It’s a sad truth that many people who go looking for themselves on the spiritual path can become quite lost. Many different spiritual traditions, religions, philosophies, and so forth can become some of the most entrapping because many don’t point people towards spiritual freedom. They more often point people towards happiness and safety, if they’re better than most. If not, they point towards a kind of conformity and blind belief. Worse still, there are those who have become corrupted and lost their way. While certainly the majority, false spiritual teachers can cause a great deal of the very suffering they’re supposed to alleviate.

People can get so caught up in beliefs, commandments, astrological sign charts, numerology, robes, mystical experiences, psychic phenomena, and more that they cannot see the truth. They are mired in another elaborate ego game that calls itself, “spiritual.”

I wrote some time ago a post called “Beware the Spiritual Ego.” This is precisely what this spirituality blog post is going to address for those of you who have become ensnared. One way or another, your core unconscious ego with all its beliefs and fears found a new set of clothes to wear, so you simply act out the same types of patterns with the very minor difference of thinking that these behaviors are now “spiritual” in some way.

But lying is still lying. Cheating is still cheating. Running away from difficult moments is still running away from difficult moments. And being afraid of the unknown is still being afraid of the unknown. Trying to control the world to give you what you want and avoid what you don’t is just the same even if you use spiritual words to defend this type of control.

The true spiritual path is a turning inwards. Where you got lost was in turning outwards to find external comforts and spiritual experiences to make you feel good, validate you, love you, protect you, or some thing else that you thought you needed. Now, it’s time to go inside.

Turning Inside and Coming Out of the Rain

Let’s be honest: there are lots of fun spiritual experiences to be had. I wish more people had them. They’re not a bad hobby to have, and you can have a lot of great connections with others. But for as much fun as it is to be showered by all these amazing spiritual moments, they are transitory. Everything in the external world is transitory. It’s time to come inside. It’s time to sit by the inner fire of your awareness.

One of the core illusions at play for a lot of people who get lost on the spiritual path is the idea that the external world has whatever it is you think you want. This idea has been built up since we’re children where we had to rely on others for everything. Obviously, the external world and teachers like myself can offer information and insights. And there are certainly deep levels of connection and energetic support that can come from outside. But your freedom is within you.

The true teachers and the true path is a continued turning inwards until you root so deeply in the space of presence that you totally and completely drop your ego and all its attachments. When a spiritual tool, teacher, or tradition helps in this practice of detachment, it is helpful. When it directs you towards trying to hold onto experiences or blindly believing things, you’re getting lost.

But Going Within Can Be So Intense

I know a lot of intense experiences can arise when you go with in, but as strange as it may seem coming from me, the spiritual path is not an inherently intense one. It tends to get intense because we’ve got a lot of unpaid bills inside. Dealing with our inner “debt collectors” sucks. It just does. If we don’t have so much pain and resistance inside, not as much intensity is needed.

In general, this intensity tends to be an undoing of what we have been creating inside that is not in alignment with our truth. A lot of pressure is needed to realign the fascia in the body if it is out of alignment. When the fascia and muscles are in alignment, the massage therapist doesn’t have to pound you so hard.

If there is intensity in your shifting, I encourage you to embrace it. It’s okay. It’s just part of your process. At each step of the way, we allow and accept what is arising. In that arising, there is the organic and unknown quality to how our lives move, which can be quite scary for the “spiritual” ego. But when things release and flow more naturally, that intensity dissipates.

However, some of the made up intensity of yoga retreats, sweat lodges, hard-core breathwork, and other things can become quite useless. Everything has it’s role and its time, but a lot of people get caught up in these intense moments thinking that they are doing more than they are. We don’t generally need to make things intense on the spiritual path as we turn inwards. Plenty of intensity arises on its own. But in this overt level of intensity, many people latch onto this kind of familiarity, and it’s usually about getting something.

So you keep doing intense heated yoga sessions to get this endorphin high feeling you like. Or you keep going to those week-long silent meditations to feel peaceful, but then you come back to the rest of your life without making any inner changes. The peace soon wears off, and you are back to where you started.

Over-working Your Energy and Energetic Breakdowns

The Feel-Good Spiritual Path Fallout

A popular game the spiritual ego likes to play is to try and always feel good. It inherently wants to avoid pain, so it keeps looking for the safest way to live and the way that feels best. Thus, many people get lost trying to find more and more pleasurable experiences. These people are always looking for the latest and greatest spiritual flavor of the month, and each thing only lasts for a little while.

So initially, a new spiritual teacher feels extraordinary to work with. You think s/he has all your answers and knows all the right things to say. Then the illusion wears off, and maybe the uncertainty of deeper work starts to arise. For this individual, that uncertain vulnerability is scary. Even if they know that deep work can be intense, they’ll soon find an excuse to disappear. These excuses can include:

  • getting sick, 
  • deciding the teacher/healer isn’t right for them,
  • getting excited by some other new path or teacher, 
  • deciding they’re still not ready, and so on. 

Thus, the spiritual path for this individual is still very superficial. The deeper core issues stay untouched and continue to pull the strings. It’s why someone can end up realizing that they’ve gone nowhere after decades of spiritual exploration and feel like they are just a beginner. Keep in mind that we are ultimately all beginners in the present moment since the present moment is always brand new, but in this particular sense, these people truly are spiritual beginners because they haven’t truly turned inwards.

5 Ego Defenses and Traps You Need to Know

Over-dedication to Following the Rules

On the flip side of this are the people who are overly dedicated to a religion and a set of rules. They have given up their intellect to do whatever the teacher, pastor, priest, rabbi, healer, psychic, astrologist, or someone else tells them to do. The more intellectual types may often still do this as well, thinking that they can “think” their way to realization. These types heavily study whatever spiritual text to which they are drawn. They will be able to do academic loops around any of us, but these ideas are not freedom. The more the person adheres to these rules and rituals without truly understanding the deeper purpose of religious and spiritual rules, the more they get stuck and potentially aggressive and dismissive towards others who aren’t living by these rules.

Hopefully, one day, they realize that 30 years of meditation, believing, or praying has put them nowhere. Hopefully they start to realize that they don’t really know who they are nor why they’ve been doing what they’ve been doing. The ego has all kinds of amazing distractions and excuses. It can say the right things, but on the true spiritual path, what matters is how we say things. It’s the space inside that makes all the difference, and that inner space can transform a spiritual practice.

For instance, the meditation that is meant to achieve enlightenment can often be a continued disappointment. The meditation simply to know yourself and to allow yourself to be can open up the world within you. The same two meditations may involve the same techniques of breathing quietly with your eyes closed for 30 minutes, but the results can be profoundly different.

The Path to Nowhere

Knowing Something Is Wrong

Usually, one of the ways people start to know they’re lost is that they notice they’re going in circles. After going to India and sitting with gurus, doing their starchart, listening to psychics, reading Buddhist and Christian texts, listening to sound healing on YouTube, and so forth, they feel like they’re right back where they started. Their romantic life is still doing what it always does. Work is always basically the same. Family issues continue to upset them.

Experiencing Spiritual Information Overload?

However, the deeper awareness may start to poke its head forward in these moments of sacred doubt, which essentially means you stopped long enough to actually pay attention to your life. This is different than most doubt, which generally comes from the mind’s fear. If someone has truly sated themselves on these other spiritual things and have started to look inwards, then we are coming to a true spiritual shift. But if the person just finds another new spiritual quest or teacher to latch onto, then the cycle continues.

The person will get excited about the latest path.

Things will go well.

The excitement burns off.

The person continues to do whatever it is s/he usually does according to their core issues.

However, when a person really starts to turn inwards, some interesting things may start to show up and deeper realizations may begin to bubble up to the surface. The perfect spiritual teacher may now appear in their lives.

How to Find a Spiritual Teacher

Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?

The Appearance of the Spiritual Teacher

Ironically, right when a person may be getting sick of the spiritual path, they may finally be ready for it. They may finally be giving up the external search. Now the internal search can begin. Coincidentally, this may be when their spiritual teacher appears. Of course, this spiritual teacher may very well be nothing like the others. Please keep in mind that there are many types of spiritual teachers (You may want to check out this blog post: “What Is a Spiritual Teacher?“). Thus, they come in all shapes and sizes.

You may be sitting at the bus stop when your spiritual teacher sits down in a hoody and sweatpants. Because you may never have met a true spiritual teacher like this before and are used to seeing them in robes of some sort, you might dismiss this individual. Heck, this person may have sat by you for many days at the same bus stop, but you did not have the inner awareness that could sense who this person was. Or your ideas about what a teacher should look like stopped you from seeing him/her. But in this moment of opening where you are tired, lost, and maybe confused on your path, you may suddenly do or say something outside your normal ego habit. You may ask a question. Maybe you don’t even ask this person directly. You are simply asking outloud, “What am I missing?” And the teacher sitting beside you may reply, or maybe s/he just looks at you with a smile in her/his eyes to see if you’re truly paying attention yet. If you are, you’ve just taken a step onto your true spiritual path.

When the Spiritual Path Fails You (Video)

Healing from a False Spiritual Teacher

However, some people will have gotten not only lost, but abused by an abusive spiritual path or used by a false spiritual teacher.

This stuff happens.

Before a person can progress on the spiritual path, they have to rewind and heal through the upsets, abuses, or even outright trauma caused by the false teacher.

False teachers and false paths are generally about control. Additionally, the focus is on them, not on the freedom of the individuals they are supposed to serve. However, some are good at pretending that by somehow fixating on them that the individual will get freedom; it doesn’t happen.

So there is work that must be done to help someone process what happened, how it happened, and how the person got involved. In so doing, the quest inwards has begun, and the person is getting un-lost on the spiritual path.

7 Signs of a False Spiritual Teacher

Nothing Is Lost

The beauty of life is that all aspects of your life are embraced. So no matter how lost you were looking for God when God was already right here within you, those past experiences and spiritual tools can be re-purposed. If meditation was just about trying to get enlightened, now you can begin to use it appropriately. A good spiritual teacher or healer or even a true friend can help you reorient, turning your awareness inwards. As you drop inwards, you may begin to understand the many texts you’ve read in a new way. You may also begin to see the superficiality of a lot of so-called “spiritual” tools and experiences. All experiences are transitory, which is why there is never a spiritual state of awareness to achieve. The awareness of love and bliss is the awareness that accepts everything as it is. If there is fear, this is fully accepted. If there is joy, this is fully accepted.

On this path inwards, many old wounds that have been trying to hide get revealed. Many fears that you might have thought you’d “transcended” may reappear with greater ferocity. Truly, you will discover why so few people turn to the true spiritual path, preferring to do this song and dance around the globe with spiritual ideas and psychedelic journeys. It’s not that different journeys and ideas can’t be helpful, but the “how” is often corrupted. The lost spiritual seekers desire to feel a certain way or construct a certain belief system and mental reality that gives them everything they want and gets rid of the things they don’t want.

But reality already is. There’s nothing to be constructed. It’s time for sacred destruction, and it’s time to go inwards. This is the journey you’ve been craving. This is the journey that’s always been here. It’s time to stop being lost and find the freedom of awareness within you in the here and now.

How to Find Spiritual Freedom

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  1. This post was an expression of truth i felt while reading this. I was truly trying to recreate the self image only making a bigger ego. This has cleared up much confusion and i am thankful for you Jim Tolles for guiding me back towards my inner truth. Gratitude!

  2. This post could not have come at a better time. Thank you for sharing this. It has helped me immensely. I can't even begin to put into words.

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