Why Positive Thinking Doesn't Always Serve

I see many spiritual teachers telling clients to just “focus on the positive” or to turn away from that which they don’t want. This is actually what is known as spiritual bypass and is a potent issue within spiritual communities and circles at the moment.

What is spiritual bypass?

Spiritual bypass is the avoiding or “bypassing” of uncomfortable aspects of existence, unresolved emotional wounds and remaining inner work by shifting focus away through spiritual ideas or mental constructs of transcendence/enlightenment. In essence, it’s using spiritual ideas to avoid pain at all costs, instead of meeting that pain in loving presence and curiosity. When this occurs, what is actually happening is a dental or avoidance of full engagement with life, and an aversion to intimately meeting the depth and breath of feeling that arises in response to our human experience.

Signs of spiritual bypassing include:

  • Minimizing, superficializing, or rationalizing one’s shadow/perceived “negative” traits.

  • Generalized statements when shadow aspects arise to be met, such as “everything is perfect”, “it’s all an illusion, including your suffering”, or “it’s just your ego”.

  • Overemphasis on the positive to the point of avoiding other emotions.

  • “Love and light” inserted into every circumstance, even when something more intense or multi-faceted arises to be intimately held, witnessed or expressed.

  • Spiritually-rationalized avoidance of feeling deeply, especially our less pleasant emotions.

  • Spiritual practice and attainment being used to avoid directly and unguardedly feeling the raw reality of our emotional and pain body, and instead keep us safe and insulated.

  • Overly self-sacrificing by serving others to feel “needed”. Could also include being a people-pleaser/do-gooder, blind compassion, false humility, poor personal boundaries (co-dependency), giving power away, looking for a savior, seeking approval from authority/parents/etc.

  • Premature Transcendence: Dismissing needs, feelings, and physiological/relational/developmental deficits in attempt to rise above the imperfection (and at times messiness) of being human.

  • Compensatory Identity: Identifies self as a “spiritual practitioner” to cover up underlying feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. Harsh self-judgment beneath a spiritual “superego”. Unintegrated aspects of self.

  • Overuse of psychedelics and plant medicine use to obtain “spiritual highs”; can become a crutch or even an addiction.

  • Treating spiritual practices like a militant regime; being overly disciplined and too hard on self. Excessive fasting, strict personal practice, etc as deeply unconscious punishment because sees self as not good enough. Feeling a need to go even deeper into spiritual practices if progress isn’t good enough; self-blame; keeps one distracted from having to face and deal with their core pain. (Note that there is a balance between discipline and self-punishment, which is only reveled by delving into one’s underlying motivators.)

The greater the pain of our unresolved wounds, the greater the odds one will engage spiritual bypassing. Cutting through spiritual bypassing means turning towards the painful, unwanted, and frightening shadow elements of ourselves. To do this we must soften, surrender and dissolve our numbness and defenses, approaching them with as much care as possible. For the only way out is through. In this, we begin to turn toward, not away from. We begin to meet ourselves on all levels, embracing the totality of our being. If we fail do to this, we miss the sacred point. For our wholeness encompasses all things, even the darkness.

If doing the shadow-work feels as though it’s healing our heart, we know we are on the right path. When the heart heals, it opens and expands, not shatters. When we open back up to life again and become more comfortable with our discomfort (to see what it is there to teach us), we are able to witness ourselves through the vantage point of higher love and compassion. We will also be able to see areas in which we were previously bypassing, so as not to feel the pain, hurt, traumas, and wounds. It may not always be easy as times, but we assure you, it is the most deeply nourishing and rewarding metamorphosis you will ever know.

Radical truth: We are here to reclaim our wholeness, come to know our sacred wounds then bloom from them, and finally embrace the totality of self. This means letting go of the erroneous New Age belief of solely “focusing on the positive” before we have done the deeper wound and shadow work. To no longer insert neat little bow-tied packages of “love and light” into every circumstance when it’s calling for something more- something richer, deeper and full spectrum. If we truly want to enter into a positive, elevated state of being, we have to do the real work first. And sometimes that work is gritty, intense, messy, sublime, and gloriously human. Remember, we cannot bypass this precious step in our spiritual evolution. We are here to embrace the complete and undiluted offering of what is here calling us in, calling us home; and in turn, we reclaim our delicious, authentic, innate aliveness.

And to those who may object, yes, our deepest nature is of love and of light, and on a higher level this is true. Yet, from our earthly existence, these general statements can become blanket claims to prevent one from feeling something more uncomfortable, something their pain body is wanting to communicate. It ultimately prevents us from greater growth, dishonoring the multidimensional beings that we are.

The “only positivity” belief is a trap to our deeper development. Because we also must understand that life isn’t always “positive”- and this too is a gift. For example, sometimes our soul needs to sit with a grief of self, of another or the world to incite a new way of being or to expand into a new vista of consciousness. Remember, everything is always happening for us, not to us. And nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to learn. Feeling the spectrum is a gateway to soul expansion. Can we still find love even in the darkest spaces of our being, in others and within the collective? Can we rise from the ashes as the Phoenix and reclaim ourselves even in the densest worlds of form? Can we come to know grace and presence where there was once hurt or sorrow?

Beloveds, we are here to feel and to know the vastness of what is- this is our greatest spiritual journey. For we are so more than the current New Age thinking. So let us begin to dance with both our shadow and light, deeply meeting and loving ourselves in the full spectrum of our emotional bodies- even in the sorrow, grief, anger and pain. For these tones also exist to be heard.

When we relinquish all ideas of “good” and “bad”, “positive” and “negative”, “spiritual” or “non-spiritual”, we find that even the pain may become ecstatic and that all barriers soon dissolve…

So let us know longer avoid our wounds.

And remember that they exist for a reason.

Suffering is only an attachment to or resistance of pain- it is illusory in the grander design, but it presents itself to you here in this realm as a call to soften and turn inwards; to meet yourself on the most precious levels, as an invitation for radical growth and transformation. Remember, pain and discomfort houses a profound intelligence- they exist to show you something about yourself.

Your wounds are your greatest teachers. They are the entry point to self-mastery, gnosis, higher wisdom and an even deeper, all-encompassing love.

Your wounds are the gateway to freedom.

Have the courage to meet them as they arise. For the most sacred gems await just on the other side…

– Kaya Leigh, Co-Founder of Sacred Breath Academy

Kaya Danielle Leigh