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It's Time to Show Up

Are you familiar with the term ‘spiritual bypassing’?[1] Psychologist John Welwood first identified these patterns of behaviors within some spiritual communities in 1984:

“I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”

It is deliberately deciding to avoid the discomforts of life, backed by a privileged perspective of spirituality. The notion that spiritual healers and leaders were never involved in politics and took a passive stance on the political issues of their time is not just an unfounded assumption, it goes against the life they lived.

Rather than reframe history to fit into a falsely picturesque framework that is easy to digest, let us look more closely at those whom we look at spiritual teachers and leaders in the Buddhist tradition:[2]

· The Buddha intervened to try to stop wars. He counselled kings and ministers and guided those around him with teachings of peace and respect.

· Maha Ghosananda joined the United Nations peace process and led years of peace walks of loving-kindness through the war zones and killing fields of Cambodia.

· Thai abbots have taken their robes and ordained the oldest trees as elders of the forest to protect whole ecosystems from logging.

· Burmese monks and nuns marched in the streets to protect citizens from the harsh military dictatorship.

· A.T. Ariyaratne in Sri Lanka enlisted hundreds of thousands in a 500-year peace plan.

· Vietnamese, Chinese, and Tibetan monastics have stood up for peace, justice, and compassion, even immolating themselves to stop the harmful actions around them.

In the Christian tradition, the care of the hungry, the homeless, the prisoner, the refugee becomes more of a personal responsibility according to the many teachings of and the example of Jesus. To be a follower of the Jesus-way presents us with a imperative to be involved in issues of society. However, when we are faced with uncomfortable and distressing struggles in society and failings of justice, I have noticed a tendency for us to come out with slogans instead of involvement:

· Everything happens for a reason

· You create your own reality with your thoughts

· Keep your thoughts positive — see the good

· God is in control

· What we resist persists

· And a new one… all lives matter

If you find yourself saying these things to or about people in struggle, no matter how well intended: think again. If you say these personal life philosophies flippantly as a fix-all throwaway comment, you are likely to be in a privileged position, where you are not threatened on a daily basis because of your skin color.

When we behave in this way, we are complicit in oppression. It is offensive to those who are suffering, suffering because of racism, brutality, and injustice. Faith is a strengthening resource during these times of struggle. Sending love and light is a beautiful thing and will ripple outwards. If this is all you can do, then you are contributing in marvelous ways. But there is more:

· Everyone of us can “remove the bricks” of hatred as in the Pyramid of Non-Violence included at the end of this article.

· As people of Spirit, we are to feel the pain of others. It is our pain. For only when we allow ourselves to feel deeply can we find our way forward.

· Our hearts and our solidarity are with those who experience violence and discrimination because of the color of their skin, religion, sexual preference, or the country of their birth. It is our experience also.

· Stand with the oppressed, support those who demand change in the system, and those that are active in creating the change we all so desperately need.

In simpler terms, spiritual bypassing is characterized by an active avoidance of the pain and the reality of what millions are experiencing.

To think that passivity or avoidance of challenging topics is the more spiritual path is resoundingly false. In Gandhi’s own words: “Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics do not know what spirituality really means.”

The inaction of the spiritual community during times of injustice not only betrays the very principles of every spiritual path but helps maintain the system of supremacy of some whose foundation is maintained through indifference and minimizing. What do I mean by this?

· Walking away from the discomfort of dismantling our privilege.

· Not understanding the negative impact of avoidance language.

· Being complicit in a system that does not see all life in all forms as worthy.

· Actively choosing to turn a blind eye to injustice.

· Those with the greatest resources have the greatest responsibility to protect the least able.

· Not recognizing that remaining overly detached and idealistic is what enables discrimination, mass incarceration, police brutality, lynching, hate crimes, prisons for profit, and other inhuman systems.

So, I ask you, if you recognize yourself in the actions above, do you still believe you can rightfully call yourself spiritual or a healer?

“But” you ask, “I’m not the cause of these problems. How can I possibly be in the wrong if I’m encouraging positive thinking?”

Here is the fact: your positive intentions are not doing anything. It does not matter that you are not showing up to KKK meetings dressed in white sheets. It does not matter that you do not kill. It does not matter if you have a black friend. It does not matter that you hold egalitarian beliefs internally. Do you remember what your teachers told you? A bystander can be just as bad at the bully. If you choose spiritual bypassing you are choosing to avoid the topic of painful realities that allow these atrocities to exist… and it is killing us, all of us.

Meditate on that for a moment… that choice of pain and reality avoidance is killing all of us.

No amount of prayer, church meetings, essential oils, chanting, meditation, or yoga is going to change that.

So, I am suggesting that each of us start doing the work. Sit with the discomfort, work through it, and recognize that our decision to be a spiritual healer means that it is our purpose is not just to spread “love and light” — our purpose is to show up.

[1] Masters, Robert Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters [2] Source: Jack Kornfield, Moral Action, and the Dharma

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