Spiritual Bypassing: Are You Guilty?

So, you’ve committed to a rigorous daily routine of yoga and meditation, perhaps accentuated with a little help from some shamanic substances to help keep you grounded.

A friend excitedly tells you about the latest psychic she’s working with, and you quickly book an appointment with that person too.

But wait! In one of your social media apps you see that another friend is going to attend a plant medicine retreat in another country for ten days. Is there room for one more? Sure, there’s always room for more in the quest to be more spiritual.

Or is there? In your journey to find yourself, you just might be losing something very important.

In my role as a shamanic therapist, I often deal with clients who engage in a multitude of practices in the mistaken belief that more is better in their quest to be seen as spiritual.

If during a session with me you report that your particular routines and rituals take up a large percentage of your day, I might ask you one question.

“What is it that you are trying to avoid?”

You might just be guilty of spiritual bypassing.

First of all, what exactly is spiritual bypassing? This strange term was brought into being by psychologist John Welwood, in the 1980s. According to this  article in Psychology Today, Dr. Welwood described spiritual bypassing as “using  spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks with the ultimate goal of attaining enlightenment.”

These practices can be anything from meditation, yoga, retreats, plant medicine, or very restrictive diets, but this list is by no means complete. While each is a worthy path on its own, they are frequently used nowadays in some combined form on a daily basis with the idea that more is better.

One of the most common things I see in my practice are clients who profess to using various “shamanic” substances quite often. A number of these are quite popular right now: kambo, bufo, psilocybin, cannabis, and rapé, also spelled as hapay. Aside from the psilocybin, the rest are legal to some degree depending on where you live, and fairly easy to obtain.

During intake, when I gather information on the client’s history, I may ask them if they are using any kind of substances, and if so, what it is and how often. And then I ask them why they use it.

To be clear, I’m not against the use of any of these things as long as they are used judiciously. I’ve spent many years with indigenous peoples who consider plant spirit and other medicines to be sacred sacraments, but they normally don’t use them every day or in multiple combinations.

We in the West have taken their traditions and rituals and often twisted them to fit into our definitions of what we think is spiritual. What I see quite often with these particular clients is that in general, the more so-called spiritual practices they engage in, the more unbalanced they become. It’s not so much that the disciplines themselves are the cause of their problems, but rather that they are more like a heavy blanket that covers them.

Here’s an example from my case files. As I listen to one young woman talk about her marriage and husband, she paints a picture of a happy union. He has a good job, they own the house they live in as well as a vacation home in a desirable location, and they have everything they need or want. Yet as I tap into the energy behind her words, I can see that they are just a façade, that there are actually deep problems between the two of them that are not being addressed.

So instead of looking at what might be the actual cause of the discord, she engages in spiritual bypass: daily hours-long yoga and meditation practices, frequent heavy use of mushrooms, cannabis, and other teacher plants, and just about anything else that serves as a delusion that she is working on the problem. I note that her partner doesn’t share any of these disciplines with her, but he does spend long hours working away from home.

She and her peers strongly believe that by engaging in so many spiritual practices, they will be enlightened any day now and all of those pesky problems will just conveniently vanish. But when we pull back that blanket I mentioned earlier, those pesky problems are still there. Despite everything that she’s doing, she and her husband are drifting farther and farther apart.

I’ve also observed groups of people engage in extended hapay (snuff) sessions in the belief that they are being very spiritual. Indeed, many of the commercial blends of hapay that are available on the internet right now claim to open your heart or third eye, connect you to the celestial realms or some other woo woo nonsense like that.

Drawing on my many years of hands-on experience in multidimensional fields such as shamanism and magic, I can tell you that just snuffing powdered herbs will not open your chakras or give you special powers. Attaining the clear vision that an awakened third eye is supposed to give requires years of discipline and hard work on the self. It’s that process of suffering and introspection that opens the doors, but we Westerners are impatient and don’t like to wait.

The real work that needs to be done can be very scary. For my partnered clients to admit that their relationship is no longer healthy and that something needs to be addressed is often terrifying. Being able to face the truth of the matter is much harder than engaging in a soothing practice in the mistaken belief that it will raise their energy vibrations, leading to a quick and easy fix.

So, the next time you may start to feel the need to indulge yet again in several substances and/or practices within the same session, check in with yourself first. How are you feeling? Is there something buried deeply inside that is causing you discomfort? What is the real reason for taking that medicine or going on that retreat?

True awakening happens from the inside out. Any teacher, retreat center, or substance vendor that promises you enlightenment or miracles as long as you spend a lot of money on their programs or products is misleading you.

No one can guarantee these things because growth occurs through the intimate connection between your soul and the Creator. Awakening can happen anywhere—in a cave, in a forest, even at your own kitchen table. You need do nothing more than to sit quietly in awe as it unfolds.


Judy Lemon
Judy Lemon
Judy Lemon was a child with an overactive imagination and rich inner world. She began her writing career at age 7, crafting adventure tales about her anthropomorphized guinea pig family from another planet. Her early fascination with all things otherworldly eventually led her into the multidimensional universe of shamanism. A profound shapeshifting experience convinced her that she’d found her life’s work. Judy is a shamanic practitioner, teacher, writer, musician, and Somatic Experiencing trauma therapist (SEP) who brings years of comprehensive training and knowledge into her work. She has studied and apprenticed with Native and other master teachers in Europe, the United States, and throughout Latin America. Judy was initiated into the lineage of the curanderos of Rio Napo, Peru in 2005 through her first teacher. A later apprenticeship with another maestro took her deeper into the healer’s world of plant spirit shamanism. Drawing upon her extensive experience with multiple modalities such as energy healing, ceremonial work, and trauma therapy, she creates an individual plan for each client’s healing and spiritual development. Judy’s love for what she does and for those who share her space is evident in the great joy and humor she brings to the work. Notes: A curandero is someone who heals using various traditional and esoterical methods. I try to avoid the now well-overused word shaman because it is not native to the Amazon jungle area where I’ve had the bulk of my experiences. Maestro means master or teacher.

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