Practitioners of spiritual and religious disciplines inevitably are confronted with the habits and expectations of the physical mind in day to day life. There is a constant pressure to provide regular meals that suit the taste of the individual, comfortable surroundings to support the day to day life and provide a safe and secure shelter. There is the inevitable pressure for regularity in the regimen and the physical demands for acquisition of the food, clothing, shelter, sexual satisfaction, etc. that come with life in the world. This does not speak to the added demands of the vital nature that can lead to greed, lust, excessive hunger, etc. but to the basic needs and habits of the physical nature.
Practitioners have tried, through the centuries, many strategies to address these needs. Some try to suppress them forcefully and even use self-torture, or extreme fasting or privation in the desert as ways to school the physical nature to not put attention on these things and to thereby allow the focus on the spiritual or religious quest. These methods, however, frequently tend to accentuate the focus and difficulty and rather than solving the problem, they tend to actually embed them deeply in the day to day undertakings of the seeker. Suppression has been compared to coiling a spring, putting it under extreme pressure such that when it finds an outlet, it explodes with an increased force of action.
Others try to solve these issues by simplifying the life, in some cases by adopting the begging bowl and relying on what is received from one day to the next as the sustenance for the body. Again, much time and effort tends to be devoted to this activity.
Sri Aurobindo acknowledges that suppression tends not to work, and he thus counsels that the impulses and habitual thoughts be observed, but not focused on or accentuated; rather, to keep the focus and aspiration fixed on the spiritual dedication and bring a state of quiet and peaceful acceptance that does not get bothered by the actions of the physical nature.
Eventually, with the advent of the higher supramental force into the physical mind and physical body, the power to modify or remove these habitual patterns will come; but in the interim, it is best to focus on the path forward and minimize the attention given to the habits of the physical mind and nature.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “What you have now seen and describe in your letter is the ordinary activity of the physical mind which is full of ordinary habitual and constantly recurrent thoughts and is always busy with external objects and activities. What used to trouble you before was the vital mind which is different, — for that is always occupied with emotions, passions, desires, reactions of all kinds to the contacts of life and the behaviour of others. The physical mind also can be responsive with these things but in a different way — its nature is less that of desire than of habitual activity, small common interests, pains and pleasures. If one tries to control or suppress it, it becomes more active.”
“To deal with this mind two things are necessary, (1) not so much to try to control or fight with or suppress it as to stand back from it: one looks at it and sees what it is but refuses to follow its thoughts or run about among the objects it pursues, remaining at the back of the mind quiet and separate; (2) to practice quietude and concentration in this separateness, until the habit of quiet takes hold of the physical mind and replaces the habit of these small activities. This of course takes time and can only come by practice.”
“It is the nature of the physical mind not to believe or accept anything that is supraphysical unless it is enlightened and compelled by the light to do it. Do not identify yourself with this mind, do not consider it as yourself but only as an obscure functioning of Nature. Call down the light into it until it is compelled to believe.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245