Spiritual Bypassing VS. Spiritual Resourcing

The Yoga Church has a clear mission… We’re trying to connect with Divine Mystery (however we each understand it) and (through this connection) build our capacity to love.

Increasing our capacity to love is hard and ongoing work. And it requires that we actively work against the culture of white supremacy in which we live and breathe and move everyday.

In this hard work we need our spiritual resources. We need to feel the ground beneath us. We have to find and root our identity in the Light within. We must remember the ancient teachings that separation is a myth. As Lilla Watson said:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

On an Absolute level, we are all One. Our liberation is deeply bound up in each other.

But on a relative level, the level of our everyday life, we are not treated as one. White supremacy is very real. And saying anything like “we’re all light and love and our race doesn’t matter” is dangerous spiritual bypassing.

Susanna Barkataki (who I’ve studied cultural appropriation and colonial trauma with) defines spiritual bypassing as:

“using spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, wounds, cultural issues of oppression, privilege, power and inequality. When we are spiritually bypassing, we often use oneness, awakening or liberation to rationalize and get to ​premature transcendence​: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it or done the work to try to really change it.”

Michelle Cassandra Johnson (who I’ve learned so much about the intersections of yoga and justice from) defines it this way:

“Spiritual bypassing perpetuates the idea that the belief ‘we are one’ is enough to create a reality where we are treated equally and as one. It is not. Spiritual bypassing permits the status quo to stay in place and teaches people that if you believe in something and have good intent that is enough. It is not.”

The Yoga Church community actively works to avoid spiritual bypassing. Yoga practice, true yoga practice, is about facing what’s real. It’s about looking deep within and facing what we find. Yoga asks that we dive deep into the raw and messy side of life so that we can heal and work toward our personal and collective transformation.

In our work together we’re interested in spiritual resourcing. How do we resource ourselves in order to face the challenges and injustice of life with awareness and courage? We come to practice as a source of refuge and support.

We can practice right now… Pause and notice your breath. Feel your feet on the floor and tap into the sensation of earth beneath you. Bring your hands to your heart and remember the spark of Divine Light always and already within and around you. Notice your breath again and remember your highest values. Remember that love is an abundant resource. Allow the power of love to build your courage and motivate you to take a next, right action toward anti-racism and justice.

We were born into sociopathy

Awhile back I participated in an online series called The Wellness of We, which included 8 days of live conversations geared toward advancing collective wellbeing. One of the conversations, called ‘Wellness Beyond Whiteness’ was particularly powerful. The panel included Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Michelle Cassandra Johnson, Anasa Troutman, Sean Corne, and Kerri Kelly.

Rev. angel (a Zen priest) said something that spoke to my bones: We were born into a collective sociopathy.

She reminded us that psychopaths are born while sociopaths are made. We’ve been manufactured to be sociopaths. The system of white supremacy has stolen part of our humanity. Being born into sociopathy allows so many of us, particularly us white people, to feel sad for a moment about the constant killing of black people in America, and then continue living exactly the same lives as if nothing much has changed.     

This is a hard truth. And it’s an incredibly complex truth. How’s your body reacting to it? Resource yourself. Be with your breath. Feel your feet on the floor.

Anasa Troutman shared something she learned from studying Quantum Physics that felt deeply clarifying to me: There are simple, complicated, and complex problems. And we can’t solve a complex problem with a simple solution.

In order to work against the layered and complex reality of racism we’re going to need complex solutions.

An important first step is admitting our own racism. I’m speaking directly to white people here. We have to admit (to ourselves and each other) that we’ve been conditioned to be racist simply by existing in this culture. We are born into a complex sociopathy.  Since you’re part of the Yoga Church community, I imagine that you don’t want to be racist. But declaring yourself “not racist” isn’t helpful.

Yoga asks us to search after what’s real. Rev. angel named the fact that race lives in and on bodies. We have to pay attention to the impulses of our bodies (because they inform our actions way more than our stated beliefs). We have to study and understand the history of our ancestors that lives in our DNA. What makes us physically constrict? Why? We need to untangle this.

As I shared in the sermon “Let’s Not Go Back To Normal” Swami Rama, one of the great Himalayan Masters of the 20th century, told my teacher that the whole goal of yoga is to surface our conditioning so that we can be free of it.

We have to surface the racism we’ve been infected by so that we can be free of it.

One last quote from Rev. angel: “we have to want to pull the illness of racism out of our body like it’s killing us. Because it is.”

Action is an ongoing process

This is hard work. There’s no magic wand that removes a lifetime of conditioning. You’re going to have to spend the rest of your life engaged in this work.

As my husband Jeremy said in a guest sermon: “Action demands engagement and that engagement never ends. It keeps beginning. Action…demands invention and imagination for a world that could be made and, importantly, re-made otherwise.”

There’s no arrival point where our action will no longer be needed. Don’t buy into the fallacy of arrival. And don’t let the enormity of the problems stop you from taking the next, right action.

In the Dismantling Racism course I took with Michelle Cassandra Johnson in 2019 she asked us to “expect and accept non-closure.”

We can’t solve the problem of racism by taking a course, or by signing a petition, or in a few meditation sessions, or by half reading one book. We have to do all of these things (and more) again and again and again.

This work is going to take the rest of your life. Will you make the commitment?

Real change is possible. But nothing will happen unless vast numbers of white people commit to the work of anti-racism. Powerful forces will work hard to lull us back to the status quo. And if you live in a white body (like I do) that has benefited from the status quo, it will try to pull you toward a sense of comfort and normalcy (in the ‘Wellness Beyond Whiteness’ conversations Sean Corne talked about the embodied addiction to this feeling of comfort). We must fight these inner temptations and we must fight these cultural forces.

If we really want to unravel the system of white supremacy (and patriarchy and late capitalism and on and on) we have to settle in for the long haul. This work is going to take the rest of our lives. Will you make the commitment? Can you imagine a better gift for our descendants?

This Prayer for Courage (from the Corrymeela Community of Northern Ireland) is something I try to read everyday…

Courage comes from the heart
and we are always welcomed by God,
the Croí [Heart] of all being.

We bear witness to our faith,
knowing that we are called
to live lives of courage, love and reconciliation
in the ordinary and extraordinary moments
of each day.

We bear witness, too, to our failures
and our complicity in the fractures of our world.

May we be courageous today.
May we learn today.
May we love today.