What Is Spiritual Bypassing and the Ways It Affects You Without You Even Knowing It…

Have you ever heard the term spiritual bypass? I (Phil Svitek) didn’t until recently. If you have, do you know the term’s full meaning and how it affects you? Chances are you probably don’t. I certainly wasn’t aware. In this lesson, I explore the term by defining it, the ways you might be exemplifying it, how it impacts you and the world on a micro and macro level and most importantly what you can do to prevent yourself from becoming a spiritual bypasser—especially as an artist. I pull examples from Comedy Central’s South Park, the US Women’s National Soccer Team (specifically Megan Rapinoe), DaVinci, Toni Morrison, Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare, Don Miguel Ruiz and Psychology Today. When you’re done with the episode, please comment below with examples from your life of spiritual bypassing. Be honest as it may help someone else to recognize when they’re doing it. Lastly, I’m grateful you’ve taken the time to hear what I have to say. May the knowledge I’ve shared serve you well.


-Psychology Today Article on Spiritual Bypassing: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-sobriety/201110/beware-spiritual-bypass

-Not Twice T-Shirt Campaign: http://nottwice.org 

-US Men’s Team No Comment Article: https://www.thecut.com/2019/06/u-s-mens-soccer-on-uswnts-pay-equality-fight-no-comment.html

-Chronicles of a Dark Child Series: https://www.facebook.com/darkchildnhwood/

-A Very LA Birthday Short Film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9SHJaepE0c

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Have you ever heard the term spiritual bypass? I didn’t until recently. If you have, do you know the term’s full meaning and how it affects you? Chances are you probably don’t. I certainly wasn’t aware. So let’s explore its full impact together, shall we?

Let’s begin with the first and obvious question. What does spiritual bypassing really mean? I’ll paraphrase the answer from PsychologyToday.com—spiritual bypassing stems from our desire to constantly feel good. On the surface that’s not a bad thing because part of that craving motivates us to develop, grow and evolve ourselves. It’s responsible for turning people away from drugs and other bad habits towards exercise, prayer, yoga, meditation, diets and self help (which this series falls into). So how is this a problem? Well, anything taken to its extreme becomes a problem. When you’re spiritually bypassing it means you’re distracting yourself from your feelings by thinking that you are walking a healthy path. It’s when you use spirituality as a shield against your own feelings. As an extension, this can also lead to shutting out the world.

In essence, it’s when you use your spiritual practice as an excuse. And the worst is when you don’t even know you’re doing it. Here’s an example from the website: “sometimes self-care is actually about taking care of ourselves: unplugging from too much work and plugging into more balance and harmony. But sometimes, under the guise of self-care, we are really just checking out: denying what’s happening and how scary it feels to show up for life.”

It’s a fine line indeed. I can tell you firsthand there’s been instances where I used self-care as an excuse to skimp out on responsibilities. I remember two years ago I was going through a bought of depression and working with my kinesiologist Chuck McCaughan. I was in deep and he was extremely helpful in bringing me up from the trenches. But at a certain point I got addicted to the feeling. I was learning so much about myself in a way I’d never experienced before that I wanted more and more. Weeks into treatment he told me I was ready to go back to work. I gave him a fearful answer where I said that if I went back I was worried I’d be depressed again. He told me I wasn’t really scared, I just like the attention from people and not having responsibilities. Sure, I still needed to work on myself. We all do. Life is an ongoing journey. But he was right. I was ready to go back to work. I was using therapy as a crutch and avoiding the responsibility of work.

These types of “spiritual bypass excuses” come in all forms. Think of anytime someone has asked you for help. What was your response? Did you say you couldn’t? Why? What was the reason? Was it really because you couldn’t or you didn’t want to? It’s okay if you truly needed a day to yourself but if you used it as a blank statement just to get out of helping, then you exemplified spiritual bypassing in that moment.

Many people attribute the practice of spiritual bypassing as an internal act but I like to look at it from the external because that’s where it’s easier for me to see it manifested, as the example I just gave highlights.

But let’s focus on the internalization for just a second before we expand to the macro again. Think about any spiritual practice. It’s a false belief to say that the goal of spirituality is sheer happiness. The goal is to be present and aware of yourself—whether for good or for worse. It’s to feel all your emotions: happiness, sadness, anger and so on, all the while understanding why it is that you feel that way. When you exercise spiritual bypassing, you’re avoiding many emotions. In particular, all the ones that negatively affect you.

This is where we can get macro again. Thinking about all the concentration camps in the US currently is not a pleasant thought. Perhaps it makes you angry or helpless to do anything about it. So you avoid it. We can look at global warming in this way. Animal cruelty. Gender discrimination. Racism. Poverty. Starvation. You name it. Anything bad happening in the world and we tend to avoid it somehow.

South Park Clip About Ignoring Bad Things In the World

Sometimes, we as creatives can be perceived as self-centered or narcissistic because people will attribute creativity with the search for fame. People might say all we want to do is write music when we could be doing something much more useful like being a doctor. Which begs the question: are artists inherently spiritual bypassers?

Drum roll please… Before I reveal my thoughts, I encourage you to comment down below with your answer to this question.

Okay, here goes. I say no. Remember how I said at the beginning that anything taken to its extreme becomes a problem?

I did say that, didn’t I? Well, being an artist falls within anything, doesn’t it? In its purest, most altruistic form, art conveys a message that the creator seeped into his or her work. That message resonates with people and can move them deeply, even alter them for the better. True artistic geniuses throughout history have managed to do that. They raised humanity a fraction towards the good.

The famous creatives that I’m speaking about, whether Da Vinci, Beethoven, Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare, Toni Morrison and so on, are able to accomplish this because they are deeply connected with the world. They remain present. During creative acts, the creator becomes so fully present that the thinking mind ceases to exist for that duration. No different than a world class athlete in the midst of a performance by the way. But back to the creative. When they’re not creating, they’re observing. They see the world around them as it is. They see it through their unique point of view and express that to the world.

And that is my goal with anything I do. As an artist, I always carry a sense of responsibility, now more than ever. We live in a world where we’re able to communicate our voice to almost anyone in the world. And I want to honor that ability by making sure what I spread comes from a place of pure goodness. It either expresses true emotion that someone else can then relate to, such as love or longing, or it passes on information to educate and/or change people. For example, my friends and I created t-shirts with the slogan Not Twice on them. These t-shirts are designed to look like Trump’s “Make America Great Again” posters. By drawing that visual comparison along with the words “not twice”, it becomes ironic and the ultimate point of our so-called campaign is to get people to vote in the upcoming election—so long they don’t vote for Trump again. Please note that the vast majority of the profits from these t-shirts are being donated to charities that help voter registration. So if you want to join our cause, go to nottwice.org.

Back to the lesson though. The ultimate the spirit and point of this episode is to make you come out of your shell and not be afraid to express yourself. Share your voice with the world and spread a message. Use your platform to raise awareness. A perfect example of that is Megan Rapinoe from the US Women’s National Team. (Congrats to her and the entire team by the way. Also, shout out to the Dutch women for making it a thrilling final). The point being though, that Megan could have said she needs to focus solely on playing well. No one would have blamed her, or at least I wouldn’t have. But she didn’t just do that. She spoke up about many issues knowing that she would draw attention thanks to the platform she had, namely the World Cup. The incredible thing is she didn’t waiver. Not in her beliefs and not in her performances. In fact, she was voted as the Golden Ball winner, which is essentially the MVP award in a World Cup. To boot, pun intended, she won the Golden Boot, an award given to the top scorer. So objectively and subjectively she was the best player and proved you can use your platform for good while kicking butt.

FYI, the US Men’s Team was asked to comment on the pay gap between men’s and women’s teams. None of them chose to comment. This is an example of people being afraid to speak up and use their platform for change. They exemplified spiritual bypassing.

But I’m not just pointing a finger at them. Too often I see more and more TV shows that represent the lowest common denominator and it saddens me. Too many Americans are blind to what’s going on outside of our country as well as inside it. And it’s not like I’m an expert, but hence all the more reason why we can’t practice spiritual bypassing. I’m doing my best to work on myself while making sure the stability and fortitude I gain from that allows me to contribute to the world through my art and my message. But I need you to do the same. The more people that stop spiritually bypassing in the world, the more problems we can solve. You and I might not be the ones to do it, but we can raise awareness. It’s the whole reason why we need diversity in storytelling. We need women directors and executives. We need gays and lesbians in power positions. We need people from all walks of life, from all parts of the world to be given the same opportunities. That is my message to you and the world moving forward. Stop putting on blinders. Stop avoiding the negative news in life. Again, it’s a fine balance because I’m not advocating that you let it hurdle you into despair either. It can feel overwhelming to look at all those problem. I know I have felt overwhelmed too often, thinking what can I do? Creating your art, being socially aware and helping where you can while continuing to work on your mental health and spirituality is enough. There is a healthy dose to each of these things and remember you have the power to change the world. Gandhi was one man and look at how he affected the world. So don’t deny yourself thinking you can’t make a difference. The world likes to singularize the things we can do: you’re a writer, you’re a poet, you’re an editor. That’s because most can only think in finite terms, which I argue is another symptom of spiritual bypassing. When you realize your strengths, moving away from fear, you realize you’re not one dimensional. You can be an artist and a philanthropist and a Buddha. Sounds ambitious, but not really. In the words of Don Miguel Ruiz, just “always do your best”. You can’t be upset with yourself if you’re always doing your best. Summarized, this is all about taking care of you first but then knowing when you’re ready to partake in the world. It’s like breathing. You must breathe in and breathe out. You can’t just constantly breathe in, which is what spiritual bypassing equates to. Be the good in the world while being good yourself. How you choose to act upon that is entirely up to you. But for both our sakes, choose wisely.

Well, that’s a wrap for this lesson. Free free to click over to any of the numerous lessons I’ve created just for you. For example, two weeks I released an amazing 1 hour interview with social media expert Lina Noory. She not only shared so many valuable insights but educated me on the Afghan culture. You can access that episode and the rest along with other free resources on my website at philsvitek.com. Also, since this episode is about creating meaningful content, I encourage you to check out Chronicles of a Dark Child. It’s a web series that I forced myself onto as an actor in the finale because of how much I believe in this project. The link is below. Lastly, a huge thank you to the people that helped make this episode financially possible. If you too would like to support this show, you can either head on over to my Patreon or sport some merch from my store. Links are down below as well. Or you can just tell a friend about this show, which will help pass on my knowledge to them as well and we can build a great community of like-minded creatives. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to tune in. I’m @PhilSvitek on social media and I’ll see you next Wednesday with another lesson. Bye!

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