The Cure for Inner Loneliness

Human beings are social animals, and they crave contact and relationship with others. Modern society has broken or weakened many of the links that formerly brought people together, including the nuclear and extended family, and tight-knit communities where people socialized and interacted with one another. The attempt to interact through social media or through mass gatherings, or even through joining clubs, groups or gatherings of various sorts, is an effort to find comfort for the feeling of emptiness that arises inwardly as people feel disconnected from one another in any meaningful way. Social media ‘likes’ cannot replace true person-to-person interaction and relationship.

Yet if we examine the matter deeply, loneliness has been with humanity as far back as we can see, certainly long before the alienating effects of modern society. Poets have examined the feeling of loneliness that arises even when one is among friends and family, loved ones, and in social settings that have traditionally been used to bring people together. Loneliness is not a function of social interaction, but a sense of disconnectedness when one recognises that regardless of how much we surround ourselves with other people, we are still alone, as long as we live in the ego-consciousness. We can reflect also on the impermanence of life and relationships and we understand that separation, illness, death, estrangement can cut short even the deepest and most intimate of relationships. There is no cure for loneliness in human interactions, even if we may temporarily mask this feeling in the vital energy that comes from social activities.

There are individuals who feel this loneliness keenly, who recognise the inner sense of emptiness, the feelings of alienation, the ‘alone-ness’ of our individual existence. They recognise that no amount of human relationship can solve this feeling, and in many cases, they experience an even greater sense of loneliness when they are amidst large numbers of people. As these individuals explore the depth of their feelings, they may begin to recognise that the true cause of loneliness is a feeling of being disconnected from the oneness of the creation and a lack of a true sense of purpose and direction in their lives.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The inner loneliness can only be cured by the inner experience of union with the Divine; no human association can fill the void. In the same way, for the spiritual life the harmony with others must be founded not on mental and vital affinities, but on the divine consciousness and the union with the Divine. When one feels the Divine and feels others in the Divine, then the real harmony comes. Meanwhile what there can be is the goodwill and unity founded on the feeling of a common divine goal and the sense of being all children of the Mother. … Real Harmony can come only from a psychic or a spiritual basis.”

“To be alone with the Divine is the highest of all privileged states for the sadhak, for it is that in which inwardly he comes nearest to the Divine and can make all existence a communion in the chamber of the heart as well as in the temple of the universe. Moreover that is the beginning and base of the real oneness with all, for it establishes that oneness in its true base, on the Divine, for it is in the Divine that he meets and unites with all and no longer in a precarious interchange of the mental and vital ego. So do not fear loneliness but put your trust in the Mother and go forward on the Path in her strength and Grace.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Harmony with Others, pp. 339-342

The Need to Shift the Consciousness Beyond the Ego

The ego-consciousness has its evolutionary purpose. The distinction of the individual from the mass of existence led to the ability to move beyond the instinctual and habitual patterns of the species. With this consciousness, variation and innovation became more easily possible. Observation from an individual standpoint allowed comparison, evaluation and the competitive urge to develop, and thereby set in motion the entire range of action we see in our civilisation today.

Yet the ego consciousness has its own limitations and unintended consequences. Taken to the extreme, it loses touch with the rest of the creation and begins to act from a standpoint that over-emphasizes the individual at the expense of the entirety of the creation of which the individual is a part, and upon which the individual depends for existence. This can become an unhealthy relationship where the individual puts up barriers and tries to battle with others in order to aggrandize himself regardless of the needs or circumstances around him.

At a certain stage, the balance between the individual consciousness and the universal creation must be restored, and at this stage, we see the development of the spiritual aspiration and influx of a new stage of evolution that ushers in the higher consciousness that reconciles the individual and the collectivity of existence.

The mental consciousness, and the vital and physical stages that preceded it and act as its basis in the world, suffers intensely through the battle of life as it attempts to succeed as an individual in the larger world that is ready to oppose its untrammeled development. The solution is to shift the center of awareness away from the ego-personality to the Divine, to move the center of focus out of the individual nexus and into a global view that encompasses the entire creation.

It is not about “me” or “mine” but about the development of the larger next stage of evolutionary development. As long as we are judging everything from the ego-viewpoint, we are artificially circumscribing the action of consciousness and must suffer the consequences of the pressure and uncontrollable reactions of others and the world-forces in general.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “If you want to have knowledge or see all as brothers or have peace, you must think less of yourself, your desires, feelings, people’s treatment of you, and think more of the Divine — living for the Divine, not for yourself.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Harmony with Others, pp. 339-342

The Potential Impact of Positive or Negative Thoughts on Another Individual

Thought has power. Power, however, has its conditions of action. A ‘passing’ thought running through the mind, disappearing as quickly as it enters, does not have the same impact as a concentrated and persistent focus coupled with the gathering of emotional or vital force to accentuate its impact. Similarly, a thought generated more or less mechanically has much less impact overall than one that involves the attention and support of the being. Thus, repetition of a mantra is said to be more effective when the individual focuses on the significance and energy behind the mantra, not just repeating a bunch of syllables by rote. Mantras are also said to be more effective if focused on through silent repetition in the mind rather than externalised, although it must be noted that this would depend on the actual application.

Turning to the question of impact on other people, once again, the issue is not simply having a ‘negative thought’ or a ‘positive thought’ but also looking at the direction, focus, amplitude and energy behind that thought. For the most part, the object of the thought will wind up having anything that is weak simply blocked by their vital sheath and have virtually no perceived impact from that thought. On the other hand, if someone focuses intensely on an individual and projects a stream of concentrated thoughts, they may find that those thoughts are able to break through the vital sheath and have a noticeable impact. This also occurs when someone with a direct relationship projects a thought and energy with it that meets little resistance due to a trusting relationship. And when there is a direct confrontation and a powerful thought-form is projected it may breach the protective sheath. Positive thoughts, in a similar way, will have their effect, or lack thereof, depending on the factors outlined above.

For the spiritual seeker specifically, the need to achieve a stillness or quiet of the ‘mind-stuff’ means that there should be no dwelling or focus on thoughts that arise, whether positive or negative, and thus, with little or no attention, they will have minimal, if any, noticeable impact. To the extent that a seeker has a developed and concentrated power of thought, however, he can project it and impact another person quite substantially. This would be considered one of the powers that can arise through the practice of yoga which must be managed, controlled and qualified by the need of the spiritual development rather than being allowed free reign with all of the potential consequences for all involved.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Yes, one’s bad thoughts and good thoughts can have a bad or a good effect on others, though they have not always because they are not strong enough — but still that is the tendency. It is therefore always said by those who have this knowledge that we should abstain from bad thoughts of others for this reason. It is true that both kinds of thought come equally to the mind in its ordinary state; but if the mind and mental will are well developed, one can establish a control over one’s thoughts as well as over one’s acts and prevent the bad ones from having their play. But this mental control is not enough for the sadhak. He must attain to a quiet mind and in the silence of the mind receive only the Divine thought-forces or other divine Forces and be their field and instrument.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Harmony with Others, pp. 339-342

Judging Others

The surface being, under the influence of the vital ego, loves to criticize others and ‘gossip’ about them. This is a method of ‘puffing up’ or inflating the ego by dragging down others. It also wastes considerable time and energy by focusing on what are for the most part superficial things in a superficial way.

There is also the question of how the judgment is being rendered. The ego-standpoint is clearly unable to ascertain the truth of anything, as its view is limited, partial and biased. The idea that the sun rotates around the earth came from such a limited and partial view. We now know, of course, that from a larger viewpoint, this is an illusion.

In the Bible, Jesus held that one should not harshly judge the other party who has a ‘mote’ in his eye, when the person judging has a ‘beam’ in his own eye. Similarly, he held that one should not judge others with the statement that only he who is guiltless should cast the stone at the ‘guilty’ party. The spirit he is taking is one of understanding that all human beings have their weaknesses, faults and difficulties and rather than turning the attention outwards on others, and harshly criticising or blaming them, one should look within and see one’s own issues.

As all human beings are subject to falsehood, error and mistake, it is best to judge things, if one must, from a standpoint of goodwill and compassion rather than a censorious view which attacks, degrades and condemns others. Not only is this standpoint healthier for interpersonal relations, but for the practitioner of yoga, it helps to keep the being centered and avoids the unnecessary dissipation of energy that otherwise would occur. It allows the ‘mind stuff’ to be pacified rather than stirred up, which is a foundation for opening to higher spheres of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “It is the petty ego in each that likes to discover and talk about the ‘real or unreal’ defects of others — and it does not matter whether they are real or unreal; the ego has no right to judge them, because it has not the right view or the right spirit. It is only the calm, disinterested, dispassionate, all-compassionate and all-loving Spirit that can judge and see rightly the strength and weakness in each being.”

“Do not dwell much on the defects of others. It is not helpful. Keep always quiet and peace in the attitude.”

“There is no harm in seeing and observing if it is done with sympathy and impartiality — it is the tendency unnecessarily to criticise, find fault, condemn others (often quite wrongly) which creates a bad atmosphere both for oneself and others. And why this harshness and cocksure condemnation? Has not each man his own faults — why should he be so eager to find fault with others and condemn them? Sometimes one has to judge but it should not be done hastily or in a censorious spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Harmony with Others, pp. 339-342

Developing Harmonious Relationships with Close Family, Friends and Associates

Even among those closest to one another, there remain differences of habit and temperament. Issues of personal grooming, dietary choices, choices in music or other media interactions, time commitments, interactions about caring for the common shared space all work to create minor daily irritations or even conflicts. Add to this interpersonal differences in intimate relationships and comfort within one’s own personal space and it is easy to see that achieving and maintaining harmony in relationships requires both constant awareness and a willingness to accept differences with equanimity.

Starting from the personal, ego-centric view of things, we naturally start from an assumption that our own particular way of understanding and acting is the “right” way and thus, the other person needs to change. Similarly, our expectations and desires are considered to be primary and need to be responded to. In reality, the idea of expecting another person to change to conform to one’s own views or expectations on all these details is unrealistic. Thus, it is important to cultivate a different outlook that both accepts the fact and the reality of the differences, and does so with an equal mind that focuses on the positive aspects that can bring people together rather than on the negative aspects that create the irritation or disharmony.

Carrying anger or irritation around is also not healthy. For a spiritual seeker, it certainly disturbs the mind-stuff, the emotions, and the nerve-sheath and if it gets to any extreme manifestations, can impact the physical health and well-being of the individual. This is also true for those not actively practicing a spiritual discipline, although they may treat these things as part of the normal life and thus not react to them internally as something to be modified within themselves.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Those one lives with have always some ways and manners that do not agree with one’s own and may grate on the mind. To observe quietly and not resent is part of the discipline in life. Not to be moved or affected at all but to see with equanimity the play of one Nature in all is the discipline of sadhana.”

“I would suggest that in your relations with others, — which seem always to have been full of disharmony, — when incidents occur, it would be much better for you not to take the standpoint that you are all in the right and they are all in the wrong. It would be wiser to be fair and just in reflection, seeing where you have gone astray, and even laying stress on your own fault and not on theirs. This would probably lead to more harmony in your relations with others; at any rate, it would be more conducive to your inner progress, which is more important than to be the top-dog-in a quarrel.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Harmony with Others, pp. 339-342

Two Methods for Achieving Equality of Feelings with Others

What causes an individual to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ someone they meet. Some obvious reasons include similarities or differences in temperament, responses to situations, idea-sets, lifestyle, and, based on acculturation, accidental characteristics such as religion, social standing, career, or economic condition, as well as potential biases based on skin color, sexual orientation, gender, or appearance. Much of this, however, is what we may call ‘learned’ response.

There is however another level of response that is purely vital in nature, which provides an immediate, almost automatic, affinity or disliking of one person for another. Just as we hear of cases of ‘love at first sight’, there are also instances of ‘hate at first sight’ that arise out of some vital incompatibility, some energetic disharmony between person and person. In such cases, one can enter a room and find a perfect stranger who either strikes one positively or negatively, without in fact, the individual knowing anything at all about the person they come into contact with. Some of this results from subtle signals, even in some cases pheromones, operative at a level that is not consciously perceived, but nevertheless, experienced. In other instances, there may be some karmic ‘history’ at work!

The spiritual aspirant, however, must discover how to move beyond these affinities or their opposite, and find a way to respond that is not conditioned by the reactions and habits of the physical, vital and mental nature. These reactions may still arise, but the spiritual aspirant needs to be able to observe, and override them, through the action of the psychic or the spiritual consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The inequality of feelings towards others, liking and disliking, is ingrained in the nature of the human vital. This is because some harmonise with one’s own vital temperament, others do not; also there is the vital ego which gets displeased when it is hurt or when things do not go or people do not act according to its preferences or its idea of what they should do. In the self above there is a spiritual calm and equality, a goodwill to all or at a certain stage a quiet indifference to all except the Divine; in the psychic there is an equal kindness or love to all fundamentally, but there may be special relations with one — but the vital is always unequal and full of likes and dislikes. By the sadhana the vital must be quieted down; it must receive from the self above its quiet goodwill and equality to all things and from the psychic its general kindness or love. This will come, but it may take time to come.”

“There are two attitudes that a sadhak can have: either a quiet equality to all regardless of their friendliness or hostility or a general goodwill.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Harmony with Others, pp. 339-342

Speak Truth, Not Falsehood

Truth. This term is subjected to considerable interpretation in today’s world. Some say that there is no such thing as ‘truth’ and that ‘truth is relative’. Some hold that what one person understands as ‘truth’, seen from a different perspective, is falsehood. Some indicate that ‘today’s truth becomes tomorrow’s falsehood’ as we gain a new understanding of things. Determining what is meant by truth, and how to adhere to truth, therefore, takes a certain amount of insight and discrimination.

The standard set in the scriptures for spiritual seekers required them to “speak truth”. This is not a matter of opinion or mental gymnastics, but a simple adherence to facts, as one sees and knows them. One should avoid the hypocrisy of knowing something to be untrue, yet disseminating it as if it were true. The inward knowledge and the expressed speech must agree with one another.

The Old Testament of the Bible held that one of the 10 Commandments was to not bear false witness. When one chooses to speak, one should adhere to a true recitation without coloring the facts with opinion, desire, self-dealing or animosity of any kind.

When we add interpretation to the mix, it is possible for us to believe something to be true even when it is not. Therefore, it is best to stick to factual circumstances in speech. Factual circumstances may include inner spiritual experiences which, however, are not within the purview of those who live almost entirely in the external consciousness. The truth of these experiences, while certainly real and factual inwardly, may lead to issues or distortions when presented externally, and thus, we find that the Rishis and sages frequently maintained silence or secrecy about certain occult truths of consciousness that would be confused, misused or misconstrued by those without the proper basis of development and experience. This secrecy did not function through the use of falsehood. In certain provinces of knowledge it involved either esoteric symbols or even a dual sense, an outward reality and an inner reality for the same term, as we find in the Vedic scriptures.

When we move into a deeper understanding of science, philosophy and human evolution of consciousness, it becomes clear, looking through the lens of history, that many things once known to be ‘truth’ are in fact illusions, such as the earth being the center of the universe and the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. Countless generations of humanity trusted their observation on this point and expressed this concept. To them, it was clearly however true, and they did not hold an inward knowledge that the facts were otherwise. As humanity gained additional knowledge and insight, we find that our interpretation of the facts of our observation changes. With this in mind, if we know the facts, but claim instead that the sun revolves around the earth, then we are speaking falsehood.

Speech is not confined to verbal expression. It includes all manner of communication and may include sign language, gestures and body language, written language, social media, etc. The essential point is the conformity of the inner knowledge to the outer expression. As inner knowledge grows, the understanding of what is ‘truth’ also should grow with it. Speaking truth is more of a practical expression than an ultimate philosophical concept in an evolutionary process. Speaking what one knows to be false creates internal conflict which disrupts the ‘mind stuff’ and thus, is inimical to spiritual progress.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “If you want to be an instrument of the Truth, you must always speak the truth and not falsehood. But this does not mean that you must tell everything to everybody. To conceal the truth by silence or refusal to speak is permissible, because the truth may be misunderstood or misused by those who are not prepared for it or who are opposed to it — it may even be made a starting-point for distortion or sheer falsehood. But to speak falsehood is another matter. Even in jest it should be avoided, because it tends to lower the consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Talking with Others, pp. 335-338

Speaking About One’s Spiritual Experiences

An individual has a peak spiritual experience, or something unusual takes place in his inner life about which he has no prior knowledge or understanding. This creates an impulse to speak of the experience to other people. There can be a number of motivations for talking about an inner experience with others. In some cases, there is a genuine confusion and an attempt to understand ‘what happened?’ . In other cases, the vital ego latches onto the experience and uses it to try to increase one’s status and recognition, making it seem like the individual is advanced in spirituality. In yet other cases, there is an attempt to gain followers or some form of control or benefit from being a leader in the spiritual seeking.

Speaking of a spiritual experience to someone who has no basis in knowledge is generally not helpful in resolving any confusion involved. Either there is a lack of understanding, or there may actually be explanations given that undermine the faith and benefit of the experience in the inner life. At the same time, converting a spiritual experience into a mental formation that can be expressed to some degree in words uses the energy that was part of the experience, not to solidify and fill out that experience, but to dissipate it through the communication process.

For those seeking status or some external benefit by describing the experience, the situation can actually be worse. The focus on the external benefit and the ego-gratification pulls the focus away from the inner life and spiritual development. The reinforcement of the ego acts as an obstacle to further progress.

There are situation where it can be helpful to describe an experience, a spiritual dream, or an inner event, particularly when the individual has a guide or Guru who is knowledgeable and can aid the seeker in understanding and supporting the spiritual experience and its significance.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “On the whole you are right. Useless conversation which lowers the consciousness or brings back something of a past consciousness is better avoided. Talking about sadhana also comes under the category when it is merely mental discussion of a superficial kind.”

“The Light left you because you spoke of it to someone who was not an adhikari. It is safest not to speak of these experiences except to a Guru or to one who can help you. The passing away of an experience as soon as it is spoken of is a frequent happening and for that reason many yogis make it a rule never to speak of what happens within them, unless it is a thing of the past or a settled realisation that nothing can take away. A settled permanent realisation abides, but these were rather things that come to make possible an opening in the consciousness to something more complete — to prepare it for realisation.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Talking with Others, pp. 335-338

Six Recommendations for Speech and Social Relationships

Speech not only can affect one’s own energy, but it can also affect one’s relationship with others and the dynamics of a social relationship and a community. For the most part, people tend to speak whatever comes to them without a great deal (if any) reflection. This practice however can have grave and negative consequences in interpersonal relationships and for any society. The loss of civility, an increase in anger and hatred, polarization are all symptoms of speech that has gone far beyond the bounds within which it acts as a positive influence.

Words said in anger, negative assertions about others may get resolved in some kind of short-term settlement or compromise, but the individuals on the receiving end of such negativity sometimes carry the residual impacts for years, and this can harm the ability of people to live together, work together and develop harmony in their community.

Sri Aurobindo provides a succinct set of recommendations for maintaining and sustaining harmony in a community and between people through moderation of what one speaks. It is important to recognise that loud and aggressive assertion does not actually convince anyone or change anyone’s opinions. Thus, such speech has virtually no redeeming value of effecting positive social change! Similarly an assertion of superiority and condescension does not work toward increasing harmony. Some basic concepts include reviewing, before speaking, whether the speech is necessary, and whether it is kind and whether it is helpful in resolving a situation.

Sri Aurobindo writes:  “The psychic self-control that is desirable in these surroundings and in the midst of discussion would mean among other things:  1.  Not to allow the impulse of speech to assert itself too much or say anything without reflection, but to speak always with a conscious control and only what is necessary and helpful.  2.  To avoid all debate, dispute or too animated discussion and simply say what has to be said and leave it there.  There should also be no insistence that you are right and the others wrong, but what is said should only be thrown in as a contribution to the consideration of the truth of the matter.  3.  To keep the tone of speech and the wording very quiet and calm and uninsistent.  4.  Not to mind at all if others are heated and dispute, but remain quiet and undisturbed and yourself speak only what can help things to be smooth again.  5.  If there is gossip about others and harsh criticism (especially about sadhaks), not to join – for these things are helpful in no way and only lower the consciousness from its higher level.  6.  To avoid all that would hurt or wound others.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Talking with Others, pg. 337

Observing and Controlling One’s Speech

Mauna Sadhana, the discipline of silence, can be a very powerful way to gain insight into the impulse to speech and the control of speech. We frequently speak without filtering what we have to say. The idea comes into our mind and before we know it, it is making its way out in the form of speech. In the Ramayana, the demon Ravana’s brother Kumbhakarna is granted a boon as a result of a discipline the brothers undertook to gain power and control the world. The gods were concerned and they eventually asked goddess Saraswati to sit on the tip of his tongue when he was requested to name his boon. This caused him to ask for food and sleep rather than immeasurable powers! His lack of the ability to filter and control his speech altered the course of the eventual war between Sri Rama and Ravana.

By practicing mauna, the seeker is forced to review the mechanism and observe what would otherwise be spoken. At that point, he can begin to act as the witness or observer of the speech impulse and eventually can control what is said and the energy that expresses itself through speech. Such a discipline, even practiced just for a short while, can be illuminating for the seeker who otherwise does not know how to accomplish the task. The seeker who undertakes this discipline will also gain a very substantial insight into the reactions of others to someone who has undertaken to control speech.

In some cases, people become upset or angry if one refuses to engage in speech. In other cases, they look upon the seeker as either obsessive, hostile, angry or arrogant. This happens because people are so used to speech flowing freely that anyone who does not conform is looked at suspiciously.

If the seeker must still engage with society, there are several strategies that can be employed during this discipline to hopefully defuse the reactions of others. One is to have a pad or note available that explains that one is engaged in an experiment that prohibits speech for some period of time and requests understanding and support for the process. Another is to modify the process so that one speaks only so much as is required for the smooth flow of any business or activity within which one is obligated to engage, but refrains from extraneous speech. This also creates a witness observation and control process of the speech but is less extreme than total ban on speech. Another is to respond in the form of notes or other method showing one is not ‘anti-social’ just not speaking! There are other methods that can be employed to study and understand the speech mechanism and bring it under control.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Yes, of course, complete truth of speech is very important for the sadhak and a great help for bringing Truth into the consciousness. it is at the same time difficult to bring the speech under control; for people are accustomed to speak what comes to them and not to supervise or control what they say. There is something mechanical about speech and to bring it to the level of the highest part of the consciousness is never easy. That is one reason why to be sparing in speech is helpful. It helps to a more deliberate control and prevents the tongue from running away with one and doing whatever it likes.”

“To stand back means to become a witness of one’s own mind and speech, to see them as something separate from oneself and not identify oneself with them. Watching them as a witness, separate from them, one gets to know what they are, how they act and then put a control over them, reject what one does not approve and think and speak only what one feels to be true. This cannot, of course, be done all at once. It takes time to establish this attitude of separateness, still more time to establish the control. But it can be done by practice and persistence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Talking with Others, pp 335-338