An ancient proverb reminds us that only brave souls walk the human path, for the earthly existence is enshrouded in a veil of illusion. Choosing to walk a spiritual path provides an opportunity to live life with an open heart. Living open heartedly means we must fearlessly face our old patterns, transform self sabotage and bring the light of conscious awareness to our shadow. This is a lifelong excursion. There is a common misconception that living spiritually means everything gets easier yet this is often quite far from the truth. Speaking from personal experience the road can at times get quite bumpy regardless of how many years or hours of spiritual practice. It is true that the solutions for dealing with challenges tend to become simpler however the journey is not necessarily easier. As teachers of the principles we are humbled by how often we feel like beginning students. It is however this variety and diversity that electrify and intensify the ride of evolution.
The spiritual pathis not a linear path on a horizontal surface. This would be too boring and quite unfulfilling. It is rather a dynamic journey filled with many twists and turns and ups and downs. The inherent complexity and dynamism provide the thrill and momentum on the ride and are in fact the necessary ingredients for the evolution of the human soul. The more you experience yourself going up after being down or balancing yourself around a steep curve the more you gain mastery of your emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
An interesting phenomena known as spiritual bypasscan deter one from the path of true transformation. According to John Weldwood, spiritual bypass is a term used to describe what happens when spiritual practice and principles are used to avoid dealing with the emotional complexity of being human. In this sense spiritual bypass looks like seeking an enlightened state while denying the fact that you haven’t completely dealt with an issue or resolved a hurt. It is prematurely attempting to put an issue to rest while claiming an awakened state of mind regarding it. As such emotional challenges, patterns of self sabotageand past hurts are minimized and avoided in an effort to appear spiritually enlightened and nonattached.
Spiritual Being, Human Being
In an interview with John Weldwood titled Human Nature, Buddha Nature, Weldwood discusses common pitfalls due to spiritual bypass. Specifically, attempting to be more spiritual than human creates a natural disconnect. It has been said that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but rather we are spiritual beings having a human experience. This statement does not deny or supersede the relevance of the human experience but rather includes it fully. When we attempt to rise above our humanness we create separation and dissonance between mind, body and spirit. This is the opposite of Universal Oneness that is so often highly regarded as spiritual truth. After all, as long as we exist in the human realm to deny this basic reality is to disallow our full spiritual potential in the present moment. Perhaps the statement, ‘Be here now’ sums this up.
Face Your Feelings
Spiritual bypass can occur when the desire to be a star student of spiritual principles surpasses authentically dealing with the messiness of human emotions. ‘The only way out is through.’ This statement has certainly applied to our personal experiences as students on the journey. It is the understanding that the only way out of suffering and into enlightenment is to stop avoiding feelings and instead courageously face them by going through the emotional process. For example maybe your spiritual practice includes living in gratitude, acting from love or spreading peace wherever you go. Yet let’s say you are feeling stressed or upset and not authentically aligned with peace or love. Perhaps you are not dealing with issues you are experiencing in a relationship or you are repeating an old pattern that is causing you to feel regretful. You could go through your day believing you should write a gratitude list or meditate on love or repeat positive affirmationsor only wish peace for yourself or others. Understandably by doing these practices you may actually feel better yet more than likely this is temporary. This can be likened to spreading a layer of asphalt over a pothole in the road without fixing the underlying structure. It may temporarily resolve the issue and make the road smooth but eventually the pothole will emerge again. Said another way, this is like attempting to experience a happy ending from an unhappy journey. This doesn’t work. Given you have feelings to be felt, if you pretend you don’t have feelings by avoiding them you will simply add to the size and weight of the pothole of emotions under the surface. These feelings will continue to reemerge until they are addressed.
Many people would agree that being authentic is a spiritual principle whereas being in-authentic or pretending to be something you are not is not being very spiritual. So how does one believe they are spiritual when authentically feeling negative feelings or thinking unloving thoughts? We agree it can be challenging to honestly acknowledge unloving, unkind or even inappropriate thoughts, feelings or behaviors. It was Sai Baba who said the only difference between himself and others is that he has transcended guilt. Perhaps there is a vital lesson here. What if you did not feel bad or guilty for any personal shortcomings? What if you offered yourself the compassion and forgiveness you so willingly give to others? What if you courageously faced any shortcomings until transforming them?
Move Your Emotional Energy
To help with this we would like to offer our approach to working with emotion. Let’s consider a new definition of emotion. Emotion is simply energy in motion. As such, if you feel uncomfortable feelings notice how they are experienced in your body and allow this energy to move. In order to do this effectively, it is essential to stay out of your head, your story or your reasons for what you are feeling and why you are feeling it and instead just allow the feelings to move through your body. This can be likened to a form of mindfulness meditation regarding your emotional experience. Given this definition or perspective, you are actually working with the natural rhythm of emotion. This may be experienced as sensations of contraction and expansion. At first you will feel contracted and then as you allow your emotional energy to move it will release itself and you will feel relief or expansion. It is possible to experience an internal shift from contraction into expansion swiftly and simply when you move your emotional energy from your body vs. your head. This idea takes into consideration the importance of actually feeling your feelings vs. just talking about your feelings or avoiding feeling. After tending to your emotions you are now authentically ready for connecting with more loving states. Moving through contraction into expanded states of emotional relief offers fertile ground for applying spiritual practices such as gratitude, positive affirmations, peace or purpose.
To fully embrace both the spiritual and human experience is courageous, dynamic, at times messy and deeply enriching. There are highs and lows on your spiritual path but rest assured this too shall pass. Courage and fearlessness are called into being to live both the spiritual and human experience fully. Tools on the journey include a still mind, embracing change, living on purpose and residing in the present moment.
Coaching and Counseling
Hilary Stokes Ph.D. and Kim Ward Ph.D. have been a team for 20 years, specializing in mind, body, spirit psychology. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Happy Map: Your roadmap to the habit of happiness and Manifesting Mindset: The 6-step formula for attracting your goals and dreams and founders of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling. They are passionate about combining the best of holistic and traditional approaches to health and happiness. If you are interested in learning the answers to the most frequently asked questions on how to decrease stress and increase happiness sign up for their free video series.