How to Deal with Spiritual Bypass

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 10 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: I think you can bypass the mundane with anything, really. Can people do it because they’re drunk on Jesus too? Too drunk to recognize their family problems? And they do it with theory, abstracting everything away.

CTT: My wife and I are reading a biography of Einstein. When things weren’t going well, he really got into his theoretical work. I know about going on an “intellectual drunk” like that. It’s a wonderful way of getting away from the realities of the mundane world. But of course, they’re still there waiting for you, and the people you got away from by thinking yourself away from them are now pissed off at you because you didn’t pay any attention.


Student: Can you do that mindfully sometimes though? Knowing that you’re not doing it all the time, but knowing that okay, right now I just really want to be intellectual, so I’m going to go…

CTT: Yes. I think the general rule in the mindfulness tradition is not that “At every moment I must be perfectly enlightened and deal with everything in the optimal way,” but to be mindful of what you’re doing. And sometimes that may involve recognizing “This situation drives me absolutely bonkers and bananas and I’m going to kill somebody if I don’t distract myself for a minute! So, damn it I’m going to concentrate on my breathing and not on what that son of a bitch over there is saying to me. Or go watch a movie!” Yep. It’s not as if there’s any one behavior or internal strategy that is the optimal thing for all situations. And, of course, one of the virtues of mindfulness is that you get to know yourself better. When you do have to use a less than mindful, but effective, distraction or happiness inducing technique, you could probably use it more effectively.

Student: Do you think they work in the long term if you don’t have any of those sort of work that you’re doing?

CTT: Do which work? The –

Student: Like psychological work, or like therapy. I mean, say that you get really angry when people disagree with you, so I have to distract myself every single time I get angry. But I do that knowing that I’m going to get angry if I don’t stop myself. But do you think that works in the long term if you don’t have some other sort of practice combined?

CTT: No. I don’t think it does. Well, I mean it might work in the sense that you don’t kill anybody, so you don’t go to jail, but you do get ulcers.

Student: Yeah.

CTT: Or at least that used to be the fashionable theory that anger gave you ulcers. I don’t know if that’s true anymore, but there’s a level of behavioral suppression of stuff that will get you in trouble. Even if it may be psychologically stirred up and boiling inside, that’s much better than acting out in a way that gets you into really bad trouble. But then you want to go further and not just boil inside, but you want to get at the psychological source and begin to change it.

Now the mindfulness traditions would claim that the practice of mindfulness is all you need. No, no, I shouldn’t say all. It’s the main thing you need to eventually recognize those sources and change them. That eventually you’ll have insights into your personality that will let you change some of the more psychological things, but eventually you’ll have the more important insights as to who you really are, which will make the big change. I don’t want to use the words “all you need” because they’ll always put this in context.

Buddhism is an eightfold path. Meditation is one part of that, but you’ve got to have right livelihood, you know? If you make your living making landmines designed to blow up children, you’re not creating very good karma. And your actions toward other people have to be decent because they have consequences, which will again have psychological effects.

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