By Scott Kiloby
“When we learn how to be present with feelings, thoughts, mental images and sensations, and are no longer disembodied, we truly break free. And as a result, it is easier to live from and as present moment awareness because we are ready and willing to meet everything we have been trying to avoid.”
We grow up disembodied if our parents don’t teach us how to feel. Our childhood can condition us not to come down into our bodies to feel our feelings, and to rest with them. We don’t always learn that. When we come to spiritual teachings, including nonduality, it’s quite normal for us to continue in that habit. What we really need are the teachings and the methods that correct this disembodiment. Sometimes the teachings don’t work because the teachers themselves, or those that are bringing the method, haven’t themselves broken the habit.
I have done plenty of bypassing. If it seems like I’m pointing a finger somewhere, I’m pointing that finger back at myself equally because I think we’re all in this work together no matter what role we play in life. We have the same issues. This article aims to address those issues.
I came to nonduality via Eckhart Tolle’s teaching. When I looked at Tolle, I saw him talking about being angry before his awakening experience. He looked really peaceful, and I thought, “I want that”. What I didn’t know is that I had to go through the anger first to be peaceful because my conditioning was about repression of anger. Somehow, I wanted to bypass. I wanted to make an “end run” around the anger so I didn’t have to deal with it. I looked at Tolle and it seemed like I could just have what he had without dealing with the repressed anger. Eckhart Tolle probably didn’t have repression of anger, as I did. According to his stories, he was comfortable with being angry. I was not. So my avoidance of anger, which kept it repressed, was a huge bypass.
A lot of my self-inquiry work with has been about pulling up the repressed anger so I could feel it and then let it go. Sometimes I had to express it, but mostly I needed to feel it and really get comfortable with that feeling.
What is spiritual bypassing?
The definition of spiritual bypassing is to, like in a football game, attempt to make an “end run” around painful or repressed emotion. Bypassing is hard-wired into us because we want to feel better. We don’t want to feel bad. If you can see that it’s just how we all are, there won’t be so much self-judgment around this.
Another bypass for me was when I came across Adyashanti’s teaching. He wasn’t teaching me to bypass, but I interpreted his teaching as attaining the oneness experience or the opening to awareness where you’re living from and as that present-moment-awareness. My addict mind thought that by having that experience, I wouldn’t have to feel A, B, C, and D feelings. And again, he wasn’t saying that. He was a good teacher, actually. But I interpreted his teaching to mean I should bypass because I was hard-wired to not want to feel. I was looking for that oneness experience. But every time I imagined it as a future event, I was avoiding being with what was present in my experience at the time.
Spiritual seekers across the world do this. They go to retreat after retreat with the hope of having an experience that will free them from suffering. It’s true that an awakening experience can shift your identity from ego to the sense that there is no self. But the greater truth is that awareness is like an intense flashlight. When the light comes on (the awakening experience) everything you have tried to avoid comes screaming to the surface. The key is to see that there is no way around the pain, except through it.
From spiritual bypassing to self-inquiry
Having bypassed myself, I have had to learn how to correct the habit in my practice. I eventually developed inquiries which are all about coming down to feel what we’re trying to bypass. When we learn how to be present with feelings, thoughts, mental images and sensations, and are no longer disembodied, we truly break free. And as a result, it is easier to live from and as present moment awareness because we are ready and willing to meet everything we have been trying to avoid.
The best way to do my work is to understand that it is about both awareness and inquiry. That’s why I call it “Rest. Inquire. Enjoy Life.” It is about both the transcendent experience of awareness (rest) and it is also equally about seeing through the conditioning (phenomena) that comes and goes (inquiry). You can’t have one without the other. In other words, a recognition of awareness that doesn’t transform your human experience (isn’t embodied) isn’t worth much. Equally, if you are only trying to transform your humanness, you are missing the transcendent piece. You are getting stuck in the ego state and that can be very painful and frustrating. It’s both, always. Otherwise you are left half-awake.
I’m talking about embodiment now because bypassing is so prevalent and I think it’s keeping people suffering. Years ago, it was very popular for teachers to leave out the embodiment piece. I know know that many of those teachers suffering personally behind the scenes. Some even left teaching. Their realizations and their teachings were half-baked.
I switched from seeking enlightenment to doing inquiry because I could meet what I was feeling in the moment while also resting as awareness the whole time. I could include both, as I stated above. I let go of the “I’m seeking enlightenment” concept which is a future-based seeking and instead focused on coming down to feel what it is I was avoiding.
Seeking enlightenment implies there’s something in the future, like a drug or anything, that will free you from all that doesn’t look or feel like enlightenment. However, nothing frees us from feeling, not even “enlightenment”. Life is full of feelings and sensations.
When you become more present, you have a tool for meeting these feelings. For me, the richness of the enlightenment or awakening talks is that it’s revealed that there’s an awareness here in our moment to moment experience that’s foundational. Awareness is always here and then from that, I can meet my experience more directly. When you recognize that life happens in every moment, you can see that life as a meditation. Life is inquiry, if you will. Every moment presents an opportunity to be with what is and to no longer avoid. We can be mindful and awake in every situation, rather than just using inquiry sessions, satsang or retreats, to get somewhere in the future (which is always frustrating because the future never comes – Life only happens now).
Anything can be used as a bypass
Literally anything can be a bypass. Whenever we’re not meeting a situation exactly the way it shows up there can be a bypass. There’s a subtle bypassing in the teachings that say, “Allow everything to be as it is.” Some minds use that instruction to never let go of a story. So the story is just there in awareness and they are “allowing it.” But to be more radical is to see it dissolve. This is how the “allow” instruction becomes a bypass. By keeping the story there, they never get to truly come down and feel/release the emotion driving the story.
Repression is another form of bypassing. It’s a movement of not being ourselves, not saying what we want, repressing our speech, behavior, sexuality, or our creativity.
Bypassing is not just happening in nonduality or enlightenment teachings. New age spirituality is full of bypassing. Lots of magical thinking, all designed to help you avoid feeling what is actually showing up. It’s unfortunate that its so popular because it is keeping suffering in place. All these folks who are using new age spirituality in a way that works for them are in for a huge surprise when they finally come face to face with their trauma. And it will happen. It always does.
Therapy or counseling can be a bypass. There are lots of good therapies that are somatic-based. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the ones that, again, are trying constantly to reframe thinking. Of course, there’s a place for that. But to the extent to which the therapist is not bringing people down to feel and allow what they’ve been avoiding, the therapeutic process can be a bypass.
The 12 Steps, one of the biggest recovery programs, has in it a substantial bypassing pattern. Because it’s very heady, addicts often attend and learn and repeat concepts. Then you get a mind full of these ideas about recovery which is a great way to avoid what you’re feeling.
As I’ve already mentioned, bypassing goes on in spirituality, too. Back in the day when Buddhism and Hinduism were formed, there was a notion that freedom was about the recognition of the formlessness or pure presence. We’re taught that we are spacious formlessness. We could say that this is the old version of enlightenment: that somehow formlessness can be divided off from form. But I think early on, some people caught wind of how that was problematic and then some other schools of Buddhism started to talk about form. They asked, “How do you include form?” Form being your thoughts, your feelings, and so on. These things are included by not turning away from them and instead being with them skillfully (allowing, inquiring into them). It’s not about indulging thoughts or feelings. It’s about seeing them as they are, allowing them, and watching them dissolve. They are all temporary.
The danger of disembodied spirtual teachings
Therefore, early nondual teachings, and even some today, talk about formlessness as if that’s the only awakening available. This can be an extreme view and it can get into some funky places where people cannot relate in relationship because they’re stuck in some formless awareness that actually denies form or dismisses it.
We hear or read disembodied Neo-Advaita teachers claiming, “Awareness is all there is.” When a student comes to them and asks, “Well, what about feelings or what about thoughts?” The teacher replies, “No, no, no. That’s the stuff of ego. Don’t be concerned with that.” Everybody is experiencing different traumas, different stories and not everybody can simply wake up to a Neo-Advaita view of things.
If repression is already happening in your experience, that is, repression of self, be careful when you come to the nondual teachings that tell you there is no self. Yes, there is no self, but if you’re already trying to repress, the movement to do self-inquiry can be sort of hijacked by the repression. You try to get rid of experience and get rid of yourself. That’s a violent thing to do to yourself.
Find mature healing modalities that aren’t about repression
Get involved in self-inquiry or therapy that’s mature, that isn’t about repressing things, but about allowing things to be as they are: thoughts, feelings, behaviour. Just go live life, essentially, and allow things to come up. And then question what comes up, but from a place of restful awareness where you’re not trying to use inquiry to repress aspects of yourself. Self-inquiry works for a while to shut down thoughts and feelings, but after a while, you can get really sick.
Some people have an idea that being awake or being spiritual means always being nice and kind. This is another kind of repression. You’re repressing anger, you’re repressing the other parts of your self that are not “nice” and “kind”. And so, my spiritual practice sometimes involves getting angry. Nonduality is not just about nice stuff. It’s about being with what is. Life is as much about explosion as it is silence.
If you are someone who experiences anger a lot, learn how to be with that in a way that’s accepting and allowing of that anger. That doesn’t mean putting it on people, but sometimes that happens, too, when we get angry. Notice how these parts of yourself are showing up as you’re trying to be nice and kind all the time. You’re angry on some level but you only show the nice side of you. These other parts of yourself need to be included in awareness so your realization is balanced, authentic and honest. Otherwise, you’re just putting up a facade where you go around and you’re always nice, kind, happy and smiling. After a while, people know it’s false.
I once mistook peace for awakening. There is a deep peace to be found in presence. I don’t discount that at all. I can feel it right now. It’s quietness and stillness. But the issue is that the ego makes a facade of peacefulness. Just be careful if you believe awakening is supposed to look like that guy who looks secure or that teacher who looks peaceful, or your friend down the road who’s always nice. It’s easy to get trapped into those things because of how we’re hard-wired, to not feel.
Believing there is a purpose behind suffering can be a bypass
Another bypass I’ve seen is that there’s a purpose behind suffering. People would come to us at the Kiloby Center Kiloby Center and say, “I just want to be free of all my negativity and my suffering.” But then as we started to do inquiry with them, we found that there’s a utility behind the suffering, such as, “I’m seeing myself as unlovable because that’s how I get love in the world.” It’s as if there’s an operating system that uses suffering to get from other people security, self-protection, approval, or love. This system impedes real freedom. It’s not conscious at all. Done properly, inquiry can bring up those things that are unconscious, so they become conscious. Then, by seeing them, you can recognize that those patterns aren’t who you are. You allow them and they are freed.
Trust is important. Trust the process of coming down to feel. Trust that, in being triggered in relationship, you are being presented with a doorway to freedom.
Bypassing happens when we play roles
Bypassing happens when we play roles. As a teacher, coach, facilitator or therapist, as soon as you think you are exempt from everyday human experience, you don’t see yourself as equal to those in front of you. You’re stuck in a role. That is a huge blind spot. All roles make you blind because you’re living in an identity and identities are what keeps us bypassing what’s happening in your experience. Disembodied teachers share from a role, blind to their own issues which teaches students to be blind to their issues, too. It leaves the student thinking it’s okay to live somehow inside a role and be “awake”. Of course, that’s impossible.
If you walk into a room and you think you’re the authority, immediately, you’re not present with the other person because of your role. Take off the role. You’re not a facilitator. You’re not a teacher. You’re not a therapist. We’re all equal in this work. Everybody has things to look at. I’ve talked to enough nondual teachers privately, and I can say with confidence, everybody has things to look at.
You’ll know your spiritual teacher is equal to you when they share with you their own issues. They’re transparent in their relationship with you. Feelings come up in relationship. Life is relationship.
There’s a lot of teachers who, just like me, had trauma. I’m calling myself out here. It wasn’t until after my awakening that I even started to deal with the trauma of being bullied in sixth grade which was deeply life-changing. Again, I didn’t even deal with it until the awakening experience. Why? Because I was following teachings that were bypassing. They told me I didn’t have to deal with my trauma. And guess what? I had to deal with my trauma.
Some teachers, healers and therapists believe they are saviors. It’s so easy when you have people around you reinforcing this facade. It is for this reason that I left the satsang circuit for many years. You have to be super awake, to not get caught up in that. If you don’t deal with the core story of unlovability (or what yours is) you will be offering teaching, healing or therapy for the wrong reasons (even if part of it is coming from selflessness).
Acknowledge and examine your trauma and deficiency stories
This realization happened after my awakening. You don’t have to wait that long. You can look at it now. It doesn’t delay anything. It doesn’t postpone your freedom. It gives you freedom to examine your trauma from a skilful place. It will make your awakening more embodied, authentic, honest, inclusive and compassionate and loving. If you include in your work your trauma and deficiency stories – all the sticky human stuff you would like to bypass – you won’t get into these funky places.
Under the main story of self in the mind, there are little strands, deficiency stories, which are stories like: I’m not good enough, I’m unlovable, I’m unsafe, I’m not supported, I’m hurt, I’m a victim, I’m powerless, I’m weak. When you have an awakening experience, there is no guarantee that these strands will be seen through, so do inquiry on those finer levels. And if you don’t and you become a nondual therapist or teacher, you end up communicating with the strand of deficiency. You constantly monitor whether are people showing up. You ask “Do people like me as much as they like…”
Let’s celebrate life’s many expressions from the middle way
One thing I see in the nondual teachings is there’s not enough a celebration of the unique expression of who we are. There’s a lot of talk about no-self. There’s talk about awareness or formlessness. But what about the unique expression of every form? There are so many beautiful expressions everywhere and every human being is a unique expression of life. That beauty is sometimes glossed over and dumbed down into the idea of ego. And so, in that dumbing down or repression, there’s often a natural avoidance of how we’re showing up in this world as an individual.
The middle way is the way between the extremes. One extreme is that there is only formlessness or awareness. That’s an extreme view because it denies the diversity of life and unique expressions. Another extreme view is that there are only unique separate forms, that there is no awareness or formlessness. There’s just people, egos, and things that are separate from other things. That’s an extreme view. When you stop avoiding your feelings and you bring your attention down into your feelings as they arrive, you naturally start to live the middle way. You avoid these extreme views.
Disembodiment forms the ego
When you’re a kid and feelings are naturally coming up, you’re not being taught not to come down and feel them and allow them to just come and go. And so, the mind has to overcompensate and create all these strategies and stories and defence-mechanisms of self-protection. There comes the creation of ego. Literally, the ego gets formed in part by not being embodied from a very early age, not learning how to feel at a very early age.
If we meet our feelings, we won’t hide out in either one of these extremes anymore. We won’t hide out in awareness because we will be feeling things as we come to the middle way. We also don’t have to hide out in the pure ego state where we believe we’re separate people and that we’re deficient. That, too, is a state of avoidance because. It’s such a heady state to be in. We’re almost completely identified with the mind in that state.
Again, as you come down and feel everything and meet everything, you naturally move into the middle way. It’s a way of showing up in the world which acknowledges awareness but doesn’t absolutize it or make it into something more than it is. You don’t have to understand the middle way. Just do the work that no longer includes bypassing.