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5 Stumbling Blocks to Spiritual Enlightenment

Duane is an avid reader and follower of all things social, spiritual, and political, and a committed leftist.

Don't Avoid Spiritually Dark Places


We're Learning to Face Our True Selves

The spiritual journey is a trip without destination—it requires no luggage or vehicles. One will lodge overnight wherever one needs rest. You will travel straight roads, winding roads, circuitous roads, many times, simultaneously. You will back track and time jump, you'll wonder - "how did I get here, and haven't I seen this before?" Many times those sensations happen together.

Spiritual work is mystical and mundane, exhilarating and alarming. It is ominous, apocalyptic and heartening, and those polarities will make perfect sense. You will come to the understanding that you're not actually learning anything new.
You're remembering what is already in you.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." ~ Marianne Williamson

This is an exploration of five common hindrances we should be aware of as we make the trek without distance back to our Selves.

"I want to know if you can sit with pain

mine or your own

without moving to hide it

or fade it or fix it."

— Oriah Mountain Dreamer

1. All Is NOT Love and Light

The "All is Love and Light" cliche' is a personal pet peeve. This maxim has become a simple platitude, trite and deflective of reality. I'm sure those that constantly repeat this banality mean well. However, seeking enlightenment will take you to some dark and unloving places in you. That is the major purpose of the journey, to discover your own darkness so that you won't unconsciously project it onto the outside world anymore. You will own your darkness, master your darkness. That is a lifelong endeavor.

Repetitively reciting "all is love and light" to yourself and others becomes little more than avoidance. An evasive tactic from looking something unpleasant straight in the eye. I do understand that this vapid expression serves as something to say, when one doesn't know what to say. However. . .

There is a stanza in Oriah Mountain Dreamer's poem, The Invitation, that says:

"I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it or fix it."

Most times our presence is enough. Words can spoil the Presence. Dealing with someone grieving, or simply having a bad day; telling them or yourself in those moments that, 'all is love and light', rings hollow. One will not find their core essence, their integrity, or their sincerity, by perpetuating the all is love and light fallacy.


2. Dependence on a Guru/Teacher

Every journey requires guides, teachers and confidants. However, a dependent relationship with any certain teacher or guru will always lead one away from ones own path. This is never the teacher's transgression, it is always ones own responsibility to maintain a healthy boundary, to know the difference between admiration-respect and the subordination of idol worship.
Remember, the spiritual journey is a solitary endeavor. One will encounter guides, teachers of various disciplines and way-showers along the way. But, it is YOUR journey. Becoming a groupie to a guru puts one on the guru's journey, not ones own. This is not to say that we shouldn't be of service to others, including gurus and teachers. Nonetheless, our service should be of our own accord, not serving out of a sense of obligation or indebtedness. Detach immediately from any teacher/guru that appeals to those.

Financially, if a teacher or guru asks for donations or charges for sharing their knowledge, that's fine. As long as you have the choice to comply or deny. Teachers and gurus have to eat, pay rent and cloth themselves just like you.

Some things to consider when adopting a teacher -

  • Does this teacher share their humanity with you and others?
  • Does this teacher acknowledge your humanity?
  • Does this teacher guide you to your own answers?
  • What would you do, how would your journey be affected if this teacher suddenly left?

Teachers/guides and gurus are necessary on our journey, be they authors, or world renown lecturers or personal coaches. They should equip you for own solitary journey, guide you inside to your own answers, not captivate you into their own sphere of adoration.


3. Enlightenment Snobbery

Spirituality engenders humility. C.S. Lewis eloquently says:

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

Thoroughly reading a holy book, becoming adept at a spiritual discipline or dutifully studying under a master does not make one 'better' than even the most hopeless drunk rogue. We are to nurture our connection to the humanity of others, as well as our own human frailty. Becoming 'enlightened' doesn't place one above others, or closer to 'God', or make one immune to human fallibility.

Religious Fundamentalism


4. Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism destroys one's sense of imagination and wonderment. This is black/white, good/bad, us vs them thinking. I personally believe that fundamentalism is the greatest hindrance to spiritual growth. The spiritual endeavor is fueled by curiosity, a sense of wonderment and even skepticism. Fundamentalists have stopped asking questions, they have stopped examining what they think they know.

There are fundamentalists of all persuasions...religious, political, spiritual. Even atheists can be fundamentalist in their atheism.

“People wrap themselves in their beliefs. And they do it in such a way that you can't set them free. Not even the truth will set them free.” ~ Michael Specter

All spiritual lives require a period of 'unknowing' or agnosticism.

Being sure that your way is the only 'right' way and those traveling other avenues are 'wrong', is not spiritual growth. It's spiritual stubbornness and makes your journey circular, little more than a merry go-round.


5. What Did You Do to Get Yourself Sick?

We've all encountered spiritual neophytes that have simply read a book or attended a lecture, ask someone with a cancer diagnosis - "what did you do to cause/attract that?".
This is the height of spiritual malpractice. There is nothing loving, empathetic or true about that question or attitude toward the misfortune of another. Spiritual understanding doesn't prevent life's calamities, spirituality makes one resilient in the face of life's afflictions.

Put the Law of Attraction down if that is your approach to the tribulations of others. Many times someones 'negative thoughts' didn't give them cancer, or burn their house down, or rear end them at the red light. Someone enduring the travails of life doesn't need or want you reproaching them in their dark hour.

". . .so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

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Read More From Exemplore

Take Yourself Lightly



Spiritual study and practice does come with a sense of accomplishment, pride and many times is pleasurable. One should pursue it with passion. But, be self aware. Forget what you are 'becoming', always remember what you are. You're an exquisite human being, so are others.

Being humble doesn't mean you have to be self effacing and withdrawn. Humility is actually a new level of self confidence. Being open to new ideas, even ideas that conflict with our stated beliefs is not being uncommitted, it's being open to truth. Always, always remember your sense of humor and gratitude. You're free...when you remember what you allowed yourself to be bound by, you will laugh and be thankful that know better. The light can only shine through open curtains.

"A buddhist walks into the pizza parlor and says -
Make me one with everything"

Love and light... {wink}

Duane Townsend

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Duane Townsend


Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on June 29, 2020:

Interesting and informative. Spiritual growth requires time and meditation is one of my favorite activities to remain centered on life. This was a great read.

Duane Townsend (author) from Detroit on September 27, 2016:


Thank you for reading.

The passage 'Our Deepest Fear' is from Marianne Williamson's 1992 book 'A Return To Love'. Nelson Mandela used it in his 1994 inaugural address.

Eleanor on September 27, 2016:

I found this interesting and affirmative. I am concerned, however, that Nelson Mandala's beautiful words are being attributed to Marianne Williamson. This is not the first misrepresentation of his speech that I have seen. This needs correction!

Duane Townsend (author) from Detroit on August 07, 2016:

Thanks Lynn.

Lynn on August 07, 2016:

Duane, I either read this or started to read it and quit a long time ago. Tonight I read it and it is brilliant! Funny how our perspective can change. Thank you.

Duane Townsend (author) from Detroit on August 03, 2016:

Thank you Carolyn.

Carolyn on August 02, 2016:

Love this....I just discovered you and I will keep reading! Thank you!

Awo'Ba on May 08, 2016:

I too have recently undergone a phase where I fell into the "idol worship" trap. Although painful, It has allowed me to grow in confidence moving forward from being "too humble" or "push over" to "standing in my Truth". My truest potential came forth and though still working on balancing, I'm more certain of PURE TRUTHS within myself and life path.

Duane Townsend (author) from Detroit on November 12, 2015:

I am honored by your words Dana. Thank you.

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on November 12, 2015:

A powerful and enlightening read. I like your style Duane Townsend. This hub was a pleasure to stumble upon.

Duane Townsend (author) from Detroit on November 12, 2015:

Thank you Jewels...I would submit that 'judgement' is part of our experience. :)

Jewels from Australia on November 12, 2015:

Many gems in this piece. I am learning many lessons in seeing myself as a presence/connection apart from my teacher. The separation has been painful, yet necessary. I still fall but not as heavily. Paradoxically the falling can be more painful than previously experienced.

My pet peeve is your pet peeve. I try to have compassion for the "Light & Love" brigade, but sense my own annoyance of the difficult journey I'm undertaking, compared to those who seem to find it a breeze by spewing Light and Love everywhere. It sounds like a judgement? It is, but it's also my experience :)

Duane Townsend (author) from Detroit on November 12, 2015:

Thank You Oztinato...confidence is always good. However, be watchful of pride and a sense of superiority.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on November 12, 2015:

Very well written and thought out. Inspiring.

I've often wondered about the humility/confidence thing and how they fit together as they seem like oil and water. I am confidant in my faith but I can also see the danger of being outwardly confident.

Any thoughts?

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