We have long-established instincts that harken back to the animal kingdom, in what we may call the “fight or flight” response. This instinct is deeply embedded and lies at the root of one of the biggest obstacles to achieving calm and peace in the being. Every impulse we receive from outside triggers a reaction and if it appears at all threatening, it triggers this virtually automatic process. There are other reactive triggers, such as the built in neuro-chemical transmitters that are evoked when something is pleasurable or unpleasurable. The experience of these neuro-chemicals can lead to a cycle of desire, attempting to recreate the feeling in the being. Then we add learned responses that we gain from parents, siblings, friends, the societal framework around us, such that certain types of impulses provoke a response, such as patriotism, racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, etc. Many of these are deeply embedded in the psychology so that they take place virtually without conscious awareness of the being.
When the seeker takes up spiritual practices, one of the first things that needs to be accomplished is developing at least an initial platform of calm and peace, and from there, systematically rooting out the reactive nature of the desire-soul and the ego-personality. This process is not simple when one realises that just suppressing the outer reaction does not solve the problem. A much deeper psychological purification and tuning process winds up being required. It is something that occurs over time with constant effort. Instead of being upset about the lapses as they occur, the seeker should recognise the time and effort required and exercise patience, starting with a first basic establishment of equanimity wherever possible, and then reviewing disturbances, as they arise, to understand causes and potential solutions.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “To be calm, undisturbed and quiet is not the first condition for sadhana but for siddhi. It is only a few people (very few, one, two, three, four in a hundred sadhaks) who can get it from the first. Most have to go through a long preparation before they can get anywhere near it. Even afterwards when they begin to feel the peace and calm, it takes time to establish it — they swing between peace and disturbance for a fairly long time until all parts of the nature have accepted the truth and the peace.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 72