The Most Effective Method for Achieving Detachment

When one works to develop the consciousness of the witness, Purusha, observing the Nature, Prakriti the progress comes generally over time with repeated persistent and patient effort. Consider for a moment going through one’s own life observing but not reacting internally. If we observe even a little bit, we see that we are constantly being drawn into response, and even if we refrain from responding outwardly, we still react inwardly. Many believe that non-response means shunning or avoiding answering or addressing outward things, situations and events in life, but this is not actually what is meant, since this implies that we are shutting down the action of the Nature, rather than taking the stance of witness of the Nature.

Sri Krishna responds to a question by Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita that sheds light on this issue. Arjuna asks how one can know the enlightened soul from his outward actions. How does he walk, how does he dress, how does he speak? Sri Krishna reminds Arjuna that it is not a matter of the outward appearance, but the inner standpoint. As one begins the practice, it may start with a mental conception, but only can be fulfilled if, in the midst of all action and highly intense responsiveness outwardly, the soul remains calm and poised and unaffected by gain or loss, pleasure or pain, joy or grief, which all come to all living beings through their lifetimes.

What is the witness soul? The Mother observes: “It is the soul entering into a state in which it observes without acting. A witness is one who looks at what is done, but does not act himself. So when the soul is in a state in which it does not participate in the action, does not act through Nature, simply draws back and observes, it becomes the witness soul….”

“When one wants to detach oneself from something, from a certain movement or activity or state of consciousness, this is the most effective method; one steps back a little, watches the thing like that, as one would watch a scene in a play, and one doesn’t intervene. And a moment later, the thing doesn’t concern you any longer, it is something which takes place outside you. Then you become very calm.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27


Absorption in Our Outer Life, Living in the ‘Now’, Mindfulness and Detachment

Most people live a life without inward reflection, reacting to circumstances, conditioned by habits developed through millennia, trained responses and built up expectations. Their lives are fixated on whatever is presented to them at the moment, and they lose any sense of self-awareness in this reactive state. The organising principle is the ego-personality and its relations to the world, its perceived needs, its past line of development and its future expectations. For many, this is a state of sleepwalking through life, a state of absorption in the outer life.

As we begin to develop awareness, and self-awareness, we can recognise the shallowness and poverty of a life of reactiveness of this sort, and begin to recognise that much of this reaction is based on past habits or experiences or on a future of daydreams, ‘what if’ scenarios. To break down these fixed patterns, we are asked to live in the ‘now’, to treat everything as a fresh experience that we can perceive and respond to without the accretion built up of the past, and without overlaying the expectations of the future. This remains fixated on the outer being, but it is the first stage of an inward journey.

Another stage eventuates with the understanding that even trying to live in the ‘now’, we tend to allow many things to occur unobserved and simply to take place automatically. We are rushing through experiences making the ‘goal’ rather than the ‘journey’ the focus. This leads to the concept of practicing ‘mindfulness’ and thereby begin to pay attention to each action, each reaction, each response, and what it raises up. This is a stage of mental development that remains focused on the outer experience and life.

The next stage comes with a realisation that we cannot truly understand the significance or meaning of our lives until we recognise that the body-life-mind upon which we have fixed so much attention is not our true self, that there is an inner and deeper self that takes on a specific form of being and life for purposes of growth and to carry out the universal manifestation. As we begin to identify with this inner self, we experience a separation of our awareness such that we can seat ourselves within and become the observer of the outer action, while concurrently fully engaging the outer being in its role and activity. This is a process of detachment from the outer being.

Along the way, we may try to use our mental awareness as a form of detachment, but this gets in the way of our ability to focus and accomplish the actions of life, whether in the field of physical activity, vital or emotional responsiveness or mental development. In these areas, an exclusive concentration that blocks out other forms of attention is, in many instances, required to carry out the needed tasks.

There is no necessary conflict between the witness consciousness based outside the body-life-mind complex and the needed exclusive concentration for the outer being, once the individual recognises the difference between the witness and the nature, Purusha and Prakriti.

The Mother notes: “Ordinarily, identification leads to ignorance rather than knowledge, for the consciousness is lost in what it becomes and is unable to envisage proper causes, concomitants and consequences. Thus you identify yourself with a movement of anger and your whole being becomes one angry vibration, blind and precipitate, oblivious of everything else. It is only when you stand back, remain detached in the midst of the passionate turmoil that you are able to see the process with a knowing eye.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27

The Sources of Disturbance and the Process of Detachment

We tend to internalize and “own” our weaknesses or internal struggles. This is the ego-consciousness at work. We also fail to recognise that there are multiple different sources of pressures on us, some of which are ingrained habits we have accepted into our surface being, others are seeds we have dormant in our subconscient levels, and yet still others are pressures from the external environment that attempt to gain entry and acceptance within our being.

Wise proverbs remind us that we have no control over how others press upon us, or how circumstances impact us, but we do have control over how we react. It is however not so simple! When we are provoked, we tend to react due to long-standing habit of the external being. We have a deeply rooted set of vital and nervous reactions, emotions and mental biases which try to defend themselves and become themselves predominant (or remain predominant).

The secret to achieving the status of detachment is the shift of consciousness to one that is not part of the ego-personality and separate from the surface being. This shift tends to take place slowly and deliberately over time, and Sri Aurobindo recognises this fact as he recommends conscious programming of our mental and emotional being to enhance the sense of separation from the surface being.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “These things rise because either they are there in the conscious part of the being as habits of the nature or they are there lying concealed and able to rise at any moment or they are suggestions from the general or universal Nature outside to which the personal being makes a response. In any case they rise in order that they may be met and cast out and finally rejected so that they may trouble the nature no longer. The amount of trouble they give depends on the way they are met. The first principle is to detach oneself from them, not to identify, not to admit them any longer as part of one’s real nature but to look on them as things imposed to which one says ‘This is not I or mine — this is a thing I reject altogether’. One begins to feel a part of the being inside which is not identified, which remains firm and says ‘This may give trouble on the surface, but it shall not touch me’. If this separate being within can be felt, then half the trouble is over — provided there is a will there not only to separate but to get rid of the imperfection from the surface nature also.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27

Detachment from and Mastery of the Surface Nature

When we are first confronted with the concept of detachment from our external nature, we tend to approach it from a mental standpoint and thus, try to shut down our emotions and mental reactions with various types of response such as forms of stoicism, renunciation, or a show of non-caring, or some kind of overpowering of reactions including the use of self-torture to train the body-life-mind complex not to react. This is however, not a methodology that can succeed over the long term, and leads to abandonment or submission of the external being, rather than true mastery. What generally occurs is that a mental formation decides that certain things are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad’ and begins to pick ‘winners and losers’ in terms of reactions of the nature in the external world and in its own inner response to the events and pressures of the world. It is thus that various moral and ethical codes try to impose themselves on the nature.

What Sri Aurobindo’s approach implies is a shifting of the standpoint from the mental-vital-physical external being to one that is centered in the psychic being, the inner self and soul that utilizes mind, life and body as the instruments of its experience and action in the world. The psychic being is unified with the divine intention in the manifestation and can thus act without the bias presented by the ego-personality in its various attempts at self-aggrandisement without regard to the larger intentions of the cosmic creation.

While the first step is cultivation of detachment from the actions of the external being, and development of the standpoint of the witness of the nature, eventually the psychic being begins to control and direct the actions of the outer nature, and thus, develops the mastery over the nature.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Detachment means that one stands back from them [the imperfections and weaknesses of the nature], does not identify oneself with them or get upset or troubled because they are there, but rather looks on them as something foreign to one’s true consciousness and true self, [and] rejects them… The firm will of rejection must be there, the pressure to get rid of them, but not any wrestling or struggle.”

“Detachment is the beginning of mastery, but for complete mastery there should be no reactions at all. When there is something within undisturbed by the reactions that means the inner being is free and master of itself, but it is not yet master of the whole nature. When it is master, it allows no wrong reactions — if any come they are at once repelled and shaken off, and finally none come at all.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27

Gaining the Standpoint of the Observer of the Nature

An important step in the practice of yoga is to attain true detachment from the surface nature through the shifting of the standpoint from the surface to the ‘witness consciousness’, the Purusha. The separation of Purusha from Prakriti, the active nature, is needed in order to effectuate change in the external nature, as otherwise, we remain involved in that nature and are limited within the frame that it sets for us.

Many people wonder about the awareness that occurs with this separation. Until the actual experience occurs, we can only surmise based on the hints that Sri Aurobindo provides. We may, however, use the example of viewing a motion picture as a means of deepening our insight.

When people observe a motion picture, they sometimes get so involved with the story or the setting that they react with tears, or laughter, emotional reactions, or in some cases, mental analysis of what they are seeing. They are fully engaged and involved in the events taking place on the screen, and experience the sensations, emotions and thoughts that are being portrayed. When the motion picture is presented as a 3D screen, sometimes the experience intensifies and people react suddenly with, for instance, a fear reaction when they see a wild animal racing towards them in their immediate space! The separation of the ‘witness consciousness’ only would occur if the observer is able to watch the motion picture, and the surface reactions of his nature with complete dispassion, not getting involved in the activity no matter how uplifting, depressing, fear-inducing, or emotional it might be. This is not a recipe for uncaring dullness of senses; on the contrary, the witness should be able to observe carefully and precisely, even to the point of watching the nature react to the event, without closing off the observation, turning away or simply closing one’s eyes to it all.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “As to the change of nature, the first step is to become conscious and separate from the old surface nature. For, this rajasic vital nature is a surface creation of Prakriti, it is not the true being; however persistent it seems, it is only a temporary combination of vital movements. Behind is the true mental and vital being supported by the psychic.”

“The true being is calm, wide, peaceful. By drawing back and becoming separate one creates the possibility of living in the peace of this inner Purusha and no longer identified with the surface Prakriti. Afterwards it will be much easier to change by the force of the psychic perception and the Peace and Power and Light from above the surface being.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27

Accessing the True Source of Vital Energy

Access to the universal vital force and the renewal of one’s energy follows basic principles that can be seen in the action of another universal force that allows the creation of results in the external world, symbolised by what we know as ‘money’. In his book The Mother, Sri Aurobindo states that ‘money is the visible sign of a universal force’. Money sitting stagnant and being held without purpose puts a barrier to the flow of the money-force. When money is put into action, the force flows and creates a cycle of replenishment. This does not mean the careless spreading of the force that money represents to the winds and exhausting it; nor does it mean a miserly storing up of the force in an unwillingness to spend. The right use of this force sets in motion the universal action of force.

Various Chinese martial arts disciplines identify ki or chi as a force that can be gathered and utilized, and which is not sourced from food, but from the universal vital force. They concentrate the chi in the solar plexus and this enables them to energize the body in ways that go far beyond normal, providing strength, endurance and mastery at very high levels. Tibetan yogis practice development of psychic heat which enables them to withstand extremely cold temperatures without experiencing the cold, and this is done without reliance on food. Certain yogis in India are able to go for extended periods without eating and nevertheless retain their vitality, and even show an increased vital and mental force.

When it comes to applying the vital force in the body, neither spending that energy in wild abandon without positive purpose, nor the attempt to conserve it through restriction and lack of effort, leads to the kind of energetic flow and replenishment that is the natural state of vital energy.

The source of the energy also becomes important. When we try to gain vital energy through interchange with others, we remain in a limited and closed system and thus, the result is highly limited. The true source of all energy is the Divine and is manifested through universal Nature.

The Mother observes: “The energy must be spent to be renewed. The human body is not a closed jar that gets emptied by spending. The human body is a channel that receives only when it spends.”

Sri Aurobindo continues: “Men are constantly spending the vital energy and need to renew it; one way to do it is by pulling from others in a vital interchange. This however is not necessary if one knows how to draw from the universal Nature or from the Divine, i.e. from above. Moreover when the psychic is active — there is always more lost than gained by the vital interchange.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Contacting and Connecting With the Universal Vital Force, Part II

When we fixate on the fulfillment of the body-life-mind complex in our external being, the exclusive concentration involved helps us to temporarily lose sight of the larger Oneness of which all are a part. We then put ourselves in opposition to other aspects of the one Reality and treat each part as separate and distinct. This sets up a sense of competition, an artificial fight over control of limited resources, and a sense of self-aggrandisement that engages in a “win-lose” battle to survive and thrive, rather than a “win-win” participation in the universal manifestation by all. Modern day urban life tends to accentuate this feeling of separation and disassociation, and thereby exacerbates our feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. This is one reason that the Mother stresses the opportunity to commune with Nature and the universal forces that act through Nature, as these artificial distinctions disappear, the mind and emotions can open to the wider reality, and a new understanding, albeit not necessarily an intellectual understanding, has a chance to permeate the being.

The Mother writes: “I knew young people who had always lived in cities — in a city and in those little rooms one has in the big cities in which everyone is huddled. Now, they had come to spend their holidays in the countryside, in the south of France, and there the sun is hot, naturally not as here but all the same it is very hot (when we compare the sun of the Mediterranean coasts with that of Paris, for example, it truly makes a difference), and so, when they walked around the countryside the first few days they really began to get a terrible headache and to feel absolutely uneasy because of the sun; but they suddenly thought: ‘Why, if we make friends with the sun it won’t harm us any more!’ And they began to make a kind of inner effort of friendship and trust in the sun, and when they were out in the sun, instead of trying to bend double and tell themselves, ‘Oh! how hot it is, how it burns!’, they said, ‘Oh, how full of force and joy and love the sun is!’ etc., they opened themselves like this (gesture), and not only did they not suffer any longer but they felt so strong afterwards that they went round telling everyone who said ‘It is hot’ — telling them ‘Do as we do, you will see how good it is.’ And they could remain for hours in the full sun, bare-headed and without feeling any discomfort. It is the same principle.”

“It is the same principle. They linked themselves to the universal vital force which is in the sun and received this force which took away all that was unpleasant to them.”

“When one is in the countryside, when one walks under the trees and feels so close to Nature, to the trees, the sky, all the leaves, all the branches, all the herbs, when one feels a great friendship with these things and breathes that air which is so good, perfumed with all the plants, then one opens oneself, and by opening oneself communes with the universal forces. And for all things it is like that.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Contacting and Connecting With the Universal Vital Force, Part I

Children naturally have direct contact with the universal vital energy but this tends to fade into the background and be ‘lost’ as the mind ‘learns’ the ‘laws of nature’ which do not recognise the energy or its relationship to us. This is a circumstance of the artificially limiting action of the mind hindering the access to the larger reality of existence of which we are a part, and of which we partake at all times.

The question then is more ‘how do we unlearn’ what our minds ‘know’? The heavy programming that takes place to teach children logical thinking, the processes of the mind in relation to the world, and the apparent laws under which things operate must be modified, or removed. Various practices can aid in this process, including receptivity to Nature, the opening to the psychic being, and a sense of Oneness with the larger creation.

The Mother notes: “First of all, you must know that it [universal vital force] exists and that one can enter into contact with it. Secondly, you must try to make this contact, to feel it circulating everywhere, through everything, in all persons and all circumstances; to have this experience, for example, when you are in the countryside among trees, to see it circulating in the whole of Nature, in trees and things, and then commune with it, feel yourself close to it, and each time you want to deal with it, recall that impression you had and try to enter into contact.”

“Some people discover that with certain movements, certain gestures, certain activities, they enter into contact more closely. I knew people who gesticulated while walking … this truly gave them the impression that they were in contact — certain gestures they made while walking … But children do this spontaneously: when they give themselves completely in their games, running, playing, jumping, shouting; when they spend all their energies like that, they give themselves entirely, and in the joy of playing and moving and running they put themselves in contact with this universal vital force; they don’t know it, but they spend their vital force in a contact with the universal vital force and that is why they can run without really feeling very tired, except after a very long time. That is, they spend so much that if they were not in contact with the universal force, they would be absolutely exhausted, immediately. And that is why, besides, they grow up; it is also because they receive more than they spend; they know how to receive more than they spend. And this does not correspond to any knowledge. It is a natural, spontaneous movement. It is the movement… a movement of joy in what they are doing — of joyful expenditure. One can do many things with that.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Recuperating Energy Through Contact with Nature

Much of modern-day life is centered around urban living. Most urban dwellers have little, if any, exposure to Nature on a consistent basis. They also tend to feel stressed, drained and exhausted by the lives they lead. When they head out to a natural area, they frequently feel a release of stress and an influx of new, invigorating, healing energy within a sense of peace and well-being. This experience points us toward the innate ability to gather energy from direct contact with Nature, particularly when our higher faculties, the mental and emotional aspects of our being, are open and receptive.

We tend to believe that energy comes from food. At some point we begin to recognise that there are various types of energy, corresponding to the different parts of our being, and that we actually have the capacity to receive and assimilate energy at each of these levels.

The Mother observes: “But when one has this capacity in his own consciousness — for example, you go for a walk and come to a place which is somewhat vast, like the seashore or like a great plain or the summit of a mountain, a place where the horizon is fairly vast, then if you have this kind of physical instinct which suddenly makes you as vast as the horizon, you have a sense of infinity, immensity; and the vaster you become, the quieter and more peaceful you become. It is enough for you to have a contact with Nature like that.”

“There are many other means, but this one is very spontaneous. There is also … when you see something very beautiful you can have the same thing: a kind of inner joy and an opening to the forces, and so this widens you and fills you at the same time. There are many means but usually one does not use them. Naturally, if you enter into contemplation and aspire for a higher life and call down the forces from above, this recuperates your energies more than anything else. But there are numerous methods.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Tapping Into the Universal Forces Rather than Interchange with Other People

We are very much creatures of habit, and thus, when it comes to our intake of energy, we tend to habitually turn to a preferred method of reception. For most people, the primary source is food. Most people engage in vital interchange with others, and there is a subtle interaction that can both give and take energy during this interchange. The more set we are in our habits, the less we explore opportunities for new avenues or directions from which to interact with the universal forces and receive them into our being. Much of the energy we receive from others occurs without our conscious awareness, although we may remark afterwards about how we feel “energized” or “drained” after spending time with someone, or how a particular meeting or event led to a feeling of exhilaration or exhaustion.

The Mother writes: “But those who draw back upon themselves, who turn and double up on themselves, cannot do this. One must live all the time in a very vast and very expansive consciousness (I don’t know if you understand the word, it means something which extends very homogeneously and quietly, as when the tide is at its height and the water spreads like that, quietly — that’s the impression). The vital must be like that — then one is open to the universal forces. But if, for example, one has the very bad habit of exchanging vital forces with one’s fellowmen, then one loses the capacity altogether. So unless one is in relation with someone, one receives nothing at all. But naturally if you receive forces through others, you receive at the same time all the difficulties of the other person, perhaps sometimes his qualities also, but these are less contagious. This indeed is something that shuts you up most.”

“Some people … unless they have more or less social relations with others, relations of friendship, conversing … and then it goes still farther … they don’t receive any forces; and this is how they receive them. But this always makes a soup. The forces one receives are already half digested, in any case they don’t have their primal purity, and this affects your own capacity.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22