Overcoming Doubt, Fear and Depression Which May Arise During the Practice of Yoga

The changes sought in the integral Yoga are of such magnitude and detail that they will naturally take a considerable time to work themselves out in all the levels and aspects of our being. Along the way, there come periods of difficulty which may challenge one’s faith or determination, what is known in some spiritual traditions as the “dark night of the soul” when the higher and deeper experiences recede and one is left with the struggle in the physical and vital areas that are so resistant to change. This can bring about feelings of hopelessness, depression, and doubt.

It is important at this point to recognise that the human individual is more of a focal point for expression of universal forces and that these feelings do not originate within the individual. This is true both in ordinary life and in the life of the yogic practitioner. It then becomes a matter of recognition and tuning of the awareness away from the channels that undermine the effort and towards those that support the effort.

Sometimes this refocusing can be accomplished by simply shifting the awareness to positive forces and directions, through thought, through devotional practices, through uplifting interactions whether interpersonal, or with nature, or through reading or other methods. In some cases, undertaking a journey to a place that holds uplifting vibrations, or undertaking the difficulties of a “vision quest” may aid the seeker in overcoming depressing forces.

It is easy to fall into a well of negativity when one looks around at the state of the world, the way people abuse one another or wreak havoc on the natural world. One antidote to this is to recognise that through the course of human civilisation, change has been inevitable, but also takes time and that measuring progress by the length of one’s own lifetime is an impossible task. If one lengthens the viewpoint to recognise change over longer time-spans, the depressing effect of the immediate circumstances can be offset by the realisation that progress is both inexorable and inevitable.

It is true that basic human nature remains, for the most part, unchanged, but these basic drives are among the most difficult to change, and thus, any progress in this area must be incremental and appear to be glacial. Yet we see changes in values and focus across society that lead us to believe that such change can occur. The drives of the vital-physical being are sublimated to some degree by the mental being. Yet the mental being does not have the ultimate power to truly change human nature into something else beyond; that change can only come with a next phase of the evolutionary process and the powers that come with that phase. The signs of the advent of that next evolutionary phase are there for us to see, and thus, the depressing effect of the slow pace of past change can be offset by the faith and hope for the future that the evolutionary forces are placing before us as the future development.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “If there are always forces around which are concerned to depress and discourage, there are always forces above and around us which we can draw upon, — draw into ourselves to restore, to fill up again with strength and faith and joy and the power that perseveres and conquers. It is really a habit that one has to get of opening to these helpful forces and either passively receiving them or actively drawing upon them — for one can do either. It is easier if you have the conception of them above and around you and the faith and the will to receive them — for that brings the experience and concrete sense of them and the capacity to receive at need or at will. It is a question of habituating your consciousness to get into touch and keep in touch with these helpful forces — and for that you must accustom yourself to reject the impressions forced on you by the others, depression, self-distrust, repining and all similar disturbances.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 4 The Divine, The Gods and the Divine Force, Invisible Forces and the Divine Force pp. 85-87

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