“It isn’t about getting somewhere you’re not, but about deeply relaxing into clearly seeing what’s here now,” shared Breathwork Teacher Scott Schwenk about spiritual awakening, which he emphasized is an ongoing process.
Whether or not you call yourself “spiritual,” we humans are more than a physical body or the thinking mind constantly going. And that “awakening” Scott referenced, as I understand, is partly about awakening to this very idea of who we are and how we bridge our inner and outer worlds, such as in our relationships.
A few months ago I started a Zoom yoga class talking about “spiritual bypassing,” a term coined in the 1980s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. He defined it as a "tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks".
We have all been wounded in our lives, and it’s part of being human. But how we tend to our wounds and make sense of them or not spills out into how we relate to the world and affect each other. My Yoga Psychology teacher, Ashley Turner, shared that we build our personalities through the coping strategies we’ve developed around our core wounds.
You may be familiar with a pervading motto in modern western yoga and wellness communities: Good vibes only. Focusing on positive feelings can be uplifting and offer a fresh perspective when we’re in a funk. However, when positivity is used to gloss over uncomfortable feelings and hurts, it may become “toxic positivity,” defined by Samara Quintero, LMFT, CHT and Jamie Long, PsyD as “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations, resulting in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”
Mindfulness teacher, Pema Chodron, prompts us to lean into feelings of discomfort, like sadness and anger, and offer ourselves compassion and truthful listening. She points out that all emotions have a message, and the difficult ones often reflect to us where we're spiritually stuck. In sitting with all our emotions, we build our capacity to offer empathetic listening and compassion for others. Sometimes our loved ones just need us to support them with our listening presence when they convey that they’re suffering, without disregarding their emotional processing.
Best-selling author and vulnerability researcher, Brene Brown, adds that when we don’t allow ourselves to fully feel the uncomfortable emotions, like those within grief, we also disallow ourselves from fully feeling happiness. We can’t isolate which emotions to not feel. Such attempts inhibit wholehearted living.
As my practice evolves, yoga has been a lens-shifter, since my journey began in 2001. As I deepen my exploration of the Eight-Limb path described in The Yoga Sutras, I can see through my past coping habits. I see when I’ve glossed over my own hurts to uphold an external model of positivity, disallowing self-compassion for my imperfections. I see when I’ve sidestepped another’s pain to urge them toward the good-feeling “solution.”
Yoga’s first two limbs teach truth-seeking, compassion, self-study and dissolution of limiting beliefs from the ego. I’ve been more drawn to courageously ask my unconscious mind, “What’s beneath the surface that I still haven’t allowed to process?” And, “How are my un-metabolized wounds and emotions affecting my relationships and life?”
Revolutionary psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, warned, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” I continue to do my own shadow work of excavating repressed parts of myself to integrate and transform into allies. I understand this is a journey of many spiritual awakenings. The yogic practices of tapas, or inspired discipline, and isvara pranidhana, or surrender to my highest Self, are tools for this inner revolution.
I feel that this inner-work aspect of yoga is far too important to gloss over by only practicing one of the eight limbs--the physical poses. As we explore the depth that yoga offers for self-healing, we can impact healing in our families by ending cycles of problematic coping styles, like addiction or bypassing difficult emotions. As our families heal, they impact our communities, which impact our nation and so on. I truly believe that world peace begins with genuine peace within.
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