Being less reactive, open to possibility, and other things are signs of actual spiritual progress.

But wait.

Let’s back up.

What is spiritual progress?

What is the spiritual path anyway?

What Is Spirituality? What Are We Doing Here?

People have a lot of ideas and goals for the spiritual path.

Do you know what yours are?

It’s a good idea to figure this out. As always, the journal is a great place to write down your ideas and goals.

My definition of spirituality is:

Spirituality is seeing the real world.

At least as much of it as we humanly can.

To do so, we learn to let go of attachments and beliefs that color our perception of what Is.

Seeing what is real frees us from suffering caused by our illusions.

This allows us to access the freedom to live, feel, and think in any way that is individually possible for us.

Letting go is not something we do all at once. There is a process of letting go of actions, beliefs, and attachments piece by piece by piece. As we do, we progress.

Spiritual progress means being less attached.

With that said, the following two links can help you better understand spirituality.

What Is the Spiritual Path?

How to Find Spiritual Freedom

Now, let’s talk about signs of spiritual progress and how to realize them. And then let’s talk about “signs” that are not spiritual progress and how to get out of those spiritual traps.

Spiritual Progress Sign #1: Less Reactive

Reactivity is the nature of the ego to instantly respond to something with preset thoughts, emotions, and sensations. These auto-responses create our general sense of who we are and how we are doing in the world.

You have to understand this:

We are reacting all the time.

In observing ourselves, we see this reactivity. In seeing, we can make a choice to no longer agree with and perform the reaction.

However, most of our emotional and physical reactions are deeply ingrained in us. So we have to watch even as we have the same unconscious reaction, regardless of if we want it or not.

We watch the anxiety over the first date. We watch the elation of our team winning a game. We watch the dread of talking to our boss. We watch the worrying over today’s to-do list. We watch the overwhelm, depression, relaxation, tension, and all of these reactions that we have.

This tends to be the start of the humbling process.

But the other side is how much easier it is to live our lives with a hundred less of these reactions. It tends to inspire us to go further in letting go of the next thousand.

How to Achieve this Spiritual Progress

One of the most fundamental tools of the spiritual path is to watch our responses. This is called different things by different traditions–the witness, observer, consciousness, presence, Self, awareness. On this blog, I call it awareness. With practice, we more regularly return and stay as awareness rather than feeding our reactions.

In so practicing, we become less reactive.

Staying as Awareness

Spiritual Progress Sign #2: Shorter Times When Unconscious

As we do the work, we are less reactive. And some situations that we would have gone into an unconscious reaction no longer trigger that reaction.

We lose the reaction.

However, some reactions still kick in strongly.

It happens.

But we know we’re progressing because we’re in these unconscious moments for shorter and shorter periods of time. And we find that we can act differently despite how we may feel the reaction internally.

This can feel extremely strange.

We feel like we should run, but we breathe and continue talking with the ex-partner. We want to argue with the employee, but we take a moment to recompose ourselves instead.

The old reaction is still going, but now we’re consciously choosing another response.

It’s powerful.

How to Achieve this Spiritual Progress

Sincerity is key.

If we want to work through moments of unconscious response, we practice coming back to awareness. We practice identifying our unconscious responses and figuring out when and how we learned them. We grieve out the old pain that drives these responses.

We do the work.

In so doing, we regain our ability to choose our actions.

Identify, Accept, Embrace, and Let Go

Why Choosing the Spiritual Path Is Urgent

Spiritual Progress Sign #3: Greater Clarity on Reality

Neuroscientists are busy arguing how much of reality we ever actually see and experience. I’ll leave the discussion as to if we see anything of true reality to them.

But I will say that if we want any shot at clarity on reality and how to live, getting our ego out of the way is monumentally important.

For example, when you can see that your boss is a kind man, that helps you to stay in a job that your ego and its authority issues might have had you quit. How much more suffering might quitting have caused you and the people at your company? How much easier is your life when you are not creating fights with authority figures that has nothing to do with them?

Seeing reality is profound and gifts us in so many ways. That includes being more able to see possibility in life as well and therefore able to engage with and create new experiences.

How to Achieve this Spiritual Progress

You have to want to see what is real. That starts with wanting to see all of you.

Very often, people are afraid to look within.

Nothing can change if we are avoiding ourselves.

As you look within and deal with your issues and illusions, you see yourself more clearly. Like polished glass, you can then see the world around you more clearly.

Afraid to Meet Your Self

How People Create Problems out of Nothing

Spiritual Progress Sign #4: More Teachable

The underlying theme of being more teachable and seeing more possibility is openness. A closed mind or restricted mind resists new information. Therefore, it cannot engage with it.

An open mind receives it.

It’s generally after the beginner stage of being a spiritual student that a person starts to become more teachable.

Beginners tend to fall into a couple of categories. Some do whatever they are told expecting certain outcomes and not really understanding why they are doing what they are doing. Other beginners pick and choose what they do based on their ego preferences, usually avoiding things that they consider undesirable. Yet others get to a point where they think they can handle doing the work on their own–the illusion of independence keeps so many people stuck.

Intermediates on the spiritual path understand how little they know and how powerful good spiritual help is. They are increasingly fertile grounds to be cultivated by a good teacher.

How to Achieve this Spiritual Progress

The ego blocks out so much information. As someone opens up, they often are overwhelmed by information that they are no longer filtering out. As someone progresses through that overwhelm phase, they can more consciously filter out or allow in information.

With that comes a better ability to receive teaching from a teacher. The progressing spiritual person knows when their ego resists truth, and they can let that go intentionally. They can be with triggers, and they can allow the existence of more possibilities than they once believed existed.

That all makes them more teachable.

The key thing here is to choose to keep staying open.

In turn, this can speed up progress.

While “faster” is not better on this path, what we’re really seeing is how much the ego avoided seeing things and kept the person stuck.

Feeling Spiritually Stuck?

Overwhelmed by Gratitude for Your Teacher

Spiritual Progress Sign #5: More Adaptable to Life

This is similar to being more teachable as it is built off of openness. The closed ego that thinks it knows life blocks the human ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Since all of the world we live in is changing, losing this ability creates a lot of suffering.

No longer blocking this ability allows us to change as we need to meet the demands of the moment.

How to Achieve this Spiritual Progress

You will have to challenge yourself to do meaningful things in the world. The emphasis is on meaningful.

People do lots of things that aren’t meaningful. These meaningless actions tend to repeat patterns the person already knows.

Meaningful things are things that a person really cares about and to which they are resisting. I could list out a lot of things that are meaningful (divorces, starting new relationships, creating a new business, quitting alcohol, getting in shape, etc.), but for one person, this is meaningful. It’s not meaningful for the next.

These are the types of things that I have to work with someone directly to figure out.

Doing meaningful things that are unknown and potentially difficult is part of unlocking your adaptability.

Done well, this challenges your ego beliefs and attachments and shows that they are wrong. In succeeding through a challenging change or experience, you also feel more empowered in your ability to engage with possibility.

That experiential realization fuels a person’s aspirations to let go of more ego.

When Other People Notice Your Inner Changes

Spirituality and Dealing with Difficult Situations

The Fear of the Unknown

Spiritual Progress Sign #6: Seeing More Ego Than You Thought

A lot of people think that letting go of the ego is just changing a couple of ideas. After the first fifteen breakthroughs, a person may suddenly get a much deeper inner view.

What they discover can surprise and even overwhelm them.

The common response I hear is:

“I had no idea there was so much.”

Yes!

And there’s more beyond that.

We have layers and layers of ego assumptions and biological attachments as well!

Time to get more serious.

How to Achieve this Spiritual Progress

Lots of people start on the spiritual path and think there’s only a few things to work on. The more a person spiritually progresses, the more they see about themselves.

Discipline is central to getting to this level of progress.

A person can’t be dissuaded when things are tough, and they need to go beyond the first success. Quitting too soon just leads someone back into the same ego cycles.

Quitting Spiritual Work After Resolving the First Issue

The Many Levels of Ego

Spiritual Progress Sign #7: Loss of a Sense of Progress

As you go along, you lose more beliefs and ideas. As those go, the emotions and sensations associated with progression go away too.

It leaves you in a space where you don’t really know if you are progressing or not.

And if you have spiritually progressed, you don’t really care.

This is very different from those people whose ego is aimless, or they are simply in a new space. When we inquire into these things, we find a lot of ways where we need to progress because we find out more about our limitations.

But as the ego dissolves, the idea of progressing anywhere goes away. Because you are experientially realizing that you are HERE NOW.

How to Achieve this Spiritual Progress

This progress builds off of what I’ve said before.

As you do the work, ego drops.

The ego created emotional and physiological states, which now shift, change, or disappear. With the disappearing act, the concept and experience of progress goes away too.

You arrive “here” by doing the inner work mentioned earlier. There is no way to skip ahead to this phase.

In the world, all actions are trade-offs, not inherently progressing towards anything. Just moving towards one thing while moving away from another all arising in the here now. This is something we realize.

Be Here Now

Unobstructed Spiritual Growth and the Loss of the Idea of Progress

Skipping Steps on the Spiritual Path

Not a Spiritual Progress Sign #1: Has Lots of Ideas

Now, let’s flip this topic around and talk about things that many people want to be signs of spiritual progress, but actually aren’t.

For example, having gathered lots of information.

There are people who have read and listened to a lot of spiritual stuff. They have heads full of ideas, but they have no idea how any of them work in the world.

They can talk for hours about any of it, but they suffer all the same.

How to Get Out of this Spiritual Trap

You’re clearly avoiding things. What are they?

Journal about the things that you’re afraid of, depressed about, and angry about. A list of ego issues will reveal itself.

What Is Spiritual Inner Work?

Avoiding Parts of Your Spiritual Work

Not a Spiritual Progress Sign #2: Feeling Blissful or Peaceful All the Time

Human beings aren’t one experience all the time. Trying to achieve such things is an addictive mindset.

The gift of letting go of the ego is that we allow our experiences to flow in and out of us. That doesn’t always feel good.

How to Get Out of this Spiritual Trap

The idea that you can feel happily-ever-after is a popular one, and some spiritual traditions actively promote this false belief.

On a marketing level, blissed-out-all-the-time is a winner.

It preys upon people who have the most trauma and pain.

The way out starts with accepting where you are at.

Then you have to accept that all of your experiences will change.

If, in accepting those two things, you realize that you have significant issues like being overweight, having trauma, eating poorly, sleeping badly, and so forth, then start there in healing yourself. As you heal issues you know you have, the blissed out idea becomes less interesting.

Using a Spiritual Teacher as a Therapist

Building a Body Strong Enough for Awakening

Not a Spiritual Progress Sign #3: Having a Guru

Having a spiritual teacher, guru, mentor, coach, priest, rabbi, arch-angel, spirit-animal, or whatever doesn’t free you of everything, despite what some individuals want to believe.

There are spiritual traditions that say that you can only achieve spiritual freedom/liberation/realization through a teacher.

That’s a misunderstanding at best.

If you really want to build a wheel, it is helpful if someone who knows how to build a wheel teaches you, yes? A good spiritual teacher points the way.

Now you have to do the work.

Sure, you can DIY the wheel. However, there’s more trial and error to figuring things out on your own.

Finally, there is no magical energy that is going to fix you or accelerate you.

How to Get Out of this Spiritual Trap

It’s time to confront the part of you that likes the idea of being lazy. Look at the part that wants magical relief without doing the work. Look for any part of your ego that is attached to the idea that you need this “magical being” to release your ego and be here now.

When you are ready to accept this part of your ego, you can begin to get out of the trap that thinks a special spiritual being will save you.

Laziness and a Wasted Spiritual Awakening

7 Signs of a False Spiritual Teacher

Lost in a Savior Complex

Not a Spiritual Progress Sign #4: Having a Perfect Spiritual Life

So many people go seeking the purpose/meaningful job, the soulmate/twin flame, perfect beautiful home in Costa Rica/Bali/Gautemala/Hawaii/wherever, and do all of these things to try and make things look spiritually perfect.

Whatever that means.

Some people succeed.

Most don’t.

Some of the ones who succeed find that they are still not fully satisfied.

The spiritual ego at the heart of this game is NEVER satisfied.

And life doesn’t stop changing.

A few people will succeed and be temporarily ego-happy. Then life changes. The soulmate leaves. The job no longer is getting enough clients. There’s a volcanic eruption on Bali.

The striving for the perfect spiritual life returns.

How to Get Out of this Spiritual Trap

There is no perfect spiritual life.

There is just life.

It’s time to go within and look at the insecurities and the cravings in you that are trying to cover themselves up by attempting to manipulate yourself, your loved ones, and the external world.

Cracking Open Craving and its Hidden Issues

What Is Purpose and Why Do People Want It?

Not a Spiritual Progress Sign #5: Having Spiritual Gifts

Many people want to be special. So they decide that they can speak to spirits, teleport, magically heal things and people, read minds, and so much more.

This is all ego.

The spiritual gift of accepting people as they are is not typically in the list of gifts people are seeking, but that is actually a true gift to offer others.

In general, any “gift” on the spiritual path is a product of hard work and letting go of nonsense.

How to Get Out of this Spiritual Trap

Your ego wants to be special.

Time to look at the parts of you that feel bad and worthless. These unresolved issues are trying to hide themselves under the mask of specialness.

The Desire to be Special

Feeling Unable to Receive Love

Not a Spiritual Progress Sign #6: Having Spent Years on the Path

If you’ve spent years doing your taxes incorrectly, are you advanced? Are you ready to be a tax accountant for someone else?

Many people think that the spiritual path is something you simply put time into and then eventually get somewhere.

But you will still be just as now here–nowhere–in thirty years as you are now. Meditating for 30 years or doing yoga for 10 years doesn’t earn you anything.

If you don’t unlearn your ego, you will be practicing the same ego patterns after four decades of Kundalini yoga as you are now.

How to Get Out of this Spiritual Trap

For more than a few of my older readers, it’s time to eat the whole humble pie. You have not been dissolving your ego. You’ve just been doing things with no clear inner direction.

It’s time for a spiritual reset. I recommend these posts:

Is it Time to Hit the Spiritual Reset Button?

How to Start Your Spiritual Journey

Living this Beautiful Life Consciously

Hopefully, this post has offered you some resources to spiritually progress and to get out of some common spiritual traps.

Ultimately, spiritual progress is in your hands.

You can let go of the ego. You can realize spiritual freedom for yourself. A little help along the way is useful, but no one does this for you.

Finally, you are learning to surrender to what exists in this world. Then from your clarity about what is real, you can consciously choose how you live this beautiful life with which you’ve been gifted.

To continue further with this topic, check out this video-post about spiritual turning points. A lot of progress can be lost until we move through more significant turning points.

Spiritual Turning Points Video

Author

I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.

2 Comments

  1. I’m curious and a bit confused about your comment about spiritual gifts (psychic, etc) being all about ego. It appears you infer this in a negative way. If you can please clarify the following:
    a) What about children who have those natural abilities from a young age, but may be terrified of them? Is that ego, or does it develop into ego later on?
    b) To me, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with using certain ‘gifts’ or abilities to assist other’s, if it’s done from a place of conscious ego and humbleness. Just like a physiotherapist or surgeon would. Your thoughts?

    • There are all kinds of reasons why people have different perceptions. Don’t be quick to label them as “psychic.” On the path to spiritual freedom, we learn to investigate our definitions and really inquire into the experiences people are having. Inquiry is key to do with yourself before you can inquire and really understand what is going on with others.

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