If we look at the individual life as separate from the rest of the creation, and claim that it starts at birth and ends at death, there seems to be no rationale or meaning for that life, nor can we explain the evolutionary progression of awareness, understanding, growth, and development that we see before us. We see a baby come into the world with very little outward capabilities, without a developed language, and over time we see the child grow and go through phases or stages of development such that the physical body, the nervous envelope, the emotional being and the mind systematically develop. As this occurs, the child changes its focus and attention from its childish pursuits and moves into activities more suited to its current stage of development. When the child reaches the onset of puberty, sexual energies become active which were latent previously. Then the individual turns in a majority of cases to the development of family and career. At a certain stage, many people find that the interest in outer activities begins to wane. The Indian tradition of the four stages of life developed from this type of observation. When the interest in the outer life recedes, the individual was encouraged to take up the life of a renunciate and turn toward spiritual seeking.
The stages or cycles at work here, however, begin in past lifetimes and develop over many lifetimes. Some individuals are born into their current life with highly developed capabilities and spiritual development already evident. The reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the ability of the chosen monks to seek out and find the right incarnation through unmistakable signs of recognition of items used in the prior lifetime, is one such illustration. This process explains why some people move through the stages of development of consciousness faster or slower in a particular lifetime.
We also see the process of preparation in the way births take place. A chicken will sit on an egg to keep it warm for a period of time until the chick inside is ready to break out and manifest itself in the world. Similarly, mammals, including human beings, nurture the fetus in the womb until it is ready to be born. At the right time, the birth process begins.
The manifestation of the spiritual aspiration and the turning of the attention to spiritual things is similar in many ways to these cycles. It occurs when there is a readiness in the being, and then there is sometimes a specific factor that breaks open the concealment and allows the soul to come forward. Thus, there is a combination of the readiness of the soul and the pressure from the outside that create the conditions for the spiritual aspiration to take hold in the individual. For some this is simply a natural growth process; for others it may need a force applied, such as some great sorrow or disillusionment in the accomplishments possible in the world.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The greater and greater awakening of consciousness and its climb to a higher and higher level and a wider extent of its vision and action is the condition of our progress towards that supreme and total perfection which is the aim of our existence.”
“All Yoga is in its nature a new birth; it is a birth out of the ordinary, the mentalised material life of man into a higher spiritual consciousness and a greater and diviner being. No Yoga can be successfully undertaken and followed unless there is a strong awakening to the necessity of that larger spiritual existence. The soul that is called to this deep and vast change, may arrive in different ways to the initial departure. It may come to it by its own natural development which has been leading it unconsciously towards the awakening; it may reach it through the influence of a religion or the attraction of a philosophy; it may approach it by a slow illumination or leap to it by a sudden touch or shock; it may be pushed or led to it by the pressure of outward circumstances or by an inward necessity, by a single word that breaks the seals of the mind or by long reflection, by the distant example of one who has trod the path or by contact and daily influence. According to the nature and the circumstances the call will come.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter II Awakening of Consciousness, pp. 16-17