When I was a kid, my mom spent a lot of time going to Eucharistic Adoration.
For the non-Catholics and the uninitiated, Adoration is when you sit in a temple with the consecrated body of Christ — aka, the Eucharist — at the altar. You kneel in front of a pew and pray to it for an hour, or however long your designated time slot is.
The church we belonged to, St. Marguerie Bourgeoys in Brookfield, Connecticut, actually had a system set up where the body of Christ was never left alone in the temple. There were people who volunteered to pray inside of that temple at all hours of the night, including my mom, who if I recall correctly was there at 4 or 5 a.m. some days.
My mother was a hard-core Catholic back then, which was personally unbearable for me as a teenager. Looking back now, though, I know that she was searching. As someone who struggled from a lack of confidence her whole life, she was looking for purpose and healing, and her religion was her way of dealing with that.
Fast forward about 15 years. My mom is no longer a strict Catholic. I am now 29 and living in Florida, and my religion, if you want to call it that, is based around the elements, the cycles of the moon, the universe and the spirit world.
In early December, while reeling from a bad breakup that left me pretty bankrupt in the self-esteem department, I had my own spiritual experience on Siesta Key Beach, trying to connect with the spirits of the Gulf of Mexico.
It was one of those days where I woke up and everything I did felt wrong. Get out of bed? Wrong. Walk the dog? Wrong. Read a book? Wrong. Eat a bagel? Wrong. Eat eggs? Wrong. Go out with friends? Wrong. Stay home all day? Wrong. And so, after getting stuck in my head and beating myself up for being an unproductive, sad ball of nothing, I’d end up burying my head in a pillow and screaming.
To avoid that, I decided to go to the beach because it does have a way of giving me tranquility when I’m mixed up. As I walked up and down the shores, passing crowds of beachgoers and watching kids splashing happily on cool Florida December day, I was overwhelmed by emotion. There I was, alone on the shore, dressed up like a sea witch with a flowing blue skirt, and even I couldn’t manage to summon a partner who wasn’t a huge disappointment. I felt so alone in a huge crowd of people. I felt like all of the families and togetherness I saw around me would never be for me.
But who cares, I thought somewhere in my subconscious mind. I’m here having a religious experience. I’m on the spiritual plane. These mere mortals with their kids and vacation rentals and frisbees and bags of Baked Lays would never understand.
Then, as I walked off the shores and towards the parking lot, I thought of my mom spending so much time in that chapel, praying to the Eucharist and hoping for answers, and I realized what I was doing really wasn’t that different.
Then, a few days later, I realized there was a phrase for what I was doing.
The phrase is “spiritual bypassing,” and it happened to come up in one of my sobriety meetings a few days after my beach going experience.
According to Psychology Today, the term was coined by psychotherapist John Welwood and is defined as “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings and developmental tasks” (there’s a whole article about it on Psychology Today’s website if you want to click the link I’ve posted above).
I realized this is basically what I was doing. I was trying to have a spiritual experience while dealing with the very real sadness and disappointment that came from heartbreak. And that’s all fine and good. After all, how many times have you seen a movie where the hero, down on her luck, throws her hands up in the air and goes, “god, give me a sign!”
But part of life is doing the actual work of dealing with sadness. It’s something that’s fundamental to the emotional aspect of sobriety, and important for actually growing and developing as a person. The whole idea behind mindfulness and meditation is to sit with your feelings, no matter what they are, and let yourself feel them, even if you’re afraid of what they could bring up. Only then can you begin to heal.
It’s funny. I KNOW this. I took an entire mindfulness based stress reduction course at UMass Memorial Medical Center’s center for mindfulness back in 2016 when I lived in Worcester, Massachusetts. But it’s so easy to forget the principles of meditation and the importance of feeling everything you have to feel when you’ve been knocked down by tough times in life.
There’s nothing wrong with a belief in something bigger than yourself. Prayer, connecting with spirits, whatever you want to call it — it can all help. But the only real cures to sadness are 1) time and 2) doing the work. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
That on paper might seem like a very non-magical thing to say. But I actually think that being a more emotionally healthy person and grounded within yourself can make you a better astrologer, psychic medium, witch or whatever. My best magical work always happens when it’s coming from a place of honesty. And how can you be honest if you’re running away from a part of yourself?
I may be a spiritually connected being, but I still live in the human world, and not even a well-timed spell can instantly cure decades of familial trauma.