Many years ago, I heard the expression “spiritual bypass.” If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it can be defined as “…a tendency to use spiritual explanations to avoid complex psychological issues.” In other words, instead of meeting head on and working through difficult and unresolved issues, we leap over what is too hard, while trying to land in a place we would rather be. Somewhere that feels better to us than here.
Wherever that here is, and whatever it takes to get us there. Delusion and denial included.
While this phrase has always been used in relation to how we see ourselves spiritually, the same underlying avoidance is being played out all around us, and on every, single level of our humanity. We want more ease in our minds, but because it feels too difficult, we bypass to “serenity” through drugs, alcohol, shopping, and scrolling. We want to feel at home in our bodies, but because we do not know how, we bypass to “safety and security” by abdicating our bodily autonomy, authority and sovereignty over to a doctor, the marketers and corporations selling us things, and now, our very own government. We want more closeness in our relationships, but because we have grown accustomed to screen-mediated interactions, we bypass to “intimacy” by believing that social media is the pinnacle of satisfying modern day connections.
Whether you look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the yogic chakra system, childhood development, or building a house, every system worth its salt includes the same principle: First Things First.
Meaning, that before we can experience peace of mind, we must do a study of what it is that disturbs the mind, and what it is that calms it. Before we can feel at home in our bodies, we must learn how to take responsibility for what it means to care for them. And before we can have meaningful relationships, we must put the time in, in real time, day after day, that they deserve and require.
Somehow though, we don’t want to know this. We don’t want to know that things take time and our effort. For ours is a culture of bypass, leaving us more at home with the illusion that things can be got without cost, consequences or hard work, than with us doing what actually needs doing. We believe we are just supposed to be able to have it. Or easily get it. That someone else should do it for us, or at least tell us how to do it.
These are the thoughts of a child. But if you are ready to see things not as you wish them or expect them to be, but as they actually are, and are willing to use that reality check as a starting point, you are now in a position to leave bypass behind in the service of the life you most want.
What might that look like?
Find something in your life that is not working. Make a list of all the related things you think you are supposed to have or be in this department. For instance, if you are not well, that would include everything around the end game of feeling better that you currently do not have. Keep stripping it all away (this takes time and effort) until you can let yourself be where you are, feeling what you are feeling, and experiencing what you are experiencing.
Then, ask yourself, what is the very first thing I must do now? The thing that must come before all else? The thing upon which everything else relies?
And then, stay with that very first thing until it feels totally sated. This will be longer than you want or can imagine. But just like building a house, if you can put the care and the patience of creating a solid foundation into the service of what you most want, everything, everything, that comes after that will be true.
P.S. Often the first thing that most needs doing is exactly the thing we most want to avoid. So, if you can find out what that is, you will be well on your way.