Integral Spirituality as an Antidote to Spiritual Bypass
A Good State isn’t Enough – We Need to Develop Our Stages
by Duncan Cryle
A Good State Isn’t Enough
In Buddhist and other spiritual practices, we focus on getting into a ‘good state’ – one that is clear, radiant, blissful, loving and equanimous. Mistakenly, as spiritual practitioners, we tend to assume that this means we are going to act and behave in a matching way.
It’s humbling and uncomfortable when we realize this isn’t the case. Aside from being in a good state, there is work to do on our “stages” – our levels of maturity and growth, particularly in how we show up in the world.
Being in a good state doesn’t mean we don’t end up causing suffering to ourselves and others through ignorance of the impact we are having. And a good state alone doesn’t mean we can fully be there for another person in the ways that they need. In these deeply challenging times more than ever it’s important we are bringing our best wisdom and compassion to help our world – which means working from as high a stage as we can.
Ken Wilber and others’ development of Integral Spirituality has provided a great service in helping us separate out states from stages, and understand how essential the “stage” work is if we are to show up with compassion.
The Work We Really Need as Spiritual Practitioners
A good state helps give us the resilience to work more deeply with stages, but in themselves no amount of good states are going to do this work for us. Here are some practical examples of key stage work from my own life:
- understanding cultural baggage and biases
- clearing up mental models and blocks around money
- clearing up views around power, hierarchy and authority
- doing the work as a white male to understand the impact and privilege I have
- ability to engage with community without needing to control everything – and without abdicating
- maturity to be able to lead skillfully and to be able to follow supportively according to what’s needed
Spiritual Bypass as an Ignoring of ‘Stages’
Spiritual bypass is a hot topic in spiritual communities these days. Let’s look at spiritual bypass through the lens of integral spirituality. In short, if we are not facing up to the need to do the “stage” work, we are spiritually bypassing. To make matters worse, where we tend to spiritually bypass are the places where we are in a poor ‘stage’ and least want to examine it!
Let’s take money as an example. It’s common for meditators and spiritual explorers to have immature or troubled relationships to money. We might try to “hang out” in a good state and leave someone else manage financial matters. We might just see money as something material and corrupting, and decide to have as little as possible to do with it. In my case, a certain amount of money came easily in the form of a regular pay check. It took a long time to see that I was stuck in an “employee” mentality, rather than a mind of abundance that could also create new opportunities for bringing income and resources to support Dharma.
Sitting on the meditation cushion in a good state doesn’t really touch these patterns. We can only shift these patterns when we consider how we are actually showing up in the world regarding money and the principle of dāna (generosity).
“Despite having a strong meditation practice with clear meditative ‘states’, I came to the painful realization that I was acting from a low ‘stage’.
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Another uncomfortable pattern for me was a Mr Nice Guy / lack of accountability pattern. Largely unconsciously – and conveniently – I enjoyed being friendly and “balanced” with people, while others got stuck with being the “bad cop”. It was a lot easier to be in a good state when others were doing the messy work! It was years – and with much training from particularly Cata Sensei – before it began to dawn on me that this was a harmful and limited pattern. Rather than being at the high stage I thought I was, I had to face that I was bypassing important work in how I showed up. What’s your equivalent? Probably it’s something multiple people have told you for years that somehow you don’t quite see or get!
Testing our States and Stages in a Living Lab
It’s almost impossible to do this work alone. I feel very blessed to live at Clear Sky Center, with daily contact with my teachers and community who are all committed to doing this work of stage development. Karma yoga – the incredible opportunity to give service to our Teachers, the Dharma and the Sangha – is a great vehicle for stage work. When we try to be of service and act with compassion, it quickly becomes apparent where we are limited and have more work to do.
One feature of stages is that we cannot see or understand a higher stage than the one we are at in a particular area. Having real-life models we can study and interact with is an invaluable aid. Not to mention that when we are operating from a low stage, there’s no doubt our teachers and community are going to let us know about that! Whatever your path, I highly encourage you to spend time with people who have done more work than you in particular areas. This is a fast path for finding out where you may be in a lower stage, and what a more mature stage looks like.
A Call to Action: Do This Work!
In summary – if you are a meditator or spiritual explorer and want to show up as compassionately as you can in the world, I strongly believe this is work you have to. With Qapel and Sensei we are blessed with two teachers who actively and deeply embrace this integral spirituality work. Combining it with depth realization from a 2500 year old Buddhist tradition, they have the willingness and compassion to work personally with students on stage development. I highly encourage us all to do this work of 21st century awakening for our own growth, and for the benefit of everyone we interact with, and for the ability to apply our spiritual path to the deep and complex challenges of our times.