Dealing with Difficulties and Setbacks Along the Way

We tend to judge things, events, opportunities, setbacks, obstacles and directions from the standpoint of our individual ego-personality. When we take up a spiritual path, we expect that our efforts, and our devotion to the guide or master in whom we rely, will smooth the path in front of us and make for a straight, steady development in our yogic pursuits.

What actually occurs, however, is rarely, if ever, a straight undeviating progress. There are twists and turns. Periods of difficulty come along, unexpected obstructions, whether internal or external, are raised up, and we struggle with, on one side, the expectation of a glide-path to yogic success and, on the other side, the reality of the issues we are facing.

The methods of Nature, the universal creation, are, however, not so simple or straightforward. We may make strong progress in one direction, which opens up an area of residual weakness that needs to be addressed before further progress can occur. At that point, the forward momentum appears to stop while we have to go back and deal with things we thought we had long left behind. The next round of upward or forward movement then can begin, with a more solid foundation, on what looks like a cyclical process rather than a direct process.

The evolution of consciousness within the world constituted by Matter, Life and Mind involves sorting out and reconciling somewhat different goals, objectives and operative principles at work within each of the existing stages, and in their interaction with one another. Bringing a next phase to bear involves not only shifting to the new standpoint but integrating its action within the framework of what already exists, and working out the adjustments that those earlier stages must be prepared to accept in order to fully manifest. The advent, for instance, of the supramental action on earth necessitates changes in the texture and capability of response of mind, life and matter. We can see already how slowly the changes take place, and with how much difficulty when we try to adjust anything on these lower planes. This is why endurance, patience, persistence and equanimity are required characteristics for the yogic practitioner who intends to participate in this evolutionary development. There is a proverb that encapsulates much of the attitude the seeker should have in dealing with obstacles and resistances: ‘When life gives you lemons, then make lemonade.’ Everything that occurs, whether we judge these things to be “good” or “bad” are elements in the evolutionary sequence and the need to address change at all levels, not just at the higher planes of existence.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “In the play of the cosmic forces, the will in the cosmos — as one might say — does not always work apparently in favour of a smooth and direct line for the work or the sadhana; it often brings in what seem to be upheavals, sudden turns which break or deflect the line, opposing or upsetting circumstances or perplexing departures from what had been temporarily settled or established. The one thing is to preserve equanimity and make an opportunity and means of progress out of all that happens in the course of the life and the sadhana. There is a higher secret Will transcendent behind the play and will of the cosmic forces — a play which is always a mixture of things favourable and things adverse — and it is that Will which one must wait upon and have faith in; but you must not expect to be able always to understand its workings. The mind wants this or that to be done, the line once taken to be maintained, but what the mind wants is not at all always what is intended in a larger purpose. One has to follow indeed a fixed central aim in the sadhana and not deviate from it, but not to build on outward circumstances, conditions, etc., as if they were fundamental things.”

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

4 thoughts on “Dealing with Difficulties and Setbacks Along the Way

    • a fixed central aim in one’s sadhana is based on the individual’s inner aspiration. Various such aims have been enunciated through time, including achieving spiritual realisation, transforming one’s mind, life and body in the light of a spiritual realisation, unifying with the Divine intention in the universal creation and aiding thereby its manifestation, attaining true peace, embodying compassion in action. There are of course others as well. Each individual seeker will find deep within the specific aim or aspiration that motivates his / her life.

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