Sri Aurobindo is able to illustrate the different ways that seekers wind up facing and dealing with difficulties or obstacles that arise during the yogic process. This is not a “one size fits all” process due to the differing backgrounds, starting points, capacities and social environment governing each separate individual. No matter how advanced a particular sadhak or practitioner may be, the difficulties are there, whether overt on the surface of the being, or hidden within and constituting an inner struggle.
We learn of difficulties faced by great spiritual leaders of the past to show us the universality of this truth. Jesus struggled with the devil, Buddha was confronted by Mara, each of them had to live with extreme hardships, having abandoned either for a time, or completely, direct involvement in the social and economic life of the society, in some cases living in the desert with privations, or in the forest with privations. Milarepa was tasked with hard physical labor by his Guru for an extended period of time, during which he was not allowed to participate in any teachings or meditation practices; and thereafter, he lived a life of extreme austerity, meditating in caves, naked, with nettles for sustenance. Sri Aurobindo himself spent time in the Alipore jail as a guest of the British Raj, under extreme circumstances, until he was exonerated at trial. Yet in these, notably extreme cases, the spiritual process continued and yielded results that resonate even today from those examples as illustrations of the difficulties that attend spiritual practice.
What we are not fully seeing here are the intense inner struggles as sincere seekers grapple with the weaknesses, difficulties and limitations of the human instrument, the physical, vital, emotional and mental elements and the impacts on these that come from external sources, all while trying to overcome habits, develop new directions and powers of action, and refine and redirect the focus and action of the individual under the guidance of the psychic being.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “Yoga has always its difficulties, whatever yoga it be. Moreover, it acts in a different way on different seekers. Some have to overcome the difficulties of their nature first before they get any experiences to speak of, others get a splendid beginning and all the difficulties afterwards, others go on for a long time having alternate risings to the top of the wave and then a descent into the gulfs and so on till the difficulty is worked out, others have a smooth path which does not mean that they have no difficulties — they have plenty, but they do not care a straw for them, because they feel that the Divine will help them to the goal or that he is with them even when they do not feel him — their faith makes them imperturbable.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pg. 111