HABIT OF RESPONSE
"The first thing the seeker will detect in his vital exploration is a part of the mind whose only role seems to be to give form, and justification, to his impulses, feelings or desires; this is what Sri Aurobindo terms the vital mind. Since we already know the necessity for mental silence, we will now strive to extend our discipline of silence to this lower mental layer, too. Once this has been achieved, we will see things far more clearly — without all their mental embellishments; the various vibrations of our being will appear in their true light and at their true level.
Most importantly, however, we will be able to see these vibrations coming. In this zone of silence we have now become, the slightest movement of substance — mental, vital or other — will be like a signal for us; we will immediately know that something has touched our atmosphere.
We will thus become aware, spontaneously, of the many vibrations people constantly emanate without realizing it; we will know exactly what is going on and whom we are facing (a person’s external veneer having usually nothing to do with that unostentatious vibrating reality). Our relationships with the outer world will become clear: we will understand why we instinctively like or dislike someone, why we feel afraid or ill at ease — then we will be able to correct our reactions, accept the helpful vibrations, deflect the darker vibrations, and neutralize the harmful ones. Indeed, we will notice quite an interesting phenomenon: our inner silence has power.
If, instead of responding to the incoming vibration, we maintain an absolute inner stillness, we will notice that this stillness dissolves the vibration; it’s as if we were surrounded by a field of snow in which all impacts are absorbed and neutralized. Let us take the simple example of anger: if, instead of vibrating inwardly in unison with the person facing us, we can remain absolutely still within, we will see that person’s anger gradually dissolving.
Mother observed that this inner stillness, this power not to respond, can even stop an assassin’s hand or a snake’s bite. But wearing an impassive mask while we are still boiling on the inside will not do; we cannot cheat with vibrations (as animals know full well). This has nothing to do with so-called self-control, which is only a mastery of appearances, but with true inner mastery.
Moreover, this silence can neutralize any vibration at all, for the simple reason that all vibrations are contagious, from the highest vibrations to the lowest, and it is up to us to accept the contagion or not; if we become afraid, it means we have already accepted the contagion, and hence have already accepted the angry man’s blow or the snake’s bite. The same holds for physical pain; we can allow the contagion of a painful vibration to overcome us, or, instead, circumscribe the area of pain and eventually, depending on the degree of our mastery, neutralize the pain by disconnecting the consciousness from that area. The key to mastery is always silence, at every level, because silence enables us to discern the vibrations, and to discern them is to be able to act upon them.
This has countless practical applications, and hence countless opportunities for progress. Ordinary everyday life (which is ordinary only for those who live it ordinarily) becomes an extraordinary field of experience and handling of vibrations, which is why Sri Aurobindo always wanted his yoga to encompass it. It is very easy to live isolated in a flawless illusion of self-mastery.
This power of silence or inner immobility has even more significant applications, for our own psychological life. The vital is not only a place of many troubles and perturbations, it is also the source of a great energy; we must therefore try to separate the life energy from its complications, without separating ourselves from life. The real complications are not in life but in ourselves, and all external circumstances are the exact reflection of what we are.
The main problem with the vital is that it mistakenly identifies with just about everything that comes out of itself. It says: “This is ‘my’ pain, ‘my’ depression, ‘my’ personality, ‘my’ desire,” and thinks of itself as all sorts of little me’s it is not. If we are convinced that all these occurrences are ours, then there is obviously nothing we can do about them, except put up with the trivial family until the attack is over.
But if we can remain silent within, we soon realize that none of this has anything to do with us: everything comes from outside. We keep picking up the same wavelengths, and becoming overwhelmed by every contagion. For example, we are with some people, completely silent and still within (which doesn’t prevent us from talking and acting normally), when suddenly, in this transparency, we feel something trying to draw us or to enter us, a kind of pressure or vibration in the atmosphere (which may cause a vague sense of unease). If we take in the vibration, we are soon struggling against a depression, having a particular desire, or feeling restless; we have caught the contagion.
Sometimes it is not just a vibration but a whole wave that falls upon us. Another’s physical presence is unnecessary; we can be alone in the Himalayas and still receive the world’s vibrations. So where is “my” restlessness, “my” desire in all this, except in a habit of perpetually picking up the same vibrations?
But the seeker who has cultivated silence will no longer let himself become caught in this false identification; he will have become aware of what Sri Aurobindo calls the circumconscient, the environmental consciousness, that field of snow around him, which can be extremely luminous, strong and solid, or become dark, corrupted, and sometimes even completely disintegrated, depending upon his own inner state. It is an individual atmosphere, as it were, a protective envelope (sensitive, enough to enable us to feel somebody approaching, or avoid an accident just before it happens) where we can feel and stop the psychological vibrations before they enter us.
Generally, they are so accustomed to coming right in, since they find such affinity in us, that we do not even feel them coming; the process of appropriating and identifying with them is instantaneous. But our practice of silence has now created a transparency within us that gradually allows us to see them coming, stop them on their way in, and reject them. After we have rejected them, they sometimes remain in the circumconscient, circling round and round, waiting for an opportunity to reenter — we can very distinctly feel anger, desire or depression prowling around us — but through continued non-intervention these vibrations will gradually lose their strength and eventually leave us alone. We will have severed the connection between them and us.
Then one day, we will happily notice that certain vibrations which had seemed inescapable no longer touch us; they are as if drained of their power and merely flash by as if on a movie screen; interestingly, we can even see in advance the little mischief trying one more time to perpetuate its trick. Or else, we will find that certain psychological states hit us at fixed times, or recur in cycles (this is what Sri Aurobindo and Mother call a formation, an amalgam of vibrations that, through sheer repetitions, tends to take on a kind of personality of its own); once we pick it up, we will see this formation unwind itself from beginning to end, like a gramophone record. It is up to us to decide whether we want to “go along” or not.
There are thousands of possible experiences, a whole world of observations. But the essential discovery we make is that there is very little of “us” in all this, except a habit of response. As long as, out of ignorance, we falsely identify with the vital vibrations, we cannot expect to change anything in our nature, except through amputation; but from the moment we understand how it really works, everything can change, because we can choose not to respond, using silence to dissolve the troublesome vibrations and tuning in elsewhere, as we please. Hence, contrary to all the old saws, human nature can be changed.
Nothing in our consciousness or nature is fixed once and for all; everything is a play of forces or vibrations, which gives the illusion of “natural” necessity by virtue of repetition. This is why Sri Aurobindo’s yoga envisions the possibility of an entire reversal of the ordinary rule of the reacting consciousness.
Having brought this mechanism to light, we will have found, at the same time, the true method toward vital mastery, which is not surgical but calming; the vital predicament is not overcome by struggling vitally against it, which can only exhaust our energies without exhausting its universal existence, but by taking another position and neutralizing it through silent peace: “If you get peace, Sri Aurobindo wrote to a disciple, “then to clean the vital becomes easy. If you simply clean and clean and do nothing else, you go very slowly for the vital gets dirty again and has to be cleansed a hundred times. The peace is something that is clean in itself so to get it is a positive way of securing your object. To look for dirt only and clean is the negative way."
~from Sri Aurobindo or The Adventure of Consciousness ~Satprem
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