10 Ways to Bypass the Real. ~ Jeff Brown

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The Woods

In 1984, psychologist and author John Welwood coined the term “spiritual bypass.”

In Soulshaping, I defined the spiritual bypass “as the tendency to jump to spirit prematurely, usually in an effort to avoid various aspects of earthly reality.” This way of being was very familiar to me, as I have often displayed a tendency to bypass uncomfortable truths by jumping to divinity.

On a pogo-stick to the stars, I enjoyed the opportunity to pseudo-transcend the dualities before inevitably crashing back to earth to deal with my unfinished business.

In Soulshaping, I also acknowledged the need for bypass techniques in a still difficult world:

“In a world of pain, the spiritual bypass is an ongoing temptation. It gives us something to believe in and a vision of what we are missing in our localized reality. Without it, many of us would have to suffer unbearable situations. At the same time, it can be a detour on the path to genuine spirituality. In our efforts to leapfrog to something better, we often avoid something crucial. Spirit becomes the crutch rather than the expression of a natural unfolding.”

Subsequently, Robert Augustus Masters dedicated an entire book to this important topic—“Spiritual Bypassing- When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters.”

As the term grows in popularity, I have noticed that it has taken on a very broad application, not uncommon with terms of art that morph into labels. In an effort to avoid its over-generalized and unattuned usage, I want to make a distinction between different forms of bypassing and shadow jumping, for they surely come in many forms.

The following list arose through observations of my own patterns and is intended as a self-assessment tool, one that can be used to support your own efforts to recognize and transform your methods of self-distraction.Some can be understood as branches of the spiritual bypass tree, while others have a meaningfully different quality.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, as there are as many ways to avoid reality as there are humans, but I am particularly interested in some of the ways that self-avoidance paths mask as enlightenment in the spiritual community in particular:

1. The positivity bypass (aka the bliss bypass)—The tendency to feign positivity/bliss in an effort to sidestep or rise above the unhealed shadow. Often associated with the ungrounded “It’s all Good” mantra.

2. The cerebral bypass—The tendency to seek refuge in the mind, to live in and through thoughts alone, to over-intellectualize the moment. Head-tripping in an effort to detach from the world of feeling. Often manifest as a profound capacity to articulate consciousness models and inquiries with little capacity to hearticulate and embody felt experience.

3. The witness bypass—The tendency to live in witness-observer consciousness, to stare at our unresolved pain body across the room and imagine ourselves present, to confuse helpful detachment practices with life itself. Meanwhile, our unresolved pain is congealing into weapons that turn inward against the self. Often manifest as a kind of glossy eyed pseudo-equanimity with reduced affect.

4.The pragmatism bypass—That is, remaining perpetually focused on practical reality in an effort to avoid an experience of unity, the bigger picture. Often manifest in great success in the material world, but a spiritually bankrupt life.

5. The All-One bypass—That is, remaining perpetually focused on unity consciousness in an effort to avoid our particular issues, challenges and practical needs. Often manifest as an ungrounded inability to meet grounded, basic needs while floating off into the great mystery.

6. The Non-Duality bypass—The tendency to self-identify as a non-dualist in an effort to transcend the human fray. Non-dual bypassers tend to conveniently remove everything that makes them uncomfortable from their unified framework- personal identifications, the unhealed emotional body, the entire ego, the self, the body- in an effort to transcend their humanness. Of course, there is nothing non-dual about it. Our humanness is the grist for the soul-mill. Without it, we can’t grow toward an authentic, sustainable experience of non-separateness.

7. The Accountability Bypass– The tendency to use ‘mirror/reflection’ and ‘no judgment’ techniques in an effort to sidestep our own responsibility or the responsibility of others for wrong action. Lodged in the ungrounded notion that there is no wrongdoing, the effect of these practices is to condone and perpetuate unhealthy behaviors and to discourage victims from their rightful and necessary healing process.

8. The You are not your story Bypass—The tendency to flee painful and confusing elements of our life experiences by disparaging story. Yes, we are often so much more than our stories, but let’ not throw the whole story out with the bath water. We also are our stories. At the heart of our story are the personal identifications, emotional material and unresolved issues that are the grist for the soul mill for our spiritual expansion. Without karmic clay to work through and with, our expansion is stalled.

9. The Karmic Contract Bypass—The tendency to attribute every single event on the planet to universal or soulular intentionality—that is, “you must have chosen it,” it was destined, it reflects your vibration, “everything happens for a reason”—in an effort to flee the painful, mysterious and misguided nature of many events and experiences. Those who participate in this bypass technique have a tendency to shame and shun their own experience, and to do the same to others where compassion and healing are required.

And my own, as yet unworked through tendency…

10. The Forgiveness Bypass—The tendency to avoid unresolved emotions and relational experiences by feigning forgiveness. Premature forgiveness. Often manifest in a tendency to shame those who haven’t forgiven, as though forgiving a wrongdoer is more important than healing itself. Real forgiveness requires a genuine working through of the emotions and memories related to our experiences. And, at the end of that process, it is the victim’s choice as to whether they choose to forgive.



Avoiding Spiritual Bypass and Worldly Bypass

Is it Forgiveness or Spiritual Bypassing? 

Want to be a God/Goddess or Real Human Being? 



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Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown, former criminal lawyer and psychotherapist, Jeff Brown is the author of the best-selling book Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation, and a popular book of spiritual graffiti- Ascending with Both Feet on the Ground. Endorsed by Oprah’s Soul Series radio host Elizabeth Lesser, authors Oriah Mountain Dreamer and Katherine Woodward Thomas, Ascending is a collection of some of Jeff’s most popular spiritual graffiti quotes, soul-bytes and aphorisms frequently shared in social media. He has been interviewed by CNN radio, appeared on Fox News.com, and written popular inspirations for ABC S Good Morning America. He is also the author of the viral blog Apologies to the Divine Feminine (from a warrior in transition) and the producer and key journeyer in the award winning spiritual documentary – Karmageddon- which also stars Ram Dass, Seane Corn, Wah! David Life, Deva Premal and Miten. His newest book- Love It Forward- is now published. Endorsed by best-selling authors Andrew Harvey and Caroline Myss, Love It Forward is another book of Jeff’s most impactful quotes and writings, with a strong emphasis on love and relationship quotes. You can check out his work at Soulshaping.

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anonymous May 14, 2015 1:40am

This is simply caused by a lack of understanding of spirituality.
For almost all spiritual people it is a wishy washy collection of terms with no meaning, presence, awaking, meditation, oneness, nonduality, awareness, mindfulness … etc..
No-one has made any real effort to understand the difference between these terms.
Criticizing … sure, go right ahead.
But until "spirituality" stops being about spaced out people criticizing and spouting empty words … nothing will change.

anonymous Apr 26, 2015 5:12am

"It's all just pipes." – George Costanza.

anonymous Dec 31, 2014 7:24pm

Incredibly subjective what is bypass and what is real. And so easily used to invalidate all forms of spirituality and reaching towards reality. So therefore a topic ideally suited to a culture defending its mediocrity, destructiveness, lies and basic lack of integrity as 'grounded reality'. You can call anything including the 'I'm a psychotherapist writing about truth' a bypass, so this like anything is ultimately meaningless – samsara you might say. I'm tempted to say the platitude, 'no-one knows except you', but chances are we are the last to know. Groundedness may be living with that. It is called humility, surrender, unknowing, and whether it happens in spiritual attempts or the 'real world', in making youself someone or living in the burn of being no-one, is very, very mysterious.

anonymous Jul 13, 2014 1:58pm

Thank you for writing this. You have mentioned many of my thoughts in a fully formed way.

anonymous Mar 22, 2014 1:19pm

I've got one I keep seeing everywhere – the tantric bypass or multi love bypass. Just keep finding another partner to have powerful experiences with in order to avoid your own FEAR, and your own STUFF. And in shadow then dump your stuff on the partner, move on refreshed and empowered and leave upset and weakened.

    anonymous Mar 23, 2014 10:41am

    Wow, Cazza, this has just happened to me. Well articulated, thank you!

anonymous Mar 21, 2014 8:16pm

Jeff~Such a great (and humbling) article. I have done many of these bypasses at times and my go to is the cerebral bypass 🙂 Thank you for articulating these, doing so helps bring consciousness to often unconscious patterns.

anonymous Mar 21, 2014 4:14pm

Thanks Jeff, I am sure all of us can add our own personal bypasses to this list. It was Jung that said, "all neurosis is the result of incomplete suffering." I take that to mean that the process of growth and healing involves the grieving process and having it completed all the way to resolution. Most of us want to prolong our suffering and neurosis by looping around in denial and bargaining (your bypass list) rather than going deeply and feeling the honesty of our "suffering". By the way, one of the original definitions of "suffering" is "to know". The choice is ours; we can either grieve deeply and grow or bypass and continue our neurotic behavior. I might also add, the greater the bypass, the grander the neurosis.

    anonymous Oct 28, 2015 4:47am

    Thank you JohnH , appreciate your words

anonymous Mar 21, 2014 3:36pm

This is a brilliant artile. Summed up are my feelings entirely, although, I could have not hoped ever to shape them in the words this effectively! Thank you!

anonymous Mar 21, 2014 6:04am

Finally, one who cares more about the truth than the politics of authoring in the spiritual field. He won't become a Hay House regular, because he actually speaks reality.

anonymous Mar 21, 2014 4:57am

I am always amazed how ON Jeff Brown is….Everything he writes, expresses, resonates with me totally. I would hope it touches everyone who reads….get them going on a new thought process…..the world needs more ,and more Jeff Browns…haahahah, really. Excellent writing, love where hes been and how much he shares…I am glad he has an opportunity and funding to become published and do what he does……xoxoxo

anonymous Mar 20, 2014 10:02pm

YOU Rock Jeff Brown !!!!!!

Paul Tredray Jan 17, 2018 4:10am

I hear you, yes, in my experience and observations, communal praying, or just the priest doing it, is a huge bypass/cop out and by passed by billions! Ppl not taking responsibility. Although we are limited in what we can do with the suffering in the world, but praying, nah, just doesn't do it for me (either). With all the centuries of ppl praying we are as fooked up as ever! Empirical observation in the Existentialist see it as it is down to earth pov.

Julie Meibaum Oct 29, 2017 11:17am

What about the ritualistic bypass? I came, I saw, I went, and now I am healed/whole again. What about the 'blessing' bypass- since I received a blessing, then I am blessed, and i dont need to do any other work. What about the communal prayer bypass? Since others are all praying out loud together, or the preist is praying, then I dont have to pray/or pay attention- the preist will do it for me. Not saying this is true for everyone, but just that religion can be used by people who are not 'present' and their minds are occupied by other things.

Ambika Poddar Mar 29, 2017 8:14am

Hi Jeff, I think it'll take some time for me to understand all of it, but Thank You for giving a perspective to move on the spiritual path. I'm saving your article to test me on it from time to time.:)

Mary Simmons Mar 28, 2017 3:16pm

I'm a #2. —which allows me to pretend that I am always present, always the more evolved one, always the one who has it more figured out. Always the one who is not lost... When in fact... I discovered my own lostness a year or so ago, during a terrible, horrible divorce, and #2 could no longer protect me. Stripped bare, leaving me with only my dumbfoundedness. Into the night sky I roared: "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME???" The answer came, only last week. Everything. Even the ashes.

English Roberts Jul 13, 2016 5:31pm

This tastes a little egotistical to me. You can't know what inner work a person is doing just based on your observation of how they interact with you or another person. If someone uses a "platitude" (according to you) to handle a myriad of burdens, how do you know they aren't just using these tools to give themselves space and time to gently sort out the issues you claim they're avoiding? You sound a bit shaming of other people's processes.