The evolution of consciousness occurs slowly and progressively out of and against the resistance of the preceding gradations of consciousness. The germination of the seed of life in the body of the earth provides us a good example. The life energy contained within the seed, once it gets activated by warmth, moisture or other triggering force, throws out initially weak tendrils which establish the first contact of the living form with the material basis within which it will exist hereafter. The resistance may take the form of excessively hard surface, too hot or cold an environment, too wet or too dry. The living seed, now a sprout, struggles to survive and grow against all the harsh conditions it may face. As it grows, it continues to be dependent on the material conditions, but also begins to face a struggle dealing with the action of other life forms which compete with it for nourishment, light & space, and still others which want to use this growing plant as food, as shelter, or for some other purpose.
Similarly, as each stage of consciousness develops, it meets with its own form of resistances of matter. These can also take the form of established patterns or habits of the vital energy, conservative thought processes, and resistance to change that we see everywhere in the mental-vital interchange that takes place around us.
The development of the spiritual principle of existence follows a similar pattern. At first, the first signs or stirrings are not clearly distinguishable from mental formations, but as they become more clear and their outline forms more precisely, they can be seen to participate in an “other” quality not found in the normal mental development.
Sri Aurobindo desribes the process: “Nature affirms at first a vague urge and tendency which is a sign of the push of the occult, subliminal, submerged reality towards the surface; there are then small half-suppressed hints of the thing that is to be, imperfect beginnings, crude elements, rudimentary appearances,small, insignificant, hardly recognisable quanta. Afterwards there are small or large formations; a more characteristic and recognisable quality begins to show itself, first partially, here and there or in a low intensity, then more vivid, more formative; finally, there is the decisive emergence, a reversal of the consciousness, the beginning of the possibility of its radical change: but still much has to be done in every direction, a long and difficult growth towards perfection lies before the evolutionary endeavour. The thing done has not only to be confirmed, secured against relapse and the downward gravitation, against failure and extinction, but opened out into all the fields of its possibilities, its totality of entire self-achievement, its utmost height, subtlety, riches, wideness; it has to become dominant, all-embracing, comprehensive. This is everywhere the process of Nature and to ignore it is to miss the intention in her works and get lost in the maze of her procedure.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 24, “The Evolution of the Spiritual Man”