Monday, May 31, 2010

Robert Augustus Masters - Spiritual Bypassing

This is an excerpt from Robert Master's newest book - Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters - on the ways in which we use spiritual practice to avoid our pain, our wounds, our lives. In my opinion, this book will become as important as Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which they publisher mentions as well.

Here is a blurb from the Amazon site:
Spiritual bypassing—the use of spiritual beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs—is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed. The spiritual ideals of any tradition, whether Christian commandments or Buddhist precepts, can provide easy justification for practitioners to duck uncomfortable feelings in favor of more seemingly enlightened activity. When split off from fundamental psychological needs, such actions often do much more harm than good.

While other authors have touched on the subject, this is the first book fully devoted to spiritual bypassing. In the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa’s landmark Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Spiritual Bypassing provides an in-depth look at the unresolved or ignored psychological issues often masked as spirituality, including self-judgment, excessive niceness, and emotional dissociation. A longtime psychotherapist with an engaging writing style, Masters furthers the body of psychological insight into how we use (and abuse) religion in often unconscious ways. This book will hold particular appeal for those who grew up with an unstructured new-age spirituality now looking for a more mature spiritual practice, and for anyone seeking increased self-awareness and a more robust relationship with themselves and others.

Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, is the author of eleven books, including Transformation Through Intimacy and Darkness Shining Wild. He holds a doctorate in psychology and is a master integral psychotherapist, trainer of psychotherapists, and group leader. He lives in White Rock, British Columbia.
This excerpt is on boundaries:

This, my next book, will be published by North Atlantic Books at the end of June (and distributed by Random House), and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Here is part of the chapter on boundaries:

...If we are inclined to be overboundaried—overbudgeting for defense—we wall ourselves in, confusing security with freedom. On the other hand, if we tend to be underboundaried—leaving the gates too open—we float on the periphery of embodied life, confusing fusion with intimacy, limitlessness with freedom, and excessive tolerance with compassion. Boundaries make containment possible, but does such containment protect or overprotect us, entrap or serve us, ground or cement us, house or jail us?

Those who are underboundaried tend to mistake collapsed boundaries for expanded ones; especially in the realm of spiritual bypassing, a collapsing (or outright dissolution) of boundaries is seen as letting go or even transcending them. A similar mistake is made in our idealized view of romance, where the overwhelming urge to merge is seen as the ultimate state of love rather than as a temporary fantastical state that inevitably unravels over time. We may rationalize or glamorize this abandonment of boundaries as a kind of liberation, a casting-off of shackles in the service of transcendence and spiritual realization. As much as we might conceive of such radical expansion as a wonderful thing, confusing our flight from boundedness with true openness, we don’t realize that the actual practice of spiritual bypassing does not expand boundaries, but rather neglects and disrespects them. For example, someone we are close to speaks very disrespectfully to us, clearly crossing a line, and instead of asserting ourselves with them, taking a needed stand, we leave their behavior unaddressed and unchallenged, thinking we are being compassionate with them, thereby disrespecting the very boundary of ours that was inappropriately crossed.

Abandoning our boundaries is not indicative of a higher or more noble state—however much we might spiritually rationalize this—but is just escapism and aversion, an avoidance of facing, entering, and moving through our pain. Dissociation in spiritual robes is still dissociation! We may make a virtue out of moving beyond the personal, perhaps thinking that we are transcending it, when in fact we are slipping into the domain of depersonalization (a well-known psychiatric disorder featuring disconnection from one’s sense of self). But depersonalization is not the same as the self-transcending or “no-self ” realizations of advanced spiritual practice! It is just another form of dissociation (or unhealthy separation).

And what is arguably the opposite of dissociation? Intimacy. And intimacy requires healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries protect but do not overprotect; they stand guard but do not jail. If we keep ourselves overprotected, we don’t thrive but stagnate. And if we keep ourselves underprotected, we also don’t thrive but open ourselves undiscerningly, left in a state in which overabsorption is inevitable. The spiritual bypasser in us might protest: shouldn’t we be receptive? Yes, but overabsorption and receptivity are not necessarily the same thing! Consider the example of a man who is exaggeratedly nice and almost always smiling, even when he is treated badly. He may appear very receptive and unusually open, but in fact he is taking in much more than is healthy for him, perhaps because this strategy—never saying a clear “no”—helped him survive difficulties in his early years.

Having healthy boundaries doesn’t mean a lack of receptivity; instead, it is a discerning receptivity, an openness that can just as easily say a full-blooded “no” as a “yes”. The undiscriminating openness and too easy “yes” (and possible show of equanimity) of those who are underboundaried is especially difficult to cut through when it’s taken to be a sign of spiritual attainment. When we cannot voice and embody an unequivocal “no,” allowing ourselves to be closed at times, our only way of protecting ourselves is to dissociate, to get away from what’s difficult rather than face and pass through it. Where being overboundaried appears to promise freedom through security, being underboundaried seems to promise freedom through limitlessness. But both cut us off from living fully. This fact is usually obvious when we overprotect ourselves but not necessarily when we underprotect ourselves, especially when we legitimize our actions spiritually, making an unquestioned virtue out of our undiscriminating openness...
I look forward to read this book - Masters seems to be, based on his writings, one of the most important minds working in integral psychotherapy.

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