My Experience with Spiritual Bypassing, New-Age Pretending, and a Man who Killed Himself

It was about five years ago now, an event I was invited to sing at.  My ego was ablaze and I was honored that the man whose vision it was to create such an event had wanted me to be featured as the guest of honor to perform what had emerged as an East Rogers Park local hit, The God Song as I’d entitled it. 

I think the performance, and who I am, was deeply triggering to some that evening – a combination of Scorpio energy and the fact that I’m prone to arrogance and spiritual self-righteousness.  It rubs people the wrong way. 

But this isn’t about me, it’s about spiritual bypassing and what amounts to one of the most sickening displays I have or will ever witness of this particular phenomenon, a phenomenon defined by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, as “A tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”  

The bypassing in question took the form of a “celebration” for one of the local new-age/creative/artistic folks who had been a regular at said event for the previous few years, a street performer whose name I won’t mention, a mentor to dancers and other types of performers throughout the local scene.  He’d dropped massive amounts of LSD, posted a cryptic message on Facebook alluding to his pending self-inflicted demise, and then jumped off a bridge into the freezing waters of the Chicago River, a pretty impressive way to go, honestly. I admire his bravado.

I sat with him in an Ayahuasca ceremony a year or so prior and shared an experience so magical that my mind still gets blown as I think about how it went down.  It was in-between doses of medicine, a point of reflection and sharing of how things were going as the evening wore on, each of us sharing about where we were on our journey and about the things we were working with. He broke into song, one by the Alkaline Trio, a tune that was dear to my heart.  I joined him, mystified that this song, a beautiful, melodic, and relatively obscure, horrific tale of heartbreak and pain, would implant itself into the evening that night and then, in turn, set me on a torturous agonizing purge of emotion in which I cried harder and more deeply than I ever have in my life, mourning the end of a very dysfunctional time in which I’d been obsessed with a girl named Robin for far too long.  The tears painted rainbows that ran down my cheeks in colors that didn’t have names and that smelled like the scent of her soul. This experience led to me finally let go and then to write a series of songs in her name, one of which I’m very proud of. I never saw her again.

He didn’t care for me at all I don’t think.  And although I was aware that he was merely seeing his own righteousness reflected back towards him through me – that although he’d spot it, he’d got it – he just plain didn’t like me which I was okay with as I didn’t like the me that I saw reflected back through him too much anyway.  Make sense?  

But then, a year or so later, as I’m set to perform, I get word that he jumped off the bridge.  The organizer called me and asked if I wanted to parlay the performance, to wait until the following month when the event would again be happening. I, being eager to sing my great song, didn’t want to wait and had a story to tell about him anyway, the story I mentioned above and how the ceremony had set me on a path of healing and closure with the God-awful girl I loved.  

So I planned to show up. 

The event, Chi-Ka-Go it was called, was a new age dance party held at a local yoga studio and was billed as a celebration for the life of the recently deceased.  Now, I’m all down for a celebration. I certainly hope that some celebrate my life when I die, but the bypassing part of it all made me sick to my stomach. The M.C., one of the dead man’s best friends, was selling his death as what amounted to the man feeling, deep in the pit of his soul, that he needed to leave the Earth plane and dimension because he felt that he could be of better service to the beings who inhabited other planes and dimensions of existence.  “He left Earth because his work was done. He realized he could be more useful in some other place so he left.” They all ate it up. Well, not everyone. There couldn’t be a room full of almost 200 people in which every single one of them chose to overlook the fact that this miserable man had rather grandiosely committed suicide over the fact that some girl didn’t love him or whatever, despite the spiritual sales pitch the M.C was delivering.  

His mother was there, his poor, devastated mother, sitting in the back of the room, probably wanting to mourn, at least just a little, to feel an appropriate sadness, and to share in that sadness with others.  I sat next to her. She was lost and confused. She had so many unanswered questions. It was her son, after all. And he had just died. And this was a funeral of sorts for her dearly departed. The group – all 200 or so of the spandex-clad, chakra-aligned, crystal-donning, burner types – surrounded this woman in what is commonly referred to as a “Cinnamon-Roll Hug,” placing her in the center and forming a swirling mass of bodies around the frail woman, encapsulating her in the center.  She couldn’t escape if she’d tried. She had no choice but to “feel the love.”  

From here the performances ensued, with each artist sharing memories they had and experiences they shared with him, following these stories with interpretive dances, hula-hooping, fire spinning, and in my case, music.  I shared my experience of the recently deceased from the previous year and then sang at the top of my lungs.

It came shining through/dusty blinds in a dimly-lit room

And I saw the light-i-i-ight/I saw the the li-ight 

It was the the sweet-sweet-sweet the sweetest of surrender/sweet-sweet-sweet the sweetest of surrender

The crowd went wild.  I had never heard applause like that before. It was exhilarating, to say the least, and truly an honor to perform at this celebration.  I gave a short talk, alluding to pain and the fact that this man had been suffering. I felt it, pinching the nerves of denial. It hurt me to see no one wanted to speak of the truth, the truth being that this was a suicide. 

So here’s the thing:  No one “leaves the Earth dimension” who is happy with how things are going.  No one wakes up one morning to a happy life, a happy relationship, and a happy financial outlook and purposeful existence and then decides “I think I’ll leave a thinly-veiled suicide threat on my Facebook wall, drop a fuck-ton of acid, and go jump off a bridge into an icy river in the dead of winter because I really think I’ve served my purpose here and there are greener pastures in other ethereal realms.  Think I’ll just go ahead and devastate all of my friends, my mother, and an entire community of people in service of being a greater version of myself elsewhere.” I mean, never say never, but I’d love to have a conversation with the person about to do that, to either talk them out of, or to perhaps even talk them further into such an amazing idea, or perhaps to even help to inspire them to start of movement of others committed to living in other places besides Earth.

But seriously, life is sacred, and it’s sad when it ends, and lots of pretending goes on in some spiritual circles.  In this pretending, there’s something forgotten, or perhaps something denied about what life entails. You can put on a costume and try to forget, about things that happened that hurt you when you were a child, about trauma and heartbreak, abandonment and pain, but the work, the real work – the grueling work – happens when you go into the depths, beyond the protective facade you’ve created to allow yourself to experience all that is there, in all of its agonizing glory.  
I was sad for this person, sad he was gone, sad for his mother, sad for his friends and those in the community.  I thought that his life should be celebrated, but I wished that the real thing that happened had been honored – that he committed suicide – that he ended his life because life was too hard.  That his pain was too much to handle and he didn’t fit in. Perhaps if he’d had the real conversation with others, the real and authentic conversation with those he was close to, he’d be here today. 

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