Updated: Apr 4
Years ago I watched an episode of Bravo TV's "Inside the Actor's Studio" interview series that featured Al Pacino, and during the program Pacino said he attributed his success as an actor to being able to get out of his own way. His description of being able to step outside from who he is in daily life and become immersed in the character he's preparing to portray made me cognize that a similar self-removal process occurs during the process of personal transformation and growth. In acting, the very best are able to so convincing become someone else that they make it seem effortless – but this transition is temporary, and they return to their own identity once the production is complete. Getting out of your own way on the spiritual path is similar to acting in a technical sense, but the metamorphosis process is intended to be permanent. Although we all know we carry energetic baggage that must be shed along the way, some of it is very difficult to release – particularly the aspects of our ego we've become quite attached to that have served us as coping or strategic devices for a long time. And although we engage in these behavioral patterns because there's some sort of payoff in doing so, eventually, if we are truly serious and dedicated to spiritual awakening, those shadow behaviors that are spiritually self-destructive must be faced and transcended. In both my group and one-on-one training and advising work, one of the common dichotomies that comes up is meeting clients/students who think they are more self-aware and evolved than they actually are – one of the most insidious illusions the ego can trick us into believing, and possibly the biggest block we will encounter on our journey. It is tough to acknowledge when this dynamic exists, especially when we've worked hard for years on ourselves and really come a long way. This is why working with someone outside yourself is so vital in aiding you to see the blind spots you (and we all) have. Often what happens is the person truly believes they have their act together spiritually, and the problems they are dealing with must lay with the other person or situation – not them. Although that may actually be true in some cases, their own blind spots prevent them from seeing the whole picture. Unless they're able to get out of their own way, they cannot see their part in the equation. The toughest shadow qualities someone often resists seeing is their sense of superiority as a "spiritual person," and, as a negative outgrowth from the knowledge and wisdom they have acquired, a compulsion to be "right." Being called on this often results in a defensive response unless they're able to make a humble, instantaneous leap in consciousness.
Seeing is a multi-dimensional metaphysical art, the most popularizled aspect of which is claiming to possess psychic vision into the lives of others. Being able to see with clarity within our own self is a much more challenging task to undertake, because it's two-fold; once we see something within that needs to be cleared if we are to advance spiritually, choosing to ignore it incurs greater karmic consequences - even if they are unintended. That's partly why many prefer to hide their heads in the sand and not gaze into the mirror of their consciousness. It's kind of like the question "If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, is there any sound?" taken to an absurd extreme: "If I don't look within and see my shadows, does that mean they don't exist?" Of course it doesn't. Ignorance is not bliss – it is ignorance, and we can only dance with it for so long until the spiritual pain becomes too great to ignore. It takes fearless purity and humility to get out of your own way spiritually. Without either of these qualities operating full board in your life, it's impossible to consistently live with the grace and integrity innate to higher levels of consciousness and emerge from the cocoon of transformation as an increasingly awake and aware human being. When you don't embody purity and humility in every moment of every day, your spiritual growth comes to a halt, and this is when an egoic wall is placed in front of you, creating separation between you and everyone else, as well as between you and your Higher Self. This wall obscures our ability to see with any clarity whatsoever, and makes us vulnerable to the enticing traps of the physical world, as well as deluding ourselves that we are the source of all manifestation and the Universe merely exists to fulfill our self-important, ego-driven desires. The ego dreads both the possibility and reality of rejection as well as the possibility and reality of success; the ego loves drama, and expands in the company of anger, jealousy, competition and control. The ego can engage in self-sabotage, cause us to become paralyzed with fear and overwhelm, and can torture us with negative thinking just as much as it deludes us with grandiose ideas. The ego embraces entitlement and shuns anything that threatens its existence, especially radically honest, shadow transcending spiritual work, as that exposes it as the naked emperor it really is and the inevitability of its dismissal and demise as the ruler of your every thought, choice, action and behavior. It holds up garlic at those whose call to spiritual service is a threat to its reign, and whispers in your ear that all those who have the potential to assist in tearing down that wall it so craftily built are wrong and must go away. And so the fearless radical heavyweights like Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, etc. – as well as the second tier emissaries of uncompromised Truth - all must be eliminated either by literal removal or denial and dismissal of their teachings. The ego can also trick one into thinking that one of these emissaries is better than another, and that's why religion and spirituality can be vehicles of human separation because of the humans themselves.
Getting out of your own way means taking inventory via honest self-inquiry: making a list and checking it twice, finding out where there may be too much of one thing (ego) and not enough of others (purity and humility). Observing with detachment where you lose energy – whether it is in draining and dysfunctional relationships, doing work you hate, poor diet, insufficient sleep, watching violent and mean spirited "entertainment", malicious gossip, infatuation with drama, elitist thinking, etc. Avoiding "the company of the wicked" means staying away from darker energies no matter what their form – literal as well as energetic – as energy is contagious, and the darker forms are parasites that are hard to remove. Getting out of your own way means no matter how much you think you know, no matter how many books you've read or have written, seminars you've attended or taught, you still hold the purity and humility of a the beginner's mind. No matter how many times you fall, you get back up, no matter how much worldly success you achieve and material abundance you accumulate, true success and abundance in spiritual terms is the quality of your soul, which is eternal and cannot be bought – but it can be given away with every compromise in integrity you choose to make. Getting out of your own way ultimately means giving up your sense of "I" as an entity separate from everyone else altogether. The focus shifts from "me me me" to "we." Connection with whatever you believe is the Force that connects us all beyond time, space and condition via meditation, prayer, being in nature or whatever works for you is an undeniably important part of getting out of your own way. But it is just as important to do so with your eyes open via selfless actions and service toward the collective populace – and beyond. The following is a request that I, as one who has dedicated her life to spiritual service ask of you, my spiritual brothers and sisters. To rephrase John F. Kennedy's plea: Ask not merely what the Universe can give to you; ask what you can give back to the Universe. The great artist Michelangelo once said: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it." Getting out of your own way is about doing the work to remove your own outer roughness in order to bring forth your inner beauty. It also often requires enlisting the aid of others in the process, and while I've seen great progress in the lives of people who study with teachers, work with coaches, etc., it is crucial to choose people who will bring you towards greater liberation, not just switch you from handcuffs to leg irons. This is where outer inquiry is of utmost importance, and to ask a lot of questions of whom you are entrusting your psyche – and your money – to. If there is any resistance to you doing so, take your soul and checkbook elsewhere. Fancy degrees, pedigrees and resumes don't necessarily translate into someone who can benefit you most on a spiritual level. Seek out purity, humility, transparency, directness, compassion, empathy, equality, humor, - and run like heck whenever someone wishes to control you, demands lots of money, creates dependence, says only what your ego wants to hear, or tries to dazzle you with great-sounding nonsense, as that will never aid you in personal growth and transformation. In fact, it will pull you deeper into the quicksand of your old status quo, bug-ridden inner operating system - and we all know how inefficient running on an outdated personal Internal Operating System is.
"Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is not affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition." - Carlos Castaneda quoting his mentor don Juan in Journey to Ixtlan.