Spirituality

Spiritual Bypassing is Not Benign

Although I grew up in the spiritual community of the Unitarian Universalist Church, I have often veered away from the word “spiritual” in the past. It hasn’t been until I’ve immersed myself more into the coaching and healing world that I’ve really started to put my finger on the fact that the associations I’ve had about spirituality that I reeled against is not really spirituality, but spiritual bypassing.

I used to think of spirituality as a kind of pedestal - people who have transcended earthly concerns and are somehow on a higher level of consciousness. But the thing is to truly be “conscious” you have to acknowledge the dark, not just the light.

Spiritual bypassing is when we gloss over the darkness and focus only on the light. This viewpoint has become more insidious as things like the law of attraction permeate our healing and spiritual communities.

Spiritual Bypassing is not Benign: The Dangers of "Love & Light"

I used to think of this glossing over of the dark as at best laughable and at worst harmful to the person who is not facing their shadow, but I have come to realize that this trend and the systems that perpetuate it are causing great harm to others.

To be clear, I do believe that our thoughts have a profound influence on our reality and that where we focus our energy we see more opportunities. However, when I see platitudes like “high vibe only” and “follow your bliss” being used as weapons against people who are confronting their shadow, I see the real harm it can do.

I am very new to this whole topic and I will stumble my way through inelegantly, but here are some of the factors that I see that make spiritual bypassing so dangerous:

Victim Blaming - I first noticed this in the energy healing community with comments like, “you can heal if you want to,” or “people with fibromyalgia often don’t really want to heal,” and while I acknowledge that  there are a ton of modalities out there that can help in the healing process, many of the people I’ve known who have had dramatic healing experiences had the time and resources to explore and find the right modalities that worked for them. More recently I’ve observed how this line of thinking also minimizes the pain of people who have been abused and traumatized by quoting things like Eleanor Roosevelt, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent” in response to someone’s expressed pain, which brings me to...

White Supremacy - I will admit that I am at the beginning stages of learning about this topic and have made it a high priority to learn more as I go. In my interview with Leela Sinha, she said “there are ways in which intensiveness - understanding intensiveness, helps us understand systemic racism. Because there are a lot of ways in which, over time, intensiveness has become culturally correlated with being nonwhite.” Where I see this play out in our spiritual communities especially is in tone-policing and asking people to “tone it down” when they express intense emotions. There is also a lot of cultural appropriation and erasure within modern day western spiritual communities. Where I’ve seen white supremacy play out most recently has been through victim blaming as well as lack of social context, capitalizing on the pain of others, self-centering, prioritizing “niceness” over “kindness” and deflection of responsibility. I know the UU church is facing this directly through their work on finding your roadmap to the UU conversation on white supremacy. Until we face our own contributions to this systemic issue, we will continue to perpetuate it. 

Capitalizing on the Pain of Others - Again, my first observation of this trend has been through behavior of healers that use other people’s pain and their promise of relief from that pain for their own personal gain. More recently, I’ve seen the pain of women of color used to gain attention and sympathy from white women in the spiritual community. As a byproduct of this, many well intentioned women, myself included, found themselves learning valuable lessons at the expense of other people’s pain. I am still processing myself how to best approach this and learning more every day.

Lack of Social Context - I have always been an optimist and it has worked out for me for the most part, but I acknowledge that that is in large part due to the fact that I grew up as a white middle class child with loving and supportive community and all of the privileges that came with that. When we judge people’s responses on our own personal bubble of experience, we are missing out on the social context which led to the response. For example, one thing I have taken for granted is my ability to have a calming influence on other people. I usually chose my words carefully when approaching a difference of opinion online and I'm used to being able to reason with people without having my words twisted around on me. What I have witnessed recently is that women of color who put in even more time, effort and emotional labor into crafting their responses in a way that should be heard, get their words twisted around into an attack even when it is obvious to me that it is not an attack, merely a calling attention to a problem that needs to be addressed. They get accused of "playing the victim" and then the white women in question turn it around and actually play victim and make it all about them. When you are experiencing acts of aggression and micro aggression on a daily basis “positive thinking” will not fix it.

Self-Centering - Self care is essential in doing any kind of spiritual, personal development or activist work. Too often though, if we get caught up with “connecting with self,” we get lost in “connecting with others”  - except where it directly benefits us. This was particularly observed by Sadie McCarthy-Sitthiket in my interview with her this week when she talked about how as American’s we are ego driven and individual focused as a culture. This self-centering is also seen a lot when someone points out a way we've injured them and then we make it all about us by over explaining or taking a victim stance. 

Prioritizing “Niceness” over “Kindness” - Kindness is about being helpful and assertive. Niceness is about being “polite.” When we place niceness over kindness, we are negating the very real challenging feelings other people may have. Niceness is a shallow condition that never looks below the surface. If we live in the land of niceness every day, we leave no room for deeper connection at best and do additional injury to the suffering of others at worst. Processing trauma, pain, abuse, oppression, suppression and our own internalized and externalized systems is not always pretty. Spiritual communities need to support that messiness rather than push to repress it.

Deflecting of Responsibility - This to me goes back to the victim blaming. When we quote things like, ““no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” we deflect any responsibility we may have played in making someone else feel badly. We put it on the person who we offended and accuse them of being “too sensitive,” or “easily offended,” when in fact we should be focusing on what it was that we did or said that made them feel bad in the first place. Good intentions are nice but it is their consequences that tell us if they were kind. When we get too invested in defending our own point of view, we lose sight of the pain we may have caused or perpetuate it defending our case.

Inaction - To me the benefits of positive thinking and law of attraction can be that it brings your awareness to more opportunities in line with where you focus your energy. A vision board, for example, can keep our focus on where we want to go and widen our scope of possibility. These opportunities, however, are useless unless we take thoughtful action. For me, spirituality has always been tied up with social justice, and I feel that I have not taken action enough in this regard. I am committing myself to learning more and exploring more how visionary women have been making a difference in the world on my podcast.

As I wrap up the first year of my podcast, I see that it has been largely introspective in terms of exploring how intensity affects us personally. Moving into the year ahead, I’d like to shift focus on how we can use our intensity in a positive way to change the world, with a strong leaning towards intersectional feminism.

If you are local to the Portland, OR metro area and are invested in exploring intersectionality in our own spiritual communities, feel free to contact me. I don’t feel at all qualified to lead this discussion, but it’s something I would like to explore further.

Snake Oil or Healing Tool?

As the pendulum swings from one extreme to another in the world of healing, we are beginning to move back from a place of a western symptom based medical model to a more holistic view of healing. With this shift comes an opportunity to explore more paths to healing than a one size fits all model. 

It also, however, leaves room for more predatory and/or misguided approaches that prey on our vulnerabilities and may or may not deliver what they promise. 

I knew I was on to something when I got such an engaged response to this post I shared the other day on Facebook: 

Snake Oil or Healing Tool - Free retreat planner inside

"I have lots of amazing healer friends and I haven't seen this among those I know personally, but you know my biggest peeve about self-proclaimed "healers"? When they present that their way of "healing" is the only way and use victim blaming language like 'you have the opportunity to heal on an energetic level if you choose.' Healing is way more complicated than that and saying such things will make those who have tried tons of different things to heal keep searching outside of themselves for the "right" modality at best and feel like it's their own fault they are suffering at worst. Does our energetic and mental condition affect our physical body? Most definitely. Is it a quick fix by just going to the right person with the right modality? Rarely."

What bugs me the most about this approach to healing is that not only does it leave out those people who can't afford whatever modality they might be sharing, it conveniently gives the practitioner an "out" when people don't heal because, "they aren't trying hard enough."

Not to say that healers should not charge a reasonable sum for their time - we all need to make a living and there's something to be said for the "energy exchange" where we are more invested in our own results when we invest in in the first place. 

But to imply that there is a quick fix if only you invest in "their modality," is misguided at best, misleading and shaming at worst. 

Healing is a complicated process.

As Starr Sheppard-Decker of Radical Revelations and Embracing Intensity episode 13 commented, "I dealt with a chronic condition for years and got very tired of healers being condescending to me about my "choice" to still be sick. Yeah, cuz that helps." As a coach who works with other coaches and healers, I've always admired Starr for her holistic view of spirituality and how she demonstrates that there is no one right way. She said, "I am realizing how much this is the heart of my work - stop trying to be someone else and learn how to be YOU."

There are many paths to healing.

Eric Windhorst, counsellor and coach added, "As a trained psychotherapist and believer in the spiritual/energetic side of life and healing, I know that healing (bodily, mental, psychological, spiritual, energetic) usually takes time and is rarely straightforward. Healing is more of a spiral or web that is perhaps, never complete."

This imagery of a spiral has come up more and more in my own view of healing as well in how we handle stress. Depending on where we are in our healing spiral, different approaches might work at different times and some not at all. 

In my ongoing journey of healing, I have found two things that seem to be universally true...

Find the "We" in "Wellness"

As my friend Kat Lilore pointed out, "Moreover, because we are so very complicated (physically, mentally, psychically, spiritually), it's usually a 'group' effort when it comes to righting imbalances - especially when you consider that one effort can tip things else wise."

We do not heal in a vacuum, and no one practitioner alone will "fix us." The answer lies both within ourselves and within the power of community. While no one else can give us "the answer," they can share their own experiences and possibly ignite something in others in the process. Plus, sharing our experience with supportive community is healing in and of itself.  

To progress on your healing journey you must look within.

If you have dealt with any kind of chronic pain or fatigue in your life or even just heightened sensitivity, you probably know the temptation to ignore your body's discomfort. When little things annoy you and annoying things are excruciating - this seems like a very valid response. What I have learned over the last few years though is that the key to healing is to reconnect with your body so you can listen to it's messages. 

Janell Chandler, of Nexus Chiropractic, shared, "That's why in my chiropractic practice I teach people about mental/emotional, physical, and toxic stressors that can be affecting their nervous system. If I find they have stuck patterns that don't change, they need to add in something/someone else to the mix (or delete something from their life...but that's usually more difficult at first)."

And this is why I was drawn to learn more about Janell after a very brief meeting at a MOB NW networking event. We share a similar mission of helping others to balance their stressors and energizing activities so they can find that sweet spot where they can use their excitability, intensity, creativity and other gifts in a positive way without burning themselves out. 

Next week I'm starting a free challenge called Harness Your Power to help do just that - exploring together what tools help to balance our energy so we don't feel out of control or suppressed. I can't promise it will be a "quick fix," but I can say it is a great start towards connecting with an empathetic community and exploring your own healing experience. There's also the bonus of fun prizes for participating, including the grand prize of a free membership into my upcoming Ignite Your Power group program. 

I would love to keep the conversation going about the many paths to healing - what approaches have helped you personally and what approaches have turned you off? 

To help you on your own healing path, I created this free Retreat Planner!  It includes information on: How to prepare for your retreat in the way that’s best for you; Simple, accessible, and straightforward practices to deepen your experience; A template planner;  A guide to using essential oils to enhance and deepen your healing experience; A recommended reading list; and more!

Spirituality for Skeptics

I've always said I tend to straddle the woo woo fence. I'm a bit of a skeptic, but I also have experienced first hand the powers of alternative healing methods. The skeptic in me has hesitated to share too much on the spiritual or alternative healing front, but as I finished my Reiki Master training with Samantha Brown, I realized that since these have been a major aspect of my own healing I would be doing a disservice not to share my own thoughts on this topic. I share a bit more of my own personal healing journey on this week's podcast on Embracing the Woo. 

Spirituality for Skeptics - Free Retreat Planner inside

Last weekend I went to the World Domination Summit and it struck me that while some of the speakers were self-proclaimed skeptics and some were highly spiritual in their approach - they all had more in common than different and that was in their desire to change the world for the better. 

Here are some reasons I personally lean towards spiritual and alternative healing methods:

We are a connected to something bigger than ourselves. One thing that I believe everyone who wants to change the world for the better would likely agree on is that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves. Whether that is an empathetic or humanist connection to other living beings or a connection to a higher power, if we didn't feel a connection outside of the self we would not be moved to help others. For me spirituality is in essence connection. 

We are moving toward a more holistic approach to healing. Once we relied on folk remedies and other holistic forms of healing. The advancement of medical science has saved and extended lives, but the western medical model has become very symptom focused. Recently there has been a trend toward a more holistic approach that looks at more than just the presenting symptom to see how everything connects. 

I have personally experienced the power of human energy. When I was young and in a group of people where we were asked to hold hands, I remember some people had this prickly feeling in their hands. In high school, I met a friend who had had a very tough past and come out of juvenile hall, and holding his hand felt very similar. When I do Reiki, this is how energy imbalance feels to me - a prickly feeling in my hands that almost feels like my hand fell asleep and is waking back up. I am also prone to headaches and other physical issues when I'm around a lot of challenging energy.

Spirituality is not the same as Spiritual Bypassing. I think one of the things that has kept me from using the word "spiritual" in the past has been this idea that somehow spirituality means always being positive and at peace.  Pushing away the negative to focus only on the positive is known as spiritual bypassing. The spiritual leaders that I admire most are in touch with their shadow side and feel very "real" and down to earth to me. 

When we focus our thoughts on something, we tend to see more opportunities for it. Some people swear by the law of attraction and some people scoff at it. The way I see it, science has proven that when we think of something, we are more likely to see it in our environment. It would make sense then that when we bring our awareness to something, we start to see more opportunities to bring it into our life. This does not mean that we make affirmations and wait around for something to happen. Nor does it mean that if something bad happens, we brought it on ourselves. 

The placebo effect proves that our minds have influence on our bodies. One of the biggest arguments I hear from those who are against most alternative healing methods is that anyone who has success with that method is experiencing the placebo effect. Let's think about that for a moment - the fact that there is a placebo effect shows the incredible power our minds have over our bodies. If just the thought that something will heal us make us feel better, imagine what we could do if we harnessed the power of those thoughts? That said, I've had plenty of traditional western treatments I thought would help that never did and had more success with alternative methods, so for me whatever helps me feel better I'll try if it's not potentially harmful or too costly.

Us cerebral folks could use strategies to get us out of our heads. A friend of mine once said, any time you are focusin an entire hour on your own self-healing, you are probably going to feel better no matter what the modality. Those of us who tend to get all up in our heads all the time need tools to get us into our bodies more. I realized that while I talk about connecting with your body and some things that have worked for me, a lot of the tools I've shared thus far are cerebral in nature. One of the things I'm enjoying about Reiki is that I can use visualizations to clear blocks that the other person might not be able to put into words. 

I am currently working on ways to include more reiki and energy practices in my work. Having the space at Quinn Mountain Retreat, this will definitely involve more in-person connection. I will be starting 1:1 sessions when we get the room set up, and am planning some group classes and circles in the fall. I have a lot of ideas brewing, and am currently in prioritiation mode. 

I would love to hear from you, what tools or explorations would be helpful for you in your own healing journey? 

To help you on your own healing journey, I created this free Retreat Planner!  It includes information on: How to prepare for your retreat in the way that’s best for you; Simple, accessible, and straightforward practices to deepen your experience; A template planner;  A guide to using essential oils to enhance and deepen your healing experience; A recommended reading list; and more!