Friday, September 17, 2010

My Review: Robert Augustus Masters - Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters

[Note: I bought this book - I did not receive a review copy.]

I have been reading and enjoying Robert Augustus Masters' newest book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters. I'm reading a Kindle version on my iTouch, so I find myself highlighting whole pages that I want to share.

I can't post the whole book here. Yet I cannot recommend this book strongly enough - if you want to be fully integrated as a human being, get the most from your spiritual practice, and/or go deeper in your psychotherapy, you MUST get this book and read it, slowly and let it sink in.

Of all the people who talk about an integral spirituality and psychology, Masters is the only one I really see walking the talk. His books are not filled with abstract theory, they are practical guides to becoming more authentic, more integrated, and more whole.

Masters gives us an overview of the many varied ways we engage in spiritual bypassing in the first 7 chapters. When we get to chapter 8, "What Generates Spiritual Bypassing?", the answer he gives is perfectly obvious - pain - and yet all the ways we seek to escape the pain generally just make it worse. We seldom look into our pain and seek to heal it - we often try to bypass it and spirituality is often a great way - in our minds - to do it.

This is an excerpt from Spiritual Bypassing. 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:

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 could offer lots of other quotes, especially from the chapters on shadow work (hint: 1-2-3 shadow work ain't real shadow work), blind compassion, false transcendence, magical thinking, sex, shame, and so much more.

This book is so clear and so true that one wonders how no one else has ever written this.
Instead of trying to get beyond our personal history, we need to learn to relate to it with as much clarity and compassion as possible, so that it serves rather than obstructs our healing and awakening. This also means relating in similar fashion to our tendency to spiritually bypass, casting a lucid, caring eye upon the part of us who buys into us. (Location 225)

* * *

When we remain outside or removed from our fear, we are trapped by it, but when we actually do get inside, cultivating intimacy with it, we are no longer trapped by it, discovering--and not just intellectually--that it is but darkly contracted energy, a knotted-up vitality that can be freed when we become intimate with it. (Location 337)

* * *

Real shadow work does not leave us intact; it is not some neat and tidy process but rather an inherently messy one, as vital and unpredictably alive as birth. The ass it kicks is the one upon which you are sitting; the pain it brings up is the pain we've been fleeing most of our life; the psychoemotional breakdowns it catalyzes are the precursors to hugely relevant breakthroughs; the doors it opens are doors that have shown up year after year in our dreams, awaiting our entry. Real shadow work not only breaks us down but also breaks us open, turning frozen yesterday into fluid now. (Location 635)
Those are from the first few chapters - there are wise quotes like these on nearly every page.

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