One of the first steps in the spiritual path is the effort to separate the awareness from the outer mind, life and body. In so doing, we gain a distance or separation from the outer instruments and feel ourselves to be a soul that uses mind, life and body, rather than being totally limited and defined by them. For most people living the ordinary life, this separation of the awareness is not active and they identify themselves with the body, the life or the mind. At best they believe themselves to be mentally aware but subjected to the life in the body.
Sri Aurobindo describes the process of distancing the awareness from the outer being: “When we thus draw back into the soul, we find ourselves to be not the mind, but a mental being who stands behind the action of the embodied mind, not a mental and vital personality,–personality is a composition of Nature,–but a mental Person, manomaya purusha. We become aware of a being within who takes his stand upon mind for self-knowledge and world-knowledge and thinks of himself as an individual for self-experience and world-experience, for an inward action and an outward-going action, but is yet different from mind, life and body. This sense of difference from the vital actions and the physical being is very marked; for although the Purusha feels his mind to be involved in life and body, yet he is aware that even if the physical life and body were to cease or be dissolved, he would still go on existing in his mental being. But the sense of difference from the mind is more difficult and less firmly distinct. But still it is there; it is characterised by any or all of three intuitions in which this mental Purusha lives and becomes by them aware of his own greater existence.”
These three intuitions, which we shall explore in the coming days, represent experiences of consciousness which take hold as the seeker begins to shift the poise or standpoint of consciousness away from the life in the body to the inner or higher standpoint that marks the beginning of the spiritual change of consciousness.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 4, The Perfection of the Mental Being, pg. 607