How do we typically respond to the situations that we meet in the world? We want to fulfill our desires, have our wishes and ideas carried out, and have a modicum of control in our lives. When things do not go as we wish, we become frustrated, angry, resentful or otherwise upset. On the other side, when we get what we are seeking, we experience happiness, joy and enthusiastic participation. Many have pointed out that neither joy nor sorrow, positive or negative events or circumstances, are always present, but that they tend to ebb and flow and interchange with one another, so that every life meets with its “ups” and its “downs” in the course of life. In a world of uncertainty, our comfortable lives can be easily upset by war, storms, economic disruptions, or hostile acts perpetrated upon us or those with whom we are connected. To borrow from the author Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ The same holds true for the yogic practitioner, who sometimes has outstanding experiences and at other times, meets with intense opposition and conflict.
There is such a high level of violence in the world because humanity has not learned how to deal with the issues that confront us every day. Domestic violence, road rage, temper tantrums and angry outbursts, are all part of the daily life for many people and hardly given a second thought. When things we perceive as positive happen, ecstatic outbursts of joy can occur. Philosophers throughout history have raised the issue and some, such as the stoics, have counseled maintaining an even temper in all circumstances. Others tell us to hold back our outbursts and restrain our desires and our anger. Those who attempt this approach frequently find that they are not solving the reaction, but bottling it up, suppressing it, with sometimes negative impacts on their health and well-being including high blood pressure, ulcers, etc.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother counsel that the needed poise for the yogin is to maintain a state of inner peace and equality to all the touches, positive and negative, that one experiences in life. This is not an outward suppression of reactions that are then allowed to boil inwardly, but a true solving of the reactive nature such that there is neither an external outburst nor an inner seething that builds up. Anyone who has attempted this will easily recognise the difficulty involved in this accomplishment. It is a first foundation for yogic growth and development and requires substantial inner awareness to maintain calm. People generally tend to see strength in the use of brute force both physically and psychologically, yet in many cases, this comes as a result of the inner weakness. True strength lies in the ability to not let the touches of life negatively impact the psychological balance of the nature nor distract from the focus of the life.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “Equality means a quiet and unmoved mind and vital, it means not to be touched or disturbed by things that happen or things said or done to you, but to look at them with a straight look, free from the distortions created by personal feeling, and to try to understand what is behind them, why they happen, what is to be learnt from them, what is it in oneself which they are cast against and what inner profit or progress one can make out of them; it means self-mastery over the vital movements, — anger and sensitiveness and pride as well as desire and the rest, — not to let them get hold of the emotional being and disturb the inner peace, not to speak and act in the rush and impulsion of these things, always to act and speak out of a calm inner poise of the spirit. It is not easy to have this equality in any full perfect measure, but one should always try more and more to make it the basis of one’s inner state and outer movements.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 72