The ego is so slick. The moment you think you are its master, it actually has you in its latest hold. Alan Watts in fact said it well that the denial of the ego is the biggest ego trip going.
So how do we bring this clever enigma into a managed state? What is the magic formula for spotting and avoiding its traps? I don’t claim to have it but will theorize that two factors help someone reach a state of, dare I say, mastery: The willingness to change—in light of what is being discovered about the ego—and presence. Both of these involve slowing down, reflecting and some hard but rewarding work.
A couple years ago I read a book recommended by a yoga teacher during his class. He said, as we breathed deeply in a pose: “if there is one book that you read this year—in the next ten years!—let it be this.” I felt a strong impulse to follow this guidance and downloaded the book directly after class.
It's called Spiritual Bypassing, by Robert Augustus Masters. (His website is linked, which provides tons of free resources to the effect of the book.) The words in this book resonated within me, as if someone had me by the feet and stood me on my head and played me like a cello.
What it basically says is this: We are living in a time where spiritual outlets and havens—like dogma and churches, yoga practices and shalas—are becoming mainstream, and with that the mentality that “all is one” and “all is good” so long as I follow the rules. In which case, I can also break some and ask for forgiveness and put my life on a relative level of autopilot whereby I don't need to go through my feelings but can detach and go around them.
I've got news for everyone, feelings are wise and feelings are teachers --feelings are an essential part of our lives that, when bypassed, severely handicap not only our soul's journey but our connection with others (one in the same).
What Masters does is take a literary scalpel to the concepts that society is gradually terming reality so as to help people wake up inside of their own unique lives and winnow out their identities in the midst of loud messages advertising escapism into philosophical tropes that excuse or attempt to philosophize away our most authentic impulses.
From sexual abuse of the vulnerable in the name of proclaiming powerful “spiritual healing” positions, to narcissism, to dogmatic displays, to a close-minded dictator type being elected as president of the United States, to … well, anything that would be better ON our radar to beware about vs. tuned out--this book gets underneath and rocks the boat we've started to slumber on to say "hey, it's okay that it's NOT okay sometimes!"
Violence Begins at Home, So Quit Fighting with Your Soul
You can't remove or sacrifice your emotional body at the altar of society or others and expect your soul to find peace in that situation. Because when you do this, you basically create a war within yourself (in the name of pleasing some extreme collage of spiritual laws that command you to be okay about and happy with everything) and a situation whereby you start projecting your inner conflict on others because the pressure and tension becomes unbearable and, well, soul crushing!
I am a big one for thinking positive, joy, happiness, optimism, love, anything of the like. But, thanks to this book, I'm also aware of how these states are more directly and sustainably achieved as well as the danger of spiritually bypassing reality. While I DO see these positive life-affirming ideas as fundamental, I don't revel in them externally, to an escapist degree that blinds me to destructive patterns that need to be addressed between myself and other people or institutions. I commit to myself and my authentic experience to find a deeper sense of joy, a field of peace and calm beneath the comings and goings of stuff that sometimes triggers my lessons and must be processed and handled, in a very real way. The maintenance of boundaries again emerges as pivotal and continuous … a lifelong pursuit.
I teach yoga. I participate in centering practices daily. It is possible today to be present, love others deeply and meaningfully, be kind, be patient, be understanding AND passionately read up, become informed and help others become informed about the issues humanity faces.
Irony: Connect With You, Connect With the World
It is possible to live your moments with more intelligence and awareness around the context and circumstances everyone--animal and human animal--world-wide, faces today. Moreover, it is possible to forgive someone and never talk to or see them again. In fact, in cases of grievous abuse, this is the only way deep and authentic forgiveness can be reached because the recipient of abuse draws boundaries (often catalyzed by the admission and allowance of anger to arise and pass, without action so much as internally processing) based on their insistence on safety. From this place perpetual abuse (or perception thereof) stands no chance against the former victim's reclaimed power. And the person can move on into a future that is as clean as possible of the past.
My point? All of this takes time to digest, time we don't seem to have but can make. Little bits of time every day to reflect and go deep within ourselves. Time practicing presence.
Engage in mindful practices, chanting, anything that creates space to reflect. Action without some deep reflection, starting with ourselves, will get us nowhere beyond a repetitious cycle. What we long to get past cannot be wished away—we must identify it as the comfort zone and take baby steps, no matter how clumsy, in new directions.
And I quote the gifted human who inspired this post:
“When transcendence of our personal history takes precedence over intimacy with our personal history, spiritual bypassing is inevitable. To not be intimate with our past—to not be DEEPLY and THOROUGHLY acquainted with our conditioning and its originating factors—keeps it undigested and unintegrated and therefore very much present,”
― Robert Augustus Masters, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters