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You Can Meditate Too Much: An Introduction to Spiritual Bypass

Whole Body Yes


Just get over it

I shouldn’t be upset

Take a breath and forget about it

I need to be peaceful…

You probably have an acquaintance who is constantly posting spiritual journeys on Facebook. Their yoga retreat in Bali. A life-changing ayahuasca ceremony in Tulum. A multi-sensory sound bath in a Joshua Tree geodome.

All of those experiences have incredible potential. They could be powerful avenues for you to venture down. I’ve even enjoyed one of the experiences I listed! (You can guess which one!)

But when you’re using these experiences and practices to steamroll your emotions into submission– the emotional equivalent of sitting on your overfilled suitcase in a desperate attempt to zip it shut before the Uber shows up to take you to the airport- or you are trying to fill a self-esteem void by tripping out on psychedelics, you’re not engaging in spirituality, you’re in spiritual bypass.

John Welwood, a psychologist and author, created the term ‘spiritual bypass’ to explain the practice of using “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.”

It is tempting to ignore, squash, or distract from tough feelings. Those feelings don’t sit well with us. Anger and sadness are not comfortable emotions to feel. They cause difficult physical symptoms like trembling, crying, or a racing heart. So we try to deny them, squash them down, or ignore them.

Many of us consciously live our lives in the pursuit of happiness, which we view as the opposite of sadness or anger. But there are no good or bad emotions. They’re just different experiences wrapped up in the package deal of being human.

Often, people end up spiritually bypassing by turning to spiritual practices for comfort.

When you “should” on ourself, invalidate your feelings, and try to “meditate” away your discomfort, you’re putting a bandaid on a still-bleeding wound. You deny yourself the opportunity for spiritual growth.

I frequently meditate, do yoga, and read beautiful books about connecting to the earth and each other. They’re essential, important tools and rituals in my life. Of course, I in no way believe calming down is a bad thing!

Meditation is a precious tool for presence. Breathing through the symptoms of difficult emotions can give you a clearer mind and help you see straight when you start seeing red.

But when spirituality becomes a way to ignore your true gut feelings and emotions and skip over the part of sitting with and accepting your actual experience, THAT can be a barrier to your personal growth.

Allowing your emotions to exist removes the friction of trying to control, manage, explain away, avoid, or escape your feelings. After listening to the wisdom of your emotion as it passes through you, you’ll begin to make choices and take action in your life in divinely intelligent and beneficial ways. From there, you can enjoy the spiritual practices you love in a way that complements your growth instead of hindering it.

Challenge yourself to feel your feelings when they appear, exactly as they appear, and as big as they appear. Ride the wave and free up your energy.

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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