This article is based on our podcast episode, Spiritual Materialism & Bypassing. Listen to the full episode here.
I adorned myself in crystals. In fact, I was a little obsessed.
Just like so many other spiritual people, when I awakened and began opening up my spiritual gifts, I fell in love with crystals. I had heard from so many others they are the key to healing and opening up my psychic abilities. Because of this, I covered myself in them from head to toe, practically weighing myself down. I believed that if I looked spiritual, then surely I would be spiritual.
It turns out that I had fallen into the trap of spiritual bypassing and materialism, just as so many others do during the course of a spiritual journey. These are terms that have become more popular in recent years because it’s so common and widespread. Having a spiritual awakening can be overwhelming because of the consumeristic and individualistic-based culture we live in. As a result, the ego is always trying to take over.
If you find yourself engaging in spiritual bypassing or materialism, don’t dismay! It happens to the best of us. Read on to learn more about these terms and how to overcome them.
What is Spiritual Bypassing?
The phrase spiritual bypassing was coined in the 1980s by Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist John Welwood, who was known for integrating psychological and spiritual concepts. He described spiritual bypassing as the following:
“Spiritual bypassing is a term I coined to describe a process I saw happening in the Buddhist community I was in, and also in myself. Although most of us were sincerely trying to work on ourselves, 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.”
Another way to describe spiritual bypassing is not being present with the emotional tone of what’s happening in the present moment. In a way, it’s hiding behind spirituality and using it to avoid certain things or act like they don’t matter. It’s an attempt to rise above issues by denying a painful reality or truth.
Some examples of spiritual bypassing are:
“Good vibes only.”
Believing you must “rise above” your emotions.
Using spirituality to ignore the present moment.
Becoming too detached
While spiritual bypassing might feel good at first, they are only false feelings of safety that actually undermine your own transformation and sense of oneness. It only covers up and worsens a core issue. It’s like putting a bandage on an infected wound every single day without actually doing anything to heal it.
When spirituality is used as a life jacket, it actually does the opposite and pushes us under the water.
What is Spiritual Materialism?
The phrase spiritual materialism was coined in the 1970s by meditation teacher Chögyam Trungpa in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. He wrote that we are often:
"deceiving ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques."
It’s common to use spiritual practices, objects, identities, or tools to reinforce the ego or a false sense of self. The idea of spiritual materialism is based on the idea that something outside of yourself will make you more spiritual or heal you. In a way, it is trying to “own” spirituality in a tangible form.
Some examples of spiritual materialism are:
Claiming to hold spiritual knowledge or gifts that others cannot access.
The need to always pull cards or use a pendulum before making a decision.
Jumping from workshop to workshop or teacher to teacher.
Dependence on psychics.
Trying to look spiritual on social media.
Adorning yourself in crystals and amulets.
When someone is engaging in spiritual materialism, they believe they have found themselves, but it is merely the ego creating an identity to distract from the real issues at hand.
Spiritual materialism may make someone feel spiritual and healed, but that is only an illusion. It only takes away your power.
Why we Engage in Spiritual Bypassing
Quite simply, spiritual bypassing is a defense mechanism that seemingly protects us from painful things. However, it comes at a cost.
For example, if going to parties makes you feel anxious, you might use the excuse that you’re an empath and can absorb peoples’ energy, so you don’t have to show up. So while you’re not attending for spiritual reasons, these reasons take precedence over facing the true issue and learning healthy coping mechanisms and emotional regulation. The ego does this unconsciously to avoid facing the pain of managing so much energy.
The basic human wound is one of not feeling enough or loveable just the way we are. In fact, our ability to value ourselves is often forgotten.
Author Brené Brown describes shame as “I am not enough” and guilt as “What I did is not enough.” Spiritual bypassing attempts to cover up our shame and guilt without actually healing these wounds. But for any life transformation, we need full integration and embodiment.
Why we Engage in Spiritual Materialism
Spiritual materialism has a lot to do with gripping onto materialistic things to reinforce a spiritual identity. This is very natural because as humans, we are curious creatures and desire a map. During a spiritual awakening, our ego wants to make sense of the new energy that is running within us in a physical way. Because of this, it will have you buy things, engage in certain practices, or look a certain way.
Many of us are programmed to think that if we are to become a new person, we need to reinforce a new identity. We think that we’re not lovable or worthy, so we seek a tangible way to grasp spiritual ideas.
We see the positive results others are getting with certain crystals, classes, and looks, and we want the same for ourselves. Then, we cling to those results, this new identity that we believe will make us healed. The result is spiritual materialism.
However, spiritual materialism is only a temporary state of refuge and creates more suffering in the end. It stops you from discovering your true and highest self.
5 Ways to Release Spiritual Bypassing & Materialism
1. Cultivate self-love and confidence practices
You cannot stop the practice of spiritual bypassing or materialism without cultivating self-love and confidence. To put the ego in the passenger seat, do whatever it takes to build a strong sense of worthiness and love. Once you do this, you’ll no longer feel the need to reinforce a false identity and you’ll feel strong enough to face your shadow.
2. Cultivate a mindset of neutrality
When it comes to spirituality, there needs to be a mindset of neutrality. In a Buddhist sense, this is a sense of balance, detachment, and impartiality. It means not to be too attached or dependent on certain practices, objects, or mindsets. It also means not identifying with the shame and guilt that our ego creates trying to control life. It doesn’t mean apathy, but it does mean loving and trusting yourself to know that everything will work out in the end.
3. Deeply embody and honor your pain
The true reason for spiritual bypassing and materialism is to avoid and cover up emotional pain. So when you fully heal this pain, you’ll no longer have the need to engage in these practices. When you encounter an uncomfortable emotion, event, energy, thought, or person, acknowledge that pain and fully feel it. Do what you need to process it and release it from the body.
4. Understand who you truly are
Stop clinging to your ego’s way of understanding things or the false identity it has created. At your core, you are not your identity nor your body and are one with Source energy. Source is power. And if you are one with Source, then you are also power. With this knowledge, you can face anything. Then, you’ll no longer gravitate towards spiritual bypassing or materialism.
5. Shift From an “I” to a “We” mindset
Not only do we need to cultivate our own self-love and worthiness, but we need to know that everyone else is also loved and worthy because we come from the same place. A lot of spiritual bypassing and materialism come from a place of separateness and an individualist mentality. When we remember our interconnectedness, spiritual bypassing and materialism will be a thing of the past.
Build Your Foundation
To me, spiritual bypassing and materialism mean we do not yet have a solid root system. We’ve learned spiritual healing knowledge, but we do not yet know how to integrate and use it. Without a firm foundation, you cannot be fully in your body and feel the light within you. It will be impossible to say “I am safe and I am loved.”
And without seeing your inner Divinity and feeling security, releasing old wounds will seem almost impossible. That’s when it’s easy to fall into spiritual bypassing and materialism.
You have the ability to stand in your power and discover your truest self. You are worthy, lovable and enough, just as you are.
If you need help building your foundation so you can release spiritual bypassing and materialism, I am here to help. Set up a discovery call to see how I can best work with you. For deeper emotional and trauma support, I also offer Contemplative Psychotherapy services. Learn more about this here.