Obstacles to Spiritual Liberation

In Response to Quora Question: "What is the single biggest obstacle to spiritual liberation?"

I think there are countless barriers, many of which have already been alluded to in the comments here. I have also observed that different ones will present in different ways for different people at different times...the emphasis and influence of each one constantly shifting.

In any case, one obstacle that has not yet been mentioned is language itself. As our exploration of a spiritual aspect of being evolves, words like "liberation" and "spiritual" will likely take on different meanings (or no meaning at all). So as we delve more deeply into this dimension, we may find that words, concepts, descriptions, etc. interfere with our fully accessing "spiritual" experience.

Here are some other barriers that may often arise in a journey of what I find helpful to define as deepening gnosis or "spiritual knowing:"

- Operating without the guiding intentionality of loving kindness towards self and others, and a desire for the greatest good for the greatest number.

- Confusing things like tribal conformance or codependence for artful compassion; having a poor model for what agape looks like.

- Neglecting to support and nourish all other dimensions of being throughout the process (i.e. mind, heart, body, community, purpose, legacy, sexuality, etc.) as we engage in spiritual disciplines.

- Allowing any one of these dimensions to dominate our attention or distract us from our primary focus; in other words, an inability to manage and harmonize these aspects of self.

- Mistaking our previous epiphanies or experiences, public commitments, routine habits, the observations of others, our standing in a spiritual community, the teachings of any religious tradition, exoteric practices or anything else for the rigorous, challenging inner work of engaging spirit every day.

- Reflexive resistance to letting go of certain thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc., instead of cultivating letting go itself as a reflex.

- A preoccupation with measuring spiritual progress or accomplishment.

As I mentioned already, I think there are countless barriers, but these few seem to be both common and pernicious. A more subtle obstacle, and one I have been working to remedy in myself for most of my adult life, is the tendency to navigate new information and experiences in an unconscious way. Specifically, I believe the most beneficial state of being is neutral, fluid and nonreactive, where all new events and encounters are held gently, openly and without prejudice. At first, this requires much effort. Over time, it becomes more effortless. But the impulse to either dismiss or integrate something new without conscious, compassionate consideration persists; there seems no end to a necessary vigilance, just as there is no end to growth and transformation.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on fear, since it was mentioned as an obstacle. I believe fear, like many strong emotions, can challenge us to change our mode of thinking, our reflexive habits, etc; that is, to spur us on toward certain stages or forms of "liberation." It can also ground us more firmly in unhealthy modes and habits, and undermine any sense of growth, healing, harmony or freedom. But either outcome is a result of our choice: our response to the fear. So it isn't fear (or guilt, or shame, or grief, or anger, etc.) that itself is an obstacle, it is the lack of skillfulness with which we respond to such a powerful emotion that creates barriers for us.

I hope this was helpful.


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