White Privilege In Yoga Pants: Spiritual Bypassing
*Disclaimer: I am not here to be your friend, I’m here to ask you to wake up and show up.
Okay, spiritual healers. Grab your cup of organic, sustainably sourced tea and get comfortable because we need to have a talk.
My name is Tai, born in Sudan and currently a member of the African diaspora here in Canada. I’m currently a graduate student in psychotherapy and I love folk dance. I have been practicing yoga and meditation since 2009 and teaching since 2012. When I took my first training in Victoria, BC my entire world shifted. The gateway to inner healing and peace flung right open and with glee I ran (mindfully) to it. Boy was I in for a ride.
It was during this training that I first found myself, and she was a snot-filled, teary-eyed deer lost in the headlights. I realized that I had a lot of work to do; the whole inner-healing thing wasn’t just going to be an uphill battle, it would be my Everest. I knew that I needed to do the work — to crack myself open until I reached deep into the raw center, to allow myself to feel both the pain and the joy that rested there — in order to come out on the other side. Only by working through the discomfort and pain was I able to grow and transform into who I am today.
Rumi once said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Being with, and sitting through, the pain is the only thing that ultimately liberates you from it.
As you read this today, I’m asking that you do one this: be brave enough to sit with some discomfort. Let it seep in so you can grow, transform and find your allyship.
Let’s collectively own up to the fact that we have incorrectly used our spiritual toolkit to avoid accountability.
It’s a tough pill to swallow. But think about it: Are loving-kindness and compassion complete if they don’t extend out to others? If we choose to only move through the world with ethically sourced rose-coloured glasses, are we truly living? Are we healing? Are we healers?
This is the essence of Spiritual Bypassing.
“Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.” — Robert Augustus Masters, PhD
In simpler terms, spiritual bypassing is characterized by an active avoidance of pain and reality. It is deliberately deciding to cut out the discomforts of life, backed by a privileged perspective of spirituality and life. The notion that spiritual healers and leaders were never involved in politics and took a passive stance on the political issues of their time is not just an unfounded assumption, it goes against the very examples they lived.
Rather than reframe history to fit into a falsely picturesque framework that is easy to digest, let’s look more closely at those whom we look at as our spiritual teachers and leaders:
- The Buddha intervened to try to stop wars. He counselled kings and ministers, and guided those around him with teachings of peace and respect.
- Maha Ghosananda joined the United Nations peace process and led years of peace walks of loving-kindness through the war zones and killing fields of Cambodia.
- Thai abbots have taken their robes and ordained the oldest trees as elders of the forest to protect whole ecosystems from logging.
- Burmese monks and nuns marched in the streets to protect citizens from the harsh military dictatorship.
- A.T. Ariyaratne in Sri Lanka enlisted hundreds of thousands in a 500-year peace plan.
- Vietnamese, Chinese and Tibetan monastics have stood up for peace, justice and compassion, even immolating themselves to stop the harmful actions around them
(Source: Jack Kornfield, Moral Action and the Dharma)
To think that passivity or avoidance of challenging topics is the more spiritual path is resoundingly false. In Gandhi’s own words: “Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics do not know what spirituality really means.”
The inaction of the spiritual healing community during times of injustice not only betrays the very principles of the 8-fold path, but helps maintain the system of white supremacy whose foundation is maintained through indifference and minimizing. What do I mean by this?
- Walking away from the discomfort of dismantling your privilege.
- Not understanding the negative impact of avoidance language like “good vibes only.”
- Being complicit in a system that does not see all lives as worthy.
- Actively choosing to turn a blind eye to injustice.
- Not recognizing that remaining overly detached and idealistic is what enables discrimination, mass incarceration, police brutality, lynching, hate crime, the school to prison pipeline, etc.
So I ask you, if you recognize yourself in the actions above, do you still believe you can rightfully call yourself a spiritual healer?
“But,” you ask, “I’m not the cause of these problems. How can I possibly be in the wrong if I’m encouraging positivity?”
Here is the hard fact: your good vibes are doing nothing. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t showing up to KKK meetings dressed in white sheets. It doesn’t matter that you do not kill the individual yourself. It doesn’t matter if you have a black friend. It doesn’t matter that you hold egalitarian beliefs internally. Remember what your school teachers told you? A bystander can be just as bad at the bully. If you choose spiritual bypassing you are choosing to avoid the topic of such painful realities that allow these atrocities to exist… and it is killing us.
Let that sink in for a moment… that choice of pain and reality avoidance is killing us.
No amount of sage*,essential oils, chanting, meditation or yoga is going to change that fact.
So, one more time, I am calling on each of you to start doing the work. Sit with the discomfort, work through it, and recognize that your decision to be a spiritual healer means that it is your purpose just to spread “love and light” — your purpose is to show up.
*sage is one of the sacred plant medicines of Indigenous people that is continually appropriated