The Need for Persistent Energy and Focus to Live the Spiritual Life

Spiritual progress is an ongoing process that requires patience, persistence, endurance and strength of purpose, along with the focus of energy needed to achieve any substantial realisations. Some people believe that spirituality is something weak and ineffective, that leads people to abandon the life of the world, in many cases out of fear or exhaustion, or lack of will. But in reality, spirituality requires more energy, not less, to be gathered and focused as it involves overcoming the inertia of the habitual patterns of life. An understanding of the action of the three gunas is helpful in appreciating what is needed. When tamas is in the ascendent, it brings with it darkness, torpor, laziness, tiredness, weakness of will. This is not a basis for spiritual growth! In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna specifically admonishes Arjuna, when he indicated he would refuse to fight at the start of the battle of Kurukshetra. He insisted that Arjuna give up the weakness that was taking the appearance of a higher calling to non-violence. In Arjuna’s case, the weakness was not fear of battle, but a darkness of understanding that provided Sri Krishna with the opportunity to bring true enlightenment to his disciple.

Additionally, many people who are exploring the inner landscape and psychology mistake the first glimpses for the full realisation and use this as an opportunity to rest on their laurels and accept the glimpse as the goal. In reality, the progress possible in the spiritual life is an unending series of advances, and any periods of ‘rest’ represent only an opportunity to assimilate, gather new focus and energy and then prepare oneself to move on to the next ascent.

The Mother writes: “How many times in life does one meet people who become pacifists because they are afraid to fight, who long for rest before they have earned it, who are satisfied with a little progress and in their imagination and desires make it into a marvellous realisation so as to justify their stopping half-way.”

“In ordinary life, already, this happens so much. Indeed, this is the bourgeois ideal, which has deadened mankind and made man into what he is now: ‘Work while you are young, accumulate wealth, honour, position; be provident, have a little foresight, put something by, lay up a capital, become an official — so that later when you are forty you ‘can sit down’, enjoy your income and later your pension and, as they say, enjoy a well-earned rest.’ — To sit down, to stop on the way, not to move forward, to go to sleep, to go downhill towards the grave before one’s time, cease to live the purpose of life — to sit down!”

“The minute one stops going forward, one falls back. The moment one is satisfied and no longer aspires, one begins to die. Life is movement, it is effort, it is a march forward the scaling of a mountain, the climb towards new revelations, towards future realisations. Nothing is more dangerous than wanting to rest. It is in action, in effort, in the march forward that repose must be found, the true repose of complete trust in the divine Grace, of the absence of desires, of victory over egoism.”

“True repose comes from the widening, the universalisation of the consciousness. Become as vast as the world and you will always be at rest. In the thick of action, in the very midst of the battle, the effort, you will know the repose of infinity and eternity.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Rest and Relaxation, pp. 9-11

Relaxation: Dissipation or True Rest?

If we examine our attitude towards relaxation, we find, generally, that people look at relaxation as a type of reward for efforts made. They work hard all day, or all week, or they finish a major project they are focused on, and then it is time to “relax”. In the West, there is an institution known as “happy hour” where people finish the day’s work and go to relax by imbibing alcohol and spending time with friends and co-workers distracting their minds from the activities of the day. Many people work hard for a period of time and then go on a vacation to “relax” and may simply lie in the sun without moving to get a suntan. School break periods have led to the institution known as ‘spring break’ where college students go to certain well-known gathering places and party, take drugs or alcohol, engage in sex, and generally undertake a number of raucous actions in the name of ‘relaxation’. Many people relax daily by simply sitting in front of a television set and dulling their minds through watching, in many cases, somewhat mindless entertainment.

Humanity as a whole has not gained the understanding that this type of tamasic or rajasic activity does not bring true relaxation, and is not helpful to their evolutionary development. Those who follow certain paths of yogic development begin to appreciate that while relaxation may be necessary from time to time, it is a period of assimilation of new forces, energies and knowledge provided through their yogic practice, and the assimilation does not take place through dissipation, but through achieving inner peace and allowing the realisations to grow, flourish and widen within the being.

The Mother notes: “I knew people of great intelligence, admirable artists who, as soon as they began to ‘relax’, became utterly foolish! They did the most vulgar things, behaved like ill-bred children — they were relaxing. Everything comes from this ‘need’ of relaxation; and what does that mean for most men? It means, always, coming down to a lower level. They do not know that for a true relaxation one must rise one degree higher, one must rise above oneself. If one goes down, it adds to one’s fatigue and brings a stupefaction. Besides, each time one comes down, one increases the load of the subconscient — this huge subconscient load which one must clean and clean if one wants to mount, and which is like fetters on the feet. But it is difficult to teach that, for one must know it oneself before one can teach it to others. … This is never told to children, they are allowed to commit all the stupidities in the world under the pretext that they need relaxation. … It is not by sinking below oneself that one removes fatigue. One must climb the ladder and there one has true rest, because one has the inner peace, the light, the universal energy. And little by little one puts oneself in touch with the truth which is the very reason of one’s existence. … If you contact that definitively, it removes completely all fatigue.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Rest and Relaxation, pp. 9-11