There is an unspoken assumption that the path of spiritual growth is a single, uninhibited spiral from our present level of consciousness up into the rarefied heavens of spiritual truth, bliss and enlightenment.

Bzzt. Nothing so simple.

Ignorance is bliss

There is in fact a spiritual glass ceiling that many unwittingly hit, and it pretty much stops their growth in its tracks. The existence of this spiritual glass ceiling is largely unknown because those who hit it don’t know they’ve hit it, and those who don’t hit it don’t know they haven’t hit it.

In our still deeply patriarchal society we carry social conditioning or imprinting that makes us behave in certain ways to protect ourselves. The path of spiritual growth—known in New Age circles as Ascension—is the process of removing this social conditioning, which is locked into our psyches by unconscious ego defences that are activated whenever we feel threatened.

We hit the spiritual glass ceiling when our ego defences are stronger than our willingness to do the inner work or shadow work to clear our emotional blocks

We hit the spiritual glass ceiling when our ego defences are stronger than our willingness to do the inner work or shadow work to clear our emotional blocks (our unique versions of this society-wide patriarchal conditioning).


With hindsight I can see that I hit this ceiling at various times on my own path, though never fatally. I have also seen it in others a number of times. Although every situation is different, here’s a general list of behaviours you can expect to see when dealing with someone who’s hit their spiritual glass ceiling:

  • Physical rigidity (got their ‘back up’, hard eyes)
  • Emotional agitation (spiky, flustered, angry)
  • In their head, not their heart (hard-edged dialogue, judgmental attitude)
  • Not listening
  • Rationalisations to defend their own actions
  • Rejecting what you say without due consideration
  • Closing down the space for conversation by dominating the dialogue (speaking fast and loud, no space for replies)
  • Endless repetition of the same defensive points
  • Making someone else responsible
  • Beating a hasty retreat
  • Silence

These clues are important because, whether it us or someone we know who’s hit the spiritual glass ceiling, they are the only pointers available to us to understand what is happening here. The key thing is that the person who has hit the spiritual glass ceiling lacks the self-observation to know they have done so.

The ‘predator mind’

In The Active Side of Infinity, Carlos Castaneda describes this patriarchal programming as the ‘predator mind’: “The predators give us their mind, which becomes our mind. The predators’ mind is baroque, contradictory, morose, filled with the fear of being discovered any minute now…”

At their core, our ego defences are not interested in protecting us. Their only interest is in protecting themselves, as Castaneda observes. This is why, after an encounter with someone hitting their spiritual glass ceiling, the outcome is very often the termination of the relationship or friendship (see Losing friends on the bumpy path of Ascension)—the ego defences cut out whatever feels threatening and, along the way, stop spiritual growth in its tracks.

The way to break the spiritual glass ceiling is by developing our inner observer. By taking responsibility for our feelings anytime we have an experience that isn’t what we wanted, we create a failsafe way of recognising when our ego defences are kicking in and stymying our spiritual growth.

Photo by Pavel Anoshin on Unsplash