The Development of the Psychic Being

We can identify a systematic evolution of consciousness in the external world. Life evolves out of Matter, Mind out of Life. We do not, however, thereby determine either a significance or purpose to this evolution nor any causative factors that involve mind and life into matter such that they can eventually manifest out. We also do not discern thereby any purpose for our individual life and conscious awareness and our aspiration for growth, development and increase of knowledge. Looked at from the viewpoint of the individual ego-personality, our lives are short, unpredictable and have a defined beginning and a defined ending, with no visibility of either what precedes our birth or what eventuates after our death.

Seers and mystics, philosophers and those who have experienced deeper spiritual experiences, from traditions all around the world, have addressed these issues. Some traditions, which posit a “first creator” principle, then create a heaven or hell to which the spirit embodied in the individual proceeds after death. Some talk about resurrection and rejoining one’s current family in some after-life, presumably in a remade younger and healthier body than the one from which the individual departed! While there are obvious issues with this viewpoint, it is part of a continuum of efforts to understand and develop some form of meaning to our existence in this lifetime.

Other approaches describe a series of births, an ascending growth of consciousness, over time, transcending the individual lifetime and indeed tying lifetimes together, not from the viewpoint of the ego-personality of our current life, but from the greater consciousness that takes birth successively from life to life, and which embodies the purpose of the universal manifestation. Such an approach gains credence as we experience, in some cases, active recollection of a past lifetime (although this is rare since the mechanism generally does not hold onto individual lifetimes in their detail), or at least a feeling or sense of familiarity or relationship to some person, place or event.

Whatever the experience however, it soon becomes clear that there is a hidden mechanism or power that is manifesting the universal creation, which embodies through this creation a consciousness that embraces, includes and permeates all, and which works out over vast spans of time far beyond that of an individual human lifetime. The continuity of individual development then is brought about through a conscious participation of a divine element in each being, which Sri Aurobindo calls the psychic element, or soul element. As it gathers experience, and as the evolution of consciousness takes place, it becomes more aware, more conscious, and is thus able to participate actively in its own development.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “As the evolution proceeds, Nature begins slowly and tentatively to manifest our occult parts; she leads us to look more and more within ourselves or sets out to initiate more clearly recognisable intimations and formations of them on the surface. The soul in us, the psychic principle, has already begun to take secret form; it puts forward and develops a soul-personality, a distinct psychic being to represent it.”

“The psychic part of us is something that comes direct from the Divine and is in touch with the Divine. In its origin it is the nucleus pregnant with divine possibilities that support this lower triple manifestation of mind, life and body. There is this divine element in all living beings, but it stands behind the ordinary consciousness, is not at first developed and, even when developed, is not always or often in the front; it expresses itself, so far as the imperfection of the instruments allows, by their means and under their limitations. It grows in the consciousness by Godward experience, gaining strength every time there is a higher movement in us, and, finally, by the accumulation of these deeper and higher movements, there is developed a psychic individuality, — that which we call usually the psychic being.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. xvii-xviii

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The Process of Effectuating Real Change in Human Nature

Honest observation without mental bias is the first step the Mother outlines. This is accomplished by setting up the ideal as a screen or filter against which to compare each action. Those that do not compare entirely favorably represent things that can be identified as subjects for the change process. The standpoint of the uninvolved witness of the nature does not have any obligation to intervene, and many paths of yogic development that utilize this method counsel non-intervention as a basis of achieving liberation.

If the goal, however, is not ‘liberation’ but ‘transformation’, different criteria emerge and as a result, at some point, intervention is required and becomes phase 2 of the process. Eventually the observational mode is able to identify specific areas of ‘conflict’ between different parts of the being, their various needs, drives, motives, habits and directions, and begin to organise each of these elements around the highest aspiration representing the purpose the psychic being has as the life-objective.

The Mother writes: “And I am so convinced that anybody who does it in that way, with the same freshness and sincerity, will obtain exhilarating results…. To put all that on a screen in front of yourself and look at what is happening. And the first step is to know all that is happening and then you must not try to shut your eyes when something does not appear pleasant to you! You must keep them wide open and put each thing in that way before the screen. Then you make quite an interesting discovery. And then the next step is to begin saying: ‘Since all that is happening within me, why should I not put this thing in this way and then that thing in that way and then this other in this way and thus wouldn’t I be doing something logical that has a meaning? Why should I not remove that thing which stands obstructing the way, these conflicting wills? why? And what does that represent in the being? Why is it there? If it were put there, would it not help instead of harming me?’ And so on.”

“And little by little, little by little, you see clearer and then you see why you are made like that, what is the thing you have got to do — that for which you are born. And then, quite naturally, since all is organised for this thing to come, the path becomes straight and you can say beforehand: ‘It is in this way that it will happen.’ And when things come from outside to try and upset all that, you are able to say: ‘No, I accept this, for it helps; I reject that, for that harms.’ And then, after a few years, you curb yourself as you curb a horse: you do whatever you like, in the way you like and you go wherever you like.”

“It seems to me this is worth the trouble. I believe it is the most interesting thing.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Self-Observation and Self-Organisation, pp. 126-131

Becoming Aware of Consciousness Independent of the Body, Life and Mind

What is consciousness? How can we understand consciousness separate from what we believe to be ourselves, the body, vital force and mental framework that we identify with? Philosophers, scientists and religious leaders have all tried to develop a definition of “consciousness”. Rene Descartes famously declared ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Subsequent researchers in the field of consciousness have challenged this statement, and spiritual practitioners experience pure awareness without the movement of thought in the mental field. Exploration of consciousness now has recognised that consciousness cannot be defined or limited by mental conception. It must be experienced. Seers and rishis have described an experience of pure, undifferentiated awareness, unified with pure existence and pure bliss, and have termed this “Sat-Chit-Ananda”. The Mother proposes a method to aid the seeker in experiencing pure consciousness as separate from the ego-personality, the mind, the life-energy or the body.

The Mother writes: “It’s one of the most indispensable things to do if one wants to succeed in having self-control and even a limited self-knowledge: to be able to localise one’s consciousness and move it about in the different parts of one’s being, in such a way as to distinguish between one’s consciousness and one’s thought, feelings, impulses, become aware of what the consciousness is in itself. And in this way one can learn how to shift it: one can put one’s consciousness in the body, put it in the vital, put it in the psychic (that’s the best place to put it in); one can put one’s consciousness in the mind, can raise it above the mind, and with one’s consciousness one can go into all the regions of the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of “Oneself”, pp. 124-126

Overcoming the Darkness and Depression When the Psychic Being Recedes

The distinction between the state of consciousness with the psychic being active and leading, versus that where it has receded and the ego-personality of the surface being is predominant, provides a very clear method for the seeker to know what is taking place internally. By adopting the standpoint of the witness of the nature, the individual can make this determination. If the being is overwhelmed with negative opinions and judgments, blaming others for difficulties, and wallowing in self-pity, depression, anger or denial, then it is up to the seeker to both recognise this and take steps to provide the remedy.

A conscious effort to focus on and tune into the psychological state that predominates with the psychic being at the fore, can yield tremendous help in overcoming the deepest and darkest times in the long and slow process of transformation of the nature. The phenomenon of the ‘dark night of the soul’, one of the deepest and darkest periods of dryness or depression, can only be truly overcome by maintaining the light, poise and focus that the soul-awareness carries with it as its native status.

The Mother observes: “You might well ask, what is the remedy for this state of affairs? For here we are going round in a vicious circle, since the whole trouble comes from drawing away from the psychic and only the psychic can find the solution to the problems. There is consequently only one remedy: be on your guard, hold fast to the psychic, do not allow anything in your consciousness to slip in between your psychic and yourself, close your ears and your understanding to all other suggestions and rely only on the psychic.”

“… And if in spite of all your efforts the horizon sometimes darkens, if hope and joy fade away, if enthusiasm flags, remember that it is a sign that you have drawn away from your psychic being and lost contact with its ideal. In this way you will avoid making the mistake of throwing the blame on the people and things around you and thus quite needlessly increasing your sufferings and your difficulties.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, The Psychic Being and Psychological Health, The Psychic — Source of Inner Well-Being, pp. 119-122

Comparison of a Life Guided by the Psychic Being and a Life Under Control of the External Personality of the Mind, Life and Body

The Mother illustrates clearly the difference in how an individual responds when the psychic being is in front, guiding the mind, life and body, as opposed to what happens when it is in the background, either pushed back, or deeply hidden under the cover of the external being, leaving the mind, life and body consciousness, the external personality, controlling the actions of the life.

The Mother writes: “Already future teachers and future students are beginning to arrive, some from outside, new to the climate and customs of the country. They are arriving in the Ashram for the first time and know nothing of its life or its customs. Some of them come with a mental aspiration, either to serve or to learn; others come in the hope of doing yoga, of finding the Divine and uniting with Him; finally there are those who want to devote themselves entirely to the divine work upon earth. All of them come impelled by their psychic being, which wants to lead them towards self-realisation. They come with their psychic in front and ruling their consciousness; they have a psychic contact with people and things. Everything seems beautiful and good to them, their health improves, their consciousness grows more luminous; they feel happy, peaceful and safe; they think that they have reached their utmost possibility of consciousness. This peace and fullness and joy given by the psychic contact they naturally find everywhere, in everything and everybody. It gives an openness towards the true consciousness pervading here and working out everything. So long as the openness is there, the peace, the fullness and the joy remain with their immediate results of progress, health and fitness in the physical, quietness and goodwill in the vital, clear understanding and broadness in the mental and a general feeling of security and satisfaction. But it is difficult for a human being to keep up a constant contact with his psychic. As soon as he settles down and the freshness of the new experience fades away, the old person comes back to the surface with all its habits, preferences, small manias, shortcomings and misunderstandings; the peace is replaced by restlessness, the joy vanishes, the understanding is blinded and the feeling that the place is the same as everywhere else creeps in, because one has become what one was everywhere else. Instead of seeing only what has been accomplished, he becomes aware more and more and almost exclusively of what has yet to be done; he becomes morose and discontented and blames people and things instead of blaming himself. He complains of the lack of comfort, of the unbearable climate, of the unsuitable food that makes his digestion painful. Taking support from Sri Aurobindo’s teaching that the body is an indispensable basis of yoga, that it should not be neglected and that, on the contrary, great care should be given to it, the physical consciousness concentrates almost exclusively on the body and tries to find ways of satisfying it. This is practically impossible, for, with a very few exceptions, the more it is given, the more it demands. Besides, the physical being is ignorant and blind; it is full of false notions, preconceived ideas, prejudices and preferences. Indeed, it cannot deal effectively with the body. Only the psychic consciousness has the knowledge and insight needed to do the right thing in the right way.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, The Psychic Being and Psychological Health, The Psychic — Source of Inner Well-Being, pp. 119-122

Evolutionary Change and the Process of Time

Evolutionary changes take place in what we may call “evolutionary time”, which measures major changes over millennia, certainly far beyond the span of any individual human lifetime. Thus, when we look at any attempt to modify human nature, not to speak of physical characteristics that are embedded in the DNA, or even the long and deeply embedded habits in our vital nature that are part of the subconscious inheritance we have that frame our way of reacting to circumstances, we cannot expect to see radical change in the course of a few years’ time. Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that with the conscious participation of the mental intelligence, and the bringing forward into action of the soul, the psychic being, the process can be speeded up, but he also did not envisage a complete transformation of human nature in the course of even one century. He reflected at some point that the changes he was looking for might take several hundred years.

This does not mean, however, that an individual called to this pursuit should simply either give up, or even slack off in the effort. Sri Aurobindo described the proper attitude in this regard as one that has the energy to accomplish everything without delay, while at the same time maintaining the patience for the deed to be accomplished over the course of many lifetimes.

The individual can avoid the depths of depression due to the time it takes, by identifying, not with the individual ego-personality, but with the psychic being and through its identification with the Divine, the universal manifestation, the Divine Shakti. The psychic being recognises the timeless nature of the universal unfoldment, and does not get burdened by the slow pace of the human process.

The Mother notes: “In the human consciousness everything is very slow. When we compare the time that is necessary to realise something with the average length of human existence, it seems interminable. But happily there comes a time when one escapes from this notion, when one begins to feel no longer according to human measures. As soon as one is truly in touch with the psychic, one loses this kind of narrowness and of agony also, this agony which is so bad: ‘I must be quick, I must be quick, there is not much time, I must hurry, there is not much time.’ One does things very badly or doesn’t do them at all any more. But as soon as there is a contact with the psychic, then indeed this disappears; one begins to be a little more vast and calm and peaceful, and to live in eternity.”

“Psychic poise means the poise of the being which comes from the fact that the psychic, which governs the movements of the being, is the master of all the movements of the consciousness. The psychic is always well poised. So when it is active and governs the being, it inevitably brings a balance.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, The Psychic Being and Psychological Health, The Psychic — Source of Inner Well-Being, pp. 119-122

Becoming Conscious of the Psychic Being, the Soul in Man

There are many different spiritual disciplines and methods, and also different experiences of consciousness that result from practice of these methods. For those who aspire to bring the soul, the psychic being, forward and active in the physical body and life, Sri Aurobindo describes several methods. When he speaks here of meditation, it is with a specific locus of consciousness deep behind the heart centre, as meditations that focus above the head, or between the eyebrows are not fixed on bringing forward the psychic being, per se, but are aimed at liberation or oneness with the universal, or some other aim. The psychic being is the part of the Divine that is embodied in the individual being and when it comes forward, it has the ability to bring with it peace and joy even as the outer being faces its challenges and struggles.

For most people, the psychic being is not directly experienced as they live primarily in the surface consciousness of the body, life and mind. Actions are motivated by external stimuli and goals, and many even challenge the very existence of the soul, simply because they themselves do not recognise it and understand its action.

For those who can and do experience the action of the psychic being, there is a feeling of completeness and a peace that is based in the separation of the soul from the weaknesses and limitations of the outer being, the soul not being troubled by any difficulties which arise, in complete faith in the Divine and the Divine providence.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The ease and peace are felt very deep and far within because they are in the psychic and the psychic is very deep within us, covered over by the mind and vital. When you meditate you open to the psychic, become aware of your psychic consciousness deep within and feel these things. In order that these ease and peace and happiness may become strong and stable and felt in all the being and in the body, you have to go still deeper within and bring out the full force of the psychic into the physical. This can most easily be done by regular concentration and meditation with the aspiration for this true consciousness. It can be done by work also, by dedication, by doing the work for the Divine only without thought of self….”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, The Psychic Being and Psychological Health, The Psychic — Source of Inner Well-Being, pp. 119-122

Psychoanalysis and Yoga Don’t Mix

Without the power to control and purify, an individual faces great risk in dredging up all kinds of subconscious energies, fears, experiences, dreams and desires. Psychoanalysis focuses on tapping into this subconscious level, but it does not start with any process to arm the individual with the necessary insight, and tools, to manage what comes up. Thus, it tends to create great confusion, in some cases leading to years of ongoing ‘therapy’ without any positive result.

The practice of yoga relies on the development of a focus, not on the lowest and least conscious levels of our awareness, but on the highest and most awake parts of our being. The sense is that as the higher powers of awakened consciousness gain more strength and bring with them new insights, understandings and ability to control and manage the forces of mind, life and body, it becomes more possible to deal with anything that would surge up from below, and if the subconscious levels need to be opened up and excavated, so to speak, at least the seeker will be armed with knowledge and be able to understand what is happening and thus, be able to manage what comes.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Your practice of psychoanalysis was a mistake….The psycho-analysis of Freud is the last thing that one should associate with yoga. It takes up a certain part, the darkest, the most perilous, the unhealthiest part of the nature, the lower .vital subconscious layer, isolates some of its most morbid phenomena and attributes to it and them an action out of proportion to its true role in the nature. Modern psychology is an infant science, at once rash and fumbling and crude. As in all infant sciences, the universal habit of the human mind — to take a partial or local truth, generalise it unduly and try to explain a whole field of Nature in its narrow terms — runs riot here …. It is true that the subliminal in man is the largest part of his nature and has in it the secret of the unseen dynamisms which explain his surface activities. But the lower vital subconscious which is all that this psycho-analysis of Freud seems to know, — and even of that it knows only a few ill-lit corners, — is no more than a restricted and very inferior portion of the subliminal whole…. First, one should make the higher mind and vital strong and firm and full of light and peace from above; afterwards one can open up or even dive into the subconscious with more safety and some chance of a rapid and successful change.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Observation versus Analysis, pp. 5-7

Peace in the Body’s Cells Can Cure Illness

When we conjure up, in our minds, the idea of peace, we tend to give it a form of inaction, a ‘negative’ status. Similarly, peace to our vital nature is the absence of excitement or any form of energetic expression. For the body, we believe peace is a state of quietness that does not ‘do’ anything.

For Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, however, peace is a dynamic, powerful status that can be palpably felt and experienced by the receptive soul. It is a Force, it is solid and immovable, and it fills the mind, the heart, the vital being and the body with a power that cannot be denied. This force is so powerful that it can overcome all manner of oppositions and distractions, and, despite our mental conceptualization of it, it is not restricted to a state of meditation or silent inaction.

Just as we do not generally understand or conceive of the dynamic nature of this peace, we generally have no idea, short of an insight gained through actual experience, of what peace infusing the cells of the body is actually like.

It is this peace infusing the cells that has the power to heal all dis-ease and illness, but it is not something that one gets from sitting for fifteen minutes for meditation!

Our mind, our emotions, our vital and nervous being and our body each have habits of reaction that automatically engage when the right stimulus reaches them. The power of peace, as experienced by the Mother, is one that can shut down these habits of reaction and thereby free the body from vibrating from a force that brings with it a sense of illness or disharmony into it.

The Mother notes: “Peace and stillness are the great remedy for disease. When we can bring peace in our cells, we are cured. … Catch hold of a peace deep within and push it into the cells of the body. With the peace will come back the health. …Establish a greater peace and quietness in your body, that will give you the strength to resist attacks of illness. … To keep quiet and concentrate, leaving the Force from above to do its work, is the surest way to be cured of anything and everything. There is no illness that can resist that if it is done properly, in time and long enough, with a steady faith and a strong will.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, The One Way — Quiet, Calm, Peace, pp. 1-2

Yoga as Applied Psychology

Sri Aurobindo notes that yoga is applied psychology. This implies that many of the techniques of awareness, adjustment and modification that are part of the yogic process can be successfully applied to anyone who seeks to address a disturbance in the being.

Another important factor raised by Sri Aurobindo is the identification of the part of the being to which a disturbance belongs, and the ability thereby to understand in more detail the nature of the disturbance, the causes of the disturbance and the needed application of focus and effort to resolve that disturbance. By unraveling the complex nature of human response in this way, Sri Aurobindo provides us with extraordinary leverage to effectuate change in the being.

Dr. Dalal writes: “… Sri Aurobindo’s yoga distinguishes psychological disturbances according to the part or plane of the being to which they belong. … Many methods and principles of Integral Yoga are of a general nature, being applicable to disturbances of any part of the being.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Mental Health and Integral Yoga, pp. xxxii-xxxvii