Spiritual Bypassing, Part 2: Blind Compassion and Compassionate Anger | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Spiritual Bypassing, Part 2: Blind Compassion and Compassionate Anger

(This is Part 2 of my review of Spiritual Bypassing by Robert Augustus Masters.  You can view Part 1 here, and you can also buy it through this pure-as-driven-snow non-affiliate link.)

For a long time, I harbored a belief that came from reading and listening to spiritual teachers.  The belief was that, when I feel upset, the best practice is to just “sit with the feeling” — to tune into the sensations in my body, and just let them pass away.  Don’t “react” to the upset by immediately lashing out at someone.

This kind of practice has done wonders for me when I’ve used it in meditation.  It’s helped me understand that, when I’m doing something solitary, I don’t need to run away from my task whenever a difficult thought or feeling comes up.  However, it was actually harmful for me to practice this while talking to another person.

Why?  Because my natural tendency, since long before I did any spiritual practice, has been to hold back my hurt or anger when I’m with someone, and try instead to understand what they’re going through.

I’d tell myself I was doing this out of concern for the other person, and sometimes this was true.  But sometimes it wasn’t — instead, it was because I was afraid of how they’d react if I told them how I felt.

When I discovered the spiritual practice of “not reacting,” I started using it as an excuse for my habit of avoiding conflict.  “Oh, it’s not because I’m afraid of hurting them or making them mad,” I’d tell myself.  “I’m just ‘sitting with the feeling,’ like I would in meditation.”

In other words, spirituality — at least, in this case — actually enabled my immature way of relating to the world, instead of helping me let go of it.

Anger Can Be Compassionate

A major theme of Spiritual Bypassing is how spiritual practice can sometimes enable unhealthy behaviors, and actually retard our personal growth.  The story I just told is a good example of what Robert calls “blind compassion.”

“Those of us who practice blind compassion,” writes Robert, “generally spiritualize our misguided tolerance and aversion to confrontation, confusing being loving with putting up with whatever anyone does and never judging them, no matter what.”  Not only does this allow others to abuse us, but more importantly, it isn’t really compassionate toward them.

Sometimes, as Robert points out, we need our anger to get a compassionate message across.  If I’m yelling at you and putting you down, for example, it may not help me for you to respond in a soft, understanding way.  If you tell me “it sounds like you’re angry, and I get where you’re coming from,” I may decide — in my self-righteous rage — that I’m “winning,” and press the attack.

But suppose, says Robert, that you instead “meet me with a force of equivalent intensity, stopping me in my tracks with a ‘Stop!’ that is as fiery as it is caring.”  If you do this, “you might not appear caring,” but “I can feel it as you interrupt my neurotic ritual.”

In other words, the intensity you bring can actually help me see how much you care, and snap me out of my old habit of being mean to control my environment.

So What’s Left?

This isn’t to say that spiritual practice is always harmful.  In my view, spirituality, and maybe personal development generally, are really about getting intimate with, and getting access to, all parts of ourselves – what Robert calls “the cultivation of intimacy with all that we are.”

If we’re afraid of our anger, for instance, our spiritual practices can help us to fully allow that fear and speak our truth, rather than fleeing from the fear as we usually would.  Some people, on the other hand, have no trouble getting angry, but expressing affection feels “weak” or “cheesy” to them — and spiritual practice can help them to fully allow that feeling of cheesiness and give somebody a hug.  :)

I’d definitely recommend this book, especially if you’ve wondered (as I have) how to integrate your spiritual practice into the rest of your life in a healthy way.

24 thoughts on
Spiritual Bypassing, Part 2: Blind Compassion and Compassionate Anger

  1. Patricia

    Chris,
    Very good summation and articulation of the author’s lessons – very clear. I am reminded of two ideas of behavior that come to mind:
    1. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg in Nonviolent Communication or Compassionate Communication talks about that one must separate from what the angry person is saying and take care of their need first so that the person can then truly hear what you have to say and how that makes you feel…it is not a loud way or harsh way of speaking, but it is a way of being in your anger at a better time for truly mediating the situation. I felt very strong when I was practicing his communications style…

    2. I am now thinking about all the dreamy people I have met who are very peaceful and appear to be very compassionate because they meditate all the time and yet they are disconnected to their feelings…When these folks are parenting small children, the children often act out their angers and other feelings for them….These are folks that tend to drive me away from them and when they are on committees tie up a committee with words but never their deeds or actions….I don’t know if I am describing them well enough, but I always feel as though they would like others to feel unenlightened and inferior…

    I think being true and honest with feelings is an important part of coming to love and share truly of oneself.

    Thank you for sharing this post and for your fun words on my blog :)

  2. Wilma Ham

    Chris, can you wear a wig and join WomenLikeMe? THIS is soooo good. It is in daily life where the rubber hits the road that we have to deal with all that is, me, what I think and feel and the other people’s behavior in a way that works for all of us. ‘People pleasing me’ too kept anger and annoyance in because I too was afraid of conflict. It might have been a great way to avoid conflict with others BUT not within me, I certainly was NOT pleasing me with my cowardliness and I can see how annoying it must have been for other people.
    I am now learning to say what is so for me in an appropriate way and not becoming too aggressive, but it is taken a while and I need a lot of encouragement to practice and support to not feel guilty or upset afterwards. I also love what Patricia says about people who never really ‘show up’ but keep themselves hidden behind that veneer of calmness, that is also a driver for me to come clean. It all comes down to our inability to be intimate, sharing the good and the bad. xox Wilma

  3. Sara

    Chris,

    I really enjoyed this post because it resonates so much with me, for a different reason. Being honest, I am a person who reacts too quickly to some situations, often out of fear. When this happens, my annoyance may spill over into my relationship with JC, my boyfriend. JC is more like you in many ways…he’s easy going and gentle.

    However, one time we talked about this and I actually suggested to him to use the word “STOP” when I being angry or taking something out on him. He did this and it really worked. It made me freeze for a second and in that second, I was able to see what I was doing.

    We’ve continued this. I now acknowledge that fear often triggers my over-reacting to something. It’s something I have to work on. However, JC doesn’t let get away with this anymore and I’m pleased because I think I’m becoming a better person because of it:~)

  4. Jarrod - Cultivating Heroes

    It is interesting how things like fear also manifest as thoughts as you noticed. Personally I take the practice of letting go of emotions in the body and also apply it to thoughts in the mind. I find that they are just another manifestation of an intricate web.

    Your automatic thoughts are just as worthy of letting go as the emotions. Doing this I found I could continue the spiritual practice while interacting with others and learning about myself. Clearing away all restrictions to intuitive action

  5. Giulietta Nardone

    Hey Chris,

    Happy someone finally mentioned this! Being calm 24/7 just doesn’t feel human to me. And I suspect a lot of perpetually calm folks are ripping at times on the inside.

    The goal is to be human, not always in control or always out of control. I’m a passionate person and get all fired up about things that seem unjust to me – like people trying to hide things to over control the situation.

    Be you! It’s always less scary in the end to be the real you than to be the pretend you – We need to get rid of the Stepford world!

    Thanks. Good post! Giulietta, Inspirational Rebel

  6. Karl Staib - Work Happy Now

    Yes, I have many times thought of anger as a bad thing. It really isn’t. When anger is how we feel then we should be able to express it freely. We don’t want to over do it, fly off the handle and start throwing dishes, but we do want to show people when we are upset. Emotions are such a fine balance and I can see why we try to ignore them when we are afraid of what other people think. It’s bad to build a relationships from this lie. We need to be honest and show people how we feel in a respectful way.

    Thanks Chris!

  7. Davina

    Chris, I found my perspective changing as I read this post.

    I found myself pondering that if we just practiced being human we wouldn’t have to practice being spiritual (as an escape). I was reading Part one of this series and can identify with the fact that a lot of folk (myself included) turn to meditation to *avoid* the pain.

    Meditation and other spiritual practices would come more naturally, I have a feeling, if they weren’t simply being “used” with motives other than being spiritual… motives to resist the pain. And the pain comes from human perspectives people choose to take. Thanks Chris. You took my mind on quite a journey here.

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patricia — I definitely resonated with what you said about people who seem to be identified with being “spiritual” and accepting toward others — sometimes it seems like their “spiritual” way of being is a cloaked form of aggression against people, since it allows them to “take the high ground” by expressing anger only through subtle condescension.

  9. Chris - Post author

    Hi Wilma — yes, I’m definitely well-acquainted with the temptation to use spirituality or nonviolent communication or some other personal development belief system to avoid conflict — and, like you say, maybe the real spiritual practice for some people is actually learning to be with the guilt that comes with expressing anger.

  10. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evan — yes, Robert definitely has a way with words — initially when I read his work, my reaction was “I want scholarship, not poetry” — coming from the part of me that viciously rejects my own intuitive, “touchy-feely,” artistic side. :)

  11. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sara — that sounds like a useful insight, seeing that your reactions often come from a place of fear — I’ve noticed that in myself as well, that when aggression comes up inside me it usually comes from a fear that, if I don’t “save face,” somehow I’ll be destroyed. I love the exercise you’re doing with JC — it sounds like JC also gets the chance to practice setting boundaries, in addition to the work you’re doing.

  12. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jarrod — yes, I think that’s valuable knowledge — that often releasing tension in some part of the body can also change our patterns of thinking, which defies the conventional way of thinking that we’ve got a “mind” and a “body” with little relationship with each other. I like the way Robert puts it actually — roughly, he says that we are not a spirit in a body — we are spirit expressed as a body.

  13. Chris - Post author

    Hi Karl — I like that way of putting it — if the person we’re in a relationship with doesn’t get to see our anger, we don’t have a complete relationship with that person, because we are hiding one of our parts from them.

  14. Chris - Post author

    Hi Davina — I’m glad you found this useful and I like the recasting of spiritual practices as, ideally, ways to practice being human. And it’s interesting because the people I’ve talked to who (in my judgment) seem the most deeply invested in “spiritual bypassing” actually don’t want to be human — they want to realize their true nature as consciousness, or light, or something like that — and in fact what I imagine they need the most is to embrace all of their humanity. I think meditation, shorn of any spiritual labels we may put on it, is actually a great way to do this, because it allows us to practice just being human in this moment without trying to be more than we are by making more money, finding “the right person,” etc.

  15. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

    Thanks Chris, for sharing your personal experience in away that helped me to see one of my own communication practices and how it gets in the way of true intimacy. Often I will err on the extreme edge of directness by sharing too much that has yet to fully form in my own mind or I’ll go completely the other way and share everything but one key point. By withholding that point I’m really making a judgment that the other isn’t willing or ready to receive it or that I’m not ready to receive the consequences of sharing it. You’ve helped me to see the truth of my own discernment; now I just have to match that with the willingness to not share too soon but also not withhold once I know what I believe. It’s a fine line but one worth considering.

  16. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. I definitely need to see if I can get a copy of this book .. as I had one of those experiences you were describing last week .. where I’m the third party really – ie I act on behalf of my mother .. as her daughter-guardian-speaker-carer .. on thinks that in my opinion any normal person would deal with differently – there was a flood in her room – that’s not the problem .. the management of the aftermath is … anyway enough for now ..

    I’m joining Wilma’s “Women Like Me” .. and I’m sure I’ll learn a huge amount there ..

    Thanks – I’ll be here more often I hope now .. have a good week .. from a soggy damp England! We need the rain though … Hilary

  17. Chris - Post author

    Hi Tom — I’m glad this was helpful to you. I can definitely relate to managing the other person’s experience by not sharing something I don’t think they’re ready to hear, and how frustrated I end up feeling because I didn’t share it. It’s also been an important practice for me to acknowledge when I don’t know what I feel or want right now — that feels really solid for me, particularly when I do it in response to the everyday “how are you?”

  18. Chris - Post author

    Hi Hilary — I’m not sure I fully understand the incident you’re describing, but it sounds like it was intense for you, and I’m glad this article helped give you some perspective on it. Wilma is definitely serious about personal transformation and I’ll bet her program will have some great insights.

  19. Jannie Funster

    I guess “STOP in the name of love applies here?”

    I still think your book’s best. When I get “yucky” feelings I just remind myself to breathe into the area of my body that is tense or jumbled, and that the yuckiness will pass. And it does. Anger tells me it’s time to shift my focus.

    xo

  20. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jannie — who would have thought the Shirelles or whoever it was were so well-versed in depth psychology or whatever it is that we’re talking about? :) I’m so grateful for your support of Inner Productivity — I’m actually completing an audio course that has slightly different content and I’ll be passing the advance “Alpha” 0.5 version your way shortly!

  21. Evita

    Hi Chris

    Thank you for sharing these parts and expanding upon these topics further. It sounds like a great book! I know there is definitely a lot of misinformation or better yet confusion when it comes to topics in spirituality, because I think a lot of people want the magic bullet of having things always work out.

    We are unique right, so what works for one may not always be the same and best for another. In the end, I think one of the greatest things any of us can do for ourselves is not shut ourselves down, but be open to exploring ourselves and going deeper within. To know the self, may be painful at first, but it also expands our being on so many levels in a positive way.

    As for anger, yes it can be compassionate indeed. A parent may get angry seeing a child hurting themselves and thus has to say something perhaps elevated in emotion to get the message across.

  22. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evita — yes, I think the observation that everyone’s mind and body is unique is very important — what this suggests to me, at least, is that self-development in its highest form is about becoming aware of how we’re creating our suffering in our own individual ways, rather than giving us a list of 50 quick happiness tips.

  23. Chris - Post author

    Hi Giulietta — oops, your comment is now free from the evil clutches of the spam filter. I like how you put it when you talk about “looking calm to try to control the situation.” I get the sense that, when we try to manage our environment in that kind of way, we actually end up frustrating people around us because they don’t get to see who we actually are and they feel manipulated.

Comments are closed.