The path of our spiritual development is never a straight line. Just like any other journey, it is full of delays and roadblocks, but in this case, most of the delays are of our own making.
When we first come to our spiritual practice, we bring all of our flaws along with us. Flaws make us human, but things like impatience, desire, or unrealistic expectations can stop our spiritual progress in its tracks. Getting stuck at one of these “spiritual impasses” is common, and it doesn’t mean that we should abandon the path or that we aren’t cut out for the spiritual life. In fact, working through these roadblocks can be seen as an opportunity: these impasses are often what give us the deepest and most valuable knowledge about ourselves while equipping us with the tools and awareness we need to complete our journey.
The deepest wisdom often comes from struggle, but it is important that we do not let these obstacles stop our progress entirely. This isn’t an easy process: many students don’t even realize when their development has plateaued, let alone understand why it’s happening. As spiritual seekers, it’s essential that we learn what these impasses are so that we can recognize them in ourselves and learn how we can move past them, uncovering deeper truths about ourselves in the process.
This list is based on the teachings from Higher Self Yoga Book I, written by Nanette V. Hucknall, the founder of Higher Self Yoga. To learn more about spiritual impasses and how they keep us from reaching our full potential, pick up your copy today!
1. Feeling Like You Don’t Have Enough Time
If you find yourself too busy to meditate, read, or go to class, you’ve reached a plateau in your spiritual development. Disruptions and delays are to be expected on the journey, but the longer this situation continues, the harder it will be to get back into your routine and resume making consistent progress. If too much time passes in this state, you will need a real shock to restart your journey.
Signs You’re At This Impasse: A lack of enthusiasm is often the strongest indicator you’re at an impasse. If you find yourself saying you’re too tired to meditate, that your schedule is too demanding, or that you have more important things to attend to, you’ve clearly hit this classic roadblock. In the worst-case scenario, you might find yourself forgetting about meditation or reading to the point where you’re not even making excuses anymore, which means the situation has become particularly bad.
Note: This lack of enthusiasm can also arise because you’re becoming impatient to move on in the material, or that your teacher can’t teach you what you want to know. This is a sign of perfectionism, covered in #2.
How to Overcome It: First, meditate and ask your Higher Self for a first step to help you conquer the negative feelings that are arising towards your practice. If you have a teacher, ask them for assistance. Moving beyond this hurdle takes vigilance and self-discipline. Push yourself to go to class, meditate, and read. Even if the enthusiasm isn’t there at the beginning, just doing the work can reawaken your interest. If you’re still struggling, try reading a new spiritual book, even if it doesn’t relate to your teaching. You can also work with your heart to reconnect to your teacher. Simply feeling the love of your teacher towards you can rekindle the spark and get you back on your path.
2. Becoming Lost in Perfectionism
Perfectionism on a spiritual journey can manifest in two ways: a student expecting themselves to be perfect, and a student expecting their teacher to be perfect. Though the two can manifest differently, needing the teacher to be perfect comes from the student’s own expectations of perfection. They think, “If my teacher isn’t perfect, how can I achieve this?” Many perfectionist students leave a teacher to look for the “perfect” teacher, but what they really need to do is recognize and let go of their attitude.
Signs You’re At This Impasse: Do you always tell yourself “I can do better?” Challenging and pushing yourself to improve is a good trait, but always expecting better from yourself turns you into a negative self-critic, and in turn, can lead you to criticize others for not living up to your unrealistic expectations. In turn, perfectionist students expect their teacher to be all-knowing about every subject. No matter how much a teacher knows, this type of student will require still more. Perfectionists want the teacher to have a personality more like their own, which would make them feel more comfortable while keeping them from seeing any flaws in the teacher.
How to Overcome It: In order to overcome this plateau, first you need to identify the root cause of your perfectionism. Did you have a perfectionist parent or teacher? Or is your perfectionism self-imposed? Once you have identified the cause of your perfectionism, then you need to start to change your behavior. This will take a long time because it is so very much a part of your identity, and changing it requires careful day-to-day observation. Only when you truly see yourself and realize the extent to which your thoughts follow this pattern can you start to change.
3. Getting Caught Up in Emotional Desires
Our strongest desire is the need for love—not sexual love, but the deep desire to love and be loved. The love from the teacher, the love from a companion or friends, and the love from brothers and sisters in the spiritual as well as the physical family, are all emotional desires that can be played out to excess. Since this love from the teacher isn’t what the student really desires (which in most cases is parental love), the student will feel not only unloved but also not included. These feelings, which are really projections, can cause negative attitudes toward the spiritual family. This plateau can last for a while until the student realizes the nature of the inner craving and lets go of this need.
Signs You’re At This Impasse: Do you often feel the need to be taken care of and given material support? What about the need to have a family, to become successful, and to have the right type of home and surroundings? Again, some of these needs are normal and are very much a part of the individual’s life path.
How to Overcome it: Look at your life and think about your emotional needs. List the needs and notice the ones that are excessive and unrealistic. Take each of these needs and determine the cause of the need. Learning to discipline yourself will help in overcoming needs that can take you off the spiritual path. Check with your Higher Self about whether or not this is true.
4. Getting Caught Up in Physical Desires
Physical desires are part of being human, but all desires can easily become addictions that keep students from growing spiritually. As we just covered, one of the most difficult problems that can arise in any spiritual teaching is the desire for love, and in many cases, the need for love can cross over into the sexual realm. Since sexual energy is very strong, this particular desire can be exceptionally harmful. Many initiates have fallen victim to the desire for sex and have strayed off the path because this desire causes them to misuse their energy.
Signs You’re At This Impasse: While it is the most powerful (and the most common), sexuality is not the only distracting physical desire. For instance, some students may have the urge to exercise to the extent that they build up the body to disproportionate levels. Observe your thoughts throughout the day, and see how often they are consumed by physical desire. If these thoughts become intrusive to the point that they disrupt your meditation or make it difficult to concentrate on reading, they’re definitely affecting your progress.
How to Overcome It: Excessive physical desires of any kind will keep the student from moving forward, but once again, moderation is key. A student needs to be in control of all bodily functions, and a lack of exercise can be just as dangerous as excess exercise. By the same token, sexual activity is not to be avoided entirely, but it should not consume one’s thoughts at the expense of your spiritual progress. Learn to redirect the energy of these physical desires into your studies, and engage your mind with meditation or learning when they become too powerful.
5. Wanting Worldly Recognition
It is very human to crave acknowledgment of our efforts and talents, but this need becomes dangerous when we start laboring solely for the recognition and approval of others. This issue sounds very specific, but often difficult to spot in ourselves as it is easy to lie to ourselves about our true motivations. Dedicating your life to art or music is a noble path, but not when it is done out of a selfish desire for fame.
Signs You’re At This Impasse: If you start seeing your spiritual development merely as a gateway to worldly success, you are likely at this impasse. Say you’re a student who is an artist who desires fame and to sell your art for high prices. This need can become so strong that it carries over into your spiritual studies, to the point that if you aren’t achieving success as an artist, you will likely blame the teachings, the teacher, and your spiritual community. You will also lose sight of the true value of your art, seeing it only as a means to an end.
How to Overcome It: Teachers are particularly helpful at correcting this behavior in their students, but the student also needs to be active in developing their profession and following the indications given. We should always work hard on our vocations, but there is always a fine line here, and it is very important to observe your motives and watch your lower nature as you follow your dharma.
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6. Wanting Material Things to Excess
Unsurprisingly, greed can be a huge hindrance to spiritual development. There is nothing wrong with wanting a nice home, clothes, and money to take care of your needs. A student may be born into wealth or even make a lot of money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, what we mean by excess is where someone who is comfortable and has enough still craves more in the way of possessions and wealth.
Signs You’re At This Impasse: Do you base your identity on what you have, like the cars you drive or the size of your house? Such a person can reach an impasse when their values need to change and they become blocked from moving forward. And don’t fool yourself into thinking generosity and charitable donations automatically mean you’re not suffering from this impasse – generous people can still be caught up in pursuing all the trappings that wealth provides.
How to Overcome It: One of the most difficult things a student needs to do is to become totally unattached to material things. You can own beautiful objects and create a home full of lovely pieces, but it becomes a problem if you think that you need those things in order to impress people or to feel confident about yourself. As long as you are not attached to any of those things, then you can fill a home with as many objects as you want.
7. Needing More Joy and Fun
Relaxation is good and necessary for the body, but when you are a yogi, too much relaxation makes you neglect your spiritual practice. Seeking joy and happiness on a personal level is a good thing, but like many other impasses, should be kept in moderation.
Signs You’re At This Impasse: Take an honest, objective look at your life. Is it filled every day with entertaining activities like watching TV or playing games? Do you justify it by saying things like, “I work hard all day, I deserve to have fun?” What about playing sports or going out with friends? When you need to spend a lot of time engaged in fun things, whether it is watching TV, going out socially, playing a sport, or even filling your life with all kinds of activities that feed the need for fun, then odds are you’re indulging in excessive pleasure. In general, a yogi needs to keep exercise, socializing, and entertainment in proportion. Doing just one of these activities in excess can be indulgent. This need to be entertained usually comes from a deep core of sadness, and can be a sign that we’re scared to be still and alone with our thoughts.
How to Overcome It: A good plan is to spend three to four evenings, plus one day, doing fun and relaxing activities. Sometimes, an evening spent in meditation and spiritual practice provides a good balance. It is important to recognize the need for balance. Just as some people are stuck in the desire for fun, others are stuck in the need to always work. Though it is more positive for a yogi when work, rather than play, becomes the only focus, it is still excessive and requires balance.