Light and Shadow

Yin and Yang, dualities that are inextricably intertwined with one another, that continue to play into one another and which contain an element of the opposite quality within themselves. We live in a world characterized by duality and when we examine closely we find that we cannot have light without darkness, happiness without sadness, etc. Even those who work the hardest to achieve a status of light retain some element of shadow.

Yet we can envision an existence without duality. Many people believe in a heavenly realm characterized by unending bliss, with angels singing hymns of joy and praise. No darkness there! One explanation of this in light of our world of duality that those angels that had a contrary propensity were expelled from heaven and took up residence in a separate world of hell. Thus, the duality remains in the creation, but has been distilled out into separate worlds, each containing one side of the duality, with the earth in between as a mixture of the two.

All of this is based on our current view of things at our current stage of evolution. In particular the mind evaluates things in a framework of ‘either/or’ and the vital being is attached to the drama of joy/sorrow, good/bad, etc. What we have not recognised fully is that with the advent of a new power of consciousness, a new paradigm of seeing and understanding will necessarily accompany it, and this new paradigm may overcome the need for duality as an organising principle.

In the meantime, utilizing our existing view of things, we can find our greatest opportunities for growth and development by seeing our greatest challenges and weaknesses, and conversely, we can look at our greatest strengths to identify those areas within ourselves that represent our greatest potential failures or pitfalls. This becomes a useful tool for undertaking spiritual discipline and working towards the evolution of the next level of consciousness beyond the mind.

A disciple asks: “You have said: ‘Everyone possesses … two opposite tendencies of character, … which are like the light and the shadow of the same thing.” [‘… everyone possesses in a large measure, and the exceptional individual in an increasing degree of precision, two opposite tendencies of character, in almost equal proportions, which are like the light and the shadow of the same thing. Thus someone who has the capacity of being exceptionally generous will suddenly find an obstinate avarice rising up in his nature, the courageous man will be a coward in some part of his being and the good man will suddenly have wicked impulses. In this way life seems to endow everyone not only with the possibility of expressing an ideal, but also with contrary elements representing in a concrete manner the battle he has to wage and the victory he has to win for the realisation to become possible.” The Mother, On Education, CWM, Vol. 12, p. 19]

Why are things made in this way? Can’t one have only the light?”

The Mother writes: “Yes, if one eliminates the shadow. But it must be eliminated. That does not happen by itself. The world as it is is a mixed world. You cannot have an object which gets the light from one side without its casting a shadow on the other. It is like that, and indeed it is the shadows which make you see the lights. The world is like that, and to have only the light one must definitely go through the entire discipline necessary for eliminating the shadow. This is what I have explained a little farther; I have said that this shadow was like a sign of what you had to conquer in your nature in order to be able to realise what you have come to do. If you have a part to play, a mission to fulfil, you will always carry in yourself the main difficulty preventing you from realising it, so that you have within your reach the victory you must win. If you had to fight against a difficulty which is everywhere on earth, it would be very difficult (you would need to have a very vast consciousness and a very great power), while if you carry in your nature just the shadow or defect you must conquer, well, it is there, within your reach: you see all the time the effects of this thing and can fight it directly, immediately. It is a very practical organisation.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 117-119


The Greatest Difficulties Signal the Greatest Strength for the Yogic Practitioner

When an individual is called to the yoga of transformation, he comes with all of his strengths, weaknesses, developed and latent capacities, and habitual ways of dealing with things, as well as his familial, social, economic and educational background. These frame the starting point for the individual’s yogic practice. As he begins to shift to the standpoint of the witness of the nature, he begins to identify issues, patterns, concerns and obstacles to the practice. Some of these may be physical limitations, nervous disturbances, or emotional or mental blockages. Some may be preconceived ideas or emotional relations that shut him off in some way from a wider view and a more powerful action. Eventually he may come to recognise that in actual fact, there are deep and very specific issues that confront him and hinder his progress. For some it is vanity or ambition, for others, greed, for still others sexual pressures, for others a form of laziness or lack of dedication and concentration. It turns out that these things can be seen as the greatest opportunity for the individual and represent the unique set of circumstances that individual is called to work out as the road to the full realisation.

The Mother notes: “The nature of your difficulty indicates the nature of the victory you will gain, the victory you will exemplify in Yoga. Thus, if there is a persistent selfishness, it points to a realisation of universality as your most prominent achievement in the future. And, when selfishness is there, you have also the power to reverse this very difficulty into its opposite, a victory of utter wideness.”

“When you have something to realise, you will have in you just the characteristic which is the contradiction of that something. Face to face with the defect, the difficulty, you say, ‘Oh, I am like that! How awful it is!’ But you ought to see the truth of the situation. Say to yourself, ‘My difficulty shows me clearly what I have ultimately to represent. To reach the absolute negation of it, the quality at the other pole — this is my mission.”

“Even in ordinary life, we have sometimes the experience of contraries. He who is very timid and has no courage in front of circumstances proves capable of bearing the most!”

“To one who has the aspiration for the Divine, the difficulty which is always before him is the door by which he will attain God in his own individual manner: it is his particular path towards the Divine Realisation.”

“There is also the fact that if somebody has a hundred difficulties it means he will have a tremendous realisation — provided, of course, there are in him patience and endurance and he keeps the aspiring flame of Agni burning against those defects.”

“And remember: the Grace of the Divine is generally proportioned to your difficulties.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 116-117