Man: the Being Who Worries

Anxiety arises when we extrapolate from a current circumstance or event to what we anticipate, imagine or speculate will follow. Some of this speculation is logical, following what we know of the method of Nature and the rollout of events through Time, although there is no absolute certainty about the logical result as there are too many unseen and unknown factors which can intervene at any moment. For example, we are driving a short distance on an errand and we expect to arrive in a few minutes’ time with no issues arising. However, we cannot know that a water line break will close the road ahead of us, that we will become mired in traffic that does not move, and that as a result we will miss our intended destination that day. The power of imagination, even if it is initially based on some logical inferential process, is just as likely to be inaccurate as accurate.

The animal kingdom, as far as we can tell, lives in the present time, experiencing life and not worrying about ‘what if’ scenarios. The human individual actually attends to the present with an ever-present burden of the past and an ever-present sense of the future. As a result, we carry into the present, the concerns, issues and fears that developed in the past, as well as the anxiety about what the future will hold. We worry about things that happened in the past even though we cannot go back and change them, in addition to worrying about what may happen in the future. This is what makes the human individual suffer far more intensely than our animal brethren.

As long as we remain rooted in this mental realm of speculative imagination of the future that will unroll before us, there is no simple solution. The developed mental consciousness is locked into this power and gains both its benefits and its drawbacks and limitations.

Sri Aurobindo notes that the mental consciousness, and the human being embodying the mental consciousness, represents a transitional phase in the evolution of consciousness. These powers brought progress and some real benefits with them, but we now experience with great intensity the negative aspects and limiting factors, indicating that it is time to move to a new level and type of consciousness which is not so wrapped up in the worry of the ego-personality about its own future. The next phase of evolution Sri Aurobindo has named the supramental consciousness, which grasps the movement of time as a unified whole, and participates in the universal manifestation on a conscious and fully engaged level. At this level, there is no cause for either speculation or worry.

This does not mean that circumstances or events may not block the way forward, or create obstacles to overcome; however, the awareness of the eventual conclusion and the need for patience and persistence in the effort overcomes the fear of failure and the worry about the future that accompanies everything in the human world.

The Mother notes: “It is obvious that what especially characterises man is this mental capacity of watching himself live. The animal lives spontaneously, automatically, and if it watches itself live, it must be to a very minute and insignificant degree, and that is why it is peaceful and does not worry. Even if an animal is suffering because of an accident or an illness, this suffering is reduced to a minimum by the fact that it does not observe it, does not project it in its consciousness and into the future, does not imagine things about its illness or its accident.”

“With man there has begun this perpetual worrying about what is going to happen, and this worry is the principal, if not the sole cause of his torment. With this objectivising consciousness there has begun anxiety, painful imaginations, worry, torment, anticipation of future catastrophes, with the result that most men — and not the least conscious, the most conscious — live in perpetual torment. Man is too conscious to be indifferent, he is not conscious enough to know what will happen. Truly it could be said without fear of making a mistake that of all earth’s creatures he is the most miserable. The human being is used to being like that because it is an atavistic state which he has inherited from his ancestors, but it is truly a miserable condition. And it is only with this spiritual capacity of rising to a higher level and replacing the animal’s consciousness by a spiritual super-consciousness that there comes into the being not only the capacity to see the goal of existence and to foresee the culmination of the effort but also a clear-sighted trust in a higher spiritual power to which one can surrender one’s whole being, entrust oneself, give the responsibility for one’s life and future and so abandon all worries.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

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