As the awareness develops of the influences that have shaped our character and active nature from our ancestors, our parents, as well as the influences from our peers and from the society at large, we begin to develop a respect for the complexity of the task and the reasons why we cannot simply use our mental conception and will-power to change our own nature. There is too much embedded in the subconscious layers of our being, not to speak of what resides in universal nature, to simply isolate ourselves from all those influences and create ourselves anew out of whole cloth.
At the same time, the task becomes easier if we view it as one that addresses factors that are not part of our core conception of our own personality. The power of this approach, then, is the ability to separate oneself from the factors that need to be examined and changed, and to recognise them as influences and forces outside ourselves and thus, less embedded in our sense of ‘self’.
As we sift through these influences, we begin to recognise patterns that can be modified, adjusted or simply removed as no longer relevant in the present day. Atavistic formations can be dispensed with. One simply can ask oneself why must this be done just because my parents, or grandparents or more ancient ancestors did it this way?
We actually see this example working out today in various ways. It is a known fact that children who were subjected to corporal punishment by their parents tend to exact similar corporal punishment on their own children. “That is the way it was done to me, and it worked, so I should do it to them!” Yet we see, here and there, parents awakening to the harm that corporal punishment can do to the children, and finding another way to address the education and development of the child without resorting to physical violence. This illustrates that indeed change can take place when conscious awareness and understanding is brought to bear on the old habits, folkways, traditions and customs.
The Mother notes: “If you really want to transform your character, it is that you must do. It has always been said that it is impossible to change one’s nature; in all books of philosophy, even of yoga, you are told the same story: ‘You cannot change your character, you are born like that, you are like that.’ This is absolutely false, I guarantee it is false; but there is something very difficult to do to change your character, because it is not your character which must be changed, it is the character of your antecedents. In them you will not change it (because they have no such intention), but it is in you that it must be changed. It is what they have given you, all the little gifts made to you at your birth — nice gifts — it is this which must be changed. But if you succeed in getting hold of the thread of these things, the true thread, since you have worked upon this with perseverance and sincerity, one fine morning you will be free; all this will fall off from you and you will be able to get a start in life without any burden. Then you will be a new man, living a new life, almost with a new nature. And if you look back you will say, ‘It is not possible. I was never like that!’ “
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Subconscient, Collective Subconscious Influences, pp. 111-118