Organising One’s Life Around the Ideal

Observation and reflection eventually can lead to focus of the life and attention to achieve a specific aspiration. The process of reviewing with care in the light of the higher aspiration allows the individual to then choose which things to do, and which things to avoid, sculpting, if you will, the future life and activity. As one undertakes this process, the individual finds that life-circumstances begin to align and take on a coherence and inner organisation around that fixed goal. It is similar to the alignment one finds in gemstone crystals as opposed to ordinary rocks! At the atomic level, the crystals show a clear organised form that allows energy to flow smoothly and in one direction, and it is that alignment that creates the value and beauty of the gemstone itself.

The Mother notes: “And then, after a while, when you are quite accustomed to seeing you can go one step further and take a decision. Or even a still greater step: you organise, arrange, take up all that, put each thing in its place, organise in such a way that you begin to have a straight movement with an inner meaning. And then you become conscious of your direction and are able to say: ‘Very well, it will be thus; my life will develop in that way, because that is the logic of my being. Now, I have arranged all that is within me, each thing has been put in its place, and so naturally a central orientation is forming. I am following this orientation. One step more and I know what will happen to me for I myself am deciding it….’ I do not know, I am telling you this; to me it seemed terribly interesting, the most interesting thing in the world. There was nothing, no other thing that interested me more than that….”

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

Dealing With Physical Pain

In various places, Sri Aurobindo describes the possibility of pain becoming for the spiritual practitioner an intense form of spiritual bliss, Ananda. He is describing the psychological experience of a realized soul who has separated himself from attachment to and identification with the physical body. This is intended to show that vibrations experienced can have a different result when the individual shifts the standpoint of the consciousness. It is not meant as a prescription to ‘enjoy pain’. If pain comes to one, and one has the ability to distance oneself from it through such means, as a realized soul, then it is psychologically neutralized, but the underlying cause of the pain is not resolved.

For those who still have substantial identification with the body consciousness, and who are attempting to live a life in the world, pain has both a purpose and a measure of usefulness. It alerts the individual to some issue, imbalance or acute injury that needs to be looked after; and it awakens the awareness to make some effort. Those who are fully satisfied and comfortable tend to be less likely to take steps to achieve radical change in their lives than those who feel pressure or pain at some level.

The Mother has another viewpoint that goes to the root of physical pain. Such pain is caused by injury, indisposition, illness or disease. The cause of the pain obviously needs to be addressed. Thereafter, the Mother points out, the pain no longer serves a useful purpose as it has already done its job of alerting the individual to the concern. One could feel that until the underlying cause is fixed, the pain remains as a constant reminder; yet it can be both distracting and counter-productive. Thus, one should find a way to ‘turn off’ the pain after it has provided the necessary feedback from the part of the body that is affected.

Of course, achieving such an ability to ‘turn off’ pain generally requires some amount of discipline and self-training; yet there are individuals who have undertaken such a step. The philosophical approach of stoicism is very much rooted in this idea. There are even popular examples of individuals, such as Harry Houdini, the famous escape artist, who systematically bathed in ice in order to accustom his body to dealing with what would ordinarily be an extremely painful experience. Many yogis and shaman have shown tremendous ability to dissociate from pain by walking on or sleeping on a bed of nails, or walking over hot coals, etc. Boxers learn to deal with the pain of taking blows. Other individuals learn how to accept and distance themselves from various insect or snake bites. We see numerous examples in the world of strategies to simply do away with the psychological connection of pain when the body is injured.

There are individuals who are known as ‘masochists’ who indeed take pleasure in painful experience–in this case however, there is a vital satisfaction they obtain through what is essentially a perverse calling upon oneself of pain to try to achieve some vital excitement or satisfaction.

A disciple once asked: “Sweet Mother, how can one transform pain into forms of pleasure?”

The Mother responded: “Ah! but that’s not something to be done, my children. I shall certainly not give you the method! It is a perversion. … The first thing and the most indispensable is to nullify the pain by cutting the connection. You see, one becomes conscious of the pain because it is there. … For example, you have cut your finger, there’s a nerve that has been affected, and so the nerve quickly goes to tell the brain, up there, that something has happened which is wrong, here. That is what gives you the pain to awaken your attention, to tell you: ‘You know, there’s something wrong.’ Then the thought immediately feels anxious: ‘What is wrong? Oh! how it hurts’, etc., etc. — then returns to the finger and tries to arrange what is not yet destroyed. Usually one puts a small bandage. But in order not to have the pain, if it hurts very much, you must quite simply cut the connection by thought, saying to the nerve, ‘Now remain quiet, you have done your work, you have warned me, you don’t need to say anything any longer; ploff! I am stopping you.’ And when you do it well you suffer no longer, it is finished, you stop the pain completely. That is the best thing. It is infinitely preferable to telling yourself that it is painful.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Body and Physical Consciousness, Will, Discipline, Endurance, pp. 88-90

The Action of Karma and the Nature of Suffering

“What goes around comes around” and “karma” both basically indicate that there is a factor in existence that rewards good deeds and punishes bad deeds. But do we really see that things work this way? Is there some divine entity sitting up in the clouds, watching our good and bad actions, and giving us presents when we are ‘good’ and punishments when we are ‘bad’? How do we define good and bad, after all? Is it a moral judgment that varies based on the religion we follow or the culture to which we belong? When we reflect on these questions we can easily see that the simple explanations we tend to favor simply do not work.

We may ask, why does it look like people who do ‘bad’ things look like they are being rewarded, while those who are moral, ethical and upright look like they are being punished? Karma is in essence a law of ’cause and effect’ but it is not targeted or attached to an individual solely. When one unleashes an action in the world, it has its effect, which may indeed rebound on the individual, but may also spread out and affect others, both immediately and through time. The soul utilizes action and its consequences to learn and grow and all along, the consciousness is evolving and developing.

The field of physics holds that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The movement of energy, whether physical energy as studied in physics, or vital, emotional, mental, psychic or spiritual energy, has its effects and consequences. This is not a moral question, per se, but an energetic question.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Note that the idea of rebirth and the circumstances of the new life as a reward or punishment of punya or papa is a crude human idea of ‘justice’ which is quite unphilosophical and unspiritual and distorts the true intention of life. Life here is an evolution and the soul grows by experience, working out by it this or that in the nature, and if there is suffering, it is for the purpose of that working out, not as a judgment inflicted by God or Cosmic Law on the errors or stumblings which are inevitable in the Ignorance.”

“Suffering is not inflicted as a punishment for sin or for hostility — that is a wrong idea. Suffering comes like pleasure and good fortune as an inevitable part of life in the ignorance. the dualities of pleasure and pain, joy and grief, good fortune and ill-fortune are the inevitable results of the ignorance which separates us from our true consciousness and from the Divine. Only by coming back to it can we get rid of suffering. Karma from the past lives exists, much of what happens is due to it, but not all. For we can mend our karma by our own consciousness and efforts. But the suffering is simply a natural consequence of past errors, not a punishment, just as a burn is the natural consequence of playing with fire. It is part of the experience by which the soul through its instruments learns and grows until it is ready to turn to the Divine.”

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, Rebirth, Karma and Destiny, pp. 343-347