Here’s a hypothetical a friend posed to me this week: if someone punches you in the face, and you end up needing surgery to fix the nose, but you secretly always harbored dreams of a nose job—that’s the universe working it’s magic, right?
The inspiration for this post came from a Yoganonymous article discussing “spiritual bypass,” a term used by Buddhist teacher and author, John Welwood. He notes, “Spiritual bypassing is a term I coined to describe a process I saw happening in the Buddhist community I was in, and also in myself. Although most of us were sincerely trying to work on ourselves, I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to side step or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”
It’s the way in which we fall back on religious or spiritual practices to avoid actually putting the work in. Blaming stuff on the universe can often be a way of checking out, avoiding the bumpy emotional terrain of owning your stuff, and opting for the interstate. But if you look at America’s freeways, pretty much everyone is opting for that route…it feels faster, more productive, and efficient. Why choose to take the scenic back-roads when you’ve got a highway and a lead foot?
One of my all time favorite children’s books is “The Little Soul and the Sun.” In it, a little angel boy is super excited about learning the ins and outs of forgiveness. God corrals the exuberant child in from the clouds and tells him he can only learn forgiveness on earth, since Heaven is a place of perfection and unconditional love. A friend of the boy volunteers to go down to earth with him, telling him, “You’ll have to remind me who I really am. I might forget,” and she heads down to earth, with the intention of hurting the boy so he can learn how to forgive. At her core she is just like the little boy, but she signs up in that lifetime to be the abuser.
Honestly, how many of us actually are jazzed about an opportunity to learn forgiveness? I can’t say I volunteer for the lesson freely. And if we aren’t contemplating these things for ourselves, we certainly aren’t thinking about the rapists, murders, and abusers of the world, and their core beings or higher selves, which really may not be so different from our core selves. There are those places where it’s not so simple to explain things away with the universe. How can anyone attribute a mass murder to some sort of Divine plan? I think that’s the number one spark for a spiritual crisis. And at the same time, many of my client’s with trauma histories often say they wouldn’t change their past because it made them who they are today—however, it’s usually after years of extensive work that one gets to the point of seeing it all a part of a bigger picture.
As a yoga therapist, metaphysical enthusiast and MSW student, I find the idea of spiritual bypass to be incredibly relevant for looking at the intersectionality of my work. Sure I could prescribe a pranayama or asana practice for a client, or suggest they take up a certain prayer or ritual, but if that’s all they do, it may not provide much healing. We all have emotional work to do. We all have to dive into those deep pains, insecurities, and points of contention for growth to occur. Sure the universe delivered a nose job to the hypothetical girl at the beginning of the post, but also missed out on an opportunity to dive into her work around body image and self-worth.
Before saying the universe has a divine plan, check in with yourself and see if you did the work that came with it. Are you still holding pain that isn’t yours to carry? Still harboring grudges or grief? Still remaining in positions or relationships that compromise your personal power? We all have work to do, and we can’t always take the spiritual bypass lane, even when if it feels like it gets you there faster. We came to earth to enjoy the bumpy roads of the scenic route.