Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 9:09am
As my term as president of the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy(ASP)
winds down, my message to the membership in our summer newsletter highlights
an issue that is critical for the integration of spirituality, psychology and healing:
The spiritual bypass. With more and more of the public embracing spirituality it’s
an issue of growing importance. Those who are drawn to the spiritual bypass believe
that psychological issues of everyday living can be bypassed or transcended by
achieving spiritual consciousness—call it enlightenment or any other term for
higher consciousness. The spiritual bypass is often the main motivation for people
suffering from psychological stress and conflicts to join a spiritual path.
“If I can leap to higher consciousness, I don’t have to deal with all my
messy psychological sludge” is the compelling thought.
Spiritual teachers frequently explicitly or implicitly reinforce this view.
I’ve attended many satsangs (spiritual gatherings) where the guru or teacher
gave short shrift to queries about personal problems by directing seekers to the
“real self.” “If you know who you really are the illusory personal issues will
Now that’s a seductive and irresistible invitation. Who wouldn’t prefer to
vaporize the nagging and often painful pushes and pulls of living in the world
with a one size fits all bypass to the bliss of higher consciousness?
Not so fast. In principle the spiritual bypass should work. If there is a
higher consciousness that is the ground of consciousness, and the ego, or
our personalities, are conceptual manifestations of the all inclusive awareness
consciousness, then achieving “enlightenment” should defuse the manifest self.
But as therapists, counselors, or just sensitive observers we know that in
practice it doesn’t. Personal issues persist even as seekers make progress
toward achieving higher states of consciousness through meditation and other
Spiritual enlightenment, or what the Buddha called waking up, is not a one
step leap for most of us. Therefore, the exclusive pursuit of the spiritual bypass
is likely to intensify personal issues. Denial and avoidance eventually lead
That was highlighted last year in the New York Times story about the
Buddhist Master who, came down from the monastery after 35 years to enter
psychoanalysis. His pesky personal problems refused to yield to his deep
states of meditation, or what he thought was his highly evolved consciousness.
The facile response of psychologists and spiritual healers that I spoke to was:
“He really wasn’t enlightened”-–implying that if he were he would still be
cloistered in a state of happiness and bliss-–and his personal problems nowhere
to be found. While that may or may not be true, from the practical point of view,
since relatively few make it to the spiritual mountaintop, we are stuck struggling
with our personal demons while at the same time reaching for higher ground.
Perhaps the real issue is the either/or fallacy: Either I’m stuck in my limited ego
shell or I graduate to the total freedom of transcendence. The fact is, though, that
we are stuck with both. But stuck only applies to either/or. If you reject the
personal ego self for the spiritual self you will face the dilemma of the Buddist “Master”
whose inner turmoil came back to haunt him. If you seek truth, happiness and
peace strictly at the ego level you will journey on a lifelong quest that will repeatedly
bring you back to square one. If you embrace both as part of the one reality
while making higher consciousness ( what I call omni consciousness) your default
setting, you will experience the full range of human experiences—good and bad
—but they will not control, define, or torture you. You will not be stuck!
The spiritual bypass is clearly a complex issue that is central to the practice of
spiritual psychotherapy and counseling. It also raises fundamental questions
about the nature of “enlightenment” and the relationship between pure awareness
consciousness and the personal self.
Let’s give the spiritual bypass the attention and critical examination it deserves.
— — —
Bernard Starr, Ph.D., formerly professor of developmental and educational
psychology at the City University of New York, now teaches “Psychology and
Spirituality in Film” at Marymount Manhattan College and is producer and host
for Phoenix Rising Television Productions. In addition to his work in radio
(“The Longevity Report”), he is a longtime contributor of commentary and
opinion articles to numerous major newspapers and other publications. He is also
the President of the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy and is the
main United Nations representative for the Institute of Global Education
that founded the Mucherla Global School in Mucherla, India.
— — —
Bernard Starr on YouTube:
Interview with Constitutional Litigation Attorney Frank Askin on the
legality of the war in Iraq
George Stoney: A Life In Film
Produced and directed by Bernard Starr and Rita Satz
Edith O’Hara: A Passion For The Theater
Produced and Directed by Bernard Starr and Rita Satz
The Spiritual Bypass: Self Enhancing or Self Deception? by Bernard Starr, PhD
Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 9:09am
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Monday, 24 October 2011 04:07
posted by Lakeisha
Your cranium must be protecting some very vaulbale brains.
Saturday, 15 October 2011 21:04
posted by Jessie
There is a critical shortage of informative atircles like this.