Anyone who attempts to undertake the culturing of consciousness, through inward examination and attempts to modify reactions and behavior to circumstances or other stimuli, will understand the difficulty of this undertaking. There are strong ingrained habits of reaction, some of which clearly are part of the heritage of the species, what we call “instinctive” in animal behavior, and some of which is trained through social norms and the pervasive influence of the surrounding cultural expectations. Add to this the unique psychological makeup of the individual with a particular balance of the three Gunas of Nature working to create characteristic response patterns, and the force of the evolutionary pressure of the divine manifestation, and we can recognize how complex and difficult it is.
Sri Aurobindo, therefore, sets forth various stages of the process in the transition from purely reactive to apparent differentiating factors in people and circumstances, to one that both can see and respond to the inherent Oneness of creation, responding with equality of soul, while at the same time recognising and responding appropriately to the differentiations.
“This equality cannot come except by a protracted ordeal and patient self-discipline; so long as desire is strong, equality cannot come at all except in periods of quiescence and the fatigue of desire, and it is then more likely to be an inert indifference or desire’s recoil from itself than the true calm and the positive spiritual oneness.”
Thus the stages: “Ordinarily we have to begin with a period of endurance; for we must learn to confront, to suffer and to assimilate all contacts. Each fibre in us must be taught not to wince away from that which pains and repels and not to run eagerly towards that which pleases and attracts, but rather to accept, to face, to bear and to conquer….We shall endure tranquilly the action and impact on us of men and things and forces, the pressure of the Gods and the assault of the Titans; we shall face and engulf in the unstirred seas of our spirit all that can possibly come to us down the ways of the soul’s infinite experience. This is the stoical period of the preparation of equality, its most elementary and yet its heroic age.”
Sri Aurobindo reminds us, however, that it is best to temper this stoicism with “…a sustained sense of spiritual submission to a divine Will: this living clay must yield not only with a stern or courageous acquiescence, but with knowledge or with resignation, even in suffering, to the touch of the divine Hand that is preparing its perfection. A sage, a devout or even a tender stoicism of the God-lover is possible, and these are better than the merely pagan self-reliant endurance which may lend itself to a too great hardening of the vessel of God: for this kind prepares the strength that is capable of wisdom and of love; its tranquillity is a deeply moved calm that passes easily into bliss.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 9, Equality and Annihilation of Ego, pp.213-214