I recently posted on my Facebook page some thoughts I had about suffering, and thought I would expand on those thoughts here. Both the Christian and Jewish Scriptures communicate truths to us about how to address suffering in our lives and in the lives of others. But one of the difficulties in addressing suffering is the tendency to diminish its depth and scope. We can do this both with personal and collective suffering. Most often we employ a strategy of spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is a term coined by psychologist John Welwood to describe the tendency of some people to use spiritual practices or beliefs as a way of avoiding or escaping from difficult emotions, conflicts, or life challenges. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in spiritual communities and individuals who prioritize positivity and a sense of peace above all else. While spiritual bypassing may seem like an attractive and even helpful way to cope with the difficulties of life, it can actually be quite harmful in a number of ways.
One of the primary harms associated with spiritual bypassing is that it can create a false sense of security and limit one’s ability to fully engage with life. By avoiding difficult emotions or situations, people may miss out on valuable opportunities for growth and self-awareness. In addition, by denying or ignoring the reality of difficult situations, people may become more disconnected from the world around them, leading to a sense of isolation and alienation. This can also reinforce harmful power dynamics and perpetuate systems of oppression. For example, individuals who practice spiritual bypassing may view difficult experiences as a form of negative energy that needs to be transcended or released, rather than recognizing the underlying social, economic, or political factors that contribute to their suffering. This can lead to a lack of understanding and empathy for those who are marginalized or oppressed, and a failure to recognize the systemic factors that contribute to their suffering.
Every time there is another mass shooting, natural disaster, or tragedy in the world, we often hear people use platitudes like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “I’m sending thoughts and prayers.” While these words are good intentioned and perhaps helpful on a shallow level, they do little to address the deeper needs of individuals and society.
Spiritual bypassing can also be harmful to individual mental and emotional health. By avoiding difficult emotions or situations, people may actually exacerbate their underlying issues and create a deeper sense of internal conflict. For example, if someone is struggling with anxiety or depression, simply meditating or practicing mindfulness may not be enough to address the underlying causes of their mental health concerns. Rather, they may need to engage in therapy or other forms of self-reflection to fully understand and address their issues.
Another risk associated with spiritual bypassing is that it can lead to a sense of spiritual superiority or self-righteousness. When people believe that they have transcended the difficulties of life, they may feel that they are somehow better or more advanced than others who are still struggling. This can create a sense of detachment or alienation from others, and prevent individuals from forming meaningful connections with people who may have different life experiences or beliefs.
Overall, the harms associated with spiritual bypassing are many and varied, and can have a significant impact on individual and collective well-being. To avoid falling into the trap of spiritual bypassing, it is important to cultivate a sense of mindfulness and self-awareness, and to engage in practices that promote empathy and connection with others. By recognizing and addressing the difficult emotions and situations that arise in our lives, we can develop greater resilience and an authentic sense of inner peace.
One way to avoid spiritual bypassing is to practice radical acceptance, which involves fully acknowledging and accepting the reality of difficult situations, emotions, or experiences. Rather than trying to escape or transcend these difficulties, radical acceptance involves sitting with them and allowing them to be present without judgment or resistance. This practice can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly empowering, allowing individuals to develop a deeper sense of self-awareness and resilience in the face of life’s challenges. Another way to avoid spiritual bypassing is to engage in practices that promote self-reflection and self-awareness, such as journaling, therapy, or mindfulness meditation. By taking the time to reflect on our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, we can gain a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and develop a deeper sense of empathy and connection with others.
It is important to cultivate a sense of community and connection with others, particularly those who may have different life experiences or beliefs. By engaging in meaningful conversations and listening to others with an open mind we can come to realize that our suffering is universal. No one escapes this life without it.
We should stop believing the lies we tell ourselves. The lies we tell ourselves magnify our suffering. Mere escape won’t solve our problems. What isn’t acknowledged will never be changed.
If suffering is a part of life. I suggest we embrace it, and learn from it. Allow its moments and curvatures to shape us and to refine us. The refining process isn’t comfortable, but it is necessary to emerge as everything we were intended to become.