John Welwood

Recently, the great therapist and teacher John Welwood passed on. John was the wise mind who first coined the phrase “spiritual bypassing.”  Spiritual bypassing is the art or unconscious movement of using spiritual concepts, teachings or experiences to deny, transcend or ignore our human life.  If left unchecked, the art of spiritual bypassing leaves us deeply divided in our spiritual and human self. We may have great spiritual insights and experiences, but if we are proficient at spiritually bypassing our human lives, we just may become deeply unintegrated, detached and defended in our spiritual super ego.  The more we spiritually bypass our human lives, the greater the chance our shadow will haunt us or cause trouble both in our human and spiritual experience.

It was John Welwood’s insights which helped so many of us here on the path have awareness of how we spiritually bypass our humanity.  And through his insights and our own reflection, we have the opportunity to mature and integrate our practice and spiritual experience into our daily lives in a much more full and profound way. With the highest respect we honor this great soul, who helped so many of us, to actually look at our humanity and recommit to an integrated path that includes our human self and relationships.  Every spiritual teacher, leader, community and aspirant must look at this question of “how do I spiritually bypass human life?” if they want to live with any degree of integrity and maturity on this path.

I can humbly admit that for almost a decade on the path, I tried to out-meditate all my human problems.  I completely ignored my humanity.  I tried to transcend my sexual desire by being celibate. I ignored my relationships and lost good friends. I ignored my finances and had no money and no savings. I ignored my body and treated it like a workhorse for my teacher and turned it into a meditation machine. I didn’t feed myself properly and was just skin and bones. I was unkind to my inner child and human sense of self. Sure, I was one-pointed… a one-pointed jerk. I ignorantly believed if I could only achieve perfect enlightenment, it would all disappear.

After two years of being celibate, I quickly ended up in a confused and poorly matched relationship, and found myself becoming a father of two within less than a year. I had no parenting skills, no money, and no emotional maturity… but I was good at meditation and I gave everything to my spiritual path of transcendence!  Fortunately, God’s grace helped to snap me out of this deeply divided way of being.  My first daughter was born in a horse trough at home. As I brought her up out of the water and looked into her eyes for the first time, I saw God looking back at me; my heart burst wide open.  I fell in love with her and this world. My real spiritual path had finally begun—a path that was radically inclusive of life. It was a path which wanted to know God, not just in heaven or on the meditation cushion, but throughout Her manifest kingdom.  I knew that if I could not experience this absolute intimacy of Love everywhere within myself, in others, in heaven and Earth, then it was an incomplete path, an incomplete experience of Self or the Divine. I wanted this path which was fully undivided—truly nondual… and I had a long road ahead of me.

I wanted to live a path with heart, compassion and humanity, so I began to practice differently.  While I continued the work and practice with my spiritual teacher, I also committed to individual therapy for many years and continue to deeply value and attend psychotherapeutic work, as an integral part of the path. I learned to look at my shadow and then integrate it. I learned to let go of my super-proficient spiritual-bypassing nature. I learned how spiritual realization, insight and the dharma interacted with the world. I learned how to sit with emotional pain and love my inner child.  I learned how to be a father. I stopped asking how can I transcend my human self and disappear into God? and began to ask, is there Love in my heart?  How does Love respond to life? How does Love respond to my pain, the pain of others, to my children and relationships?  The beautiful thing I discovered is that the more I learned to love, the deeper God enveloped me.

What follows below is a link to a ground-breaking article from John Welwood, sharing his insights on how we all spiritually bypass, and why it is so important to bring this shadow to the light.