feel, they can be present with who I am, but they can never substitute our higher self, how we feel or who we are. You are your own God, your own teacher your highest connection, there's no one else that can take the place for you.

The second way I've seen spirituality used over and over as an avoidance strategy is via overly positive focus. When we don't want to face our pain and negative emotions - which lead us to our growth - we have many possible escapes. One possibility are addictive behaviours of all sorts: food, material obsessions, porn, workaholism just to name a few. When we fall into these addictive behaviours though we have to admit we have a problem. A far better escape, that makes us look as though we actually are good and have no problem (and thus greatly gratifies the ego), is spiritualism. We escape our feelings and emotions by concentrating all our energy on positive thoughts, positive mantras, positive belief systems, and any spiritual tools and practices that we can find. This way we get to feel like a good person while still avoiding our growth.

This strategy is so popular but certainly not limited to new-age spiritual circles. Traditional religions tend to use punishment and penitence as a spiritual bypassing tool (by punishing yourself and sacrificing yourself you are forgiven for your sin, i.e. you do not have to actually take any action or responsibility for your life). New-age philosophies on the other hand tend to use positive focus as their main avoidance strategy: repeat to yourself "i am worth" until you get convinced it is true. Only look at the positive. Don't listen to negative thoughts. You are an incredibly powerful, limitless being (ignore your actual limits). Etecetera.

Both kinds of religious, and both positive focus and penitence focussed strategies give us a shortcut to avoid actually experiencing what we are experiencing (limitations, negative thoughts, negative emotions), and feel right about not taking any steps from those feelings and thoughts to act and to grow with ourselves.

These are the main bypassing tools I've seen in action. I'm sure there are plenty more, it would be interesting if you could share which ones you think are common.

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