November 23, 2016

Stop the Spiritual Bypass—Stay Human.


wine out of the bottle

I finally surrendered to my alcoholism.

I began a healing journey about 12 years ago. Since then, I’ve worked hard to become the person I am today. I’ve faithfully attended 12-step meetings, seen a therapist, read a small library of self-help books, taken up yoga and meditation and participated in several self-development programs. While sober, I graduated from college, had two different careers, began teaching yoga and started to build an astrology business. Each day I recommit to bettering myself and staying on this path, hoping that I’ll be able to help others.

I’ve been sober now for about 12 years.

A cornerstone of my alcoholism was my desire to be numb. I desperately wanted to control and manipulate how I felt. I hated most emotions—their transient nature, how I couldn’t control them. I always felt insecure, and I hated that. No matter how talented I was, how many compliments I received, how many awards I won; I never felt good enough.

I spent most of my childhood in a prolonged panic.

My upbringing included physical and verbal abuse, alcoholism and addiction, plenty of boundary-crossing, divorces and several attempts at integrating families. As a child it was often hard to make sense of what was going on. I didn’t really have any other childhood to compare it to—I just had my own experience. I became adept at dissociating and numbing. I built a pretty big barricade around my heart. Sometimes I would find someone to confide in, like my eighth grade teacher or my best friend. When I would tell my story I would watch them get angry. I would watch them start to tear up. Seeing their reaction was incredibly validating for me. They felt what I couldn’t allow myself to feel.

As I grew older and began my journey of sobriety I learned a lot about emotions.

I learned how important they are and how they can make life go from black and white into color. I learned that emotions are there for a reason. They serve a purpose: they provide us with clues or information. One of my favorite little phrases is “you have to feel to heal.” I discovered through yoga, meditation and living life sober that the quickest way to get over a particular emotion is to fully allow it to be there. Whenever I try to bury an emotion it comes out sideways. So my path has been curvy, and I believe it’s like this for all of us.

Whenever I resist something it lingers and more tension is created.

My spiritual path of yoga and meditation has not been a neat, linear one. For me, living spiritually has been about embracing my humanness. I’ve needed to find compassion for myself—compassion for that little girl who grew up in the chaos and violence—compassion for that teen and young adult who never felt she was good enough. As I began to cultivate this compassion for myself, I started to have more compassion for other people. There are so many things that I care about today.

As a yoga teacher in my community I try to use my voice for good. I seek to be an inspiration for others.

One thing that I have noticed in the world of yoga, meditation and other healing modalities, is this knee-jerk reaction toward smoothing things over with positivity. If someone is suffering or experiences a setback or an injustice there is this tendency to immediately slap a Band-Aid on it. I’ve heard folks quickly say things like “something good will come out of this situation,” or “everything happens for a reason.” It can take a little while to get from point A to point B and discover the good that can come out of a bad situation.

While these concepts are noble and probably true, they aren’t helpful in the immediate moment.

I have certainly done this with people in my life. Sometimes sitting with someone’s pain is extremely uncomfortable. It can be so hard to just allow and give space for a feeling and not rush to blot it out. I’ll never forget an old friend of mine who brought this to my attention. I was always trying to quickly fix her feelings and one day she angrily said to me, “Why can’t you just be with me in the feelings?” That finally got through to me. I remembered how wonderfully validated I felt when people had been with me in mine: my eighth grade teacher, my middle school best friend and later, my therapist.

I recently heard a term for this called “the spiritual bypass.”

It sends the message that we aren’t allowed to cry, scream or react. See, I believe that the spiritual bypass robs us of our humanness. Moving directly from a painful experience into spiritual acceptance requires some kind of perfection that most people I know don’t have. Nor do I think they should strive for this. In some ways the spiritual bypass actually perpetuates abuse by invalidating someone’s feelings or experience.

I think a lot of us don’t want to get messy. Confrontation is scary. It is easier in the short term to spout off a New Age spiritual platitude than face the feelings and experience the impact head on. However, I believe the commitment to a spiritual life is actually a commitment to our shared humanity. I had to finally allow myself to feel in order to move on. I had to rage and cry and grieve the childhood I never had. If I didn’t allow myself to feel those feelings, my alcoholism would have killed me.

When I see someone going through a difficult time, I seek to listen. I do not try to immediately change their experience. I seek to empathize and understand them. I want to give them space to feel whatever it is that they need to feel. Their lessons will be learned in time. It’s not my job to give them the Cliffs Notes version. We can’t skip ahead to the last chapter. We can’t bypass the human work of living through the pain—whatever that looks like.

When we can sit with our own pain we can watch it transform. If we allow ourselves to feel we will finally be able to witness transformation. Our feelings won’t last forever and we’ll have a direct experience to draw from. The more comfortable we are with feeling our own discomfort, the more comforting we will be to others. In this way the spiritual path encourages us to fully inhabit the physical realm. By allowing ourselves to be fully in it, we are actually able to rise above it.


Author: Allison Chamberlain Jones ​

Images: Trixi Skywalker/Flickr

Editors: Alicia Wozniak; Catherine Monkman

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Allison Chamberlain Jones ​