Whether you've belonged to a Western or Eastern variety of religion -- Christianity or Buddhism, say -- almost certainly you know the sort of person Robert Masters is talking about in his book "Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters."
When I'd come across one of them, I'd think, "Good god, just act like a normal human being instead of a pseudo-saint!" They'd be irritatingly self-righteous, emotionally detached, and uncaring about how they treated other people.
Signs of spiritual bypassing at work are perhaps most commonly seen in the minimizing, superficializing, or outright negation of our shadow side and so-called negativity. Other behaviors include taking global or impersonal stands on clearly personal concerns, as when we might talk about the "fact" that everthing is perfect, all unfolding exactly as it must, while we are talking to another in a demeaning way.
Or in response to someone's suffering we may say "It's all an illusion, including your suffering" or "It's just your ego." delivering one-liners with minimal feeling, much like newscasters reporting both the shallow and the deeply tragic in the very same professionally modulated tone of voice. By ducking into aphorisms of the absolute we distance ourselves from their pain and our own.
...Spiritual bypassing is especially common in spiritual paths that treat ego as something to eradicate, something in the way of spiritual realization, rather than an activity to illuminate and integrate with the rest of our being.
I've got a Master's Degree in Social Work. So does my wife, a LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) who was a psychotherapist in private practice for quite a few years. Thus I feel qualified in setting forth a pithy professional diagnosis of religious believers who are heavy into spiritual bypassing.
They're screwed up!
As am I. As are we all, in ways that range from maxi-screwed to mini-screwed.
But some people fail to embrace our wonderfully human screwed-up'ness, falsely believing that because they've learned to parrot some words from the Bible, Koran, Adi Granth, Bhagavad Gita, or some other supposedly holy scripture, they are beyond normal psychological territory and can blaze their own trail into the spiritual heights.
Almost always, this is bullshit. Spiritual bypassers lose touch with their own feelings while failing to empathize with the problems of other people. Then they call this "detachment," viewing their pathology as an elevated spiritual state.
In spiritual bypassing's realm, conceptual sprituality more often than not masquerades as real spirituality. Conceptual or emotionally disconnected spirituality can be very comforting and safe, very easy to trot out, and very easy to use to rationalize our removal, especially emotionally, from the more difficult aspects of life.
Early on in his book, Masters mentions a favorite saying of spiritual bypassers that I find particularly ridiculous: "Whatever bothers you about someone is really only about you."
Huh? If I think someone is a jerk, does that mean I'm a jerk? If I see them hitting their child and get angry, does that mean I'm a child abuser? No, of course not. It bothers me that Hitler killed millions of Jews. How is this about me?
Criticisms of religious or spiritual leaders often are deflected in a similar fashion. If a flaw is pointed out in their behavior or character, their devotees will defend them by saying, "Whatever negativity is observed is only in ourselves; saints are mirrors of our own failings."
No, they're not.
If a "saint" exhibits a normal human characteristic -- greed, lust, anger, whatever -- that's because he or she is a normal human being. Take them off their unduly elevated spiritual pedestal and their behavior is seen for what it is: what all of us do.
I've only read a few chapters of "Spiritual Bypassing." So far, I'm enjoying it. Masters has some good insights into the games that spiritual aspirants play. Here he talks about something I've wondered about myself: if everything is One, how is it that some things and people are better than others?
Even the most exquisitely designed spritual methodologies can become traps, leading not to freedom but only to reinforcement, however subtle, of the "I" that wants to be a somebody who has attained or realized freedom (the very same "I" that doesn't realize there are no Oscars for awakening).
The most obvious potential traps in waiting include the belief that we should rise above our difficulties and simply embrace Oneness, even as the tendency to divide everything into positive and negative, higher and lower, spiritual and nonspiritual, runs wild in us.