What Is Trauma-Informed, Social Justice-Conscious, Science-Friendly Spirituality Without Spiritual Bypassing?

Lissa Rankin, MD
5 min readFeb 22, 2023

Since the chaos of 2020, I have been writing a book I have not yet published, reckoning with the distortions, disinformation, delusional thinking, and downright demonizing of all things scientific, rational, or fact and reality-based from New Agers I had previously respected. I spent the first year of writing unpacking and dissecting every New Age and conventionally religious belief I had ever been indoctrinated to consider as truth, which, looking back, now seems ridiculous. But like many of us, I had tried on a variety of belief systems in my spiritual seeking days that I later turned out to realize were quite harmful, grooming me to tolerate abuse, preventing me from getting the right trauma therapy, and influencing me to spout beliefs that lacked empathy for others who were suffering, especially those with fewer privileges and less power than me. The day I realized this, I felt like my life came crashing down around me, the same way I felt when I could no longer avoid facing the corruption and moral injury I experienced, working within the medical system where I made my living.

I had been a whistle-blower once before in my career, telling the truth about what I experienced as an insider in the medical system. But I hadn’t expected to blow the whistle again during 2020, when the spiritual self-help and wellness industry that had welcomed me into it since I published Mind Over Medicine in 2013 fell apart during a global pandemic and the racial reckoning resulting from the George Floyd murder. I had thought things would be better in my new career after leaving the hospital in 2007, but it became increasingly obvious to me that there was something with the wellness industry and the spiritual circles I had been floating around. I started listing my concerns and running them by trusted colleagues like Resmaa Menakem, my favorite trauma therapist/ anti-racism teacher and author of My Grandmother’s Hands. Resmaa encouraged me to keep blowing the whistle, which I did. And I got attacked. A lot. Viciously. Mostly by “spiritual white women” who did not want me to say what I have been saying on social media since 2020.

When I told my literary agent what I was working on, she said, “Are you suggesting that our spirituality may have made us mean?” I said yes. I had witnessed, time and again, people (myself included) using spiritual beliefs to justify vicious, unkind, flatteningly cruel behavior in the name of being a “spiritual” person. This was not news to my BIPOC sister. But it was news to me that my spirituality had been making me mean.

As part of my desire to make amends, I committed myself to my anti-racism and decolonizing work, devoted myself to trauma therapy so I could get to the root of all the parts I had been using my spirituality to avoid facing, and tried to deprogram the way I thought about things I previously thought were, at worst, harmless, and at best, quite transformational. Turns out I was wrong about a lot of things. So I set out to humble myself and clean up my brainwashing, one oppressive thought and belief at a time.

That part was excruciating but necessary, ego-stripping but gratitude-inducing, as I crowd sourced my process on social media and invited my online community to help me clean up my act. The result of that deprogramming process was Part One of the not yet published book, which I’ll be releasing exclusively as part of my next online program, Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 2.0, the follow up to the Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 101 class we led in 2020.

Part Two of the book, about rebuilding a spirituality free from all that spiritually bypassing, oppressive hogwash, was emotionally easier but spiritually more challenging, I wanted to make sure we didn’t throw out any valuable spiritual babies with the muddy ass, oppressive, “a little bit culty” bathwater of fundamentalist religions or New Age spirituality. So I sought out help from my community again to ask the question, “What is a trauma-informed, social justice conscious, science-friendly spirituality- without spiritual bypassing?” What is left that’s worth cherishing and protecting? You all were AWESOME. I cannot thank those of you who helped school me enough, and I want to thank every single person who cared enough to help educate me so I could broadcast what I was learning far and wide.

But I wanted to be careful about my recovery process to make sure I didn’t do what many trauma survivors do- switching from one dogmatic belief system to its polar opposite, in this case, from mystic to skeptic. So many people I know who wake up to how oppressive fundamentalist religions and New Age spirituality can be flip 180 degrees to the other side, becoming dogmatic, cynical skeptics with haughty contempt and derision for anything mystical, mysterious, or sacred. That wasn’t the path that felt natural or true to me, as much as science is my background, having been trained as a medical doctor. Having had direct mystical experiences and coming face to face with mysteries I still cannot explain, I needed something that didn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, a spirituality that left room for the sacred and made space for the holy mysteries of life, free of oppressive indoctrination. I was on a quest for, a spirituality that not only wouldn’t make us mean, but would invite more intimacy with our own vulnerable parts, as well as with each other’s vulnerability.

I just finished the manuscript of new book this week, and its working title is LOVE BIGGER: An Exploration Of Spirituality Without Spiritual Bypassing. The book will be released exclusively as part of a six-week online course Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 2.0 that I’m teaching on Zoom with some of the best teachers I know, the ones who helped me learn to find my way through the minefield of those places where science and spirituality collide, where social justice concerns and politics are an active part of our spirituality, where we can develop spiritually without avoiding our trauma healing or avoiding the necessary conflict that leads to personal transformation and social change.

We invite you to join us and welcome a shared communal exploration of meaning, sense-making, deprogramming, and a deep dive into what spirituality means when we take away the ways in which it can oppress us, cause us to oppress others, or narcotize us out of facing reality, healing our trauma, and avoiding conflict when we need to confront injustice.

At the root of the program will be the spirit of what Harvard professor Paul Farmer, MD, PhD said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” With a focus on what’s wrong but also what could be more right with the way we engage spiritually, as a way to come together to practice our spirituality in ways that, at the very least, attempt not to hurt anyone, and at the peak experience, just might help us heal, as a way to help us love bigger and deepen our intimacy with each other, with whatever we might call God, and with each other, we invite you to join us.

Join us for Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 2.0

Originally published at https://lissarankin.com.

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Lissa Rankin, MD

Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling.