When I left the church at 18, and then again when I began pulling back from New Age spirituality once I learned about spiritual bypassing and its antidote, Internal Family Systems (IFS), I struggled with what I believed in. Did I believe there was a benevolent God? Did I believe in heaven or spirit guides or angels or past lives? Did I believe Near Death Experiences proved there was an afterlife? Did I believe in karma or spiritual healing or channeling?
The cognitive parts of me wanted to figure things out (so my controlling parts didn’t have to wrangle with all that confusing uncertainty!) But I no longer knew what I believed in. My skeptical parts wondered if my ideas about God or the Universe or whatever you want to call the Great Mystery or Force of Creation or angels or guides were just some imaginary friends that comforted me, like the imaginary Sister Eddie or the invisible trotting pony my little brother used to believe were real and kept him company until he outgrew them. The skeptical parts were polarized with naïve young parts that just wanted to believe that there was some benevolent force in the world that cared about me and about us, that knew me intimately and loved me, that helped to guide me and use however it could to guide us towards some sort of “Divine will” or aligned path. Some of my controlling parts were exhausted from trying to use the force of my will to “make stuff happen” and just wanted to surrender to Something Larger that could help me find my way to something meaningful, deep, service oriented, just, joyful, intimate, and enriched in a bewildering world.
My cognitive parts never resolved the “What do I believe in?” question. But it turned out that this didn’t matter. Because the further you journey down the path of healing trauma, the more direct spiritual experiences you have that can’t be explained with the rational mind and also can’t be denied or debunked. What I discovered along my trauma healing journey with IFS was an utterly natural spirituality that was beyond a belief system.
Sometimes I brought unexplainable spiritual experiences of awe to therapy because I couldn’t believe that what was happening was real. My very wise therapist explained it to me that more Self-led we are, the more the wise, compassionate, loving force of divinity inside of us guides our path and comforts our parts, the more direct, inexplicable, and synchronistic experiences we may have. I didn’t have to believe in anything to have these direct experiences. They just happened as a side effect of ten years of working with the IFS model, healing my exiles, and gaining the trust of my protectors.
What are some of the direct spiritual experiences IFS practitioners and clients report experiencing as side effects of healing trauma and integrating our parts into a Self-led system?
The Gifts Of The Spirit: At the root of every genuine spiritual path is the quest for love, compassion (not just for others, but for our own parts), truth, healing, service, and justice. All of these emotions, states of awareness, and ways of being are a natural consequence of healing our parts and opening up to Self-leadership At the root of every genuine spiritual path is the quest for love, compassion (not just for others, but for our own parts), truth, healing, service, and justice. All of these emotions, states of awareness, and ways of being are a natural consequence of healing our parts and opening up to Self-leadership.
Love & Intimacy: IFS offers the “how” of pursuing intimate relationship as a spiritual path. Not only does IFS offer us the “how” of self-compassion. It also allows those we are truly intimate with the chance to become our “tor-mentors” while also helping us learn to love ourselves and others. If a spiritual path does not include bringing more love to ourselves, our relationships and our communities, it is likely not a path worth pursuing. A tor-mentor is not the same thing as framing an abuser as a teacher (a common spiritual bypassing way of letting abusers off the hook of accountability.). A real, healthy tor-mentor practices IFS with you- both of you deepening intimacy and growing together as a path of love and intimacy.
Synchronicity: The more parts get healing, the more we inhabit what IFS calls “Self,” the more frequently we experience outer world synchronicities that can feel like mysterious, even magical affirmations that we are on the right path, even if we don’t know where we’re going. These synchronicities may even play out as outer “redo’s” of old traumatic patterns, anchoring the inner “redo’s” we implement and practice during unburdenings.
Meditation: Those who benefit from meditation practices can learn non-bypassing meditation practices, like The Path meditation, to strengthen Self energy and regulate the nervous system while also healing parts.
Mystical Experiences & Non-Dual Awareness: The more parts are healed, the more Self energy comes on line, the more those who practice IFS as a path of recovery also tend to experience mystical experiences or what some might call experiences of “non-dual awareness” (in other words, “No Bad Parts.”). When we no longer polarize between us/them or black/white but can hold seemingly opposing views with compassion, the spaciousness that emerges helps us view the world in a more gentle, loving, but also fiercely compassionate way, without bypassing.
Spirit Guides & Angels: What some might identify as spiritual helpers from the other side- spirit guides, angels, animal totems, etc- frequently show up in IFS work as aspects of Self that portray themselves in the inner world as objects of support, comfort, and guidance. We don’t have to believe in them or not believe in them. They just show up sometimes.
Entities: What some might call “entities” show up as “unattached burdens” and can be released without the need to unburden them. Similarly, we don’t have to label these, believe in them, or call them “evil,” they just emerge on the IFS healing journey and can be released (exorcised, you might say) without needing to unburden them.
Social Justice: Any spiritual path worth pursuing is rooted in the notion that all beings matter equally and there are no “better than” or “special, chosen people. As Harvard professor Paul Farmer said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
These are just some of the issues we’ll be discussing in the weekend online workshop Spirituality Without Bypassing with Lissa & Dick Schwartz. The early bird special ends Sunday at midnight PST, and we do have a cap on enrollment, so please register now if you want to secure a spot and be part of a community of inquiry and spiritual practice, exploring the natural spirituality that arises beyond the realm of spiritual bypassing. We welcome you to join us.