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The Dark Side of Your Spiritual Practice

You practice yoga every morning, and you’ve mastered the Scorpion pose. You meditate twice a day, twenty minutes in the morning and twenty more before bed.

You’ve read every personal development book on the shelf and know all the self-help lingo. You’ve done all of those spiritual practices that are supposed to bring you harmony and enlightenment. But are you really happy? Fulfilled? Do you feel at peace with your body, mind, and spirit? There’s a good chance that the answer is no.

We live in a time when it is all too easy to distract ourselves from what is happening inside of us. If we don’t like what we are feeling, all we have to do is pull our phones out of our pockets and tap on Instagram. Or eat until our stomachs ache. It is a simple way to ignore or avoid discomfort, at least temporarily.

And those “enlightened” activities – the meditation, yoga, journaling, etc. – can sometimes be used as distractions as well. The term is “spiritual bypassing.” And so many of us are guilty of it.

Spiritual Practices Are Not a Cure-All

Let me give you an example: You feel anxiety building up inside your body. Your heart is racing and your shoulders feel tight. You feel the strong urge to run to your pantry and eat everything you can get your hands on.

You hate feeling this way. You want it to stop; you don’t want to continue using food as a drug to numb yourself to the pain. You know from past experience that you can usually find distraction through meditation, so you sit down on your yoga mat and shut your brain off for a good ten minutes. Just like that, your symptoms of anxiety are pushed back into a box where they belong. The urge to polish off a sleeve (or two) of Thin Mints has passed. There…all better.

So, what’s the problem with that? The problem is avoidance.

We are turning away from the pain and not allowing ourselves to explore and really feel it. Instead of diving into the source of the discomfort and learning what the real issue is (to then work on healing the issue), we hide from it. It’s the same thing as eating (or restricting food) to stop whatever pain we are feeling, except in a much prettier package.

Practices like yoga and meditation are wonderful tools meant to help us access our feelings and move through them, not to cover them up.

Signs You’re a Spiritual Bypasser

So how can we know if we are playing pretend with our spiritual practices? See if any of these apply to you:

  • You have stacks of personal development books at home, all of them abandoned a few chapters in.
  • You meditate every day, twice a day, but ignore your body during the other 23 hours, 22 minutes, and 14 seconds of the day.
  • You are the instructor’s favorite at the 5am yoga class every morning, but you do it to brag to your friends that you’re the yoga master.
  • You keep a journal by your bedside and write in it every night, but steer clear of anything deeper than details of your day.

If any of those struck a chord with you, don’t worry. Many of us do this completely by accident. And it’s not at all uncommon.

For most women struggling with food and body image, food has been used as a sedative for years. It’s what they know and changing that pattern can be an enormous challenge. It is all too easy to swap out one emotional remedy (food) for another (meditation, yoga, etc.).

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

So how do we use these tools to help, rather than hide? It’s about understanding that no feeling is either “good” or “bad.” Feelings are just feelings, and as humans walking this earth, we are meant to fully experience every one of them.

Meditating for ten minutes to cover up a feeling of loneliness or sadness or anger is not real healing; it is a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Without feeling, there is no healing.

We must accept whatever we are feeling in the moment. Do not label it as “good” or “bad,” and don’t try to immediately alter it. Pain is not a “bad” feeling; in fact, it’s a blessing. It raises our awareness and draws our attention to where we are unaligned with our best selves.

Feel it. Sit with it. Breathe into it. Honor it. Understand that the purpose of life is not to feel endless bliss, but to experience everything. These emotions that we feel, even the pain, are the good stuff – the stuff that we are privileged to experience.

Use spiritual practices to find emotions that you have long hidden, and not as a mask to hide behind.



Images Courtesy of iStock

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