The other day on Facebook, I crowdsourced answers to the question- “What is a spiritual person?” Part of why I asked is because I went through a phase a few years back where I was DONE with “spiritual people.” I was going through a rough time, feeling repetitively victimized in ways that felt totally unfair, and the “spiritual people” in my life were the most insensitive, unkind, cruel, unempathic asshats. Random people I met at the grocery store were kinder than these people who attended meditation retreats, hung out at spiritual conferences, wore malas, and took yoga classes.

Then I realized- with a sinking feeling- that I had been one of those asshats too, back when life felt more charmed (which I now see as a measure of my privilege and entitlement.)

It caused me to rethink what it meant to be a “spiritual person.” Somehow, I had come to think that a “spiritual person” was one who “did her work” and took responsibility for her own suffering, someone who used life’s adversities as the lead that could be alchemized into spiritual gold. This had worked well for me as long as life’s lead came at a trickle. I considered life’s traumas as grist for the spiritual purification mill, something to welcome like the soreness after a good workout. But when the flood came, I got buried by it and needed support. My spiritual individualism was failing me, and I felt like I was going to drown. A good friend would have recognized my desperate need, felt empathy for my suffering, and offered me a hug or a chance to cry or rant or a simple, “I don’t even know what to say but I’m here and I’m sorry you’re hurting and you’re not alone.”

Instead, my “spiritual” friends said things like, “Oh, this’ll be great material for your books one day” or “You’ve just got to keep your vibe up or things will only get worse” or “Well, you manifested this.” One so-called friend screamed at me when I was crying, “Lissa, the world needs you too much for you to have a breakdown!”


Recently, when we could not breathe inside the house even with all the air filters running because the smoke from the California wildfires was so thick it was choking us, a “spiritual” friend suggested that if only I cleared the smoke from my thoughts, the air around me would magically clear up and I would not have to evacuate. It literally made no sense.

Now, my definition of a “spiritual person” has changed dramatically. I resonate with the Dalai Lama when he says “my religion is kindness.” If your spirituality is not opening your heart and causing you to be more kind, empathic, and compassionate when you are faced with suffering- in yourself or in others- then it needs to get tossed on the trash heap. I’m not talking about the sort of kindness or compassion that always bears a beatific smile. Sometimes the kindest response is the fierceness of a Mama Bear protecting yourself or others who are being treated badly.

Now, if I’m suffering and someone else tries to “silver lining” my suffering or push it away with some spiritual bypass, I put my hand out with a firm “No.” No, you may not treat me that way. No, if you can’t be nice to me right now, you need to get the hell out. No, the way you are treating me is not “spiritual;” it’s mean.

 The lovely side effect is that people are treating me better- maybe because I’m treating myself better. But that required distancing myself from a lot of so-called “spiritual people” so I could prioritize the ones who actually demonstrate spiritual values- like empathy, kindness, respectful boundaries, a desire to ease the suffering of others, care for those who are marginalized, and vulnerable, and social justice activism- the qualities Jesus demonstrated through his actions and his teachings.

I have a lot fewer friends now- but the ones I have are precious to me. If you’ve had similar experiences, I give you FULL PERMISSION to practice setting boundaries, dial down the intimacy dial with people who mistreat you when you’re suffering and gift yourself enough love and care to prioritize being with people who can stay present with your suffering, which means they have to be practiced at being present with their own, something that may require healing trauma. When you give yourself this gift, this changes EVERYTHING. You deserve this. You have a spark of divinity inside of you that makes you inherently worthy- just like everyone does. You are precious, and when you’re suffering, only kindness, gentleness, compassion, and comfort heal. Let yourself receive when you are in need…

If you’re looking for a gentle off-ramp from New Age spirituality or neo-Advaita Vedant beliefs, if you’re interested in exploring a non-spiritual bypassing spirituality that makes you kinder, if you’re longing to find like-minded others to journey into this exploration with open hearts beside you, if you’re curious to learn more about a spirituality that is emotionally sensitive, empathic, grounded in science and 3D reality, in touch with the earth, responsive to social justice issues, and trauma-informed, join us for Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 101. We start Monday, December 7!

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