Overcoming Barriers to Spiritual Growth

Overcoming Barriers to Spiritual Growth 


If you have rejected spirituality because you were put off by religion at some point, there are many people out there like you. If you have a nagging sense that there just might be something worthwhile about finding your way back to spirituality, there are also countless others like you. Allow me to offer some ideas about how you might overcome common barriers for your spiritual growth.

I am not claiming that I know any more about spirituality than you or the next person. I will tell you that I was an atheist for most of my early life, then agnostic for maybe a decade, and that I am now solicited for spiritual guidance. I have worked in the field of addictions recovery for more than a decade and during that time I have helped many people find a richer and more rewarding spiritual life.  

Let’s start the discussion with an agreement that any living person cannot say with absolute certainty that they know what is happening on a spiritual realm. That way we don’t have to get caught up with who is “right” or “wrong”, and can simply open our minds to the possibilities. Once we are open to the possibilities then we can be flexible in our thinking, and accepting of the beliefs of others, while still finding our own way to spiritual connection.

The next thing that we should establish is that we are making a distinction between religion and spirituality. Most web searches for the root of the word “religion” reflect the Latin words “religare”,“ religio”, or “religionem”. In contrast, the Latin root of the word “spiritual” simply means “to breathe” or “breath”. We are given the breath of life, which animates all living things, including, of course, you and me. 

Many of us have had negative experiences with religion which have caused us to turn away from anything and everything that reminds us of those experiences. For some of us what our religions had to say didn’t, or still do not, stand up to logical rational thinking. It isn’t too difficult for some of us to feel that we are too smart for religion. Hypocrisy has turned some of us away from religion.  

Still others find that some of these religions, based in ancient times and ways of thinking, are so far removed from our own modern day lives that we cannot relate. In any case, we threw the proverbial baby away with the bathwater by rejecting spirituality along with religion. The good news is that you don’t have to believe in a religion to be spiritual. More good news is that, as you grow spiritually, you might find your way right back to a religious path, knowing that way again to The Source, for the first time.

Here are some concepts that might allow you to find your way back to a spiritual path. Let’s begin with an agreement to reject any attempts to make sense of what God or Spirit is up to, what It looks like, what It thinks, what It does or doesn’t want, what religion is right. If there is a Creator of the Universe, isn’t it about as likely that a gnat will figure out Nuclear Fusion as it is that a human mind will figure out what goes on in the “mind” of the Creator of the Universe? Once we throw away a need to understand what we cannot, we are free to accept what might be. We never again need to engage in a discussion about what Spirit is because we’re in agreement that any discussion about what can’t be understood is an exercise in futility.

With that established, I would like to offer some metaphors which might help you, as they have for me, to overcome resistance to the spiritual journey. I like to think of each human as a cell in the body of God. Just as cells can be cloned to become what they came from, we too have within us the essence of our Creator. The cells of the eye are necessarily different than the cells of the heart. They all do what they are meant to do, but they look and act differently from each other, yet are part of the same body. That means what I do for others I do for the body, and since I am part of the body, then I do for myself in the process.  

Of course the opposite would also apply, and if I do harm to any person, I do harm to the body, and therefore harm myself. This idea has contributed to a wholesale change for me from a person who used to easily hurt or victimize others, to someone who helps anyone and everyone all day every day, if I can manage it. These days I constantly look for opportunities to be helpful, not just to those I care about, but to complete strangers. I’m not ready to walk on water, but I’m better than I used to be, and not as good as I aspire to be. This understanding has helped me to transform in the direction of being a better person with a personally richer and more satisfying life. It is within you to have this too.

Speaking of water, this brings me to my second metaphor. Consider going to the ocean and scooping up a glass of that water, and then bring it to the desert, or to the top of the mountain. No matter where you bring that glass you have the essence of the ocean within that glass. When we go back and pour that glass back into the ocean, we cannot then locate that same exact water as it has diffused into its source.  

In this metaphor, God is the ocean and we are the glass. When I die I will return to the Source. When you die you will return to the Source. Where I end and you begin is no longer in question because there is no answer. What’s more is that we mistake our value as that of the glass instead of what is in it. In the case of the metaphor the value is the water not the glass. For us the value of who we are is the Spirit, and not the flesh, or ego self . My greatest value is not as this person who I identify as “Dakota”, but that mysterious something that is a part of me, which we call Spirit. Others have illuminated this wonderful in the statement “I am not so much a human being having a spiritual experience, as I am a spiritual being having a human experience.” 

Somewhere during my journey from Atheist to becoming spiritually connected I came across the wonderful saying that “I am not so much a human being having a spiritual experience as a Spiritual being having a human experience.” We believe that the value of who we are is limited to this face, these thoughts, this way of doing whatever it is we do. Let’s embrace the idea that the spiritual journey is one of understanding that our value is the part of us that cannot be known to others and for many of us, it is not even known to ourselves.  

Our humanity is where the work and the development of our relationship to the greater good takes place. This work takes place within the framework of understanding that the things which happen to us in this life are opportunities to grow spiritually. This helps us heal from all of the transgressions and hardships that have ever, or will ever, show up in life. When we embrace that paradigm, then our difficulties show up as opportunities to grow.

Before I became a counselor and learned how many people are the walking wounded, having suffered horrendous pain, I genuinely and incorrectly believed that there were few people who had to suffer some of the horrors and indignities of life that I once did. Of course we have a tendency to blame others for everything that ever happened to us. That keeps us in our resentment, and that in turn keeps us stuck in all kinds of unhealthy thinking and behaviors that conflict with our spiritual growth. There is a wonderful saying “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Our resentment doesn’t hurt those whom we are holding resentments against, unless of course we are one of those people, which happens more than you think. Resentment towards anyone for anything is poison to our system.  

The hard part about transcending resentment is that we believe that the person we resent deserves it, and they do. That changes nothing about the poison though. So if resentment is the poison, what is the cure? If you just thought “forgiveness” you are right.  

True and deep forgiveness is very hard to accomplish and even though we say we forgive someone, a closer examination finds that there are still resentments. My examination of the spiritual journey has found that forgiveness is typically the cornerstone of most spiritual belief systems. If I am interested in walking a spiritual path, then I had better be prepared to do the hard work of identifying my resentments and learn how to truly forgive.

Another very practical step you can take to join with your own spiritual nature is to meditate. Through the ages, the great minds who have pointed in the direction of Spirit, recommend meditation as a means of connecting to Spirit. I can think of Spirit in this instance as similar to an electrical outlet in a house; it is always there for us to plug into, but until we actually do we won’t benefit from it.  

Meditation is not as easy as just sitting still. For some of us there is little that is more bothersome than to sit in silence without distractions. This is one of the many times that we are confronted with who we are and the profound truth that those things which we least want to do are what we probably need to do the most. 

These few ideas and concepts might help you to overcome some barriers to your spiritual growth. It is but a starter kit. When considering resistance to spiritual growth from this vantage point, it almost seems like some of us choose to wear blinders and hold on to them tightly. If we consider those folks who have a fulfilled spiritual life, they seem to hold it dear and value it greatly. It seems to me that those who can live a spiritual life, free of judgments for those who believe differently, are generally happy and well healed folks.  

I am not saying that this is “proof” that there is a Spirit world, or that God necessarily even exists. It is the seeking, and the finding of our own comfort within a spiritual life which is exceedingly worthwhile. I also believe that with a few shifts of our perspective that we can connect with The Source as readily and as easily as, well, taking a breath.  


Dakota Baker, MA, LPCC, LADC is a licensed professional clinical counselor, and licensed alcohol and drug counselor who attained his Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology degree from the Saint Mary’s University of Minneapolis. He is currently in private practice at Dakota Therapy LLC in New Brighton MN. You can access more articles and information at www.DakotaTherapy.com or call 651 207 5000.





DAKOTA BAKER MA,LPCC,LADC TELEPHONE: 612•750•5378 FAX: 651•636•0243 EMAIL ME PROUD MEMBER OF: Minnesota Psychological Association MARRCH
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