Just Thinking - Thoughts on Spirituality, Loss, Love & Living One Day at a Time

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We need to remember that spiritual practice and emotional growth are not about achieving a particular quality of feeling "good". Being a human being on a spiritual journey isn't about getting cash and prizes all the time. It is about being in the present moment, whatever it happens to look like. What are you experiencing right now? And how about now? Can you be present to all of your feelings without any one of them defining you?

There is something very necessary about being who and where you are. I understand that this is a tall order. If I become present to who I am, all of me , there is a lot there that I usually don't want to see. For most people this consists of shame , anxiety , anger , loneliness, self-loathing, our "dark" side, and the list goes on. Come on, who really wants to be present to all of that?

I'm making meditation super easy for you.

But the more that I have tried to rise above it, or turn my back to it—the more it has lingered there, waiting, almost growing in size. So finally, I had to turn around and face it. And the most amazing thing happened and continues to happen. It didn't swallow me whole like I thought it would. In fact, by recognizing the "dark" stuff that was there, I could finally experience and own what was "light.

These are the real fruits of spiritual and psychological development.

What do we know about grief?

We stop running from ourselves, and start loving ourselves. Can you be a spiritual person and have a bad day?


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I think the answer is, yes. I would love to hear your personal stories of how spiritual bypass has infiltrated your thinking about spirituality. Let's take the shame out of our unrealistic expectations by sharing our experiences.

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Let's remind others that spirituality can help us rest in the human condition. And let's be kind to one another as we navigate the inherent challenges of being mind, body, and spirit. Copyright by Ingrid Mathieu, Ph. All rights reserved. Any excerpts reproduced from this article should include links to the original on Psychology Today.

Ingrid Mathieu, Ph. I agree that the purpose of spirituality is not to obtain endless bliss, and that many might perceive the pursuit of spirituality to be an attempt to flee unhappiness.

However, this is an immature view of spirituality, and does not at all entail spirituality's essence. In fact, spirituality is the opposite. The mature spiritual person recognizes that not all of life is happy, and absorbs the multiple variables of life: the good, the bad, the average. The mature spirit absorbs life for what it is and what is in the moment, never denying the emotionality of life. Thank you for your comment!

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Generally speaking, I would agree with you - that when we look at spiritual bypass from a bird's eye view - it is an immature view of spirituality. However, I want to highlight that as a defense mechanism, spiritual bypass is not consciously intended or understood as a defense as it is happening. It is a coping strategy that can embed itself in even the most sophisticated and enlightened person's belief or practice. In fact, spiritual teachers such as Jack Kornfield, John Welwood, and Ram Dass have written that the most sophisticated and mature spiritual practitioners are often the most likely to experience bypass.

One of the things I write about in my book is that there is no finish line in spiritual or psychological development. This means that we will always be prone to defense mechanisms, no matter how mature we become. As we are constantly growing and changing - there are new feelings and experiences on the path that we are not yet equipped to handle.

In some ways, spiritual bypass can be a healthy adaptive defense that protects us along the journey, keeping us sheltered from feelings we are not yet ready to face, until we are ready to face them.

Synchronicity and Signs

Believing that one is mature enough to avoid defenses could be seen as a "bypass" in and of itself. We are never free from the subtle ways in which we defend ourselves from being alive. I confess that even after conducting my research, writing the book, and being an expert on the topic - I still fall prey to bypass. I think that the goal is to have compassion for ourselves in the perpetually messy experience of being human and to remain open enough to "catch" ourselves in our defenses so that we don't stay there permanently—a maladaptive experience of the defense.

In other words, maturity in this context is about knowing that we aren't going to be perfect in our spiritual practice and accepting our imperfections. This article raised some of my concerns and anxieties about life, therefore I must say, good job. But my criticism is that you didn't give much guidance on how to achieve your tall order. I'm interested since I have a cousin who turned from drugs to Islamic fundamentalism. While I may not like the ideology I do find him much more pleasant to be around than before. For a while now I've been of the opinion that if people have trouble achieving a balanced life they should chose the better extreme, for example, it's better to be reckless than timid.

And yes, I loved your article. I would also love to see you address the step by step process of spiritual maturation in your next posts. I'm convinced that's what people really need to hear. I am so appreciative that you admitted that this post ignited some anxiety! That is what happens when we are confronted about our defenses, and I am sure you are not the only one who had this experience. I also appreciate your philosophy that if we are going to be defended, there are some extremes that are preferable to others. My research stemmed from looking at people's experiences in Step recovery.

My participants would undoubtedly say that their personal experiences of spiritual bypass in sobriety are a kinder alternative to their active addictions. As far as outlining spiritual maturity, it is too big a topic to broach in one blog post. I do go into depth on this topic in my book and I have covered other topics in previous posts that you might find interesting. My hope here is to bring more awareness to spiritual bypass step one in any developmental journey.

I have been so surprised that given the pervasive nature of the defense, that we aren't talking about it that much. I think the more we have a dialogue about spiritual bypass, the more people can recognize it in themselves, and hopefully strive for more balance. I think we, especially Americans, have this idea that there is a "one size fits all" spiritual "fix" that works for everyone.

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We seem to forget that we are all different, at different points in our spiritual journeys, and that what works for you may not work for me and vice-versa. Unfortunately, I think this expectation something we'd all do well to lose, probably leads to the bypass choices you mention. Fear leads to spiritual bypass; the fear of being told you "aren't doing it right", especially in "recovery" circles leads one to repress a LOT of emotional things they should be turning around and looking at, and daring to feel. Shame comes with those emotions, the shame of not being spiritual enough to not feel them.

It is a catch 22, to feel good about onself in recovery sometimes can mean trying so hard to be and look spiritual that spiritual bypass is a given. I have sat in 12 step meetings where the answer to feeling unwanted emotion was that the person hadn't done things correctly enough to achieve their spiritual awakening. Try to fit into that process and not repress! Most need professional guidance at least along with those programs.

Lay people jockey for position in groups and don't have enough training to know what "emotional sobriety" is for someone else. Thank you for your comment. I wanted to investigate how the culture supports it, and how people in recovery experience it in useful and not-so-useful ways.

I am hoping that my book will inspire people to begin sharing their personal experiences of bypass in recovery and to allow themselves and others to be human I am convinced that my father is suffering from spiritual bypass to such a degree that it is destroying his 37 year marriage my mom has said that Buddhism feels like "the other woman" , straining his relationships with his children and alienating his long-time friends.

He weeps easily, seems disconnected from those who love him, and expresses deep frustration and disappointment that the people in his life are not responding the way he hoped to his sudden devotion to Buddhist practice two years ago he would have identified as an atheist.

Despite all this evidence to the contrary, he will insist that he has never been happier. I am so worried about him but have no idea what to do to help him or my mom, who feels devastated and abandoned by her formerly grounded, reliable and devoted husband. He is refusing to participate in any kind of therapy he reluctantly went to a marriage counselor about six months ago but quit after she diagnosed him as anxious, depressed and compulsive and insists that he can fix his marital and other issues by via his spiritual practice - but it just isn't working.


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  7. The relationship between him and my mom continues to deteriorate. I am hoping you can offer me some practical advice as to how to address this complicated and frightening situation. I have been unable to find a therapist in their area Detroit, MI who is well-versed in spiritual bypassing or spiritual addiction and am at a loss as to what to do.

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