Aspiration, Faith and Realisation

Aspiration in terms of the yogic process is a tuning of the consciousness towards the spiritual reality, and thereby shifting the focus away from the ego-personality to the divine. The aspiration directs the attention, but must be followed up with an attitude of receptivity so that the response, the action of the higher force, can come and be integrated into the being. To the extent that the desire-soul of the ego-personality remains active, the individual engages in all kinds of concerns, speculations and wishes for a particular result, and this creates enough disruption in the awareness that it frequently hinders the reception that has been asked for. We desire a specific outcome and result from the aspiration, without truly understanding the way, process and means of the divine intention in manifestation. Thus, we overlay our ego-expectations on the divine even as we aspire for a higher truth.

The human being tends to impatience and brings with him the expectation of immediate gratification of desire, and this reduces the purity and force of the aspiration. There are those who speak nowadays of the ‘law of attraction’. There is indeed a truth behind the ‘law of attraction’ but it is not exactly as described by those who ascribe to it the power to manifest all types of wealth, success and popularity! The underlying truth is that where we focus our attention, we open up a connection and a pathway for manifestation. If we remain receptive we keep that connection open and energy travels along that path.

Aspiration for the divine truth has, however, a further implication. We cannot, from our ego-viewpoint, truly understand the method and process of the divine realisation. We expect things to happen a certain way and in a certain time-frame, yet the divine purpose may be fulfilled through a longer and more circuitous route. Thus, we have to combine aspiration and receptivity with faith in the divine and the eventual outcome. It may be that the answer has in fact come, but we have failed to heed it as it did not meet our expectation or our desire!

The Mother notes: “When one aspires for something, if at the same time one knows that the aspiration will be heard and answered in the best possible way, that establishes a quietude in the being, a quietude in its vibrations; whilst if there is a doubt, an uncertainty, if one does not know what will lead one to the goal or if ever one will reach it or whether there is a way of doing so, and so on, then one gets disturbed and that usually creates a sort of little whirlwind around the being, which prevents it from receiving the real thing. Instead, if one has a quiet faith, if whilst aspiring one knows that there is no aspiration (naturally, sincere aspiration) which remains unanswered, then one is quiet. One aspires with as much fervour as possible, but does not stand in nervous agitation asking oneself why one does not get immediately what one has asked for. One knows how to wait. I have said somewhere: ‘To know how to wait is to put time on one’s side.’ That is quite true. For if one gets excited, one loses all one’s time — one loses one’s time, loses one’s energy, loses one’s movements. To be very quiet, calm, peaceful, with the faith that what is true will take place, and that if one lets it happen, it will happen so much the quicker. Then, in that peace everything goes much better.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49


Comparing Thought and Intuition as Problem-Solving Methodologies

The West, in particular, believes in the power of thought to solve problems. The educational system focuses its attention on analysis and categorization, and eventually adds the precepts of logical thought as a methodology to work through problems step by step. The scientific method, as it is called, tests a hypothesis by setting up experiments and systematically eliminating options that do not fit, until a conclusion is reached that fits the facts to the hypothesis. The systems of logic follow a strict line of development forcing a ‘solution’ at the end of the process. The limitation of this system is that everything is framed within the parameters of the logical intellect. Thus, eventually problems are unable to be solved when they involve complex variables, sometimes in conflict with one another, within the mental realm. At some point the only solution lies in exceeding the limits of the mind and entering into a different frame of consciousness that is not bound by mental logic.

If we are looking for the development of a new form of consciousness, the next phase in the evolutionary cycle, we must eventually recognize that the mind can neither fully understand nor judge the functioning of that next evolutionary phase. In fact, the mind must fall into a state of silent receptivity if a new and more powerful movement of consciousness is to manifest.

We find, if we examine the statements of individuals who are recognised as leading seers, thinkers, and developers, people such as Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, and Sri Aurobindo, that they do not rely on the logical intellect to gain insight into the nature of reality and the developments that are possible. They speak of a process of intuition that takes the place of logical thought through cultivation of silence and receptivity. The intuitive process that represents the first openings to a higher formation of consciousness can be seen operative in such individuals who are hailed as geniuses in today’s world, simply because they already have insight and the power to access these higher ranges, as forerunners for the rest of humanity. The Mother explains that development in this direction is possible for virtually anyone who is willing to move beyond the stumbling limits of the mental process.

Albert Einstein described his ‘process’: “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the Truth comes to me.” Einstein has been recognised for his unique insight into the physical universe. He was clearly not limited by the framework of the mental structures that keep us hemmed into pre-digested ideas and solutions. Using a similar process, it is possible to identify and implement new ways of looking at problems we face, and thereby solving issues that have very few, if any, favorable outcomes on the level of thought and logical reasoning process.

The Mother writes: “To learn to be quiet and silent… When you have a problem to solve, instead of turning over in your head all the possibilities, all the consequences, all the possible things one should or should not do, if you remain quiet with an aspiration for goodwill, if possible a need for goodwill, the solution comes very quickly. And as you are silent you are able to hear it.”

“When you are caught in a difficulty, try this method: instead of becoming agitated, turning over all the ideas and actively seeking solutions, of worrying, fretting, running here and there inside your head — I don’t mean externally, for externally you probably have enough common sense not to do that! but inside, in your head — remain quiet. And according to your nature, with ardour or peace, with intensity or widening or with all these together, implore the Light and wait for it to come.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

Dealing with Difficulties and Setbacks Along the Way

We tend to judge things, events, opportunities, setbacks, obstacles and directions from the standpoint of our individual ego-personality. When we take up a spiritual path, we expect that our efforts, and our devotion to the guide or master in whom we rely, will smooth the path in front of us and make for a straight, steady development in our yogic pursuits.

What actually occurs, however, is rarely, if ever, a straight undeviating progress. There are twists and turns. Periods of difficulty come along, unexpected obstructions, whether internal or external, are raised up, and we struggle with, on one side, the expectation of a glide-path to yogic success and, on the other side, the reality of the issues we are facing.

The methods of Nature, the universal creation, are, however, not so simple or straightforward. We may make strong progress in one direction, which opens up an area of residual weakness that needs to be addressed before further progress can occur. At that point, the forward momentum appears to stop while we have to go back and deal with things we thought we had long left behind. The next round of upward or forward movement then can begin, with a more solid foundation, on what looks like a cyclical process rather than a direct process.

The evolution of consciousness within the world constituted by Matter, Life and Mind involves sorting out and reconciling somewhat different goals, objectives and operative principles at work within each of the existing stages, and in their interaction with one another. Bringing a next phase to bear involves not only shifting to the new standpoint but integrating its action within the framework of what already exists, and working out the adjustments that those earlier stages must be prepared to accept in order to fully manifest. The advent, for instance, of the supramental action on earth necessitates changes in the texture and capability of response of mind, life and matter. We can see already how slowly the changes take place, and with how much difficulty when we try to adjust anything on these lower planes. This is why endurance, patience, persistence and equanimity are required characteristics for the yogic practitioner who intends to participate in this evolutionary development. There is a proverb that encapsulates much of the attitude the seeker should have in dealing with obstacles and resistances: ‘When life gives you lemons, then make lemonade.’ Everything that occurs, whether we judge these things to be “good” or “bad” are elements in the evolutionary sequence and the need to address change at all levels, not just at the higher planes of existence.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “In the play of the cosmic forces, the will in the cosmos — as one might say — does not always work apparently in favour of a smooth and direct line for the work or the sadhana; it often brings in what seem to be upheavals, sudden turns which break or deflect the line, opposing or upsetting circumstances or perplexing departures from what had been temporarily settled or established. The one thing is to preserve equanimity and make an opportunity and means of progress out of all that happens in the course of the life and the sadhana. There is a higher secret Will transcendent behind the play and will of the cosmic forces — a play which is always a mixture of things favourable and things adverse — and it is that Will which one must wait upon and have faith in; but you must not expect to be able always to understand its workings. The mind wants this or that to be done, the line once taken to be maintained, but what the mind wants is not at all always what is intended in a larger purpose. One has to follow indeed a fixed central aim in the sadhana and not deviate from it, but not to build on outward circumstances, conditions, etc., as if they were fundamental things.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

Finding a Solution that Provides Peace Without Sacrificing Progress in the Universal Manifestation

If the drive towards progress is fueled by dissatisfaction and anxiety felt by the individual, we are left with the concern that achieving peace must come at the cost of giving up the active life and the development of consciousness in the world. We either have to sink back to the level of the animal who does not worry about the past or the future, and who lives in a relatively static consciousness, or find a way to escape the world, through renunciation and entering into a form of trance state based in the highest, but not attempting to modify or update the outer consciousness. Both of these methods, however, leave the drive embedded in the very essence of the human soul unfulfilled and thus, cannot be the complete solution to carrying out the significance of our existence.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother propose a different solution. All of the above noted attempts to achieve peace are rooted in the ego-consciousness. They propose shifting the standpoint of consciousness to a higher level, aligned with the supreme consciousness that manifests the universal creation, and from that standpoint, peace comes from an absolute trust and faith in that creation and the role the individual is intended to play in carrying out the manifestation. Once the burden of action is shifted from the ego to the universal, there is no longer the pressure, nor any cause for anxiety. Thus, peace can be achieved in the consciousness of the individual without abandoning the drive towards the evolution of consciousness inherent in the human soul.

The Mother observes: “That is why all spiritual disciplines begin with the necessity of surrendering all responsibility and relying on a higher principle. Otherwise peace is impossible. … And yet, consciousness has been given to man so that he can progress, can discover what he doesn’t know, develop into what he has not yet become; and so it may be said that there is a higher state than that of an immobile and static peace: it is a trust total enough for one to keep the will to progress, to preserve the effort for progress while ridding it of all anxiety, all care for results and consequences. This is one step ahead of the methods which may be called ‘quietist’, which are founded on the rejection of all activity and a plunging into an immobility and inner silence, which forsake all life because it has been suddenly felt that without peace one can’t have any inner realisation and, quite naturally, one thought that one couldn’t have peace so long as one was living in outer conditions, in the state of anxiety in which problems are set and cannot be solved, for one does not have the knowledge to do so.”

“The next step is to face the problem, but with the calm and certitude of an absolute trust in the supreme Power which knows, and can make you act. And then, instead of abandoning action, one can act in a higher peace that is strong and dynamic. … This is what could be called a new aspect of the divine intervention in life, a new form of intervention of the divine forces in existence, a new aspect of spiritual realisation.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

The Human Dilemma: the Underlying Cause of Anxiety

Being human is uncomfortable. We do not have the innocence of living that we find in the animal kingdom. We struggle with the pressure of growing knowledge about ourselves and our world, and an awareness of past, present and future that haunts us all the time. For many, this pressure is so unbearable that they choose to try to obliterate the awareness through various forms of dissipation, self-medication with alcohol or drugs, or through an attempt to regain the animal innocence by living in the present, care-free and oblivious, which, of course, is an illusion.

There is however a deeper significance to the dissatisfaction of humanity, and the anxiety that arises. Those that are satisfied generally remain fixed in their ‘status quo’. The force for development, progress and change occurs through the impetus of dissatisfaction with the current state of things. Thus, humanity is considered to be transitional and evolutionary in principle, and the dissatisfaction and anxiety that accompanies it represents the force that brings about evolutionary growth. It is said in the traditional scriptures that even the Gods, if they wish to make evolutionary progress, must take a human birth! The Gods are static beings at a higher vibrational level, to be sure, just as animals are static beings, at a lower vibrational level, than the human incarnation.

The Mother writes: “Of course, it is impossible for man to fall back to the level of the animal and lose the consciousness he has acquired; therefore, for him there is only one means, one way to get out of this condition he is in, which I call a miserable one, and to emerge into a higher state where worry is replaced by a trusting surrender and the certitude of a luminous culmination — this way is to change the consciousness.”

“Truly speaking there is no condition more miserable than being responsible for an existence to which one doesn’t have the key, that is, of which one doesn’t have the threads that can guide and solve the problems. The animal sets itself no problems: it just lives. Its instinct drives it, it relies on a collective consciousness which has an innate knowledge and is higher than itself, but it is automatic, spontaneous, it has no need to will something and make an effort to bring it about, it is quite naturally like that, and as it is not responsible for its life, it does not worry. With man is born the sense of having to depend on himself, and as he does not have the necessary knowledge the result is a perpetual torment. This torment can come to an end only with a total surrender to a higher consciousness than his own to which he can totally entrust himself, hand over his worries and leave the care of guiding his life and organising everything.”

“How can a problem be solved when one doesn’t have the necessary knowledge? And the unfortunate thing is that man believes that he has to resolve all the problems of his life, and he does not have the knowledge needed to do it. That is the source, the origin of all his troubles — that perpetual question, ‘What should I do? …’ which is followed by another one still more acute, ‘What is going to happen?’ and at the same time, more or less, the inability to answer.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

Man: the Being Who Worries

Anxiety arises when we extrapolate from a current circumstance or event to what we anticipate, imagine or speculate will follow. Some of this speculation is logical, following what we know of the method of Nature and the rollout of events through Time, although there is no absolute certainty about the logical result as there are too many unseen and unknown factors which can intervene at any moment. For example, we are driving a short distance on an errand and we expect to arrive in a few minutes’ time with no issues arising. However, we cannot know that a water line break will close the road ahead of us, that we will become mired in traffic that does not move, and that as a result we will miss our intended destination that day. The power of imagination, even if it is initially based on some logical inferential process, is just as likely to be inaccurate as accurate.

The animal kingdom, as far as we can tell, lives in the present time, experiencing life and not worrying about ‘what if’ scenarios. The human individual actually attends to the present with an ever-present burden of the past and an ever-present sense of the future. As a result, we carry into the present, the concerns, issues and fears that developed in the past, as well as the anxiety about what the future will hold. We worry about things that happened in the past even though we cannot go back and change them, in addition to worrying about what may happen in the future. This is what makes the human individual suffer far more intensely than our animal brethren.

As long as we remain rooted in this mental realm of speculative imagination of the future that will unroll before us, there is no simple solution. The developed mental consciousness is locked into this power and gains both its benefits and its drawbacks and limitations.

Sri Aurobindo notes that the mental consciousness, and the human being embodying the mental consciousness, represents a transitional phase in the evolution of consciousness. These powers brought progress and some real benefits with them, but we now experience with great intensity the negative aspects and limiting factors, indicating that it is time to move to a new level and type of consciousness which is not so wrapped up in the worry of the ego-personality about its own future. The next phase of evolution Sri Aurobindo has named the supramental consciousness, which grasps the movement of time as a unified whole, and participates in the universal manifestation on a conscious and fully engaged level. At this level, there is no cause for either speculation or worry.

This does not mean that circumstances or events may not block the way forward, or create obstacles to overcome; however, the awareness of the eventual conclusion and the need for patience and persistence in the effort overcomes the fear of failure and the worry about the future that accompanies everything in the human world.

The Mother notes: “It is obvious that what especially characterises man is this mental capacity of watching himself live. The animal lives spontaneously, automatically, and if it watches itself live, it must be to a very minute and insignificant degree, and that is why it is peaceful and does not worry. Even if an animal is suffering because of an accident or an illness, this suffering is reduced to a minimum by the fact that it does not observe it, does not project it in its consciousness and into the future, does not imagine things about its illness or its accident.”

“With man there has begun this perpetual worrying about what is going to happen, and this worry is the principal, if not the sole cause of his torment. With this objectivising consciousness there has begun anxiety, painful imaginations, worry, torment, anticipation of future catastrophes, with the result that most men — and not the least conscious, the most conscious — live in perpetual torment. Man is too conscious to be indifferent, he is not conscious enough to know what will happen. Truly it could be said without fear of making a mistake that of all earth’s creatures he is the most miserable. The human being is used to being like that because it is an atavistic state which he has inherited from his ancestors, but it is truly a miserable condition. And it is only with this spiritual capacity of rising to a higher level and replacing the animal’s consciousness by a spiritual super-consciousness that there comes into the being not only the capacity to see the goal of existence and to foresee the culmination of the effort but also a clear-sighted trust in a higher spiritual power to which one can surrender one’s whole being, entrust oneself, give the responsibility for one’s life and future and so abandon all worries.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

Escaping the Conflict and Battle of Thoughts in the Mind

Through the process of affinity and filtration of thoughts, when we remain in the plane of the mind, we experience the struggle and resistance of competing thoughts that appear to be in many cases chaotic in nature. Fighting with these thoughts, struggling, suppressing, all turn out to be counter-productive strategies, as they only intensify the conflict in the mind. There are two basic methods proposed by the Mother to shift the attention away from these thoughts. One of these is to rise above to a higher plane of mental consciousness, or beyond that, to the spiritual consciousness. The other is to focus the mind on some concentrated form of work or outward-oriented attention. In either case, when the focus shifts away from the level that receives and attends to these thoughts, they lose their force, at least temporarily, while the attention goes elsewhere, or, more permanently, as one makes the shift of consciousness to the higher spiritual realms and takes the standpoint of the witness from that level.

The Mother notes: “If you know how to rise to a higher level, simply into a region of the speculative mind which is not quite the ordinary physical mind, you can see all this play and all this struggle, all this conflict, all these contradictions as a curiosity which does not touch or affect you. If you rise a step higher still and see the goal towards which you want to go, you will gradually come to discern between ideas favourable to your progress which you will keep, and ideas opposed to this progress which harm and impair it; and from above you will have the power to set them aside, calmly, without being otherwise affected by them. But if you remain there, at that level in the midst of that confusion and conflict, well, you risk getting a headache!”

“The best thing to do is to occupy yourself with something practical which will compel you to concentrate specially: studies, work or some physical occupation for the body which demands attention — anything at all that forces you to concentrate on what you are doing and no longer be a prey to these ramblings. But if you have the misfortune to remain there and look at them, then surely, as I said, you will get a headache. For it is a problem which must be resolved either by a descent into practical life and a concentration on some practical effort or else by rising above and looking from above at all this chaos so as to be able to bring some order into it and set it right. … But one must never remain on the same plane, it is a plane which is no good either for physical or moral health.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Unruly and Perturbing Thoughts, pp. 35-43

The Silence of the Mind

We are so used to the constant internal dialogue that we have no conception of what it means to have ‘silence of the mind’. We strive to fill up any silence with sound, whether through conversation, consumption of media, music or even treating television or radio as ‘background noise’ for our daily lives. We fear silence in our interpersonal relationships and work to ‘make conversation.’ While we are waiting on the telephone, we hear music. When we ride in an elevator we hear music. Sound is constantly blasting at us wherever we go. Just the idea of silence is terrifying to most people. The closest we come to experiencing silence in the mind is when we listen quietly but intensely to music, or when we are concentrated on some observation or activity that removes us from our normal mental standpoint. In some cases, a glimpse can occur when we are out in nature and we experience a state of wide, pervasive, universal peace.

Let us reflect then on the objective set by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to achieve silence of the mind. Why is silence of the mind important? As long as we accept and allow the mind to repeat its mechanical round of thought, or its normal method of functioning, we remain bound within the mind’s limitations. The next stage of the spiritual evolution brings in a new power of consciousness, and this new power enters and permeates our being through a silence akin to the vastness of universal space.

As the seeker begins to get glimpses of this silence, the first concern is whether this means we are becoming dull, stupid or incompetent! How can we function if the mind is silent? The second concern is whether this is achieved through dulling of the mind and the senses, such as through the use of soporific substances, making the mind unresponsive and non-attentive.

It quickly becomes clear, however, as the spiritual sadhana develops, that the silent mind is not a sign of weakness, nor developed through dulling of the senses. It is not a state of sleep or some drug-induced stupor. Rather, it is a state of enhanced awareness, vibrant and energetic responsiveness, and higher vibratory levels, and that it is a receptive silence that welcomes and accepts the higher evolutionary forces waiting to manifest.

The Mother writes: “The mind must learn to be silent — remain calm, attentive, without making a noise. If you try to silence the mind directly, it is a hard job, almost impossible; for the most material part of the mind never stops its activity — it goes on and on like a non-stop recording machine. It repeats all that it records and unless there is a switch to stop it, it continues and continues indefinitely. If, on the other hand, you manage to shift your consciousness into a higher domain, above the ordinary mind, this opening to the Light calms the mind, it does not stir any longer, and the mental silence so obtained can become constant. Once you enter into this domain, you may very well never come out of it — the external mind always remains calm. … The only true solution is aspiration for the higher light.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Mental Noise, pp. 30-32

How to Quiet the Mind

It is a virtually universal experience. One sits for meditation, trying to quiet the mind, and the thoughts keep surging and seem to have more intensity than before! Every sensation seems to provoke some activity in the mind, pent up issues or concerns take that time to come to the fore, emotions arise, thoughts abound. One gets the feeling that there is no peace coming in the meditation.

We then try all kinds of different methods to bring the mind under control. Focus on a bright point, like a candle flame, or focus on one’s breathing, chant mantras, visualize a form for worship, — there are numerous methods that we try to use to bring peace to the mind. Sometimes we try to simply force the mind to stop its rounds. We soon find that suppression is not the solution!

And this is just for when we sit for meditation. The rest of the time this round is actually going on in the mind constantly and we simply treat it as background noise or a commentary on our daily lives. There is no peace or silence either in meditation or during the active life.

Over time, we may find, however, that if we do not fight the thoughts coming, but simply move our attention elsewhere, and when we get distracted, gently move our attention back to the object we are focused on, we can achieve a measure of peace and quiet in the mind. Sri Aurobindo has his own recommendations for how to still the constant churning of the thoughts in the mind.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “For the buzz of the physical mind, reject it quietly, without getting disturbed, till it feels discouraged and retires shaking its head and saying, ‘This fellow is too calm and strong for me.’ There are always two things that can rise up and assail the silence, — vital suggestions, the physical mind’s mechanical recurrences. Calm rejection for both is the cure. There is a Purusha within who can dictate to the nature what it shall admit or exclude, but its will is a strong, quiet will; if one gets perturbed or agitated over the difficulties, then the will of the Purusha cannot act effectively as it would otherwise.”

“The more the psychic spreads in the outer being, the more all these things [the mechanical activities of the subconscious mind] fall quiet. That is the best way. Direct efforts to still the mind are a difficult method.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Mental Noise, pp. 30-32