Continuing in this series about the personality, we explore the concept of “spiritual bypassing” and how the ego uses spiritual language and tools as a defense not true enlightenment. In this episode we discuss:
- The Spiritual Persona
- What spiritual bypassing looks like and how does it limit your life;
- Working through spiritual bypassing
Watch the next Soul Session in this series on our YouTube Channel.
Debra Maldonado 00:07
Hello, welcome back to another episode of Soul Sessions with Creative Mind, we are continuing our series on personality.
Robert Maldonado 00:17
Today we’re talking about spiritual bypassing, the mask of spirituality.
Debra Maldonado 00:23
We’re going to talk about what is spiritual bypassing, how to recognize it in yourself, that it is actually a natural part of living a spiritual life, that’s going to be a shocker. We’re gonna give you signs of spiritual bypassing, how to gain real traction in your spiritual growth, how to stop falling into the pitfalls of the bypassing, so you can really make change and evolve in your life. What is spiritual bypassing, Rob? How would you describe it?
Robert Maldonado 00:58
I’d say it’s when the ego hijacks our spiritual work for its own agenda.
Debra Maldonado 01:04
And what’s the ego’s agenda?
Robert Maldonado 01:08
The ego’s agenda is always to keep the status quo. Its reasoning is very simple. It says if you’ve survived doing what you’ve been doing, even though you’re not happy or you might even be miserable, it’s worked for you to some extent, because it’s helped you survive.
Debra Maldonado 01:28
Is it fair to say that the ego’s agenda is to avoid change? If you’re trying to grow spiritually, the ego will actually hijack the spiritual work for its own game basically, not get you to evolve. It’s sneaking inside, using your language, to do that. It’s really using spirituality as a defense mechanism.
Robert Maldonado 01:54
Absolutely. The ego is a master of defense mechanisms. That is maybe the definition of ego, the function. If you think of it as an app that we have in our mind, an application just like on your phone, its primary function is to help you survive, help you keep the status quo, stay where you’re at, because it’s worked for you.
Debra Maldonado 02:22
We tend to make spiritual explanations for why things are tough in our life versus really facing the tough things.You had mentioned it being a natural part of spiritual life, what do you mean by that?
Robert Maldonado 02:42
We all start as ego, as persona. In Jungian terms, the persona is the sense of self that we present to the world. We say this is who I am. It helps us for ourselves as well, to have that identity of this is who I am, this is the role I play in life, or the different roles, the different aspects that we play.
Debra Maldonado 03:07
When I first started learning spiritual work, I was this ordinary person. Then I started reading self help and going to spiritual retreats and then thinking “I’m a spiritual person now.” You create a spiritual persona as you start on the path, which is really the first step in any spiritual path.
Robert Maldonado 03:30
There’s no other way to do it. You can’t go from being over identified with the ego persona, and then all of a sudden you’re a spiritual person. It’s a process of transformation, like Jung would say, and that process requires us to first make all the mistakes basically, get all the mistakes out of the way. Spiritual bypassing is one of those, or probably the biggest mistake that we make.
Debra Maldonado 04:04
How it played out for me is that I have this high achiever needs to do, to be the best at everything, determined, straight A student type of pattern and conditioning. That conditioning, you’re saying, is that as we take on that spiritual persona, our conditioning will actually play out our spiritual growth in the way that we’ve been conditioned. For me it was I have to be perfect. I have to be the most intuitive person in the group, I was competing with everyone to be the best because in academia that was my reward, getting the A, getting the best score. It’s like you’re scoring yourself on your spiritual growth and how you’re doing and then when I was falling backwards, I would be in these groups and I would hide that I was not acting in alignment with the teachings. You’re fooling yourself. But that’s sort of what happens is that your ego has a pattern. Whatever new thing we bring into our life, whether it’s a business, or spiritual development, or relationship, we’re bringing in those old patterns into it.
Robert Maldonado 05:15
If you notice, in most spiritual practices, the teachings are saying you’re going to have to work with delusion, you’re going to have to work with ego, you’re going to have to work with anger, jealousy, all these things. They’re not saying that because they know better, and poor you, you’re just a lonely person that’s going to have to do this. They’re saying that because that’s what they had to go through to reach the summit of their spiritual work. Essentially, you have to go through this, this is not an option. You can’t go from identifying as a persona ego to really living a spiritual life, you have to undergo that process of dealing with your anger, dealing with your past conditioning, all that great stuff.
Debra Maldonado 06:11
What are some signs of spiritual bypassing? We mentioned anger, you’re not really angry. Culturally, we all have anger in our shadow because it’s not acceptable to be angry all the time. There are people that are angry, and they use that as their defense as a persona. But for spiritual people, it’s like a taboo to be angry, like “don’t lose your temper.”
Robert Maldonado 06:42
That kind of false sense of peacefulness, tranquility that we see sometimes people adopt as their persona. They’re very peaceful, they don’t get flustered by anything. They’re not angry at anyone, they can’t allow themselves to be those things.
Debra Maldonado 07:05
It sounds like you’re not spiritual, it doesn’t fit into that persona.
Robert Maldonado 07:09
That if you’re angry, if you’re upset or passionate about something, you’re not spiritual.
Debra Maldonado 07:17
Where does that come from? Because Jesus was angry at the tax collectors at the temple, he was tossing the tables around and going like “This is not what I’m teaching here.”
Robert Maldonado 07:29
If you think of the cartoon version of a spiritual person, that’s the persona. Jung mentions this in one of his writings, he says people will do the most ridiculous things to appear this way. They’ll recite the scriptures, they’ll wear beads and turbans and stand on their head, whatever they have to do, in order to avoid facing their real, true selves, their shame.
Debra Maldonado 07:59
We are talking about this in organized religion too, not just spiritual people that are exploring different spiritual thoughts. We’re really talking about anyone who approaches God or the divine in a way.
Robert Maldonado 08:14
In your book you were mentioning, Mother Teresa was admitting in her writings she had a lot of doubts.
Debra Maldonado 08:25
But God forbid she puts it out there she’s doubting anything, because people would be shocked. It was a thing she had to hide. She had the spiritual persona but I don’t know if she was bypassing in a way.
Robert Maldonado 08:46
That’s what I’m saying, everyone has to go through it. It doesn’t matter who you are — the Pope, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama. If you’re genuine in your spiritual pursuit, you’re going to have to go through this, this is not an option. This is not something anybody’s essentially doing wrong. It’s part of the test. You have to pass this test. Are you just going to create a spiritual persona or are you genuinely going to go beyond that?
Debra Maldonado 09:21
Face your shadow and then go into the true spirituality which has already been there. It’s not something you have to manifest or evolve to, it’s actually already there, you’re already enlightened. What we’re really doing is taking away the part or peeling behind the part of us that forgot that we’re enlightened. Another thing that I see is using spiritual superiority to hide insecurities.
Robert Maldonado 09:46
If you think of some of the spiritual principles, it does imply that if you’re doing spiritual work, you’re going up the mountain and you’re leaving the valley below. Some people use that to hide their insecurities by saying “I’m spiritual, I’m on a spiritual quest, therefore I can’t get my hands dirty, I can’t do hard work or get into the muck of life because it’s below me.”
Debra Maldonado 10:19
We are thinking that I’m spiritual, I have all this knowledge. Then there’s these minions in the world that are unenlightened. The judgmentalness you’re projecting onto other people that are not as enlightened, we’ve all have done it. We think we’re so superior because we have this higher knowledge. But when we’re projecting and making someone less than us, that’s your ego just hijacking it.
Robert Maldonado 10:45
One of my favorites which I used to use all the time was this idea that you’re detached from the world. Detachment means you don’t care, you’re not involved in the world. The literal translation is non attachment, meaning you care and you’re involved. It simply means that you’re not working for the results of your actions, which is very different interpretation than detachment, which means pushing away, rejecting, not doing your part because you think you’re spiritual.
Debra Maldonado 11:30
It’s like that idea of using spiritual knowledge to avoid discipline and commitment in work. I see this a lot when I first started working in the coaching industry, and actually I was thinking this way. What’s the easy way to make a business, I don’t want to do all this marketing like normal people do. I’m a spiritual person, I have the powers of the universe. Let me just create something easy, let me hold it in my mind. I think the ego loved it because I didn’t get anywhere because I was waiting for some miracle to just save me, one day I’ll be aligned, and the money will just show up in my bank account or the check will arrive in the mail. There is something to having the unlimited powers that are in the psyche. But the thing is, if you’re acting from ego, you’re not able to access them. I was acting spiritual but I was waiting for that Christmas gift, or that overnight success. I was actually using that spiritual knowledge to resist dealing with human problems, dealing with getting a business up. I mean I still did it but I just kept thinking something’s wrong. This is so hard, things should be easy because I’m a spiritual person, I should be able to manifest quickly. Those of you who are listening that are in trying to build a business and you’re very spiritual, there’s nothing wrong with hard work, there’s nothing wrong with having discipline, facing difficult situations, dealing with difficult family members, dealing with difficult people in your group, your service, people that you serve in your community. You can’t lock people away and say I don’t want to deal with you because I’m spiritual and I like to surround myself in a bubble of calm. That’s really the ego’s defense to keep people away and keep you away from true intimacy. Another one, which I think is huge, this you brought to light for me when I first met you, we talked about the shadow, we talked about non-dual Eastern philosophy, believing that for spiritual practices you have to be all light and all positive. Everything has to be good. There can’t be any bad. There’s no room for badness in spirit, like spiritual people don’t have emotion.
Robert Maldonado 13:54
What is it that Jung says?
Debra Maldonado 13:58
He says one doesn’t become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
Robert Maldonado 14:05
He’s stating it very clearly, it’s not about positive thinking and moving towards the light all the time. Actually, there’s a lot more growth in moving towards the shadow, moving towards what scares us, moving towards the unsavory parts of ourselves.
Debra Maldonado 14:29
I think when we have this spiritual persona, we want to be good, we want to feel enlightened, we don’t want to look at the parts that are not as brilliant or human, that takes us down a peg or think about the shadow, things that are morally unacceptable to the persona. If the ego’s persona is the spiritual person, then what doesn’t fit into that — it’s all different because I think every culture, every spiritual discipline has a moral code. We play into that, like we’re not allowed to do this. One of the biggest things I’ve seen with spiritual people, especially spiritual business owners, is they feel guilty taking money because they feel like it’s not spiritual, God gave them the gift or the universe gave them the gift, they should be giving that gift and helping everybody and not charging any money because that’s of the world. There’s this conflict between the material world and the spiritual world. The ego loves that. It’s like “Stay away from money. It’s not good.” Making money distasteful or success is distasteful, you should be just walking the earth and helping people for free, with bare feet, like Mother Teresa. She really gave up everything to do her work, which I’m not saying is a bad thing. But if everyone did it, who would make money and pay the bills.
Robert Maldonado 16:06
The spiritual reality is that money is neutral. Like everything in the world, it’s neutral. It’s us who give it this value, we can use it to build bombs or we can use it to build hospitals. It’s our mind, it’s something we created, it’s not a given evil out in the world. When it is interpreted in that respect, as if it is a power unto itself, that’s idolatry already, that’s projecting the power out into these external forms. But again, it’s something that we have to trip on continuously so that we cultivate our spirituality. Every mistake that we make, every time we go down the dead end, we’re learning to purify our awareness, our consciousness becomes more itself.
Debra Maldonado 17:13
It’s not that everyone should just not care and charge \ extraordinarily expensive things because money doesn’t matter, I’m just going to do that and I shouldn’t have any guilt. We want to regulate and say “Is this fair?” There’s something about the ego that wants fairness, and I think there’s some elements of the ego that keeps us from doing very destructive things. We want to make sure that we’re in balance and not just saying “I can’t give you a price, tell me what you should charge.” I see a lot of spiritual coaches say “Just tell me what you can charge. Let’s do a sliding scale.” It’s wanting to help everyone. I love that kindness and generosity, but it doesn’t help you because you’re not able to pay your bills and do the things you want to do. Maybe you want to travel, maybe your soul wants to experience more of something in life. But if you’re not allowing yourself to receive and experience the resources that money can give. It can give you a chance to go to another workshop for yourself, or hire a coach, or take a trip to Bali or Tibet and enrich your spiritual growth, or reach more people by buying advertising, there’s a lot of things you can do. It’s about being resourceful. We’re always going to feel a little guilty, especially people that are coaches and any kind of service person, we do it because we want to serve. There’s that conflict of “I love this already. Why should I charge, it’s a weird thing.” But do they have a sliding scale for Volvos and Mercedes? No, you gotta pay. I went through all of this because all my friends were doing pro bono work or charging dirt cheap. Then they couldn’t pay their bills. They were struggling. How is this helping? How is this representing the divine, if you’re in lack and don’t have the resources to take care of your family and all those things? Eventually you could be exhausted or take another job and work in a day job and do your spiritual work on the weekends. Imagine if you can make it your full time job, so there’s a lot there. But the bypassing itself will say you can’t. The ego doesn’t want you to be successful. It wants you to stay where you are. It’s going to use your spiritual knowledge and your spiritual words to say “That’s not a good thing.”
Robert Maldonado 19:54
Another one comes up when we teach about Maya, this illusory nature of the world. Often when we’ve been in spiritual bypassing or see other people adopt that spiritual bypassing, people take it as “If it’s not real that means I can do anything. I can just forget about the external reality and not focus on that.” But that’s not really what it means. What it means is that it’s inviting us to see this external world, this manifested universe as the divine itself. There is no difference between the appearance, the way the things that we see in the universe and the essence of it, which is consciousness, it is the identical thing. It’s simply saying “The appearance is showing you that it is consciousness. Because if you think it’s a material substance separate from awareness, you’re in delusion.”
Debra Maldonado 21:10
The Divine is in everything material. It’s about connecting that rejecting the world and saying there’s another place I’m going to go that’s better. It’s not terrible like this terrible world, I’m going to go to heaven, or this other plane of consciousness that doesn’t have these problems. We’re in this beautiful miracle that we are in every day. But the ego will make it wrong. It’ll always try to make it wrong. To wrap up, how do we gain real spiritual traction, what can someone do when they fall into spiritual bypassing? Like I said, we all do, it’s a natural part of growth and evolution. One of the things you talk about a lot is this idea of staying committed to one method. There’s so much out there on the internet right now, where everyone’s just picking and choosing their little smorgasbord of personal development. I did that for a while. What we’re doing is shallow holes.
Robert Maldonado 22:15
The idea is, if you want to dig a well, you have to dig deep, you have to stay focused in one specific area to get to the water. Changing methods, changing paths, changing religions or spiritual practices is like digging shallow holes, you start one in one place, you get to the hard part and you can use it as a spiritual bypass. This is too hard, it requires sacrifice, discipline, focus, it’s uncomfortable, I’m going to go to the next one.
Debra Maldonado 22:55
The ego goes “This isn’t for us. Look at this one. It says I can go for a weekend and be enlightened in one day. Just one hour, clear everything.” Then your ego’s like “That’s really cool, let’s do that.”
Robert Maldonado 23:09
The way to counteract that is to stay focused, choose one path, one method. The Upanishads say all methods lead to the same truth. But the paths are called by many different names. That’s the reality. There are many different paths, many different ways to get to the mountaintop. But if you’re always switching, changing, you’ll never get there. But if you stay focused and stay on the same path, even when it gets uncomfortable and difficult, then you’ll reach the top.
Debra Maldonado 23:51
To continue with your mountaintop metaphor, if you try to do it on your own, there’s a million divergent paths. Have you ever gone hiking? We did this once in New York, and we got totally lost. Or maybe it was Colorado, I can’t remember. We didn’t have the right map, we were trying to figure it out. It took us forever to get back to our car. It was just the wrong way. Had we had a guide, that guide’d tell us to keep walking, or face the bowls, or take this route versus that route. A guide is someone who’s already been in that path, who’s an expert in the path and the method you chose. He will be able to take you there faster than you try to. We’re all trying to go around, avoiding the difficult part. Then you keep ending up at that same wall over and over and over again. The guide’s gonna be there when you face that wall again, and he’s gonna say “It’s not a big wall. You can do this.” This is how you climb that wall. This is how you break through that wall. That guide will take you over that top. For anything that you want to change in your life, whether it’s spiritual or business or relationships, I find that when I was trying to do it myself, I was so lost. I was what I call rearranging the furniture. The spiritual bypasser will say “I guess this wasn’t meant for me. I wasn’t meant to start a business. I wasn’t meant to find love.” I heard that so many times. “I wasn’t meant to take this path. I’m going to take a break now. I’m going to ask my guide, my inner wisdom, what’s next.” You’re staying lost because you don’t have someone to say what you’re experiencing is normal. This is your ego calling you out on it. It’s so hard when it’s in your own mind to break free, because your ego disguises itself as this wise voice. “I have this incredible insight for you, you shouldn’t be doing this anymore.”
Robert Maldonado 26:09
It is a form of resistance to say “I’m going to do it on my own.” Of course, we’re all smart, we can study and learn on our own. But almost all traditions say you need a guide, you need a guru, you need a teacher, you need someone who is there for you, a mentor. Somebody to hold your feet to the fire when the going gets tough because the tendency is to quit, to run.
Debra Maldonado 26:41
There’s more reasons to quit than reasons to keep going. Be aware of that. Digging those shallow holes, that spiritual voice saying “Everything happens for a reason, this isn’t meant for you, this must not be the right time for you.” The ego will find a way in leaving you signs. We talk about the symbolic life it’ll use. “That’s a sign I shouldn’t do that.” Or “I saw a black cat cross the road.” You start getting into superstition and going off to the wrong track. Remember, your ego’s designed to keep you the same. Whenever you make change, you are going to try to use spiritual bypassing, that mechanism in your psyche, to stay stuck. It’ll seem so reasonable and so spiritual. Advice you’re giving yourself, but it ends up costing you time and costing you your happiness eventually, because on the other side of all those challenges is what you really want. I really love this conversation. We have another one next week where we’re going to end our series on personality. We’re going to talk about what does it mean to create the true personality? If we’re not the persona, how do we embody who we really are as our personality on the conscious level? We’ll see what Jung has to say about it. Thank you so much for joining us. Remember to watch out for that spiritual bypassing and you’ll be going straight to whatever goal you have. Take care. Bye bye.