In 2010 Robert Masters wrote an excellent book entitled Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters.* The book explores how we use “spiritual practices or beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.”
Masters’ approach is, to use some jargon, psychospiritual in nature. It blends the spiritual with the human psyche–it merges spirituality in particular with the body, relationships, and emotions (see his latest book entitled Emotional Intimacy).
The spiritual bypassing critique–in the context of emotions, body, relationships–is very important. It’s real. It’s all over the place. And Dr. Masters insightfully diagnoses the disease and offers practical remedies.
I, however, see another form of spiritual bypassing and that is spiritual teaching that bypass our souls. I’m not claiming I’m the first to realize or make this argument but it’s been on my mind frequently of late. It’s this other form of spiritual bypassing that I’d like to explore a bit in this piece.
A few years back now I wrote a 3 part series that explored different identities we have as humans and how we might learn to bring them into greater harmony with each other. I wrote a piece each on the ego, Spirit, and The Soul.
Ego I defined as our human personality. Spirit I defined as The Ultimate, a recognition one essential nature shared in common by all, entirely free and full–what’s traditionally called Enlightenment, God Realization, or The Natural State. And I defined The Soul as our True Self, aka The Flavor of our Awakening. Each of us has a distinct expression of the awakened state and talking about The Soul as The Flavor of our Awakening is a way of giving voice to that part of ourself. As many mystics have said we are like unique rays (Souls) flowing out of the same Sun (Spirit).
That way of viewing The Soul (capital S) is a crucial one. It’s ignored or obscured in many of our contemporary Spirit-ual teachings. Nevertheless it’s an incomplete view of The Soul…or maybe I should say the soul (lowercase s).
By soul (as opposed to Soul) I mean a subtler dimension of our experience–one that is quite attuned energetically and empathetically to our environment and relationships. It’s a deeper layer of our being, a subterranean wisdom. And importantly, the soul, little s, is able to be wounded. Soul, Capital S, sometimes called The Oversoul, is not wound-able.
Little s soul is the realm of mythology. It speaks in the language of dreams, archetypes, and visionary experience. Often, it’s a quieter part of ourselves, one that therefore is easily drowned out by other voices and agendas.
To make it a little clearer why I mean by soul, here’s a list of the kinds of conditions we see that are unique to the soul (little s).
Auras–energetic and subtle emotional boundaries around ourselves. Boundaries that can be strengthened or depleted through intention and practice. Boundaries that can, under stress or trauma be pierced, leaving long lasting energetic marks.
Karma–aka Stories of Ancestral/Humanity’s Past Living Within Us. These are tendencies, conditions, and stories of personal, familial, and collective human consciousness that are still playing themselves out unconsciously in our lives. The soul is a realm of deep memory.
The World Soul–known traditionally as the Anima Mundi. Nature herself is conscious as are all beings. We can commune with these beings in non-ordinary states of reality. This is the realm of shamanism–the realm of power animals, nature mysticism, journeying, plant medicine, dreaming, and inspiration.
soul wounding/illness–there are many potential forms of wounding at the soul level. Shamans and healers throughout history have developed an intricate classification system as well as treatment modalities for these various afflictions. Ailments like soul loss and fragmentation; cords, hooks, darts, and other energetic enmeshments; attachments of all kinds. (See a list of such treatment modalities here.)
The Otherworld–this is the traditional Celtic term for the spirit world. The Otherworld is home of angels, departed loved ones, and guides. Our soul is the one who is connected to these domains and the various characters who populate them.
Astrology–not only are we in a psychic relationship with Earth, we share a connection with other planetary and cosmic realities. We are, after all, made of star dust. Hence we are intrinsically in communion with these forces and the ability to read those influences upon us is where astrology (done well) comes into play. That influence and mutual relationship occurs at the soul level (not at the personality nor at The Spirit level).
That list is by no means exhaustive but it’s intended to be representative. I hope you get the idea of the overall kinds of things I mean by referring to soul.
Most of these experiences (and the kinds of teachings that relate to them) would in our day be labeled New Age. I think of them as primarily shamanic and quiet ancient in pedigree. But in our contemporary spiritual environment, these kinds of processes and domains are dealt with by New Age teachings, if anywhere.
And this segregation is problematic. Because by and large New Age teachings can be guilty of the various kinds of spiritual bypassing at the human physical, bodily, and emotional level that Robert Masters warns about. New Age teachings tend to emphasize ascending energies and currents. New Agers often call themselves “lightworkers” (as opposed to one who embraces the darkness). They typically interpret states like Peace, Love, Joy as “higher” than ones like fear, anger, or sorrow, leading to a strong bias to maintain a “high vibration.” (This over-emphasis or bias towards ascending energy is not found in the shamanic traditions).
New Age teachings also typically don’t include teachings like Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Zen, Advaita, Inquiry, and the like which are about Spirit Awakening. In turn, those traditions of Spirit Awakening typically deny these soul-level teachings.
Many of The Spirit teachings of Awakening are spiritually bypassing our bodies and emotions. Some aren’t. But all of them are essentially bypassing our souls. Conversely our soul teachings aren’t often recognizing our Spirit teachings. And neither is doing a very good job with our emotional, bodily selves.
This disconnection is one of the primary reasons why spirituality is in a such a poor state currently.
In his book on Spiritual Bypassing, Masters vividly portrays the kinds of problems that continually manifest when spirituality acts to numb us emotionally or disconnect us from pain. It shows what happens when our spirituality breaks our connection to ourselves as emotional, incarnate beings.
The spiritual bypassing of the soul similarly leaves spiritual aspirants with missing pieces of themselves (though they’re often different pieces than the ones Masters focuses on). Spiritual teachings that bypass the soul leave us in a state I often refer to as “energetically skinny”. There’s a certain kind of energetic emaciation that results from teachings that deny our souls. Power and artistry come form the soul realm. Teachings that don’t include the soul often lack power, a basic umph.
The soul is true. It’s a substratum of us, a finer form of resiliency, like a spider-web. Regardless of many of the very real problems of the packaging of soul teachings in our day through New Ageism, this part of us is genuinely alive. It’s significant. It seeks to be honored, heard, respected, incorporated as part of our daily lives.
I referred earlier to the word psychospiritual. I said those were teachings that included both spirit and our psychological selves. By psychological I meant there things like our emotional patterns, personality, and ego. But the original meaning of the word psyche means soul. It could be understood to include both what we typically think of as human egoic personalities and these subtler dimensions of our being…things like soul illness, karma, ancestors connections, The World Soul, and so on.
That fuller psychospiritual teaching is still waiting to be discovered, taught, and embodied. Until then we are left cobbling together bits and pieces here and there.
* The term spiritual bypassing was coined by John Welwood, another wonderful psychospiritual author and teacher.