If you do an internet search on “spiritual but not religious,” you would get nearly 47 million search results! Clearly a large portion of the population is interested in what we’ll call secular spirituality. So let’s look at some common barriers to spiritual growth that are not linked to fulfilling religious requirements or church doctrine.
Before we jump in, let’s first consider the case of the spiritually evolved. When we think about highly spiritual people, what is the single characteristic feature we notice? The answer is the absence of an ego – they seem intensely inclusive, such that they seem to exist as life itself rather than a self-serving individual. They exhibit a certain compassionate detachment from possessions, identifications, even relationships. They tend to love unconditionally. They live in the present.
And so with that context in mind, we can see immediately that the first barrier to spiritual growth is our own identification with all that we perceive. It’s almost like we are walking glue sticks! Everything sticks to us – we have identifications and opinions about everything. That starts with our possessions, our desires for wealth, and our wish for control. It continues with who we identify ourselves to be – our associations with whatever social or political groups, our families, our friends. Digging even deeper, at the core we identify with our gender, our age, our body, and yes even our mind is an ingrained identification. We think we are fundamentally the emotions we feel, the ideas we have, the thoughts that stream through the brain.
The litmus test for uncovering our identifications are our likes and dislikes. If there’s one sure sign that the ego is in play, it is this. As soon as we like or dislike any concept, any thing, any person, any perception – that already means there is a barrier to spirituality. The good news is that all it takes is bringing awareness to the situation to disarm the ego. Instead of being swept away by the wave of the mind’s reaction to stimulus; if we can stop for a second and point at the tendency with a bit of separation from it, that is the beginning of spirituality. That is how we start to build equanimity and move towards oneness, and collapse duality.
To develop that further, spirituality means seeing everything as sacred, as creation, as life manifest. It doesn’t matter how mundane, how distasteful, how inspiring, how beautiful. All these are ego-labels – yes sometimes shared with society at large, and other times personal – but still just human labels. If we open up to seeing everything inclusively, then we are moving forward spiritually. But fundamentally if we hold on to “I love this” and “I hate that” then that is a major road-block on our growth. This might be difficult to digest, so let’s remind ourselves that essentially spiritual mastery means experiencing oneness with existence. And that’s why we say that any movement towards duality is movement away from spiritual maturity. Barriers to spiritual growth are whatever that holds us back from disassembling the ego-based framework that blinds us from divine awareness, from living ever present as pure life manifest. Notice that the important take-away is that there are no external barriers to spirituality; once basic survival is fixed, we are our own barriers and we hold the responsibility to break through. That is the concept of free choice that humans have inherited.
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