Contacting and Connecting With the Universal Vital Force, Part I

Children naturally have direct contact with the universal vital energy but this tends to fade into the background and be ‘lost’ as the mind ‘learns’ the ‘laws of nature’ which do not recognise the energy or its relationship to us. This is a circumstance of the artificially limiting action of the mind hindering the access to the larger reality of existence of which we are a part, and of which we partake at all times.

The question then is more ‘how do we unlearn’ what our minds ‘know’? The heavy programming that takes place to teach children logical thinking, the processes of the mind in relation to the world, and the apparent laws under which things operate must be modified, or removed. Various practices can aid in this process, including receptivity to Nature, the opening to the psychic being, and a sense of Oneness with the larger creation.

The Mother notes: “First of all, you must know that it [universal vital force] exists and that one can enter into contact with it. Secondly, you must try to make this contact, to feel it circulating everywhere, through everything, in all persons and all circumstances; to have this experience, for example, when you are in the countryside among trees, to see it circulating in the whole of Nature, in trees and things, and then commune with it, feel yourself close to it, and each time you want to deal with it, recall that impression you had and try to enter into contact.”

“Some people discover that with certain movements, certain gestures, certain activities, they enter into contact more closely. I knew people who gesticulated while walking … this truly gave them the impression that they were in contact — certain gestures they made while walking … But children do this spontaneously: when they give themselves completely in their games, running, playing, jumping, shouting; when they spend all their energies like that, they give themselves entirely, and in the joy of playing and moving and running they put themselves in contact with this universal vital force; they don’t know it, but they spend their vital force in a contact with the universal vital force and that is why they can run without really feeling very tired, except after a very long time. That is, they spend so much that if they were not in contact with the universal force, they would be absolutely exhausted, immediately. And that is why, besides, they grow up; it is also because they receive more than they spend; they know how to receive more than they spend. And this does not correspond to any knowledge. It is a natural, spontaneous movement. It is the movement… a movement of joy in what they are doing — of joyful expenditure. One can do many things with that.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Recuperating Energy Through Contact with Nature

Much of modern-day life is centered around urban living. Most urban dwellers have little, if any, exposure to Nature on a consistent basis. They also tend to feel stressed, drained and exhausted by the lives they lead. When they head out to a natural area, they frequently feel a release of stress and an influx of new, invigorating, healing energy within a sense of peace and well-being. This experience points us toward the innate ability to gather energy from direct contact with Nature, particularly when our higher faculties, the mental and emotional aspects of our being, are open and receptive.

We tend to believe that energy comes from food. At some point we begin to recognise that there are various types of energy, corresponding to the different parts of our being, and that we actually have the capacity to receive and assimilate energy at each of these levels.

The Mother observes: “But when one has this capacity in his own consciousness — for example, you go for a walk and come to a place which is somewhat vast, like the seashore or like a great plain or the summit of a mountain, a place where the horizon is fairly vast, then if you have this kind of physical instinct which suddenly makes you as vast as the horizon, you have a sense of infinity, immensity; and the vaster you become, the quieter and more peaceful you become. It is enough for you to have a contact with Nature like that.”

“There are many other means, but this one is very spontaneous. There is also … when you see something very beautiful you can have the same thing: a kind of inner joy and an opening to the forces, and so this widens you and fills you at the same time. There are many means but usually one does not use them. Naturally, if you enter into contemplation and aspire for a higher life and call down the forces from above, this recuperates your energies more than anything else. But there are numerous methods.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Tapping Into the Universal Forces Rather than Interchange with Other People

We are very much creatures of habit, and thus, when it comes to our intake of energy, we tend to habitually turn to a preferred method of reception. For most people, the primary source is food. Most people engage in vital interchange with others, and there is a subtle interaction that can both give and take energy during this interchange. The more set we are in our habits, the less we explore opportunities for new avenues or directions from which to interact with the universal forces and receive them into our being. Much of the energy we receive from others occurs without our conscious awareness, although we may remark afterwards about how we feel “energized” or “drained” after spending time with someone, or how a particular meeting or event led to a feeling of exhilaration or exhaustion.

The Mother writes: “But those who draw back upon themselves, who turn and double up on themselves, cannot do this. One must live all the time in a very vast and very expansive consciousness (I don’t know if you understand the word, it means something which extends very homogeneously and quietly, as when the tide is at its height and the water spreads like that, quietly — that’s the impression). The vital must be like that — then one is open to the universal forces. But if, for example, one has the very bad habit of exchanging vital forces with one’s fellowmen, then one loses the capacity altogether. So unless one is in relation with someone, one receives nothing at all. But naturally if you receive forces through others, you receive at the same time all the difficulties of the other person, perhaps sometimes his qualities also, but these are less contagious. This indeed is something that shuts you up most.”

“Some people … unless they have more or less social relations with others, relations of friendship, conversing … and then it goes still farther … they don’t receive any forces; and this is how they receive them. But this always makes a soup. The forces one receives are already half digested, in any case they don’t have their primal purity, and this affects your own capacity.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Energies Sources: Energies of the Physical Body and the Universal Vital Energies

There are a number of different ways that physically alive beings draw and obtain energy. Human beings tend to rely heavily on eating food, and converting the food into other forms of energy to carry out work in the body. Plants, on the other hand, rely primarily on direct conversion of sunlight into physical energy to fuel the creation of their bodies and the operation of their energetic action. We can understand that there are other and higher forms of energetic reception and action which can provide ‘fuel’ for beings of various sorts. For example, certain beings on the vital plane are said to feed off of the emotional energy that human beings produce, and thus they try to provoke reactions of fear, lust, hatred, etc. to feed their ‘hunger’. Certain individuals, indeed, have been able to directly and consciously receive subtler energies than are provided by the physical food.

People experience constantly the enlivening power of uplifting ideas or ideals, and many people are energized in the presence of individuals who embody a powerful spiritual force and radiate an aura of light-filled energy. We tend to downplay the reality and importance of these subtle energies due to the limitations of our habits of thought. If we look at even simple evidence such as the increase in vital force that can occur through fasting, it becomes possible to break out of this limiting framework and recognize that there are multiple sources of energy upon which we can draw in our lives, and that energy derived from food is one, but not the only, such source.

The Mother notes: “Some people don’t know how to receive the forces at all. These live on the energies concentrated in the body — for there is some concentrated energy in all the cells of the body. They live upon that, but after some time, they are drained out completely if they don’t know how to recuperate; when they have spent all the energies which were concentrated inside them either they fall ill or they never recuperate them. So this cannot last very long; it lasts the average lifetime of human beings, and yet, at the end of a certain number of years they are no longer able to make the same effort or produce as much, or above all to make any progress.”

“But those who know instinctively or who have learnt to receive and accumulate the universal vital forces, these can last almost indefinitely. The wear and tear is very little, especially if they know how to do it and do it with knowledge and method: then here it can reach a certain degree of perfection. … When one knows, sometimes just two or three minutes are sufficient to recuperate the energies spent over a long period. Only, one must know how to do it.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Understanding, Utilizing and Balancing One’s Vital Energy Reserves

When we consider the way we take in and expend energy in our lives, we start by looking at food as the source of energy. Food represents the conversion of solar energy into biological energy through the medium of photosynthesis and (for those who eat animal foods), the conversion of the plant material into animal flesh through eating by the animal. The ultimate source of energy from food is therefore the sun. Yet as we dive into a deeper understanding of the universe within which we live, we understand that there are other forms of energy at work in the world, including cosmic radiation, decay of material elements through radioactivity, tidal motions, electrical energy in the form of static electricity and powerful electrical bolts of lightning, all working on the physical plane, but also we find that there are vital and emotional energies that we can experience as a surge of vigor (or in the opposite case, a draining of our energy). Even on the mental level, we receive packets of information in an energetic medium. The very cells of our body contain miniature energy-producing elements that convert the physical substance of food, broken down into basic components, into electrical energy to power all our physical, vital and mental functions.

There are various experiences in our lives that show us that not all of our life-energy results from food. Some of the other forms of energy actually impact our vitality and, for those who gain an understanding and apply it to energy, there are ways to circumvent food as the primary energy source. While this may impact the physical structure, the energetic vital force and the mental power may actually be enhanced as we rely more on the subtler energetic sources.

Besides the intake of energy, it is important to look at the corresponding expenditure of energy. There must be a balance between the two or breakdowns may result. It is also essential to avoid strong energy-draining forces, including interactions with people who leave one feeling empty and drained!

The Mother observes: “It [reserve of energy] depends on the capacity to receive the universal vital force; because in fact, through food also it is these vital forces one receives but one receives them from below. But in order to have reserves you must know how to receive the universal vital forces constantly and to have a kind of balance in the being which prevents you from spending more than you have.”

“A proportion has to be kept between the receptivity and the expenditure. It is a kind of harmony in the being which must be established. Only, some people have an almost instinctive power of attracting towards them the vital forces or absorbing them — the universal vital forces, I mean — and so they make up their expense as they go along spending. These people can produce much more than others. Some of them, in certain conditions like sleep or a kind of repose or relaxation, can accumulate forces and later they exhaust them, so to say, in their activities and they must yet once again charge the battery afterwards — this is already a much less favourable condition.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Recuperating One’s Energies, pp. 17-22

Remembering One’s Dreams Upon Waking

Western psychology has been fixated on dreams and dream interpretation since the dream interpretation work of Sigmund Freud. C. G. Jung took the review of dreams deeper by exploring what he called the ‘collective unconscious’ and the archetypes and symbols that arise widely in dreams. Dreams have always had an outsized importance for people, and ancient cultures had shaman priests who were adept at interpreting dreams. Shakespeare attributed significance to dreams and used them as a way to move the story he was telling forward. The ancient Greeks went to an oracle to have dreams interpreted, and one can go back to the Old Testament of the Bible to find dream interpretation playing a prominent role in the rise of Joseph, son of Abraham, becoming a trusted advisor to the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Western science took up the study of sleep cycles and determined that a stage they identified as REM sleep (rapid eye movement) was the apparent time when dreaming occurs, and they determined that REM sleep reoccurs in cycles through the night, so that the individual will have multiple dream episodes. However, for most people they only seem to have a faint recollection of specific dreams if they are the last dream during which they woke up. In today’s world, with the prevalence of wakeup alarms, people are brought quickly to a waking state with no real transitional time to collect oneself and thereby recall the dreams.

There are of course many dreams which seem to be the firing of synaptic energy bringing through the chaotic events of the day, undigested activities, or issues one is carrying around with one. Other dreams however may take on a deeper significance and provide insight, teachings, or premonitions that must be taken seriously by the dreamer in order to understand and potentially avoid a disastrous event. Remembering dreams, and then understanding what type of dream it was, and the significance, if any, of the dream, is therefore something that may take on a real value, particularly given the amount of time in one’s life spent sleeping and dreaming. The question then arises, how does one accomplish the task of remembering dreams, and not just the final dream of the sleep cycle, but others usually hidden deeper in the time of sleep.

The Mother writes: “This [remembering one’s dreams] is not so necessary. It is useful if one wants to have a great control over his sleep. But this also one must know how to do. To remember one’s dreams — that’s in the morning … In the morning when you get up, you must not be in a hurry. That is, you must not wake up just at the moment when you must get out of bed; you must have some time in hand and must take good care, must make a formation before going to sleep, and take good care when waking up not to make any abrupt movement, because if you make an abrupt movement, automatically the memory of your dreams vanishes. You must remain with the head absolutely motionless on the pillow, without stirring, until you can quietly recall to yourself the consciousness which went out, and recall it as one pulls at something, very gently, without any knocking and without haste, in a state of attention and concentration. And then, as the consciousness comes back to you, the consciousness that went out, if you remain quite motionless, very quiet, and do not begin once again to think of all kinds of things, it will bring back first an impression and then the memory, sometimes a fragmentary memory. But if you remain in that same state of receptive immobility, then it can become more and more a conscious memory. But for this you must have time. If there is the least feeling that you have to hurry, it is finished, you can do nothing at all. You must not even ask yourself, when waking up, ‘What is the time?’ It is absolutely finished. If you do that, everything vanishes.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Sleep, pp. 11-17

An Integral Repose — the Ideal State of Sleep

Usually when most people go to sleep, they simply ‘let it happen’. This carries with it all of the mental, emotional, vital-nervous, and physical energy pent up in the being at the time, into the sleep state. Add to this mix the state of fatigue that prevails, and it can lead to restless, or dull sleep, chaotic dreams and confused awareness at the times of light sleep or waking. Watching television or surfing the internet, or studying until late simply exacerbates the mental and nervous disruptions, and thus, it is generally understood and recommended to ease into the time for sleep by avoiding intense study, or any kind of electronic devices, as well as intense emotional or physical pressure for some time, giving the being time to relax and gently guide the sleep to be a restful state.

The Mother goes even further by reminding us that there are two aspects of sleep, the external being’s need for rest and regeneration, and the inner being’s activities that allow the psychic entity to learn, grow and gain in strength. To the extent that the outer being is at rest, the inner work can go on more powerfully and with fewer disruptions.

The Mother notes: “… certainly if you want to sleep quietly at night, you must not study till just before sleeping. If you read something which requires concentration, your head will continue to work and so you won’t sleep well. When the mind continues working one doesn’t rest.”

“The ideal, you see, is to enter an integral repose, that is, immobility in the body, perfect peace in the vital, absolute silence in the mind — and the consciousness goes out of all activity to enter into Sachchidananda. If you can do this, then when you wake up you get up with the feeling of an extraordinary power, a perfect joy. But it is not very, very easy to do this. It can be done; this is the ideal condition. … Usually it is not at all like this, and most of the time almost all the hours of sleep are wasted in some kind of disordered activities; your body begins to toss about in your bed, you give kicks, you turn, you start, you turn this way and that, and then you do this (gesture) and then this … So you don’t rest at all.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Sleep, pp. 11-17

The External Being’s Need For Sleep

There are several different orders of activity that take place during sleep. Confusion about these separate things leads to mistaken attempts to simply limit sleep in order to ‘become conscious during sleep’. First, there is the activity that takes place with the external, surface being consisting of body, life and mind. While the surface awareness recedes, the body has a chance to reconstitute its energy and undertake various healing activities. Sleep is considered to be a great healer of the body. It is also an opportunity for the nervous system to calm, and the mind to become quiet and withdrawn. Many people have the experience that when they withdraw the conscious mind from a problem they are trying to solve, they awaken the next day with the solution.

The exact mechanism of the mental solution presented in this way is not specifically known. Some attribute it to subliminal mental activity during the sleep period while the active focus or fixation is withdrawn; some attribute it to the knitting together of items in the subconscient to present a new view or solution; and still others attribute it to the operation of the inner being, the psychic entity, which has the chance to come forward while the active mind and senses are at rest. It is likely that one or more of these mechanisms is operative at different times and under varying circumstances.

The body in particular requires a certain amount of rest and uses that period to build up energy and redirect needed energy to any healing required. Lack of sufficient sleep can cause grave disturbances to the external being and does not lead to becoming conscious in sleep as is sometimes believed. One may find that the tiredness, fogginess and physical exhaustion as well as nervous tension or mental stress can be relieved through the sleep process.

When the external being withdraws during sleep, there is an opportunity for the inner being to come forward. Becoming conscious in sleep is really focused on building awareness and linking to this inner being such that while the body-life-mind complex is withdrawn, the development of the inner being and its own action on other planes can be undertaken and at some point, actively recognised and supported.

There are of course yogic practices that can reduce or minimise the need for any of the functions of the external being, but that is not the object of discussion here.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “it is not possible to do at once what you like with the body. If the body is told to sleep only 2 or 3 hours, it may follow if the will is strong enough — but afterwards it may get exceedingly strained and even break down for want of needed rest. The yogis who minimise their sleep succeed only after a long tapasya in which they learn how to control the forces of Nature governing the body.”

“It must be the want of sleep that keeps your nervous system exposed to weakness — it is a great mistake not to take sufficient sleep. Seven hours is the minimum needed. When one has a very strong nervous system one can reduce it to six, sometimes even five — but it is rare and ought not to be attempted without necessity.”

“Both for fevers and for mental trouble sleep is a great help and its absence very undesirable — it is the loss of a curative agency.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Sleep, pp. 11-17

Becoming Conscious In Sleep

When the idea of becoming conscious in sleep is raised, many people try simply to find ways to remain awake somehow in sleep. This process generally leads to exhaustion, and imbalances in the physical, vital and mental complex of the outer nature. Sleep is restorative to their processes, and any attempt to artificially disrupt sleep, with the idea that our mental consciousness must have a way to pay attention to what is going on in sleep, is bound to create problems. The question of becoming conscious in sleep is not related to the external personality taking charge of the sleep state; rather, it requires a shift of consciousness away from the external being to the inner, the psychic being. It is similar to the shift in consciousness that needs to take place in the surface consciousness to achieve a separation of the true witness, the Purusha, from the action of the external being, Prakriti. Thus, it is not the external mind that must find a way to “stay awake”; rather, it is through the quiescence of the mind, the vital and the body that the inner being can come forward and observe. The question then is how one can establish the conscious awareness of that inner being at all times, separate from the external awareness.

The Mother writes: “Sleep can be a very active means of concentration and inner knowledge. Sleep is the school one has to go through, if one knows how to learn his lesson there, so that the inner being may be independent of the physical form, conscious in itself and master of its own life. There are entire parts of the being which need this immobility and semi-consciousness of the outer being, of the body, in order to be able to live their own life, independently.”

“Only, people don’t know, they sleep because they sleep, as they eat, as they live — by a kind of instinct, a semi-conscious impulse. They don’t even ask themselves the question. You are asking the question now: Why does one sleep? But there are millions and millions of beings who sleep without ever having asked themselves the question why one sleeps. They sleep because they feel sleepy, they eat because they are hungry, and they do foolish things because their instincts push them, without thinking, without reasoning; but for those who know, sleep is a school, an excellent school for something other than the school of waking hours.”

“It is another school for another purpose, but it is a school. One wants to make the maximum progress possible, one must know how to use one’s nights as one uses one’s days; only, usually, people don’t at all know what to do, and they try to remain awake and all that they create is a physical and vital imbalance — and sometimes a mental one also — as a result.”

“The physical and all material physical parts should be absolutely at rest, but a repose which is not a fall into the inconscient — this is one of the conditions. And the vital must be in a repose of silence. Then if you have these three things at rest the inner being which is rarely in relation with the outer life, because the outer life is too noisy and too unconscious for it to be able to manifest itself, can become aware of itself and awaken, become active and act upon the lower parts, establish a conscious contact. This is the real reason for sleep, apart from the necessity that, in the present conditions of life, activity and rest, rest and activity must alternate.”

“The body needs rest but there are very few people, as I said, who know how to sleep. They sleep in such conditions that they don’t wake up refreshed or are hardly rested at all. But this is an entire science to learn.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Sleep, pp. 11-17

Preparing the Body, Vital and Mind for Restful, Conscious Sleep

We spend as much as one third of our lifetime asleep. Many questions arise when one reflects on this fact. What happens during sleep? Where does the consciousness go? What does it do? Can we become conscious, or at least more conscious, of that part of our lives? Are there ways to prepare for sleep that help us to optimize the sleep state for the yogic practice?

The Mother notes: “In any case one thing you can do in all security is, before going to sleep, to concentrate, relax all tension in the physical being, try … that is, in the body try so that the body lies like a soft rag on the bed, that it is no longer something with twitchings and cramps; to relax it completely as though it were a kind of thing like a rag. And the, the vital: to calm it, calm it as much as you can, make it as quiet, as peaceful as possible. And then the mind also — the mind, try to keep it like that, without any activity. You must put upon the brain the force of great peace, great quietude, of silence if possible, and not follow ideas actively, not make any effort, nothing, nothing; you must relax all movement there too, but relax it in a kind of silence and quietude as great as possible.”

“Once you have done all this, you may add either a prayer or an aspiration in accordance with your nature, to ask for the consciousness and peace and to be protected against all adverse forces throughout the sleep, to be in a concentration of quiet aspiration and in the protection; ask the Grace to watch over your sleep; and then go to sleep. This is to sleep in the best possible conditions. What happens afterwards depends on your inner impulses, but if you do this persistently, night after night, night after night, after some time it will have its effect.”

“Usually, you see, one lies down on the bed and tries to sleep as quickly as possible, and then, that’s all, with a state of total ignorance of how it ought to be done. But what I have just told you, if you do that regularly it will have an effect. In any case, it can very well avoid the attacks which occur at night: one has gone to bed very nicely, one wakes up ill; this is something absolutely disastrous, it means that during the night one has been getting infected somewhere in a state of total inconscience.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Sleep, pp. 11-17