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A way forward

James Anderson

Editor's note:

This article describes the author's unique journey through his body's challenges into a more meaningful way. It opens a window to the fact that there are many resources that can be brought forward to face any longstanding physical difficulty. Instead of sinking beneath the burden, one can allow the spirit to move the body.

I sometimes marvel at the twists and turns of my life. It was only after I had set foot in India that my course assumed anything like a straight line. In retrospect, everything seems to have happened at the most appropriate time. Just living has become my best schooling. Everything, I sometimes sense, has been synchronised by an ‘unseen hand’, a viewpoint that seems to be in accord with what the Mother says of the soul’s journeys through many lives. Deep down, I realise that the soul had chosen such experiences to more fully evolve.

I’ve always liked ‘happy endings’ so I aspire that this is a journey that will ultimately lead to truth and wholeness. I am ready, if She wills, for my personal healing to continue until I draw my last breath. I also recognise clearly that something in me had originally taken a detour from this path of wholeness. Something in me, for whatever reason, had been not wholly ‘true’ and that only created a vibration which resonated with life-threatening illness. However, in many ways, this life journey is not so unique. Virtually all of us, I feel, conceal some sort of canker which is not in resonance with the Divine Truth. So in such conditions, I believe that I must learn how to make best use of whatever raw materials are at hand to lead the being back to a state of divine health.

When I arrived here in Pondicherry ten years ago, I had come overloaded with baggage. I had left England in answer to an imperative call: there had to be another way. What was the reason behind this existence after all? Something deep inside was stirring and I could no longer ignore it. I was in a rut. As a boy, I had undergone a conventional Western education and upbringing. Apart from my quasi-religious roots, little had encouraged me to look outside the conventional materialistic paradigm that had become so enmeshed around me.

On the surface, it seemed my physical condition too could quite adequately be summarised within this convenient formula. Any effect on the body, it reasoned, had a material cause behind: any material cause produced an inexorable material result. Within this framework, the prospects for this body certainly didn’t look good. It seemed that the actual material consequence, atrophy and degeneration, had already been sown. A hard life of coping and irreversible decay lay ahead.

To tell the truth however, that conviction had started to waver for quite a while. I had started asking questions and was full of doubts. I had been investigating new healing techniques for some time but most of these almost appeared inadequate and superficial. What I really thirsted for was a total foundation and new approach not just for my healing but my entire existence on this earth.

So when I came here, I was like a flower imploring to be plucked! I now know the Mother answered my call. I am so grateful for that. I started to read as many of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s works as I could. On turning every page, I felt more and more like I was being swept into their vision of a New Age. The notion of spirit transforming matter was explained with enormous depth and clarity. I had found my well of wisdom and started to drink in colossal gulps. I now felt I was ready to make that critical leap of faith. I started to look for positives; my life had decisively taken a new course. To my infinite gratitude, I felt that the Divine Grace had presented me with no other alternative: it seemed as if I had been left no other choice.

As the Mother states , somehow the body must be made to understand that the outer form can be healed through an alchemy inside. Underlying a crust of doubt, however, there has always been a degree of receptivity and faith but I did find the body consciousness itself, initially at least, needed some gentle initiation and nurturing.

The Mother says that:

“... there is a preparation which may be of a general kind. That is, to accustom the body methodically to understand that it is only the outer expression of a truer and deeper reality and that it is this truer and deeper reality which governs its destiny — though one is not usually aware of it.

“One can prepare the body through a series of observations, studies, understandings, by showing it examples, making it understand things as one makes a child understand them, either by observing its own movements — but generally, in this, one is comparatively blind! — or by observing those of others. And, in a more general way, this preparation will be based on recognised studies, on clear facts (1).”

Self-observation became my principal way of evaluation. I started working on myself from inside. Quite soon, I became aware of a marked improvement in my posture and movement after I had gone through the process of inwardly aligning myself.

Through repetition, an understanding and greater faith in the body, it seems, has gradually emerged. On the whole, experience has given the body the understanding it needed. So, for me, these ‘clear facts’ that the Mother speaks about are largely gauged through self-observation. Through this way, I have found that the body can indeed be taught that there is indeed a Force that acts.

I myself have found it prudent never to stop this ‘education’ because whenever the consciousness comes to the surface (which it inevitably does) and focuses on the external form, doubt has the habit of appearing once more. The body, tamasic by nature, can easily lapse into old ways. The physical mind can then cast its long, dark shadow. This part of the being is described by Sri Aurobindo here:

“That part of the mind which is concerned with physical things only; it depends on the sense-mind, sees only objects, external actions, draws its ideas from the data given by external things, infers from them only and knows no Truth until it is enlightened from above (2).”


Therefore from this base, the work can unfold:

“Gradually, if you make use of this understanding, you must, with a methodical work of infusing consciousness into the cells of the body, infuse at the same time the truth of the divine Presence. This work takes time, but if done methodically and constantly, it produces an effect.

So you have prepared the ground (3).”

Up to this point, I have to admit that the body had become a largely neglected instrument. To tell the truth, it had seemed to be too big an obstacle to tackle. Aside from the occasional deferral to physical activity, the body had been deprived of any true semblance of consciousness. Deep down lay a denial of its worth, perhaps even a rejection of its very nature. The body had ‘let me down’. To say that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s teachings brought an instant about-turn in this perspective would be a vast exaggeration, but their insights have gradually percolated down into my being. Even at this juncture, ten years on, there is perhaps a grey ascetic in me that tries to question the validity of Sri Aurobindo’s vision of a “divine life in a divine body (4).”

Essentially, I feel, the nature of this work is very simple. Perhaps it is not a matter of even placing yourself in the hands of the Divine, but rather to just stop and allow yourself to get picked up by Her. Sri Ramakrishna’s ‘baby-cat’ attitude immediately comes to mind. This is the truest surrender. For some people, indeed, this movement is evidently not so simple. Perhaps that is one reason why the Mother set great store on the virtue of simplicity. Perhaps it takes a simple mind to perform a simple task to perfection whereas a complex nature might evoke an excessively detoured approach.

With simplicity comes humility. I try to continually recognise that there is an infinitely greater power than the mind. The mind can be terribly arrogant at times but really, as I understand, it has no creative capacity as such. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have continually affirmed that the mind amounts to no more than a mere plaything for larger forces. From that viewpoint then, all one can meaningfully contribute to this exercise is to keep quiet and observe the Mother do Her work. For many, that may sound very little but to observe with true consciousness introduces an entirely new element into the play. Consciousness, Sri Aurobindo says, is not only cit but also Shakti. It comes from “being aware of anything through identification. The Divine Consciousness not only knows but effects(5).”

So when I gaze at something with consciousness, I know the Mother’s Force is simultaneously present.

The work

To observe the body with consciousness then, not only allows the Mother to do Her work unimpeded; it also acts as Her searchlight to dissolve anything that is not true. So, before embarking on any work inside, I always take the time to invoke Their Presence. That invariably brings my consciousness back to home. I then start scanning the body inwardly from top to bottom, pausing at each energy centre. I observe the body in a detached way and try to be as disinterested as possible.

Mindful of Sri Aurobindo’s advice, I don’t go ‘down’ into the body but try to keep my station above and call the Mother to apply Her Light and Force on the body itself. There is often the deepest intimacy in this work. It is as if I am completely alone with Her, totally absorbed in the task at hand. I don’t look for deformations. If they are present, they will rise naturally to the surface under the sheer pressure of the awareness. When that happens, I stop and give this block or knot my fullest attention and gently enquire into its cause. If I am quiet and attentive enough, She will always give me the answer. When the answer comes, I might choose to repeat it aloud because, by expressing the knowledge, the distortion immediately disappears. When the body is living in the Truth, there is no longer any room for distortion.

Her Force, sooner or later, starts to flow unimpeded throughout the body. When harmony and balance is restored, I generally finish by observing the feet. One has to be grounded for this work. Finally, when the body is clear and inwardly aligned, with consciousness, I entreat the Mother to impregnate Her Presence into every cell of my body. That always evokes in me the deepest sense of love and gratitude. When the work is complete, the entire body some-times celebrates in a delight of peace and rapture.


The Mother always chooses Her words so prudently. But why “methodical”, you may ask? This is because the body, a creature of habit, really only understands ‘methods’ as such. Methods imply repetition. By adopting a method and constantly repeating it, you are simply speaking the language of the body. And it is habits that can so cramp the body. My past conditioning surfaces through habits; they become like grooves in the nature. The more I try to expand, the more aware I become of how much they throttle my growth. They can easily develop into a physical affliction and so fetter any progress in the body. As a consequence, I feel that unless I withdraw my consent to habit, my body will surely become its slave. It can become encrusted like a thick mould. Sri Aurobindo states:

“The physical nature is a thing of habits; it is out of habit that it responds to the forces of illness; one has to get into it the contrary habit of responding to the Divine Force only (6).”

Withdrawing my consent is one thing but since most of these patterns are derived from the subconscious, unearthing these roots can only be achieved by constantly invoking the Mother’s Force into every facet of the being. Eventually, I trust, it will filter down into the entire nature. At times it is a hard battle, so in this regard I find a regularity in practice and consistency of approach very helpful. I have to become more enduring than the habit itself. And dissolving habits, is I feel, one sure road to freedom.

A dogged resolution is required — a persistent will. The searchlight, I believe, should never be left standing idle. Here, I feel, is where I have to be methodical. I can’t expect overnight success. As the Mother says, the work takes time:

“When one wants to change something of the material life, whether the character or the functioning of the organs or habits, one must have an unfaltering perseverance, be ready to begin again a hundred times the same thing with the same intensity with which one did it the first time and as though one had never done it before.

People who are touchy cannot do this. But if one can’t do it, one can’t do yoga, in any case not the integral yoga, one can’t change one’s body.

To change one’s body one must be ready to do millions of times the same thing, because the body is a creature of habits and functions by routine, and because to destroy a routine one must persevere for years (7).”


Truth, to me, implies wholeness: the two go hand in hand. The state of Divine Truth affords perfect health; anything else is totally inconsistent with that concept. The seed of Truth has already been planted by the Mother into the earth. Every atom of matter conceals and contains this Truth. It is our work, I feel, to help bring this forward so that every part of the material substance can become ‘true’. We are each given a body for our field for progress; that is our domain. Obviously then, any anomaly in our physical condition is a deformation and consequently ‘untrue’. Any deformation in our being leads to disharmony, disequilibrium and ultimately ill-health.

In the same way, each of us, I feel, possesses our own Truth. As part of the multiplicity, each of us is given a unique nature. The Mother says that, “each individual being has a direct and unique relation with the Supreme, the Origin, That which is beyond all creation. It is this unique relation which must be expressed in one’s life, through a unique mode of being in relation with the Divine (8).”

When we follow our true role on earth, I believe, we are taking our proper place on the stage of the Divine Play. So when we live in our truth, we are resonating with this new Force that has descended into earth and matter. So for me, to be ‘whole’ translates into living in my truth, no more, no less. Likewise, whenever I live in my truth, a sense of wholeness returns. It is like a never-ending circle. My body becomes imbued with true consciousness and automatically a greater strength, lightness and poise returns. A joy accompanies my steps: a joy of being whole and true.

So when I live in the external mind, I simply struggle. I realise now that the heart is more my true abode. For me, it is a matter of continually withdrawing from the surface and dwelling there. The necessity to ‘step back’ and find my true inner poise always returns. The Mother speaks about the heart here:

“The deeper you go, the less the mixture. And if you go deep enough, you find the feeling absolutely pure, behind. It is a question of depth (9).”

Indeed, the deeper I go, the closer I move towards the radiance of the psychic being itself. So when I plunge deep inside the heart, I come under the influence of the soul, the inner temple of sweetness and love. This indeed is the truth of my being.


The Mother has often said that the inner governs the outer being. The consciousness has to first change for any transformation of the body to be conclusive. However, like many of us here, I sometimes find myself in a stage of transition. In this beautiful laboratory of ours, I sometimes sense that each of us represents a microcosm of the world at large and Sri Aurobindo has often stated that man is himself a transitional species.

For me personally, I have observed that there is frequently a divide between the inner poise and outer condition. Even after I have aligned myself inside, I can still often experience friction within the body itself. I feel this is simply because the true consciousness has not yet filtered through to the outer parts. Links always have to be made with the physical outposts of my being. An indefatigable patience is required.

Whenever I have sat in concentration and approach a conclusion, I try to disengage the consciousness gradually, by first slowly opening the eyes, but more importantly by allowing the consciousness to spread slowly outwards, to and beyond the body so it becomes vast. I feel it is always better not to ‘cut off’ too quickly. The objective, after all, is to always hold the vibration of this consciousness and to infuse that into the body itself. A steady vigilance is required because there is always a tendency, if the attention slips, to revert back to the surface consciousness.

I sometimes find a similar situation when I go up to Sri Aurobindo’s or the Mother’s room. When there, if I am open enough, I often find myself being lifted up to sublime heights. When I start to descend the stairs, however, my consciousness occasionally starts to descend with me. Before I know it, if I don’t maintain this vigilance, the consciousness will have followed the body down to the ground!

It is one thing instilling consciousness when the body is in a static and relaxed state. Indeed, the necessity for calling down the Force in this poise is indisputable. The basis for true power, Mother says, lies in a perfect immobility. The dynamics of movement clearly depend on this condition. Very often too, I experience a strong surge of power vibrating throughout the body when I am seated and inwardly aligned. In such circumstances, the power is latent and held back. But there comes a time when it has to be translated into action. The muscles too need their nourishment and deep down, when conscious, they can find a simple joy in constructive exercise.
I always start by just standing and try to find the right posture. Very often, I may start fidgeting as the mind tries to rule the roost, but when it quietens and as the body connects to my truth inside, an outer alignment will effortlessly follow. It usually arrives unheralded and is invariably spontaneous.


I still find it very challenging to maintain this level of consciousness in everyday actions. When pursuing outer activities, even just walking, I often get distracted, my surface consciousness starts to take over. This trait alludes to one of the chief difficulties in our yoga: the fusion of the inner and outer worlds. Until they meet, I feel that any talk of transformation is totally churlish. Joining the two, I believe, is the essence and objective of our sadhanaa.

Again, the Mother’s advice to ‘step back’ becomes very invaluable and can always, in every instance, be followed. However, simply to call Her name is, for me, the surest way. By immersing myself in Her, She can be with me on every step of the way. However, I don’t feel a mechanical calling will get me very far. Somehow the heart has to intervene. That is easier said than done, particularly when I am passing through a grey, barren patch when everything seems so dry and pointless. In such circumstances, I try to tell myself that the phase will soon pass and the sunlight will eventually break through any wisp of cloud. Sometimes one must simply endure.

The nature, I find, has erected its own defence mechanisms. Being in this body is not always the most comfortable existence. That, I guess, is largely because I haven’t fully detached my consciousness from it. It sometimes gets entangled in what it is trying to observe. Sometimes too the parts of the lower nature get completely knotted and it is not always easy to distinguish one from the other. On such occasions, these parts can even choke my true centre inside.

So, now and then, I find myself trying to ‘escape’ from the play and drift off into an imaginary world or cloud nine. At least I am aware of this tendency and the awareness, or rather the consciousness of it, is usually enough to arrest the retreat. Difficulties will never go away by running away from them. They will always follow me as long as I don’t have the courage and faith to face them.

Whenever the surface mind tries to take over, problems also ensue. When in movement, I might find myself disengaging the consciousness from the body because the mind doesn’t approve of the picture it sees. Now and then a fierce little ‘critic’ surfaces whose only desire is to cast a shadow of doubt and negativity. The body then gets swamped in a haze of devaluation and judgment and it inevitably shrinks.

I also find it very important not to identify with the difficulty itself. If I get absorbed and wrapped up in the problem, the problem will simply engulf me. When I get immersed in the drama, I only disconnect from the Force. In movement and action as in everything else, I try to heed Sri Aurobindo’s advice: to keep my station above, maintain the level of consciousness and infuse that, if you like, into the difficulty. Otherwise, I only become the difficulty itself.

When I keep the proper poise and align myself inside, the right station is regained. The psychic being steps forward and starts to radiate outwards. An understanding develops which is beyond mere mental evaluation: things just fall into their true place. And when I move, a ‘true movement’ can naturally emerge, a movement that is more in consonance with the truth of my being. Everywhere, inside and out, Truth is restored and any sense of identity with the difficulty dissolves. By affirming to the difficulty, “I am not this difficulty”, I find the problem quickly fades away. This is no mere lip-service, this basic truth can become lived and understood.

Once such distinctions are made, the whole being can then reverberate in joy. Harmony is restored and an inner equilibrium is maintained — perfect health does not seem such an illusion after all! When this point is reached, the only identity is exclusively with Her and She is always my best refuge and sanctuary.

The Grace

I don’t consider that hope is sufficient if one really wants to definitively change the body. I believe that only a complete trust in the divine Grace will bring the necessary transformation. The occasional trough is, I guess, inevitable but I believe that an abiding faith in the Mother’s Grace is essential. It is the Grace that has brought me thus far and it is the Grace that will take me much further. The Grace has ensured that I receive the necessary lessons in life. It was the Grace that had accompanied me to the threshold of death and taken me back into its arms again. It is the Grace which has escorted me in each of my hesitant steps to recovery. I feel the hand of Grace picking me up after every stumble and fall. If I look back at the milestones of my life, I feel its imprint in every dimension. I feel it so tangibly that my heart wells up with gratitude for what it has done. But I do find it better not to project end-results onto it. Why try to limit the Illimitable? In quieter moments I am just content to place myself in its hands. Indeed the Grace knows what is best for me.

The best condition for opening to the Grace, perhaps, is true aspiration. If my aspiration is sincere and true, the Grace will eventually lead me to the goal.

On this particular subject, the Mother was once asked about what happens if you see a shooting star at night. If you notice one and aspire for something at the same time, the child wondered, will your aspiration be fulfilled within a year? In answer, the Mother drew from Her own experience:

“I had the opportunity to make this experiment. Exactly this. The moment the star was passing, at that very moment there sprang up from the consciousness: ‘To realise the divine union, for my body.’ That very moment.

And before the end of the year, it was done.

But it was not because of the star! It was because that dominated my whole consciousness and I was thinking of nothing but that, I wanted only that, thought only of that, acted only for that. So, this thing which generally takes a whole lifetime — it is said the minimum time is thirty-five years! — before twelve months had passed, it was done.

But that was because I thought only of that.

And it was because I was thinking only of that, that just when the star flashed by I could formulate it — not merely a vague impression — formulate it in precise words like this: ‘To realise union with the Divine’, the inner Divine, the thing we speak of, the very thing we speak of.

Therefore, what is important is not the star but the aspiration. The star is like an outer demonstration, nothing else. But it is not necessary to have a shooting star in order to realise swiftly! What is necessary is that the whole will of the being should be concentrated on one point (10).”

I believe that when I fix my entire will on an aim, the universe will invariably answer. But I must be resolute to the point of obstinacy —I can’t afford to waver. The aspiration must be ready at all times. Deep down, this body has a simple aspiration too. I know it accords with the truth of my being. Whatever is true inside of me articulates it quite clearly, “Make the body a worthy instrument for Your work.” I can’t ask for more than that. So I’ll keep this aspiration for ever close to my heart until it is fulfilled. Until then, I’ll keep an eye out for the next star that passes me by.


1. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 8. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, pp. 212-3.
2. Sri Aurobindo (compiled by M.P.Pandit). Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga. Twin Lakes, WI, USA; Lotus Light Publications, 1992, p. 185.
3. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 8. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p. 213.
4. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 16. Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1971, p. 20
5. Op. cit. Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga. Twin Lakes, WI, USA; Lotus Light Publications, 1992, p. 35.
6. Ibid. p. 114.
7. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 7. Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1979, p. 105.
8. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 8. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p. 280.
9. Ibid. p.193.
10. Ibid. pp. 211-2.

Mr. James Anderson, a sadhak, is following the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and working at SAIIIHR, Pondicherry.

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