Bottlenecks of (Deep) Practice


Bottlenecks of (Deep) Practice

Ramon Castellanos


The Imbalances are Fractal

If life itself is the practice, then the areas we neglect within practice, show us where we choose not to go (or are afraid to go). We all have unique dispositions, and these are best honored, so balanced development can often be asymmetrical, but not completely devoid of a touchstone.

By balanced development, I mean DEEP physical, emotional, mental and spiritual cultivation, while still carrying out the demands of modern life, having sexual relationships (if we are into that), and engaging in the process of continuous learning. The difference between choice and fear here, is the difference between a protective or frustrated constraint.

There are many people in today’s world who focus on single aspects of practice, ignoring the rest due to protection or constraint. You see virtuoso’s of movement, meditation, magic, nutrition, sex, music, hypnosis, creativity and more. I have no judgment about people who develop one arena of life and self at the expense of others, as these types of practitioners often create incredible sights and skills.

I bring this up because….constraints often show up in our blind-spots, areas of neglect, or places we fear to go. What are we avoiding and why?


The Daoist Ideal

I love Daoism, and in many ways the collective principles of Daoist thought that I have been exposed to thus far, form a baseline set of principles for me. Daoism is one of the greatest treasure troves of serious practice on the planet. One element that is common, and is also taught by Daoist teachers, that I currently know such as Craig Mallet of the Da Xuan tradition, is to divide practice time among different aspects of self in order to cultivate balanced development.

It was not uncommon for traditional teachings in many schools of Daoism to include: movement, energy work, mind skills, Feng Shui, magic, sexual cultivation, divination, I Ching studies, systems of medicine, calligraphy, nutrition, astrology and more… in the same person

This is serious practice and has built into it ways of addressing areas of neglect and hidden constraint. It is difficult for parts of you to hide.


Going Deep

The art of developing this type of path is a skill set, and it usually requires years of trial and error (and the perfect set of character flaws). It is not for everyone, but for those us with certain dispositions, nothing else will do. It is a hunger for deep cultivation, and only the nectar that emerges from profound daily devotion seems to feed it.

It is not uncommon for those of us called into this way of life, to have devoted practice time ranging anywhere from 2-8 hours a day, and I myself tend toward a 2-4 hour time frame more or less. This is on top of letting the “spirit of practice’ to infuse daily and nightly life. In reality, this a stressful way to live, for as Hans Selye the father of modern stress physiology states:


“Stress is any demand placed upon the mind or body”

The thing about cultivating one’s self for hours every day, is that it is stressful, and depending on factors such as type, intensity, volume, complexity, and individual appropriateness, we might be swimming in a sea of demand, and this is especially true if we seek “balanced development”.

However, constructive stress is the antidote to destructive stress. The more high-quality stress we can constructively adapt to, the more we thrive. We are shaped by pressure, and we can warped or made more integral.

A day for me easily involves divination, shape-shifting mental and emotional stories with written exercises, deep physical cultivation, internal alchemy, devotional work to ancestors, resting poses, hours of creative work or client calls, study, sex and time in nature. Others I know can actually manage much more.

If one truly tries to take all their practices into advancement and progression regularly, the system will buckle at the places where it is “weak”…and these are bottlenecks.


Qualitative Differences in Constraint

Now, it might be obvious that different stages of advancement carry with them different classes of constraints. The advanced practitioner faces different problems than the novice. The ability to maintain progression and momentum is an ongoing feature of the serious practitioner, and each person must discover how to do this for themselves. What works for one, may not work for another.

In this way, developing a serious practice is “oracular”, revealing the innate qualities of your inborn path.

Despite this qualitative difference in constraint among different practitioners, there are common themes that present themselves.

1. Insufficient resources to support you, which can range from large-class economic factors to personal neglect. Here, recovery becomes the biggest obstacle. Recovery at this level of practice can easily extend beyond “eat good food and sleep well”, though, these are certainly foundational.

However, I know of practitioners who literally move to different states to better facilitate recovery or get access to better resources, or teachers. That is devotion. This may also reflect in the overall infrastructure of your life as a whole, and ways in which work, relationships, housing, pacing, scheduling, and more, may not be congruent with what you are cultivating.


2. A clash between the old identity and the new one. This is much more common than some might think and can range from dropping outdated modes of perception, to existential questions about the nature of “self” as a whole.

What are we if identities are malleable?

Who chooses directionality?

What is willpower?

Age-old questions about consciousness, personality, individualism, and collectivism may emerge. So can deeply cherished storylines that us place into playing roles such as the victim, martyr, hard-worker, weak one, strong one, sick one, elite one, and the like.

Serious practice has a tendency to drive us towards authentic expression, and for us to continuously drop that which is superfluous to our essence.


3. Pursuing incoherent practices. In Western culture we tend to believe that there are “universals”, that are equally good for everyone. This is bullshit that emerges out of multiple cultural and religious constructs, attempting to homogenize the world into a simpler, blander, beige version of the real stuff. You need to look no further than YouTube, to be told why you “should” be doing this, or why everyone “has to have” this magical morning routine.

In reality, each of us carries a unique soul, constitution, and story. We all have our own rhythms, imbalances, gifts, curses, fates and destinies to contend with. This is especially true in our world because genetics, cultures, environments, and personal factors are melting pots today.

If the practices are not the ones truly suited to you, and aligned with effective principles, you may never be able to adapt to them harmoniously.


Common Bottlenecks

What follows will be the most valuable to those of us who are serious practitioners, and who are not a member of a long-established tradition that has built-in ways of teasing out bottlenecks.

With that said, these are common bottlenecks in today’s world that I myself have encountered and that I have seen clients encounter as well. This list is by no means exhaustive; they are low-hanging fruit.


1. Nutritional Deficiencies: These are exceedingly common in today’s world due to poor diets, soil depletion, contemporary stresses, familial/genetic needs for more of some nutrients and the inability to absorb what we do eat due to weakened digestive capacity.

On top of that…as we spend hours a day in practice (or seek to), across all these different aspects of self, then we begin to cycle through neurotransmitters, hormonal messengers, and energetic resources at a much faster rate. We need more nutrients to keep up with this new demand, in a world where there are fewer nutrients, and we need better absorption of what we eat.

My suggestion is usually improving the quality of the diet and supplementation in combination, as well as cultivating the gut through practices and herbal aids and/or digestive enzymes; sometimes tracking down genetic mutations which create the need for therapeutic dosages of some nutrients can also play a role in this.

The goal is to be as “replete” as possible. Basically, it means removing any possibility of a lack of nutrients to slow you down.


2. Identities/Stories Incongruent with the Changes You Are Catalyzing: An identity is a deep story and deep stories literally shape anatomy and physiology. As identities and deep stories change, so does the functioning of the body. Deep stories are not just “yours”, but emerge out of larger story arcs as much as the personal self. Consider…

-Ancestral & familial stories

-Religious stories

-Societal stories

-Cultural stories

Will power, imposed expectations, and pain/discomfort can get us started with practice, and can often be insufficient to take us the distance; we can rationalize the value of a particular practice, perceive some aspect of who are that we want to shift, or adopt the perspective of “other” telling us we “need” to do X. What happens when those practices start to actually shape and mold us into someone else? If we are attached to a different identity, refusing to let it die, and be reborn in the fire, we will not be able to complete the transformational process.

What to do about this is much broader than a simple suggestion, but some questions you might ask are:

1. Do I really want this change?

2. Is this change aligned with my deeper values?

3. Am I ready to support this change?

4. Do I have the infrastructure in place to allow this change to take hold?

5. What I am afraid of losing or gaining through this change?

Not all practices and adaptions are “for everyone”, but many times, the very change we resist the most is the one that will take us where we truly want to go.

However, determining this is a nuanced art. You can change most aspects of yourself..but do you really want to?


3. Energy Leaks & Blockages: If we are hemorrhaging energy somewhere inside the overall system, then we are wasting resources that could be directed towards more generative work. The leaks are places that prevent us from fully expressing our power. As our ability to act (energy/power), moves through our channels, it dissipates at places of leakage making us less effective.

Energy leaks can actually originate in nearly any area of life, but prevalent ones are:

-Trauma that is suppressing the body’s energy, by allowing parts of physiology to stay stuck in the past. This creates friction and static.

-Chronic muscular tensions or disrupted movement patterns, as maintaining these in place takes more of our baseline energy.

-Chronic/Dormant infections sapping biological energy. Infections that are half on/half off are very common. They pull resources. Whether or not they are actual parasites…they are parasitic.

-Odd spiritual karma coming from ancestral remnants or poor spiritual

l hygiene. We are much more than the dense energy we think of as the body, and there is a whole universe of unseen forces acting upon us.

-Ineffective/inefficient time management. Not focusing on priorities, and letting distraction take the reigns and making task more difficult than they need to be.

-Excessive use of social media. Enough said.


The key principle here is to look for limiting factors that are bleeding away the resources we already do have available to us.



[Feature Photo by Andreas Göllner from Pixabay.]

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