No mud, no lotus. Avoiding the trap of spiritual bypass.
This month I shared a yogic myth in class. Before I retell that myth here I’d like to point out that all the stories from this tradition are there to highlight the challenges we face as human beings. They are keys to the human psyche and symbolise how we can move through misperceptions that cause us suffering. I mention this in case the terms ‘Gods’ and ‘Demons’ may be triggering — here they simply represent frequencies of consciousness and are not to be taken literally. Also important to note, the Demons in the stories are not considered to be evil, but rather represent the darkness (or ignorance) in our world and in ourselves. The Gods represent the light. So they are both mentioned here in order to acknowledge the duality of human experience.
With that settled, here is the story…
One day all the Gods and Demons decided to come together and use their collective power to churn the milky ocean of Consciousness. Their desire was to discover the knowledge (and who knows what else) that lay within its depths. (Below is a picture to go with our story… And yes, they did use a huge serpent for the churning. The Gods and Demons were nothing if not resourceful)
So they began to churn and churn and churn and to their surprise the first thing to spring from the depths of the ocean was a huge blob of poison! It shot up and out and was heading to a large group of celestial beings who were cowering in fear. But Shiva, in his brilliance and power, jumped up and swallowed the poison and it neutralised in his throat.
Shaken but undeterred they continued to churn and churn and the next thing that came out was the silvery moon! Very happy with this outcome they proceeded again to churn and churn and out sprung some beautiful jewels! Realising that the deeper they go the better it gets, they churned faster and faster and faster and finally, out from the very bottom of the milky ocean, emerged Goddess Lakshmi. So incredibly beautiful and radiant was this Goddess that they all stopped and basked in her presence. Lakshmi held within her being the frequencies of abundance, beauty, fertility and, most importantly, LOVE. The Gods and Demons felt great satisfaction with their work as the world would now be a more beautiful and rich place with Lakshmi in it.
The moral of this myth is that most of us step into a spiritual practice like yoga and meditation because we are suffering on some level and want to get to the good stuff. We want Lakshmi; the radiance, abundance and love that will make us feel better in our skin. BUT what inevitably comes up first is… the poison. In contemplative practices like yoga and meditation we are churning the ocean of our own consciousness and the first thing we often meet is that which is unpleasant. We meet the very roots of what drives our pain and this can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable. The teaching here is to not stop at this point. The rest of the story tells us that through persistence we will come to a place of healing and great, great joy.
Lakshmi is often referred to as Padme. The lotus. And the lotus flower grows in some pretty stenchy and muddy water. So what we learn through our consistent practice of life and yoga, is; no mud, no lotus. Or another way to say it would be —no challenges and pain, no growth and removal of suffering.
It’s an important teaching in our present world climate because what has become popular is the tendency to do what’s called a ‘spiritual bypass’. Which is the using of our image as ‘spiritual’ to not go deeper into the stuff that is being projected back to us through our relationships and situations. Simply put, we try and skip around it. And we do that for one reason, and one reason only… To avoid PAIN. However, if we don’t go into our stuff and acknowledge, digest and heal it, then it will create even more pain. It will always be the driver of our life because what we resist, will persist.
Spiritual bypassing is big in the modern world of yoga. The rich teachings of this ancient practice are being lost in the world of fancy asana, getting a shredded body, and practices that serve the ego. We must remember — the postures are a map, not the destination. And if we get stuck going round and around on the map, we get nowhere.
We step onto the mat for so much more than twisting our bodies into poses. We step onto it to see and heal our stuff. We go through the uncomfortable rites of passage that come up in our practice in order to connect with Source and awaken to who we truly are.
Also important to acknowledge is that our practice sometimes won’t be enough. It can be a huge support and place to heal, absoluety. But accepting that we may need a different kind of support is valid and often necessary. My yoga practice lead me to a 12-step program, therapy, group therapy, kinesiology and energy healing. If I had said at any point along that journey, “I’m a yogi and practice asana and meditation and that’s all I need to do,” then I never would have received the incredible pay off that comes from doing the work in these other healing avenues.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no shame in owning we have stuff to work on and through. We are all here to grow in wisdom and love. And remember this… The bigger the stuff, the stronger the awakening!
I have been reading a book called, Spiritual Bypassing. When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters, by Robert August Masters. He refers to the many ways we can do a spiritual bypass. I’d strongly recommend reading this book as it dives deeper than I can possibly do here. But one thing he brings up I’d like to address. We have the tendency in our world to label some emotions ‘good’ and others ‘bad’. In truth, no emotion is good or bad. It just is. We can behave really badly as a result of our emotions, but the emotion itself is just a part of our human experience.
For example, an emotion like anger gets such a bad rap. But our anger can be very healthy if it allows us to create strong boundaries in relationships or to leave an unhealthy work situation. If we don’t let ourselves ‘do anger’ because we are spiritual beings, it’ll come out somewhere — usually as rage or passive aggressiveness. It would be the difference between saying, “That behaviour is unacceptable to me and needs to be addressed to move forward in our relationship” (healthy); the setting of your partner’s clothes on fire (not healthy — don’t do that); or silently punishing your partner (classic passive aggressive). By allowing ourselves the whole spectrum of our emotions, without judgement, they tend to spin less out of control and make us behave in ways we usually regret.
An important part of the myth above is that both the Gods and Demons come to seek the answers from the milky ocean of consciousness. We bring our light and our darkness into the work.
So, I’d like to invite you to really go there. Through the courageous stepping into, and the facing our ‘Demons’, there is so much beauty, abundance and love to discover, feel and live from. Just like the story highlights — the deeper we go, the better it gets!
Summed up beautifully by writer Gregory Boyle. He says…
No part of our messiness or hard wiring should be disparaged. Where we stand, in all our imperfections, is holy ground.
Yours in Yoga,