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Spiritual Bypassing in Psychedelic Experiences

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

Looking around, it appears there is a veritable buffet of spiritual practices that promise a life of awakening, happiness, wisdom, and freedom from pain.

Enlightenment is everywhere and can be achieved in so many ways: through food and lifestyle choices, intuitive readings, esoteric meditation, breathwork, prayers, different yoga methodologies, healing therapies, alternative philosophies - and, of course, psychedelics.

Artwork: @kathrinhonestaa
Artwork: @kathrinhonestaa

What is Spiritual Bypassing?

‘Spiritual Bypassing’ is a term coined by American psychologist and psychotherapist, John Welwood. In his book Toward A Psychology of Awakening, he describes it as using "spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional 'unfinished business,' to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks."

In other words, it is the use of spirituality as a crutch to avoid uncomfortable problems in one’s life. Spiritual bypassing works as a defense and escape mechanism that ultimately does not help one grow. This behavior is so insidious and widespread that many who experience it are not even aware when it is happening.

Why is it a problem?

'Toxic positivity' is one of the most common forms of spiritual bypassing. It is the idea that we should focus only on the positive aspects of life. Having a positive attitude can be great, but not if it diminishes or minimizes an authentic experience. Those guilty of toxic positivity ignore the difficult emotions and deny all that they deem negative.

Other forms of spiritual bypassing can include: emotional alienation and repression, exaggerated detachment, overemphasis on the positive, blind or overly tolerant compassion, minimizing or denying one's own shadow, illusions about awakening, a view that everything is illusory (including suffering) as a way to escape from it, undervalue of partial personal development.

What perpetuates it?

As the wellness and mindfulness industries repackaged ancient teachings from all over the world, these practices are often stripped of their original culture, context, race, tradition, and religion. What’s left is a shallow representation of what it was, that’s easily digestible for the masses.

Plant medicines, yoga, Ayurveda, tantra, and breathwork are just some examples of ancient practices that have been culturally appropriated and commercialized by these industries. These are complex Indigenous practices or esoteric religious beliefs with long histories, but all that is conveniently ignored in order to make them more sellable and accessible.

How Spiritual Bypassing Manifests in Psychedelic Experiences

Some people choose to use psychedelics to explore the depths of the mind and the nature of reality. While this is one way to open the mind to new perspectives, psychedelics can also be used to escape reality and avoid committing to personal development.

Integration is hard work, and those that choose to avoid doing so are guilty of spiritual bypassing. Working on integration requires reevaluating our perspectives, and a continual willingness to be honest with ourselves. It is only when we can recognize our subconscious patterns that we can consciously own all aspects of ourselves - even the parts that are the darkest, ugliest, hardest, and most painful to face.

It is hard to face our shadows and to accept the parts of ourselves we are not comfortable with. But true freedom does not mean the absence of pain and suffering. Escape the trap of spiritual bypassing by taking personal accountability for genuine growth.

Taking psychedelics will not magically resolve our problems and traumas. A psychedelic journey may show us what we need to work on, but we still need to be willing to do the work required to bring about real change.

Artwork: Karina Yashagina
Artwork: Karina Yashagina

“As a culture, we constantly look outside of ourselves for answers. We read self-help books, listen to podcasts, go to church, hire coaches, and attend seminars. We look for so many things outside of ourselves: validation, satisfaction, permission, love. We base our happiness on factors we can't control and our lives get filled with unmet expectations.

We've built a billion-dollar self-help industry on one fundamental premise: Somebody else, a guru, a God, a mentor, a hero, or role model has the answers we're searching for.

We fail to see that what we seek outside us is already within us. We can give ourselves validation, satisfaction, permission, and love. Paradoxically, when we give these things to ourselves, we are much more likely to get them from other people.

Pain or pleasure, joy or misery, agony or ecstasy, happens only inside you. Human folly is that people are always trying to extract joy from outside. You may use outside as a stimulus or trigger, but remember the real thing always comes from within.”

Ⓒ Ishita Gupta

About the author: Jessika Lagarde is an experienced plant medicine facilitator, integration coach, educator, and Women On Psychedelics Co-founder. Jessika provides one-on-one coaching, sessions, and group ceremonies for women going through life transitions, such as grief, career change, relationship break-ups, motherhood, or moving countries. Check out her website and offers here.


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