Overcoming the Automatic Reactions of Instinctive Behavior Through the Action of Higher Powers of Consciousness

Our instincts and automatic reactions have developed since before the dawn of mankind and are bred into our genetic memory. Just as the Monarch Butterfly knows to migrate between Mexico and Canada across 4 generations, or birds know exactly what kind of nest to build and where, we have built in mechanism that manage many of our responses to life events. One of the most recognised of these is the “fight or flight” response, which kicks in when we feel threatened. Numerous changes take place in our body chemistry at this time to put us into an optimal physical status for surviving the threat. There are many others, some subtle, some more overt. There is the “pecking order” that automatically creates a hierarchy and various forms of control and bullying of those lower on the pecking order. There is a nesting instinct that kicks in at the latter stages of pregnancy when the body is preparing to give birth. There are hoarding instincts based on long periods in human history when scarcity was the norm, and there are instincts governing the type of foods that are satisfying to us, based on the caloric value.

Some of these instincts have become anachronistic in our modern society and actually work to harm our health and well-being. Eating a high caloric, high fat diet in a time of abundance and a more sedentary lifestyle, for instance, can lead to all kinds of physical problems connected to obesity and the effects the extra weight has on the organs of the body. The “fight or flight” response can get triggered by everyday events, such as social media interactions, leading to a high stress status that can be deleterious to overall health and well-being when it becomes overactive.

Overcoming instinctive behavior can be only partially accomplished through the intervention of the mind. A higher power of consciousness is required to get to the root of these specific inbred reactions and find ways to disentangle them from our vital and physical being.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “One direction in which our consciousness must grow is an increasing hold from within or from above on the body and its powers and its more conscious response to the higher parts of our being. The mind pre-eminently is man; he is a mental being and his human perfection grows the more he fulfils the description of the Upanishad, a mental being, Purusha, leader of the life and the body. If the mind can take up and control the instincts and automatisms of the life-energy and the subtle physical consciousness and the body, if it can enter into them, consciously use and, as we may say, fully mentalise their instinctive or spontaneous action, the perfection of these energies, their action too become more conscious and more aware of themselves and more perfect. But it is necessary for the mind too to grow in perfection and this it can do best when it depends less on the fallible intellect of physical mind, when it is not limited even by the more orderly and accurate working of the reason and can grow in intuition and acquire a wider, deeper and closer seeing and the more luminous drive of energy of a higher intuitive will. Even within the limits of its present evolution it is difficult to measure the degree to which the mind is able to extend its control or its use of the body’s powers and capacities and when the mind rises to higher powers still and pushes back its human boundaries, it becomes impossible to fix any limits: even, in certain realisations, an intervention by the will in the automatic working of the bodily organs seems to become possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, The Perfection of the Body, pg. 37

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