“Spiritual Bypassing and the Dangers of Well Meaning Platitudes” – DeAnna Shires

Since 2005 this blog has been available to guest bloggers.  If you have something you want to get out into the Yoga Blogosphere but don’t have your own blog, contact me about your subject and we’ll chat.

Today’s post is by long time Yoga teacher and Life Coach, DeAnna Shires, whose practice is in the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas area.

She writes about a topic on which I am in full agreement with her.  In 15 years of Yoga teaching I’ve heard every one of these platitudes.  Some of them grate on my nerves more than others.  I’ve heard them from “yoga people” who have no hesitation whatsoever telling you how awful/angry/negative you are and then ending it with a smile and a passive-aggressive “namaste.”

Or, if you don’t agree with these platitudes, you are called a “hater” or “unyogic.”  Believe me, after writing this blog for 11 years, been there, in spades.  As much as people want to believe or portray, the Yoga World isn’t all about peace and love and unicorns that fart rainbows.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on the topic of the SHADOW is Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi.  If I ever had my own teacher training, the book would be required reading.

As I always say here, talk amongst yourselves.  And see my own interjections below.


scream  In 1984 psychologist John Welwood coined the term “Spiritual Bypassing” as the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.

I’m no expert or “Master Teacher” (eyes roll out my face) on this subject, however, I have been running my own personal self study as far back as high school when I first found myself in the self-help section at the book store trying to figure out why life hurt so much.

I’ve wanted to write about this subject for a few years, however, I’ve been waiting for the day I was completely healed and “all better” so I would not come off as jaded or angry.  But the truth is, time keeps passing and I keep processing and I’ve accepted the fact I may never make total peace with the damage caused by spiritual bypassing in my life. The best I can do is accept that this experience changed me and use it for the most good I can, which is to help others. This is my intention now.

For years I tried to read auras, astral-project myself off the planet, meditate over incense, spew positivity, and people please myself out of my true emotions. Guess what happened?  I missed vital warning signs along the way and didn’t see the damage until age 41 when the “Spiritual Yoga Community” I had built and served for years, dropped me like I was hot during my divorce, “borrowed” my livelihood, and left me in a heap on my living room floor. I was used up and spit out wondering how I would support my children. This was the first time in my life I felt it would be easier to drive myself head on into a tree and turn out my “light.”  After all, I had been led to believe if I did kind by others, led a life of service, came from my heart, that’s what would come back to me. That’s not even remotely close to what happened. At this point, there was no denying my true emotions.  I could no longer lace all my experiences with positivity. I could no longer see the Divine in everyone. I no longer felt “love and light” held any validity.  So, I began questioning everything I had ever believed. Even more upsetting, I had to come to terms with the fact I had passed on these beliefs to others content on living in the Spiritual Bypass non-reality as well.

Let’s be honest:  all of us want to make sense of the world because it feels extremely unsafe when things happen that make no sense.  We create skills in order to cope with the feelings of discomfort and to try to make sense of them.  One of these coping skills comes in the form of Spiritual Platitudes.  Additionally, we all make mistakes and it’s also uncomfortable to admit those mistakes so we use platitudes to remove ourselves from accountability.

While using these platitudes as a crutch, we stunt our growth, and sometimes re-victimize someone who is truly suffering.  Often we make these trite statements without any understanding of what the person is going through. Communication is a skill and an art, and in my opinion, resorting to these statements is lazy and irresponsible.  Unless we have personally been in their shoes, sitting with them in silence is more compassionate.

I’m going to share 15 Platitudes I often hear in the modern yoga world and offer an additional perspective to what I feel are half-truths.

“Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe” — Except all those times you are totally vibing pure intentions which attracted those predators with ill intentions who came in for the kill.

“Everything Happens for a Reason” — That reason is whatever you choose it to be and those choices often depend on life coping tools you have in your tool box and some have more than others.

[No, it doesn’t.  Because sometimes SHIT JUST HAPPENS.]

“It Is What It Is” — So let’s just give up, we are all powerless. Exploring why it actually came to this might reveal an answer we don’t like.

“Meditate It Away — Betrayal, poverty, illness, belly fat, everything, MAGIC.  That will be half your paycheck, thanks.

“It Was Meant to Be” — I guess there is a clip board somewhere with a spreadsheet on it deciding who gets to lose a child, become homeless, and/or face genocide.

“Let It Go” — Poof, all better now.

“See The Divine in Everyone” — But don’t forget to see the warning signs also.  It’s called discernment, not judgment, and it’s necessary for protection.  I also want to add that if we choose to use this one we should monitor our social media posts about making fun of and/or disparaging others, even if they are political figures we don’t like.

“Everything In Your Life, You Have Attracted” — Does this apply to the child who is bullied, the person with genetic mental illness, or the woman who was gang raped walking home from work? (oh wait…that might be another article).

[This bullshit, like The Secret, grates on me the most.  It’s Victim Blaming 101.  I am a survivor of parental abuse by my mother aka the woman who raised me, sexual assault, and domestic violence.  I was also lied to my entire life about my racial heritage.  I am Native.  Tell me again how my ancestors “attracted” their own genocide.  Go ahead, I dare you.]  

“What You See In Someone Else Is A Reflection of Something Within You/Everyone is a Mirror” — While this can occasionally be true, it often is not.  What an awesome excuse for projecting one’s own issues onto another.

[No.  Sometimes you meet assholes who treat you like shit.  That’s not a “lesson” and you don’t “deserve it” to “learn something.”  The only thing to learn is to
not allow people to treat you like shit.  And that can take time.]

“If You Do Good Things Expecting Something In Return, You Are Not A Good Person” —  There are certain expectations we should have as decent humans, for example, when someone does something kind for you, that person probably is not expecting to be taken advantage of and then turned into the bad guy for pointing it out.

“Perception is Reality” — Except when one has horrible perception due to years of abuse/trauma and lies. The only way to face reality is to communicate and ask questions, but that takes effort and who has time for that?  We have headstands to do.

“Leave Your Ego at The Door” — You can leave your shoes at the door cuz they nasty, but you need to keep some of your Ego because that’s how you function on this planet and get your needs and goals met, as well as refrain from being the proverbial door mat.

[Don’t mistake my confidence for arrogance.  Ever.
I’ve been told that I don’t have lots of students because I “intimidate people,”
because I talk about who I’ve trained with.
I have worked damn hard in 15 years and if
I intimidate you, that’s on YOU, baby, not me.
I am not responsible for your comfort and
you are not responsible for mine.]

“Think Positive” — It seems we have exactly 5.2 minutes to processes our divorce issues, death of a loved one, addiction, mental illness, etc.  Or we are accused of
being negative and/or toxic, only deserving of love if we are happy 24/7.

“Be Your Authentic Self” — Unless you are an asshole or have beliefs that don’t jive with us, then we will judge you because we don’t really want you to be yourself, we want you to be just like us.

“Detox Your Life!” — I think this is where we start drinking juice, build a tiny house, and move to a cave with zero interaction with actual humans….which is actually escapism, but we call it Enlightenment because that sounds way cooler.

There are more to add to this list but by offering these few my hope is to bring this issue to the surface before others are harmed as deeply as I was, thinking I had to be a certain way in order to be “Spiritual” and worthy of love and acceptance.  Stuffing our undesirable human feelings is not going to help us process and move forward.  Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists.”  We cannot find the comfort we are looking for until we face the discomfort we insist on hiding from.

Sometimes the best answer we will get is that some things just don’t make sense. Sometimes life really isn’t just or fair. Go ahead, let your inner two year old throw a tantrum and let that shit out. Sometimes what goes around does not come around, certainly not in the way we think it should. Sometimes a person who is suffering simply needs a body to sit with them in silence, allowing grief to process through, no matter how ugly it is.

These platitudes, though often well intentioned, stop healthy processing and lead to spiritual bypassing. Not everyone is comfortable sitting with others in their pain and that’s fine, but instead of throwing around platitudes to ease our own discomfort around their discomfort, tell the truth.  The truth is, we may be able to empathize, but we cross the line when we offer advice or words of comfort for something we do not understand.  It’s better to say, ”I don’t know what to say/do, what do you need from me?”

I guarantee the best thing you can do is to love them through all of it rather than discounting where their feelings want to be. We can’t pick and choose which emotions are OK and call it living spiritually.  Let’s stop that.

taking a long savasana

For what is it to die, but to stand in the sun and melt into the wind? And when the Earth has claimed our limbs, then we shall truly dance.–Kahlil Gibran

Savasana is the dying that brings life so I’ve decided to slowly fade away. I may post sporadically, I may not. How can I not write about the goat sacrifices at the Kali temple in Kolkata or the naked Shiva babas at the Kumbh Mela next year? I’m bringing yin yoga to Africa next year which will surely be fodder for a yoga blog. But that’s next year.

At this juncture I feel written out. I see on my site meter what brings people here and the most searched for phrases are “St. Theresa’s Prayer” and some variation of “naked yoga” or “hot yoga chicks.” Take your pick. If those are the only reasons people are consistently coming here, have at it. As the author of the book that I mention below writes: “All words are lies. At best, they point toward the truth. At worst they totally mislead and create confusion. We already know everything there is to know…”

For those of you who are interested in more than a dead saint’s prayer or a photo of a naked yoga babe — the juxtaposition of those two images is supreme — you can start reading at the beginning of this blog. I’ve been writing since 2005 and I think I’ve laid down some rather pithy posts along the way, this one in particular being a favorite. Hey, maybe I can get a book deal. Or maybe someone will write my obituary in the yoga blogosphere — R.I.P oh snarky one, we hardly knew ye.

There have been internal shifts going on for some time now and I’m going to honor them. Shifts with my yogic path, shifts with my relationships with friends and husband, shifts with my relationship to myself. It’s all good because life is about change. If you don’t evolve, you die, just like the dinosaurs. It’s good to step away from things, whatever those things are, and let the chips fall where they may.

I wonder whether in this journey, instead of feeling more connected (as we are told we are “supposed” to feel the longer one does yoga or meditates), a consequence is feeling even more alone or apart from others. Not disconnected, but truly being in the world, but not of it. Sometimes I feel as if I am on a merry-go-round, and the faces of people I know are circling faster and faster away from me, eventually disappearing. They’ve stopped and I’ve kept going. As I’ve always said, people float in and out of our lives at specific times for various reasons and I stopped trying to figure it out long ago. It just is. The holding on (to anything or anyone) is what causes the suffering. My friends, it’s time to move on.

I will leave you with some quotes from one of the post potent and powerful books I’ve read in my 30+ years of being on a spiritual path: Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi , a book I learned about on AnthroYogini’s blog. If I had my own teacher training, this book would absolutely be on the required reading list. There are so many passages that I have underlined and highlighted, that if I cited all of them I would rewrite his entire book in this post. So I will just cite some sentences that have meaning to me right now, in my present experience.

“To undertake a spiritual quest as a defense mechanism against pain without addressing the underlying psychological issues will always lead to a deep splitting of one’s psyche.” (p. 19)

“In my own experience, every teacher I have had had been a perfect mirror of myself at that time….every new partner is an uncanny reflection of our subconscious needs and issues. …I also learned that fully enlightened teachers who have worked through their personality distortions are incredibly rare.” (p. 22)

“The important thing now is to do the work, to prepare the internal vessel for whatever truths may enter. Think of this as a process of simplification, not sophistication.” (p. 23)

“Spirituality is a process of dying, not gaining. This important and obvious point is not often properly acknowledged. The spiritual path is about the death of the needs and wants of an insatiable ego and its endless cycle of desire, acquisition, suffering and renewed hunger.” (p. 16)

“Grace is not a product of our willful volition but something that appears in spite of it. One of our ego’s false presumptions is that it can lead us toward grace instead of understanding that we are already swimming in it. We need to let go to feel this — but that means facing the terror of our best-kept secret: that we are not in control.” (p. 74)

“I do know that to live fully we have to practice dying while still alive. Meditation is this practice. I invite you to practice daily, letting go of who you think you are and being born into who have you have always been.” (p. 96)

I am going to practice dying.


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