Spiritual Bypassing, Part 3: Emotions Are Like Unidentifiable Veggies | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Spiritual Bypassing, Part 3: Emotions Are Like Unidentifiable Veggies

I didn’t predict that I’d write a third part in this series, but as I continue thinking about this book (Robert Masters’ Spiritual Bypassing), more and more important awareness comes up that I want to share.

I think one of the most important points Robert makes is that we suffer a lot less in life when we stop “expecting spirituality to make us feel better.”  But spirituality isn’t the only area where it’s helpful to drop that expectation, Robert says.  We’ll also reduce our suffering when we release our careers, relationships, and basically everything else from the obligation to “pick us up when we’re down.”

The Painful Pursuit of Pick-Me-Ups

This way of looking at life was hard for me to wrap my mind around when I first came across it.  It’s very alien to the way we live in our culture.  I think most of us learned, practically from birth, that life is all about looking for “pick-me-ups.”

You “feel bad,” we’re taught, when you aren’t making enough money, you haven’t “found the one,” you haven’t “obeyed” “Rule #1 for a flat stomach,” or you don’t have some other person or thing.  But if you try hard enough, the story goes, you’ll acquire the “right” people and things, and you’ll never “feel bad” again.

This isn’t true only when it comes to jobs and relationships.  Most of us also think this way when it comes to “minor” pursuits.  Take blogging.  How many of us are in the habit of surfing blogs looking for a “pick me up” — for inspiring words, snark, or grammatically challenged kittens to “make us feel better”?

To many of us, I think, this model of “life as a perpetual quest for pick-me-ups” seems like the only possible way to live.  It doesn’t occur to us that anything else is available.  But what Robert, and spiritual practice at its best, offer us is a radical challenge to the conventional wisdom.

A “Veggie Connoisseur” Approach to Living

What if, instead of scouring the blogosphere for pick-me-ups whenever we’re “feeling bad” — tense, sluggish, sad, or something else — we chose to sit and get intimate with that feeling?  What if we got in the habit of turning our attention toward those unwelcome sensations, rather than seeing them as a problem and frantically grasping for the mouse when they arise?

This practice, I think, is somewhat like becoming a “connoisseur” of emotions and sensations, as if they were different kinds of wine.  Each feeling that comes up in the body has its own unique “bouquet” — whether it’s tart, sweet, sharp, “dusky,” or something else.  Of course, it’s a little different from wine tasting, because we don’t get to choose the sensations we feel.  But that’s all part of the variety.

Another good analogy would be Patricia’s story about getting random baskets of vegetables from her agriculture co-op.  Sometimes, she can’t even tell what kinds of veggies they are.  But being an adventurous spirit, she eats them anyway.

This sounds more fun to me than eating asparagus, or even something exotic-sounding like bok choy or jicama, every week.  What if we did the same when it comes to our emotions — welcoming each of them as if it were an intriguing new veggie that just arrived on the doorstep?

When we let go of our need to “fix” our “bad feelings,” I think, and instead learn to savor every experience that comes our way, we’re doing spiritual work in its highest form.  As Robert puts it, “spirituality ultimately means no escape, no need for escape, and utter freedom through limitation and every sort of difficulty.”

16 thoughts on
Spiritual Bypassing, Part 3: Emotions Are Like Unidentifiable Veggies

  1. Patty - Why Not Start Now?

    Hi Chris – I’m finally having a chance to catch up on my blog reading, and I really enjoyed this entire series. This line you quote from the book immediately captured me: we look to “find a safety from the more brutal dimensions of life that we crave.” What an incredible insight into yearning. I do think we long for those parts that are brutal and in shadow, because walking towards them is a step on the path to wholeness. But it’s so tough to understand or articulate that; so much is operating at an unconscious level. You’ve done a stellar job here exploring this. And I know exactly what I’m craving on my late-night surfing excursions – a feeling of connection, of community. And it never works. Like you say, it’s way better when I step back and look inside at that deep longing.

  2. Evan

    Hmm. I agree about not trying to ‘fix’ our emotions. But I do think pain is there to indicate that something needs fixing – the something not the pain.

  3. Patricia

    Thank you for the luv in this post…and for your good words on my blog today.

    I am just confronting emotion after emotion these days, just like the veggies because I want to find my passion and work from there. I guess I am playing a game of name that emotion with myself…and sometimes it is layer upon layer of peeling back to discover the core…

    Well I read Tess’ blog yesterday and some of a new book I am reviewing for a company last night and your post this morning…and ah ha…I found it! and it is very painful…but now I can sort it out and hopefully move forward…

    Here’s the gist: I want everyone to know that I am not a dumby and that our financial crisis is not caused because I did not do what I was supposed to do – and I would like some affirmation that yes indeed you did handle your family money correctly and maybe with a bit of finesse….and now I am STUCK resenting the wall street boys club and the big corporations for making me have to start all over again and learn another way of doing it and paying off this debt on my credit card….I got the emotions, now I just need to work out the recovery and the lesson…Ah Ha!

    Thanks – this was great timing for me!

  4. Sara

    I have mixed feeling about this. I mean I agree, in general, that we can’t fix things by looking outside of ourselves, but I also think that sometimes we get help from outside sources. Since I don’t meditate (and I know you recommend learning), outside sources help me.

    For example, when I’m really struggling with a feeling and I can’t seem to get clarity about it, I will visit sites that calm me and remind me to sit quietly and listen. I will also use music, exercises and other things to assist me at getting to the feeling.

    Don’t laugh, but somehow this makes me think of the Dog Whisperer. I sometimes watch this program. He always talks about getting the dog in a calm submissive state so that you can work with the dog. Well, sometimes I think this true of me:~) I have to get myself into that calm submissive state so that I can pay attention to whatever is bugging me.

    Very interesting post. Now I need to go back and read the rest of the series:~)

  5. Evita

    Hi Chris

    I loved the photo! :) and like Patricia I just started on a local farm food share a week ago, and was pleasantly surprised to see all sorts of veggies in the baskets that I have never seen or heard of before, or known their names – the one in your photo included ;)

    So I really relate to what you are saying here in many ways. I think emotions are an important aspect of our nature and they should be embraced. However, I also think that conscious actions in as much of our life as possible, lead to many positive emotions.

    We don’t always need fixing, sometimes, we just need to let consciousness in to see the situation with new eyes, and some broader clarity I think.

  6. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patty — I can definitely relate to that desire for community when I’m checking out blogs — and, for me, it may work temporarily (I imagine it does for you, too, sometimes) — and, the more valuable work for me has been to sit with the sense of loneliness and lack of community when it comes up. What I’ve noticed is that I can experience that feeling no matter how many people happen to be around, which suggests that it has little to do (for me at least) with the present reality.

  7. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evan — I imagine you mean that, if you feel a shooting pain in your leg, for instance, it may be a good idea to go to the doctor. I’d agree with that — I’m talking more about what people often call “emotional pain,” which itself for me is a troublesome label, because it implies that the “emotional pain” needs doctoring in the sense that a hurting leg would.

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patricia — thanks for the share — it sounds like you’ve noticed a desire to be seen as smart and competent, rather than as dumb. I can relate to this, and I know that in my own life when I’m coming from a place of “I need to look competent,” what I’m doing feels like a tiresome chore. When I can let go of the need to make what I’m doing look a certain way, I can actually start to enjoy it again.

  9. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sara — I think getting help is a wonderful thing — particularly if asking for help feels challenging, as I know it does for many people (including me at times). And, I think the kind of help we seek makes a difference — that is, are we looking for something to “take the edge off” and distract ourselves from our discomfort? Or are we looking for a teacher to help us more deeply experience our discomfort, and thus ourselves?

  10. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evita — I like that way of putting it — we don’t always need fixing, and in fact most of the time I think we don’t. We just need to clean all the preconceived notions about how things should be off the lenses through which we’re viewing the world.

  11. Robin Easton

    Dear Chris, This is so creatively written I was captivated by the title immediately and then the way you wrote it. And THEN the content is so fascinating. I’ve learned, for myself, that the more I can let go of expectations and just move through life moment to moment the more exciting my life becomes. This doesn’t mean I don’t have hopes, dreams, goals, etc. I’m human! LOL! :) And it doesn’t mean that I don’t do things to feel good and enjoy life, etc. I do. But there is something deeper that I feel you are talking about here and it is soooooo key to not only a joyous more relaxed life, but a well lived life, AND a life where we are always growing in new ways.

    At one point in my life I pretty much stopped “trying to get help” in the way where we want someone or something to “fix it” and make it right! Instead I started using everything that happened in my life as a teacher. Or I started to understand that Life was my greatest teacher. I saw Life as supplying everything I needed to become who I already was/am. Life was a living classroom. My experience of Life, good or supposed “bad”, was giving me everything I needed to grow, to really awaken, and to live more fully, more peacefully, etc.

    This doesn’t mean that sought out suffering and pain (although on a soul level maybe I I did, simply for the purpose of growth and experience), but when pain occurred I used it to grow, instead of seeking out a temporary “fix” that would only mask and delay what I needed to learn.

    I love how deep your insight is and the clear way you are able to express it.
    Huge Hugs, Chris.

    Like Sara Said, I need to go back and read the rest of series. :)

  12. Chris - Post author

    Hi Robin — well, if the title alone is worth the price of admission, I guess it’s time to charge $5 a head to read the article! :) I can definitely relate to letting go of the need to “get help” — and, I think, letting go of the stage where we “need to get help” requires going through that stage in the first place, so it’s all part of the path of our development! I can also relate to what you say about life giving you whatever you need for your learning right now — when I trust in that, that’s when I’m able to sit there with my pain and appreciate its “flavor” most deeply.

  13. Chris - Post author

    Hi J.D. — glad you liked that metaphor — I thought a lot of people might see it as harsh or uncharitable, but it seems like it captures people’s internet experience fairly well.

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