“Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is much more common than we might think and, in fact, is so pervasive as to go largely unnoticed, except in its more obvious extremes.”

~ Robert Augustus Masters, Spiritual Bypassing: Avoidance in Holy Drag

“There are people who have an amazing knowledge of themselves…. But even those people wouldn’t be capable of knowing what is going on in their unconscious.”

~ C.G. Jung

I offer two maxims to guide the reader through this series of posts, which will cover some difficult and uncomfortable terrain.

  1. We are more driven by unconscious patterns and impulses than we realize.
  2. Spiritual Bypassing is common in New Thought spiritual communities.

The first maxim is one which can be seen as limiting some of what we are often taught in New Thought – that we can bring everything to conscious awareness and direct (or re-direct) any aspect of our lives using positive thinking. While our ability to change our unconscious mind is real, it is not an absolute; that is, we cannot empty our unconscious of its contents. The unconscious is too vast to bring fully into conscious awareness, and aspects of our inner psyche which affect everything from our perception to our decision-making, will remain beyond our awareness. At best, we can bring up what most needs to be healed and make the needed changes to develop a consciousness which is more of a representation of our best selves.

This brings up the idea of free will, and the degree to which we are completely free to perceive and decide, with no unconscious conditioning or biases affecting our seeming freedom to choose (LINK to Scientific American Article). As the most recent research shows (LINK), our unconscious conditioning has a greater effect on us than we realize – and must be considered as we do our spiritual and psychological practices. We must look deeper and more closely at ourselves or we miss the evidence of our unconscious conditioning and biases.

“Consciousness, no matter how extensive it may be, must always remain the smaller circle within the greater circle of the unconscious, an island surrounded by the sea; and, like the sea itself, the unconscious yields an endless and self-replenishing abundance of living creatures, a wealth beyond our fathoming. ”

~ Carl Jung, Psychology of the Transference

Ernest Holmes emphasizes the importance of using our conscious mind to program our unconscious, because the objective (conscious) reflects the subjective (unconscious) mind.

“The objective form to which we give our attention is created from the very attention which we give it. The objective is but the reflection of the subject state of thought. Life is a blackboard upon which we consciously or unconsciously write those messages which govern us. We hold the chalk and the eraser in our hand but are ignorant of this fact.”

~ Ernest Holmes

The first maxim is important in helping us to both understand the essence of the second maxim and to create a practice of compassion around our approach to it. Almost all spiritual bypassing is unconsciously driven; bringing this to the awareness of someone engaging in bypassing must be done compassionately to have the best chance of meeting a willingness to change within that person or persons. As we begin to address the second maxim, I encourage the reader to hold this in mind.

Regarding the second maxim, I am guided here, at least in part, by two articles which awakened something within me – some of which I was aware, and some of which I was unaware. In other words, more of my blind spots (LINK) became apparent. I think they are worth addressing here, both for my own benefit and for the benefit of those who read this, so an increased level of awareness may result. They are (both titles are hotlinks):

Spiritual Bypassing: Avoidance in Holy Drag by Robert Augustus Masters, PhD (he also authored a book with the same title)


When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting, by Camille Williams – this article will be the focus of Part 2 of this series.

“Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.”

~ Robert Augustus Masters, PhD

With this definition of spiritual bypassing in hand, we can begin to explore how it manifests within a New Thought setting. It is helpful here to have some knowledge of Spiral Dynamics, especially the Green Level of Existence (LINK). Although bypassing can occur at any stage on the spiral, Green, because of its feelings-based nature, is particularly prone to several of the manifestations noted in Masters’ quote above, especially “overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries.”

So, spiritual bypassing is the opposite of authenticity. It is the often-unconscious desire to have everything appear to be what one desires at the expense of dealing with inner and outer realities. It can be used to stifle conflict or differing viewpoints (as in calling a group to prayer-treatment at the first sign of conflict); to deny realities such as financial lack or a decline in the capabilities of aging leaders; to maintain unconscious patterns of discrimination; or to create a false sense of security so that one or a group does not have to face a difficult reality or decision.

At its core, however, spiritual bypassing is a refusal to do the deep work necessary for true spirituality to express in a person or community. We are all, to one degree or another, terrified of the power within us. Bringing it forth in a more complete and authentic way, which most of us claim to desire, would also cause chaos in the order of our present lives. Nothing would be safe. Those in spiritual leadership are not free of this fear, nor are they necessarily more spiritually authentic than anyone else (LINK). In fact, much of what goes on in spiritual community is going through the motions of a surface piety to some theological principles while being careful not to upset the comfort zones of ourselves and others.

“True spirituality is not a high, not a rush, not an altered state. It has been fine to romance it for a while, but our times call for something far more real, grounded, and responsible; something radically alive and naturally integral; something that shakes us to our very core until we stop treating spiritual deepening as a something to dabble in here and there. Authentic spirituality is not some little flicker or buzz of knowingness, not a psychedelic blast-through or a mellow hanging-out on some exalted plane of consciousness, not a bubble of immunity, but a vast fire of liberation, an exquisitely fitting crucible and sanctuary, providing both heat and light for what must be done. Most of the time when we’re immersed in spiritual bypassing, we like the light but not the heat, doing whatever we can to distance ourselves from the flames.”

~ Robert Augustus Masters, PhD

To be sure, everyone in a spiritual community is unlikely to want to live at that level. There are lots of reasons for this and finding even a handful of people who are willing to go deep into themselves and stir up shadow selves is a challenge. A spiritual community which can accommodate that smaller group within its larger community will have a source of richness missing in most communities. To do this requires attuned leadership who have credibility with those on a deeper and more authentic spiritual pathway. Such leaders are also rare.

“Is not the shadow of a group more than the sum of individual shadows, and might it not create a whole new dimension of unconsciousness?”

~ James Hollis, Author & Jungian Analyst

What is important to gain from this post is that spiritual bypass is common, it is mostly unconscious, and it is a big turn-off to those who seek authenticity in their spiritual leaders and spiritual community. It is also an obstacle to achieving significant mission-centric expression. Here is where we get to utilize our free will to direct ourselves in a more authentic direction. Leaders can empower their members to speak up when they suspect spiritual bypass, and train themselves and others how to compassionately respond when others are not being authentic. This approach will go a long way toward aligning a spiritual community to create #TheBelovedCommunity.

“To truly outgrow spiritual bypassing—which in part means releasing spirituality (and everything else!) from the obligation to make us feel better or more secure or more whole—we must not only see it for what it is and cease engaging in it but also view it with genuine compassion, however fiery that might be or need to be. The spiritual bypasser in us needs not censure nor shaming but rather to be consciously and caringly included in our awareness without being allowed to run the show. Becoming intimate with our own capacity for spiritual bypassing allows us to keep it in healthy perspective.”

~ Robert Augustus Masters, PhD

“The more ‘enlightened’ we believe ourselves to be, the vaster we discover that which remains unconscious.”

~ James Hollis, Jungian analyst

In Part 2 of this series, we will look at the more destructive elements of spiritual bypassing, the things which can tear a spiritual community apart.

As always, your comments are welcomed below. Please feel free to share this post with others who may be interested. If you like, you can sign up to follow the blog above and receive an email whenever a new post is published.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

NOTE: I used several quotes by Robert Augustus Masters in this post. At the time, I was generally unfamiliar with his work, other than an article on spiritual bypassing. I have since learned that he has admitted to abuse of students and members of a group which he led. I will not be referring to him or to his work again. – Jim Lockard October 2018




“In presenting these lessons on Mental Science, I do not claim to have discovered any new Truth. The Truth has been known in every age by a few; but the great mass of people has never even dreamed that we live in a mental and spiritual world. To-day, however, there is a great inquiry into the deeper meaning of life because the race has reached a state of unfoldment where a broader scope is possible.”

~ First line of Forward, The Science of Mind™, 1926 Edition

Loyal readers know that I am mostly all about change. I have even supported an updating of the Science of Mind™ text (LINK). But just for fun, let’s explore what the Religious Science Movement would be like today if, instead of revising the text in 1938 (the text used in SOM classes), the decision had been made to stay with the original 1926 Edition of The Science of Mind (LINK to Online Version).

Holmes & 1926 Text

The structure of the 1926 Edition starts with an essay on The Evolution of Man’s Thought, then a series of six lessons about the Science of Mind. This is followed by 21 Special Articles on topics ranging from Absoluteness and Relativity, to The Sequence of the Creative Order, to Jesus as a Savior. Then there are 12 Meditations for Self-Help and Healing, a Glossary and the Index.

I am not certain why the text was so thoroughly revised in the mid-1930’s. But if I may make a guess, I would say that it was likely done for two major reasons. First, the structure of the lessons may have been unpopular with the new group of ministers who were leading the Religious Science churches in the 1930’s (Dr. Robert Bitzer being the first minister recruited for this purpose in 1930); Religious Science ministers are notably an independent lot, and it is likely that they preferred to present material according to their own preferences (just taking a wild guess here). Indeed, it was out of print for decades. Secondly, I can see how a few sections of the 1926 Edition may have been seen as controversial to some in a new denomination seeking some degree of acceptance in the larger religious landscape of the time.

Hints abound. Two entire subjects did not make it into the 1938 Edition of the textbook. One was Lesson Six: The Law of Psychic Phenomena, seen as important enough to be part of the basic teaching in the 1920’s. In the introduction to the lesson, Dr. Holmes wrote: “While no apologies are made for the ensuing pages, yet, in justice to the Truth, it must be said that many of the world’s eminent scientists have investigated the subjects to be discussed, and so far, to the author’s knowledge, none of them have ever refuted the ensuing facts.” This seems to indicate that he saw the topic as both controversial and sufficiently proven to include as a part of the basic lessons of the teaching.

Psychic Phenomenon Collage

“There is within man a power that can communicate without the tongue, hear without the ear, see without the eye, talk without the mouth, move ponderable objects and grasp things without the hand; and perform many other feats that are usually connected only with the physical instrument. All these facts have been completely proved, and it is no longer necessary to produce evidence to substantiate these facts.”

~ Science of Mind 1926 Edition, page 229

Holmes - Young

Dr. Ernest Holmes

Dr. Holmes explains, or attempts to explain, a number of psychic phenomena, including clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, and apparitions. He also described things such as inspiration, streams of consciousness, The Theory of Ectoplasm, and how to create personal charm here. He attributes all of these phenomena to the interaction between the localized, individualized mind and the Universal Mind. Our human minds, he writes, have two aspects, the objective (conscious) and subjective (subconscious); it is the subjective aspect which is embedded in the Universal Mind. For some, what we call psychic phenomena, which are present in the subjective minds of all of us, become available to the objective mind. This can just happen spontaneously, or one can be trained in developing a greater receptivity.

SOM - You Will Live Forever Holmes

In another section of the lesson, he explains immortality and its link to psychic phenomena. Some of the material relating to immortality also appears in the 1938 Edition, but without reference to psychic phenomena. Here is a quote from the section about the human aura:

“The human aura is the mental vibration or emanation of the individual. The idea of the halo surrounding the heads of the saints is explained in this way. The personal atmosphere varies with the changing thought and emotion and is sometimes pleasant and at other times unpleasant.”

~ Science of Mind 1926 Edition, page 278

The second subject which was not included in the 1938 Edition relates to sexuality and gender. This is primarily contained in the special article entitled “Repression and Sublimation.” Here, Dr. Holmes writes about sex and gender, both subjectively and objectively. He also includes descriptions of the relatively new (at the time) field of psychoanalysis and the concept of self-analysis. While some of the material in this section may have been eliminated because it was based on the new and rapidly changing field of western Psychology, there is little doubt that the material on sex and gender was seen as too controversial for the 1938 Edition. Here is a quote from the special article:


“Man, coming from Unity, is both male and female, and has, within himself, both attributes of reality. In some the male predominates; in others the female. We have two distinct types in man and woman; but they are types of one fundamental principle. There is also an intermediate sex; that is, one in which the two attributes seem to be almost equally balanced. The greatest men and women of the ages have belonged to this type, for it is a more complete balance between the two which are really one. But this is too great a topic to discuss in this course of lessons.”

– Ernest Holmes, Science of Mind 1926 Edition, page 305

Sexuality & Gender 1920s

To get back to the question in the title of this post, what might our movement look like if we had continued to hold psychic phenomena and sex and gender as major components of our teaching? Might this have led us to be less mainstream (to the degree that we might be considered in such a light) or less like a church? We will never know.

To be sure, most of the content in the 1926 Edition is reproduced in the 1938 Edition, if reformatted. There are different things emphasized and the first four chapters of the 1938 Edition is new material. It is said that Dr. Holmes was less involved in the production of the 1938 Edition, however, this is disputed by some. What is clear is that he did evolve in some ways. Although he never abandoned the key ideas of the philosophy:

  1. An Infinite Creative Intelligence

  2. A human mind with subjective and objective components

  3. We humans direct our own experience by the use of our minds, which are elements of the One Mind.

What evolved were specific notions of the interplay of individuals and groups and the effect on consciousness, and, in his later writings (especially The Holmes Papers – LINK), he began to write about the difficulties that many have in aligning their minds with Truth.

I believe that the 1926 Edition is worthy of ongoing study by students of The Science of Mind. It is not only a clear distillation of Dr. Holmes first decade-plus of the development of the philosophy, it offers unique insights into areas of his thinking that were not carried forward. And it is fun to speculate what might have been.

In addition to the poem “Peace Be Unto You Stranger, which appears before the Forward in both editions, this poem, “Yourself, follows the Forward in the 1926 Edition:


Oh, weary heart, laden with earth’s weight and care,
Oh, feet, stumbling on the way, bleeding and bare,
Oh, arms outstretched, and hands upheld in prayer,
Oh, back, which so oft has felt the lash and rod,
Oh, soul, which cries aloud for the living God,
Oh, life, struggling to free itself from the clod;
Know this: there is no power from without,
Yourself must answer every fear and meet all doubt
With some divine, indwelling power
Which you yourself, upon yourself, shall shower;
And giving, take, and taking, give
Unto that life which you, yourself, shall live.

~ Dr. Ernest Holmes

As always, your comments are welcome! What are your thoughts about the original Science of Mind text? Note that the Science of Mind Archives and Library Foundation (LINK) has lots of materials from this era.

 Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard