Since moving to  California I feel fortunate to be near so many people who also value spirituality, I’ve also come across a lot of the shadow (or not so pretty) side of spirituality. I have a bone to pick with all of those “spiritual seekers” who don’t also do some sort of psychological work with their practices. I consider myself somewhat “New Age” (wow, I’m already using a lot of quotations, must mean I’m annoyed) with a past in several Eastern traditions and have experienced this more than I would like to admit. I get exhausted with talking to people who consistently  talk about being positive without giving space for “negative” emotions. As spiritual and emotional beings we have to work on both at the same time. We can meditate and think all the good thoughts we want, but won’t feel much differently unless we also look deeply at the underlying issues often unconsciously running a lot of our experience.

Last week in a Law of Attraction group I mentioned how much I believed spirituality and a good therapist go hand in hand. I was met with a surprising amount disdain and chastised for “psychologizing.” I want to believe that those of us on a spiritual path have enough self-awareness to examine all parts of ourselves. Why did they get so angry at me for mentiong it? What was it that was really bothering them? Why did it hurt my feelings so much? Psychology (and some spiritual philosophies) allows us access to these sorts of answers. When are consistently “triggered” or agitated by something we can’t just “get over it.” The getting over it requires often an inquiry about why  it upset us so much in the first place.

“Spiritual bypassing,” first used in 1984 by psychologist John Welwood, describes the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved/unconscious wounds, and developmental needs. Since hearing this phrase, I have noticed how prevalent it is in a lot of Eastern and Western spiritual philosophies. I spent years meditating, doing yoga, praying, and other spiritual practices only to notice I still got angered by the same things over and over again. Now that I have started seeing a therapist (I can give you her number) and having friends in psychology programs, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the insights offered by psychology and the ways in which they deeply complement each other.

A really great article on Reality Sandwich by Robert Augustus Masters brings to light the dangers of this kind of avoidance and offers some ways to spot it (I would like to state here I was experiencing 90% of them):

  • emotional numbing and repression
  • over-emphasis on the positive
  •  anger-phobia
  • weak boundaries
  • devaluation of personal relative to the spiritual
  • lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence)
  • delusions at having arrived at a higher level of being
  • overly tolerant compassion

If you or someone you know has several of these, get thee to a therapist! In Western culture we spend a lot of time avoiding pain and psychotherapy has often been viewed negatively or been referred in many cases as being inferior to spirituality. I appreciate this explanation from the article pointing to the major pains associated with spiritual bypassing:

“Spiritual bypassing is largely occupied, at least in its New Age forms, by the idea of wholeness and the innate unity of Being — ‘Oneness’ being perhaps its favorite bumper sticker — but actually generates and reinforces fragmentation by separating out from and rejecting what is painful, distressed, and unhealed; all the far-from-flattering aspects of being human. By consistently keeping these in the dark, “down below” (when we’re locked into our headquarters, our body and feelings seem to be below us), they tend to behave badly when let out, much like animals that have spent too long in cages. Our neglect of these aspects of ourselves, however gently framed, is akin to that of otherwise caring parents who leave their children without sufficient food, clothing, or care.”

If spirituality lights our path, then psychology  takes us into the darkness to find what we need to be more balanced and whole.  It is often said that those with the brightest lights have the darkest shadows. (Insert here an example of the many spiritual teachers and gurus caught with their pants down.) The more I begin peering into my yuckiness the less it has power over me and the more I can truly come more fully into my experiences as a spiritual being. My spiritual self feels more accessible now than ever before and I listen to my emotions more than ever instead of ignoring them in hopes they will disappear with my next phase of meditation practice.

To talk in spiritual terms we need all of our seven chakras operating fully to be a functional human being. We can’t ignore our lower chakras where anger, survival needs, and sex reside. We can only become the person we were meant to be by enlisting the gifts each of our chakras and owning every part of ourselves. In our search for a connection with the divine we can not only  liberate ourselves from the attachment to our egos, but also the attachment to avoiding it.



  1. Thanks for this, Becky. Good stuff to be aware of, I certainly recognize many of these qualities in myself. I also recognize my need to not wallow in pain too much, which can be the shadow of “psychologizing.” Just different stages in the balancing act of individual processes. I don’t know what the folks in the seminar were reacting too, but I know that I can find myself getting defensive whenever someone is really excited about what is working for them and then generalizes that that is what everyone needs. I’ve found that offering my experience can be helpful for others to hear, but assuming that they will have the same experience somehow doesn’t allow for enough room for their own individual realities. Its subtle distinction in delivery that can make a big difference in response. I don’t know exactly what you said, so this may not be the case for you, just my initial thought.

  2. Thank you Kerri! I needed that reminder, I get offended when people tell me what I “need” to do and yet I tend to do the same (oh seemingly unending projection). Yes, the difficulty too of not spending too much time in the shadow is certainly something to be aware of, that can be equally disruptive to ourselves. I so appreciate your thoughts!

  3. There are more stars in the universe then grains of sand. The largest star is a billion times largest larger than our sun. There are billions of people on this planet but yet we are so isolated. We seek spirituality to find a connection to the unknown. Now I seek happiness. The Dali Lama said the purpose of life is happiness. I put my hand over my heart of say happy place repeatedly. I realize that Icannot find happiness outside of myself but must nuture the happiness within. As my happy place reignites I can share and spread that to others.

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