Can Spirituality Disconnect Us From What Really Matters?

According to Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, author of Spiritual Bypassing, the answer is “yes”—at least when we use spirituality as what he calls “avoidance in holy drag” (1). He informs us, through this no-holds-barred book of refreshing and uncompromising candor, that there are many things we use to avoid painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and underdeveloped need attainment capacities.

One of the common terms thrown about quite a bit today, and very often extremely misunderstood, is the term shadow. Another is the shadow’s counterpoint the ego. According to many, the shadow is the container for all of our “badness,” and the separate and distinct ego that other “bad”part of us that acts as an enemy to the drives of the higher or more spiritual self. But according to Masters, working with shadow material actually is “…the practice of acknowledging, facing, engaging, and integrating what we have turned away from, disowned, or otherwise rejected in ourselves.” And he goes on to tell us that shadow work “is not significantly taken into account in religion and most spiritual paths, especially those that marginalize or insufficiently address the psychological and emotional dimensions of experience” (43).

And of the ego, he tell us that:

Spiritual paths that overvalue and cling to the notion of transcendence tend to pathologize ego, seeing it as no more than something to be overcome or eradicated if we are to spirtually awaken–and so “I” is treated as no more than an incarnational tagalong of a decidedly lower vibration, at best adding a bit of color and flair to the proceedings. … Depersonlized spirituality is an anemic undertaking in which hollowness is confused with transparency, ungroundedness with altitude, flimsy boundaries with openness, and emotional flatness with equanimity (99-100).

Integration is the key here, so when we refer to the ego as a kind of inner enemy, and when we think of the shadow as the “bad” parts of ourselves, we are splitting off against these most valuable assets to our existence. But these parts only act as assets when they are not split off from the uniting center—the Self. Carl Jung spoke of a union of opposites that was necessary to the conscious awareness of this central force, the Self. And integration is the process that facilitates that union.

Many of our teachers speak of nonduality—the Oneness of all—and yet, Masters tells us that sometimes we are getting a kind of double message from our teachers about this Oneness:

It is easy to use nondual teachings to both distance ourselves from our humanity and to make a virtue of such disengagement, leaving us clinging to our detachment. … Such distortions are reinforced by teachers who reduce nonduality to a rationale for bypassing our individuality and the “stories” through which we reinforce our sense of self. The spooning out of nondual pablum—prechewed for us—assumes that we have no teeth, no bite, no need for uncooked truth, and should instead just keep our spiritual bibs on. … We may, in the throes of embracing nondual philosophy, get so attached to the notion that form is an illusion that we shy away from living a relational, fully embodied life, doing time in the sanctums of spiritual correctness (159).

That’s just one example he gives of how we can split ourselves off from going richly into the depths of ourselves to receive a truer more balanced and more potent spirituality–regardless of religion. He reminds us to look to paradox to find the kernels of true spirituality. In particular the paradox of union in differentness; of the union of opposites; of the light united with the darkness; of the flesh that is not illusion, but also is not alien to formlessness.

Spiritual Bypassing is just one of the many books found in the library of studies at the American Institute of Holistic Theology. We encourage a self-directed and self-paced, self-reflective model of study to obtain a degree because we believe that this approach allows the student to find his/her own truth, one that is genuine, comes from authenticity and original thought—and carries the student into the mystical truth behind all religions and in all things.

If this is the kind of study you’d like to participate in, contact AIHT today: 800-650-4325. And learn more about what is offered at our website.

Work Cited:

Masters, Robert A. Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. 2010. Print.

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If you are among the many people today who are seeking spiritual transformation through the growth of a perspective that includes and embraces all religions and yet moves beyond religion to a personal spirituality, the American Institute of Holistic Theology offers the kind of inspirational education you can believe in. With an education from AIHT, not only can you transform and nurture in your own life and transformative process, but you can use this education to minister to and serve others. An interfaith, interspiritual, integral perspective bridges the gaps between religions, faiths, and spiritual paths. It opens rather than closes. It allows both the light and darkness, finding within each a rich promise. It brings all religion, all spiritual practice to its mystical core. That core is the essential ingredient in all of our coursework, including Holistic Theology, Holistic Ministries, Holistic Health and Spiritual Care, Metaphysical Spirituality and Alternative Spiritual Traditions.
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3 Responses to Can Spirituality Disconnect Us From What Really Matters?

  1. shreejacob says:

    Great post and timely too! It is confusing when there is this notion that to become authentic we need to discard the “bad” in us. That the shadow self is detrimental to our spiritual health. It’s as if we forget that we as souls are being born into this earthly plane and that reincarnating here actually is meant to teach us to unite our duality. To use this duality to become closer to the Divine. It’s sometimes easy to theorize but always the application is where the true test is.
    So thank you for reminding us that to realize Oneness we need to learn to at One with ourselves first!

  2. On a daily basis – sometimes moment to moment, I go between duality and non-duality. Craving and clinging; attaching then detaching; discriminating between what is real and what is not real; recognizing the illusion and yet becoming deeply involved in the movie! Ah yes… the trick here is recognizing that its all a virtual reality ride…..while enjoying the adventure!!!!!

  3. Karen Howard says:

    How refreshing to read a sensible explanation of spirituality and what it really means…The first teachings I received on spirituality only taught that we should be able to find that place of peace, which, in the words of my teacher, meant “being on a river of calm, never shifting to either side of the shore, the sides of feeling nothing or being upset.” She wanted us to achieve total peace through what felt to me like non-feeling. This is not a place of acceptance of all of our true self, as far as I am concerned. Our true self has multitude of feelings, that we surely must acknowledge, accept and deal with, to be a complete person. I feel very peaceful most of the time, but there are moments and occasions that make me feel sad, angry, joyful, etc. I have found that in embracing, feeling and dealing with negative feelings as well as positive ones, I find greater peace, because I “process” those feelings and let them go.

    Karen Howard
    AIHT Masters Program

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