How To Overcome The Greatest Obstacle To A Spiritual Life


Were you ever told that sometimes the answers to your problems are right in front of you? Well, I’d like to take it one step further and say, the answers to ALL your problems are inside your head.

Of course, we’re talking about the mind. The king of the castle AND the dirty rascal. It’s like a buzzing bee, flying from plant to plant in search of nectar without stopping to smell the flowers.

To say it simply, you’ll never be content if you’re in service to your mind.

Your Mind is a Troubleshooter

In the 21st century, we live in a world of comfort. Curtained off from nature. Surrounded by concrete. Gone are the days of worrying about a Saber-Tooth Tiger bursting in on you while you’re taking a s***.

Nowadays, our lives aren’t in danger when we pop to the shops after running out of hummus. Or when we stop to catch up with Ian by the watercooler at work. Nevertheless, like a troubleshooter on a computer, the mind scans for trouble and eventually finds it in the smallest of nooks.

Then poof! Stress and anxiety.

A Beautiful Sunset

When you watch a sunset, you might think to yourself, “damn, that’s a beautiful sunset.” But is it the sunset that’s beautiful, or the thought?

Is it necessary to keep a running commentary of the sunset and project it into the mind? You already know the sunset is beautiful because your senses are experiencing it at that moment.

You see the way the light melts into the horizon and you feel the warmth of it on your face and you hear the chirping of birds flying home to sleep.

Luke Skywalker looks out at the setting of two suns and meditates on his spiritual awakening.

The experience is the sunset, not the words or thoughts that describe it. Thinking dilutes the experience. It’s distracting. You’re here but not really here. There but not really there.

How To Live A Spiritual Life

Now we’ve identified that thoughts are the greatest obstacle to a spiritual life, let’s cover a handful of ways to overcome them.

1. Observe your thoughts

The more aware of your thoughts you are, the less control they have over you. Watch your thoughts and life situations unfold as if you’re watching a movie at a cinema.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel enjoy a movie.

Consider how a movie draws you in without ever feeling that it’s actually happening to you. Create space between you and things that happen to you.  And if you’ve seen the movie already, why rewatch it over and over again? Especially if it’s a movie you didn’t enjoy the first time.

“Thought is the recycling of data that we’ve already gathered. It can never be fresh.”


2. Practice clearing your mind

Clearing your mind sounds pretty straightforward. And that’s part of the problem. It took me ages to realise that clearing my mind isn’t a passive activity. Thoughts won’t stop just because you are sitting quietly. It requires focus, effort and consistency.

The Dalai Lama uses his laser beams to evoke a spiritual awakening in bystanders.

The first time you try it, you’re going to suck. And probably for a while after that. That’s the same with anything. You don’t have to go full monk by shaving your head or throwing out your things. It’s a skill anyone can learn.

Here are a few things to try:

Guided Meditation

If you’re just starting out, I recommend guided meditation over going it alone. There are lots of great apps for meditation, some free, others not. The two I’ve used are Headspace and Waking Up, and I highly recommend both of them.

Headspace offers a free ten-day introductory course. The layout is colourful and engaging, and the lessons are animated and fun.

Waking Up, created by neuroscientist Sam Harris, comes with a dollop of philosophy and a peppering of neuroscience.

Click here for a free month and start the journey to a spiritual life.

Alert Action

Choose a chore like washing the dishes or hanging up the laundry and practice being completely present while you do the activity. Leave your thoughts behind. Focus on your senses. The smell of the fresh laundry. The warmth of the wet clothes. The inhale and exhale of your breath.

3. Be transparent

As you go about your day, imagine you’re transparent. Suppose Ian is rude to you at the watercooler. Let his words go through you. There is nothing to offend. No you to upset. If your partner wakes you with their snoring, let the irritation dissipate into the space where your body used to be. Without a self, there is nothing for the emotion to cling to.

4. Turn your attention inwards

We spend our lives exploring the outside world with our senses, but how often do you turn your attention inwards? Can you feel the blood rushing through your veins? The beating of your heart? Can you feel the energy surging through your body? Focus on a particular area. Can you feel the aliveness in your foot? What does it feel like? Try this now. Approach it with an air of curiosity.

5. Breathe slower

Yogis believe we are born with a predetermined number of breaths.

In the recently published book Breath, James Nestor explains that breathing 5.5 times a minute is the optimum amount and how ancient mantras from various religions match this breathing tempo. When I researched the breathing patterns of other animals I found a correlation between the amount the animals breathed and how long they lived.

Monkeys breathe 37 times per minute and live for 25 years.

Humans breathe 16 times per minute and live for 73 years.

Turtles breathe 3 times per minute and live for 100 years.

So to live longer, consider breathing like an excited tortoise. I practice breathing slower by starting a stopwatch and watching it while I consciously breathe. It helps me get used to breathing slower and how it feels in the body.

To Conclude

  1. Observe your thoughts
  2. Practice clearing your mind
  3. Be transparent
  4. Turn your attention inwards
  5. Breathe slower

You can measure your progress by how at ease you feel.

Let me know in the comments if you have other methods you like to use to stay present.

All the love,

Share the love:


  1. Brilliant ideas, beautifully explained. Going to try to breath slower.

  2. Fabulous, I will now make a conscious effort to breath very slowly and take onboard your other ideas!

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