Reading and the Concentration and Dispersion of Conscious Awareness

As we become aware of the states of conscious awareness within our being, it becomes clear that there are times when the consciousness is highly concentrated, intensely focused, and other times when it is dispersed and wandering seemingly aimlessly. Our activities, including reading, are indicative of these states, and help to create these states. We understand the concept that ‘you are what you eat’ on a physical level, but do we recognise that the food of the mind is the sensory input and ideas that we ingest? Reading becomes a vehicle for ingestion of ideas, experiences and facts into the mind, and if our reading is focused on literature that supports the spiritual sadhana, it can aid in the development of a spiritual state of consciousness; alternatively, if we focus our reading on external things, on vital forces and activities, on the ‘gossip’ of the world around us, then we are loosening the focus and dispersing the consciousness.

There is a price to be paid, generally, for any focus on the external world. For those who have a one-pointed fixation on achieving liberation or salvation, there is little, if any, reason for putting any attention whatsoever on the things of the world, and we find that such individuals take up a path of renunciation of the world to try to achieve their aim.

For those who believe that the universal creation is being transformed through the evolution of consciousness, and who understand that their role is to participate in that transformation, it is not so simple. A clear understanding needs to be achieved, and a balance struck, whereby the consciousness remains gathered and focused, while nevertheless relations with the outer world are continued and developed, which will include a certain amount of relation to the news, events and concepts afloat in the world.

Either way, the important thing for the seeker is to recognise these varying states of concentration or dispersion, understand them for what they are, and modulate them in such a way as to advance the sadhana and the transformative process.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “If one is always in the inner consciousness then one can be not dispersed even when doing outward things — or if one is conscious of the Divine at all times and in all one does, then also can one read newspapers or do much correspondence without dispersion. But even then though there is not dispersion, yet there is less intensity of consciousness when reading a newspaper or writing a letter than when one is not putting part of oneself into quite external things. It is only when the consciousness is quite siddha that there is not even this difference. That does not mean one should not do external things at all, for then one gets no training in joining the two consciousnesses. But one must recognise that certain things do disperse the consciousness or lower it or externalise it more than others. Especially one should not deceive or pretend to oneself that one is not dispersed by them when one is.”

“You are mistaken in thinking that the sadhana of X, Y, and Z does not suffer by the dispersion of their minds in all directions. They would have been far farther on the path if they did a concentrated yoga — even, Y who has an enormous receptivity and is eager for progress might have gone thrice as far as he has done. Moreover, your nature is intense in all it does and it was therefore quite its natural path to take the straight way. Naturally, when once the higher consciousness is settled and both the vital and physical sufficiently ready for the sadhana to go on of itself, strict tapasya will no longer be necessary. But till then we consider it very useful and helpful and in many cases indispensable. But we do not insist on it when the nature is not willing. I see too that those who get into the direct line, (there are not yet very many), get of themselves the tendency to give up these mind-dispersing interests and occupations and throw themselves fully into the sadhana.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Mental Development, Reading and Study, pp. 361-365