At some point everyone experiences periods where the physical body and its corresponding physical mind seem dull, tired, lacking in enthusiasm, and interested only in sleeping, eating and the most basic things that occupy our physical life on earth. During these periods there is an absence of energy and inspiration, the spiritual effort is seemingly missing, and the individual feels lost and helpless.
The basic characteristics of Matter govern the physical nature. Slow to change, accustomed to habitual action that is ingrained over millennia, the material consciousness does not adapt well, easily nor quickly. The patterns of response to stimuli in the material world are conditioned and supersede the action of will of the individual.
At some point in the spiritual quest, the practitioner runs up against this bedrock of resistance. For those who understand how to develop and culture the physical being, certain things can be accomplished, but for anyone who has engaged in an endless round of dieting, or an attempt to gain physical fitness of the body, there is a sense that none of this is easy nor assured, and any gain is subject to being lost again when circumstances change. One illness, or even a broken limb, can enforce sedentary time that quickly erodes the physical culture that has been developed.
Sri Aurobindo points out that the physical nature is primarily based in the quality of Tamas, with the essential characteristics of darkness, ignorance, sloth and torpor, and lack of initiative. The power of the mind, the excitement generated by the vital energy can, for a time, uplift the action of the physical nature, but they cannot truly effect the complete needed transformation. This can be an exceedingly trying time for the yogic practitioner who is suddenly left without the active spiritual experience that sustains the will and the focus. The quality of Tamas then can quickly lead to feelings of hopelessness, depression and failure.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “A time comes when after a long preparation of the mind and vital being, it becomes necessary to open also the physical nature. But when that happens very often the vital exaltation which can be very great when the experience is on its own plane, falls away and the obscure obstructive physical and gross material consciousness appears in its unrelieved inertia. Inertia, tamas, stupidity, narrowness and limitation, an inability to progress, doubt, dullness, dryness, a constant forgetfulness of the spiritual experiences received are the characteristics of the unregenerated physical nature, when that is not pushed by the vital and is not supported either by the higher mental will and intelligence. This seems to be in part what has temporarily happened to you; but the way out is not to excite the physical by any vital revolt and outcry, or to blame for your condition either circumstances or the Mother, — for that will only make things worse and increase the tamas, dryness, dullness, inertia, — but to recognise that there is here an element of the universal Nature reflected in yours, which you must eliminate. And this can only be done by more and more surrender and aspiration and by so bringing in from beyond the vital and the mind the divine peace, light, power and presence. This is the only way towards the transformation and fulfilment of the physical nature.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Physical, pp. 259-262