Compassion and spiritual bypassing in the time of COVID-19

By March 29, 2020Compassion, Spirituality
Empty chairs at St. Peter's Square depicting this strange moment in history, pandemic and need for compassion

Wow, it’s a strange time we’re living in! 

I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

As we continue to learn about and experience upheaval, suffering, illness and disruption due to the global pandemic of Coronavirus, you may be feeling deep sadness, fear and anxiety. That’s what’s happening for me. These emotions come and go like waves. Here are a few resources that I’ve appreciated lately, that you might find helpful, too:

  • Eckhart Tolle and his partner Kim Eng have been sharing free video and meditation resources to address the fears arising in response to the pandemic.
  • Guided meditation with Byron Katie. And this “I complain about…” exercise.
  • Adyashanti’s beautiful letter.
  • This TED talk by Kelly McGonical is fantastic to watch/listen to/revisit in high stress times.
  • The Grief Recovery Method is an excellent book and program that busts common myths about grief and provides tools for dealing with it. Check out this article on dealing with grief due to Coronavirus.

What is compassion asking of us at this difficult moment in history?

Compassion is an awareness of suffering coupled with a willingness to relieve it.

Unlike related emotions and experiences like empathy and love, compassion is always and only a response to suffering. Therefore, at times of increased suffering, compassion gets activated in a big way.

Through my work at Compassion Institute, it’s been inspiring to see a rallying of the troops, if you will. CCT teachers are ready and responding to the pain occurring in their communities with compassion practices that can help deal with grief, illness, loneliness, and anxiety. It’s been heartening to meet with so many amazing and brave people in live online gatherings recently.

I believe compassion is asking us to honor and attend to our own pain, fears and anxiety right now. And to take great care of ourselves and our communities by staying home. To reach out and take advantage of all the ways we can connect without being physically together.

Spiritual bypassing

Spiritual bypassing is also getting activated in response to Covid-19.

I’ve seen quite a few articles and posts on social media since the pandemic hit that encourage spiritual bypassing. As I understand it, spiritual bypassing is a kind of coping strategy that includes downplaying or dismissing the suffering people are experiencing with “spiritual” ideas or explanations — even to the point of expressing gratitude to the virus for the “global awakening” it’s bringing us. I find this response to what’s happening so troubling I almost don’t know where to start to address it.

There’s nothing good about suffering in itself, even though we may learn and grow through of our experiences of suffering.

Rather than meeting fear and anxiety with awareness, compassion and understanding, the spiritual bypass is a denial or cover up of suffering and fear (and other negative emotions) with positive thinking, and “high vibrations.” It can be subtle. It can sound nice, helpful and innocent.

James and I have been talking about spiritual bypassing quite a bit this week so we decided to record a video of him describing what it is and why it’s a problem.

Sometimes suffering is so big and overwhelming that it’s too much to look at in the moment. Just “staying positive” may feel like a good option. However, if we’re not willing to look at and integrate the difficult, dark and painful — if we think spirituality is simply a matter of transcending our humanity — our spiritual understanding is, at best, half-baked.

We recently watched this documentary about the 1918 flu epidemic in the US. At that time, there were those who suggested only “sinners” would get the disease. There were people selling cures, gadgets, remedies and contraptions that didn’t help. What I’ve seen lately are messages that look like shunning public health guidelines, and shaming others for reacting to this pandemic with fear — cuz that’s “low vibration” and such a bummer for the rest of us.

Messages like that don’t help.

It’s ok to be impacted by what’s happening. It’s ok to feel upset and afraid.

Have you been seeing spiritual bypassing lately too? Is this a new term for you? Drop me an email or message me on social, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

And please take excellent care of yourself and those around you in this challenging time.

💕

Let's connect!

Sign up to hear first about new posts, programs and exclusive offers.

Thank you for subscribing!