Spiritual bypassing: are you in your body?

Spiritual folk love telling us that we’re all inescapably interconnected.

You and I, we are made from the same matter as stars. And trees. And ping pong tables. But we are not stars, trees or ping pong tables… Are we? Our physical bodies exist. But our teeny tiny cells are made from vast galaxies of atoms, spaced so far apart that, mostly, we are empty space. In this vast emptiness, the energy of our universe flows.

And the physical cluster of molecules that we call ‘body’ is awakened by the life-giving breath of the Divine – that illuminating spark which animates our stardust particles through the stunning miracle of consciousness. It’s that immeasurable essence that makes me me, and you you.

Similar, but different. Physical and spiritual. Soft clay and light. 

But in what balance?

‘Spiritual bypassing’ 

‘Spiritual bypassing’ is a term for when people use spirituality as a way to avoid a difficult truth, instead of fully experiencing it. Seeking refuge in principles as a way to ignore pain.

This might sound like: rise above, the machine wants to distract you, good vibes only, keep your energy clean, avoiding people’s drama, it wasn’t aligned with you

Notice how these phrases could easily keep you away from ever holding yourself accountable, or facing up to things that might really hurt?

Ignoring your body 

Your body is the means through which you experience yourself, as well as everything other than the self. It grows. Feels. Interprets. And importantly, your feelings happen in your body, which means your emotional wounds (not just your physical wounds) live here.

So if you’re escaping your feelings, it can often mean you’re bypassing the needs of your body too. 

You might find that when your body is hurting, you ignore your pain. If your body is hungry, you don’t fuel yourself. If your body is under attack, you might struggle to defend yourself. You might bump into things a lot, or not know where you’re going. You might struggle with knowing the time, or staying focused.

You might think of your body as separate from you, when it is in fact you…

If this sounds familiar, don’t worry, there are things that can help.  

A therapist/healer once told me: “you are not living in your body.” 

And I wonder, for how many of us is this statement true?

In a world of daydreams, meditative states and thought-experiments – I’ve spent a lot of time escaping life; fleeing to a world in my head. And I’m great at it!

I can zone out of a conversation, an exam, a job interview even. I’m with you, but also I’m up there flying high with the birds, gliding on the breeze, or diving deep into the ocean depths, searching for pearls… Connected to absolutely everything – except the body I’m in. Feeling everything one can feel – except my immediate physical reality. Sounds kind of fun, doesn’t it? While it definitely has its upsides, of course there is a catch…  

When you’re on the run, you have to keep on running. It’s exhausting. And eventually, everything you’re running from catches up with you in the end.

That’s usually when your mental and/or physical health plummets. But how do you switch off flight mode and come back home to your body, when you’re not sure what being in your body should feel like? 

Where does my body begin and end? 

“The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” — Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 

When a therapist tells me I am disconnected from my body, I listen.

And when Allah’s Messenger tells me that I am in fact a part of another body – the ummah (global Muslim community) – I listen.

Both statements, profound and perspective-altering, deserve careful consideration. Because the phrase ‘you are not living in your body’ has an odd ring to it.  

How do I focus on being present in my physical experience, while also participating in a non-physical collective experience? Is it possible? What is self-ish and what is self-less? 

Learning from the body of the ummah 

The Muslim ummah is a totally diverse collective of people who all share one trait; we bear witness to Allah’s truth, and in so doing, consciously commit to serving Allah above all else. 

You are not you without the ummah. And the ummah is not the ummah without you. 

The ummah, (and by extension the world of truth), doesn’t need an approximation of you, or the gist of you, or a dream of you – it needs all of you, fully embodied, in all your glory.

Because if you’re not ok, we’re not ok.

This is how much you matter, and how much love and support you’re due.

Every du’a made by the ummah for the ummah includes you.

And likewise, your prayers are not just a mercy for you, they can help heal us all, in a magnificent energetic exchange.  

Our spirituality moves us, connects us, and unites us, so that we flow together like water molecules in a river, towards the ocean of Allah’s love. We cascade in prayer falling in sujood like waves and rising again – every second, somewhere on earth, it is a new dawn, and the athan calls: come to prayer, come to success!

You are a part of the endless symphony of Divine praise.

When you think of this as an extension of your own body, how does it make you feel? How does it shape your sense of self and spiritual purpose?  

“You are God’s witnesses over mankind.” — Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 

You cannot stand tall and equal among those who witness the truth of Allah, nor witness the truth of your neighbour, if you are scared to witness yourself.

To witness others and ease their pain, you must meet your own gaze and accept what you see. Because only when you’re not running away from yourself, can you meaningfully run towards the people who need you – and who you need too. We need to witness others and be witnessed, to heal.

“Every believer is the mirror of his brother. He protects him against loss and defends him behind his back.” — Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). 

Community is your birthright – you’re not meant to go through this life disconnected. 

How do I stop spiritually bypassing?

If we’re all a fine measure of water and clay and spirit… There is a litmus test to figure out whether we’re using ‘spirituality’ to integrate all our different aspects – to experience life and connect deeply with others – or to avoid, dissociate and hide from it.

That test is justice, achieved through balance.

“Thus did we make you a middle community, that you may be witnesses for mankind and that the Messenger may be a witness for you.” — Qur’an 2:143 

Justice lives in a house of balance – sitting at the middle point of two extremes.   

“He raised the heavens and set up everything in balance, so that you would maintain justice. Therefore, maintain just measure and do not transgress against the Balance.” — Qur’an 55:7-9

And when you’re struggling with your mental health – it means something, somewhere, is off-balance. If we live to serve justice, our aim is balance.

This might look like: 

  • taking care of your body with compassion – balance in food, exercise, rest, work etc   
  • Giving yourself permission to feel your feelings – neither ignoring, nor catastrophizing
  • listening to what your pain is telling you – not dismissing, and without judging 
  • Healing your emotional wounds – with help and support from your community  
  • Asking for help – with hope and intention, without despair or outsourcing responsibility 
  • balancing faith and prayer with healthy action 

Spirituality without justice, is self-worship – and the unchecked ego can be a tyrant. And if you’re not sure where the scales tip, sincere prayer is your best ally. 

Practical ways to connect with my physical body 

If you’re feeling disconnected from your body, it’s often best to get support from a therapist if you can, to help you try different techniques to help you feel safe in your body. A trained psychotherapist can help you with the root cause of why you’re feeling unsafe, and help you deal with any trauma you might have experienced. And here are a few things which can also help: 

  • Breathing exercises – try practising daily
  • Implement healthy boundaries – check out the self-love page 
  • Physical touch with someone you love and trust, or massage therapy
  • Sit in front of a mirror and gently observe for 10 minutes each day, noticing all the sensations in your body, without judgement  
  • Yoga (many different types including yoga nidra) 
  • Talk about your feelings with someone you trust 
  • Regular gentle exercise, or sport 
  • Grounding exercises: notice five things you see, four things you feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste

The lesson

It’s time to let go of fear. And self-judgement. And shame. Everything that keeps you distanced from yourself.

Selfish or selfless, in a sense it is the same thing – if we are indeed all part of one body, tasked with bowing to one God. Life is not simply about where you begin and end. 

So stop asking: is it selfish? And start asking: is it justice?  

And you will find your whole self right there – clay and light.