As a kid, I was a firecracker. If someone poked me, they would get poked back, or sent up in flames. I wasn’t afraid of a fight. I even got into fistfights on occasion—amusing when you consider that I was the smallest (or next to smallest) kid in my class every single year. And a girl.
But these days, I hardly get in to fights at all. After 12 years of practicing yoga, I have learned to quell my temper considerably and talk about things in a reasonable way. I take responsibility for problems even when I’m not sure they are my fault because I know I play some part in every conflict. I’ve become a no-holds-barred peacemaker.
For the most part, I think the changes I’ve implemented in my relational strategies have been good ones. The truth is I never liked getting into a fight—I just knew how to do it. Life is a lot more pleasant without the four-letter-word exchanges and after-school rages I knew so well growing up as a teenager in Brooklyn. But … fights are so foreign to me these days that they actually scare me a little. Sometimes I find it hard to take a stand on issues I care about because I am trying to be compassionate and create peace rather than friction. I see my friends and fellow practitioners also doing their best to keep things on the level, and stay mellow. But it’s hard to deny that there’s a lot of pent-up emotion under the surface. Sometimes a friend will smile at me when I know she is hurting or a teacher in class will put on a poker face that won’t relay any emotion at all. Or worse, someone will lie and give a false reason for canceling plans/bailing on a project/not returning a call so as not to create waves. I know we’re all trying to be equanamous and all, but are we sitting our highly skilled yoga butts on our feelings? (And when they do come out, it’s like a tourniquet’s come loose–the fallout puts my grade school spars to shame.)
The avoidance or denial of ugly feelings in the name of a spiritual path, like yoga or meditation, is often known as spiritual bypassing. The idea is that we stay so committed to our spiritual philosophies or goals, that we sweep real emotions under the yoga mat. It’s a slippery slope, to be sure. A world in which we all walk around exuding unsightly outpourings of emotion without self-awareness or control is not a world I’d like to visit—much less live in. That said, a healthy argument between friends or coworkers every now and then is good for the soul. It can be very healing to know that someone saw you at your least civilized—and still loves you.
So, I wonder if I should be getting into more fights–if all of us yogis should be getting into more fights. What do you think? Do you ever find yourself spiritually bypassing? (If you said “no,” is that maybe a form of spiritual bypass?) As a yogi or meditator, what’s it like to wrestle with the fine line between mindful action and repression? Write in and offer your view!
I think the key, not just semantics, is the difference between a fight and an argument. I think of Marge Simpson’s advice to Lisa, loosely quoted, ” When you have an opinion that others might disagree with, push it down, all the way down to your feet where it will fester for the rest of your life.”
Haha! Love it, David. Thanks!
I really wish you would write more articles! I love reading them
Thank you, Katie!
Another great subject here like always Karen.
Becoming angry or focusing our anger to fight injustice is one thing but fighting is another. I’ve realized over the years that most of what family, friends and people fight about are usually petty and what we are usually doing is propping up our egos and attempting to maintain the stories we tell ourselves. I know that yoga has trained me…taught me…gave me insight to respond differently than I used to. I understand the spiritual bypass problem I totally getbit…but over reacting out of drama or fear or ego is just unhealthy and never worth it in the long run. I know I’m a different person now than I was 12 years ago before yoga. My blood pressure used to be way too damn high even when I was quite young. My doc is quite impressed with how low it has become. Not from the actual physical yoga…not from my diet …but from learning to breath deeply and not fighting/arguing with others like I used to.
Thanks for the wonderful reply! When I get angry, I can actually feel the moment that my ego takes over. It’s like it gets very hungry all of a sudden and I get the urge to feed it by making myself right and making someone else wrong. If I can just breathe through the experience, the urge passes.
On a sort of funny note, my blood pressure has been considered bordering on “too low” for a few years now. But it’s not from lack of stress; it likely has more to do with the way I am built … the doctor has never prescribed more fighting :-).
Great post Karen! I think that when we ´byspass´ spiritually, as you well said, we don´t really advance that much in our spiritual quest, just lie to ourselves a little bit and stay on the surface…I realize that I did that for many years when I was practicing yoga and partying full-time, it´s hard to stay in touch with your emotions and keep them under control when you do that..
But, coming back to the topic- I think if we are really honest with ourselves then we realize that we are still a far cry from spiritually- realized yogis, that, even thoug we are on the right paths, it takes years to change habits, not hours of yoga intensives..but that´s just fine. Acknowledging and accepting our limitations is the first step of overcoming them.
I really agree with what Philip said, about family quarrels being mostly a matter of propping up the ego and petty issues- coming from a family where arguing was the main channel of communication I find it hard to overcome it consciously- I avoided it completely in my first years of yoga practice, bypassing you may say, and now I´m more in a´face-it -and- be-real´stage, however I do find my awareness remaining separate and observant while my emotional side tries to make me lose.
I´m a practiioner of asthanga, it´s a therapeutical path, so I find that having “unpleasant” or ” ugly”, as you say , feellings is a part of the practice, a part of your clensing expierience. The same goes for life beyond yoga mat- it´s ok to have confrontations with yourself as well as with others, but one should apply the principles of ahimsa and understand the real motives behind his agitation and whether he/she is fighting for a worthy cause.