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Consciousness and health

Being present

James Anderson


The state of being present is examined and traced back to personal experience. The author feels that it holds immense implications for man’s health and well-being. He looks at the psychological, physical and spiritual aspects when considering this poise. He concludes that an integral approach is needed if this goal is to be achieved.

“There are unique moments in life that pass like a dream. One must catch them on the wing, for they never return (1)”.


Being present is a definitive stance in our relation to time and space. I believe it has an enormous effect on our psychological and physical health. It also unlocks a door to spiritual growth. In a world of materialistic solutions, such a simple truth can easily get lost. Aware of the shortness of their material existence, men lead ‘harassed’ lives “instead of letting each thing live in its own eternity. They are always wanting: forward, forward,... And the work is spoilt (2)”. To be present is an easy concept to grasp, but one that often goes unheeded. The poise needs to be reinforced by vigilance and practice. The poise has an intrinsic place in the vision of Integral Health.

Psychological health

It is clear that man’s consciousness is comprised of many parts and rarely a unified whole. There is little that is authentic and true; even his nature is largely borrowed from outside. Whenever I am able to disengage from its flux, I observe a whole range of movements heading in different directions. If unheeded, it is clearly a recipe for psychological imbalance. These movements emanate from different levels of consciousness and can initiate states of inertia, passion, exhilaration, depression and even chaos. Our inner psyche is tossed between polarities and is prey to forces from outside. There is no unified means of control. The executive side of our nature, the will, is no different. It is split into ‘willings’(3) where desires, impulses and aspirations collide and compete with one another for abeyance.

All these fragments derive from and project themselves into different time-zones. But the present can be a valuable source of unity to man’s nature. That is why it is such an important key to psychological health. I find that the focus of the present moves me toward a more unified consciousness and will.

When present, one stands on solid ground. One does not get overrun by any activity. The poise persists through active and passive states. Some refer to ‘mindfulness’ but there is surely a greater agency than the mind in attuning fully to the present. When one performs a task, one drops everything else and does that alone. One is solely absorbed in what is at hand.

When engrossed in an activity, a significant shift might ensue. Even an intricate or mundane task can become vast in that single moment. From experience, it also draws the strands of my nature closer together. When I apply all my consciousness onto a particular act, I find myself moving into a wider and freer space. Becoming vast is a key to health; it is critical to our vitality. It is also a way to transformation and necessitates the removal of all restrictive boundaries. I believe that it is the state of being present which stimulates this change.

But man carries so much baggage from the past he feels unable to embrace the moment in a total and undivided way. His consciousness is scattered amidst the three zones of time. The past might produce a heightened sense of expectation and induce a desire for repeated sensation or experience. He might carry the weight of past failures and transpose it into the future. It is hardly surprising that he is then unable to access sufficient energy and summon all his resources into the present.

Staying present, amongst other things, is about being attentive and alert to what is going on inside. At first, when I started looking squarely within, it was bewildering to notice these random movements, but gradually I became aware of a silent spectator that disinterestedly watches the play from deep inside. The knowledge provided me a platform of stability, something I could fall back on if my nature got dispersed. I believe that we all have this base. When we touch it we are indeed present. After I became conscious of this truth, I yearned to nurture and hold onto the connection. I had a feeling that so much more could be tapped from this source. At first, it seems to be more aligned to the mind but eventually a transition unfolds where something new and vast starts to take charge. At this borderline, through practice, one approaches an indefinable realm of harmony and totality.

I find watchfulness to be a gateway to psychological freedom, a painstaking but failsafe means of reaching out for inner wholeness. It offers me a detailed and beautiful way of un-knotting the ties of the past. Once begun, I find that no detail can ever be ignored. Any link with the past can be deadweight to the present. These knots are caused by attachments and associations, by memories and habits. In my experience though, the claws of the past are almost countless. When I started this work, for example, I was very surprised to notice how many of my emotional reactions were induced through habit. But then I saw that most levels of the being, down to the subconscious, were at least influenced by it. Indeed, I found that the majority of my inner movements could be traced back to the past. There was little that was essentially true. It was a very uncomfortable knowledge: it was like I was programmed! Like every person on this planet, I had been shaped and conditioned from birth although there was nothing particularly unique about my upbringing. I realised that being tied to the past was to be psychologically enslaved. I now feel that the influence is gradually turning in a different direction, but it is an immense task.

I don’t believe that any of us are given life to stand still. The key to psychological health, in my eyes, is through harmony and progress. It is about embracing constant and positive change. This process requires work which, though at times uncomfortable, offers me the ultimate fulfilment. It is a lifetime’s work and a supreme joy.

I am beginning to understand how and why these patterns became so entrenched in my being. The way to this knowledge has been through the physical itself. I have found the body to be the best barometer of what is happening inside. For me, it is the only way of truly understanding the sources of my inner movements. I have found that every one of them produces a sensation on the surface. It is a matter of being attentive and there is often a precise correlation. A feeling of love and radiance produces a warm glow on the physical and any distortion inside creates a surface unease and sometimes at a precise point. I found that by working through the body I could get to the source of every internal affliction.

So I firstly observe every sensation as I disinterestedly scan the body from top to bottom. I drop everything and just focus on what is before me. In other words, I stay present. I enquire more closely into where there is any break of force or energy. There may be a single point of disruption which is upsetting the whole system. I go to wherever I feel called and probe deeper. At that point I might come across a sensation of pain or nausea. There may be a certain hue or colour. I try to get inside the nature of the vibration.

I find the poise important. I am conscious of never identifying with the sensation that presents itself. Certainly, I intend to fully experience it but, at the same time, I am conscious of keeping my station above the picture that is emerging. In any case, it is not a task I can do single-handed. I am only a witness; the Consciousness-Force or hand of the Mother will invariably do the rest.

The practice of staying alert, connected and present usually produces an immense shift. The truth behind any unease will eventually emerge. Sometimes it may come with a word; at other times there may be a spontaneous insight. If done to the end, the work sheds light on even the darkest roots. Knowledge appears and the truth resolves leaving its unique imprint of truth, harmony and peace.

To be honest, I have found the effect of these formations seldom gets effaced overnight. Many have been ingrained over many years, sometimes from generations before my birth. So an attitude of persistence is necessary. Sri Aurobindo himself once wrote that the whole process was like straightening a dog’s tail (2). One needs to be even more obstinate than the afflictions faced. Being present also implies the release of all expectations. I find the right attitude always gives the necessary strength. One often has to traverse some darkness but the light will always prevail. Armed with this truth, the work becomes a wonderful means for progress.

Physical health

The body needs our presence. Apart from anything else, it requires our material support. Providing the necessary diet, rest and exercise are naturally indispensable to its well-being. Without setting a solid material groundwork, the body will only wither with neglect.

At a different level, if one aspires for an integral health, the body also needs our deepest consciousness. As one climbs higher, this factor becomes more and more necessary. If one doesn’t truly nourish and nurture one’s material roots, there is a danger of leaving behind a damaging schism. One might ascend in spirit but leave the physical to rot away like an unwanted garment. If that happens, an important reason for our existence here seems to be lost. Sooner or later, the presence instilled inside needs to spread outwards.

The body is not a machine because its cells are impregnated with a unique presence which is at the heart of all creation. There is a sweetness and delight that is pervasive although masked by thick layers of unconsciousness and inertia. The aim is to convert this instrument into one of consciousness. It is our presence which does this.

By infusing the body with consciousness, I find its vibration increases. The way for me is to simply observe through the eyes of the soul. The body naturally opens to its patient and persistent gaze. It then becomes more plastic to the higher forces that are waiting to work on it. Its receptivity expands; the physical energy itself becomes more subtle and yet more enduring.

Many of us have issues with our body. The very difficulties faced with mine sometimes deter me from being present. Sometimes it seems irresistible to take refuge in the clouds. I now find this notion illusory because, whenever I do try to escape, the flow of energy gets interrupted and allows pain and cramp to intrude. It’s like I’m spurning an important wisdom that needs to be absorbed in this lifetime. So to be present is to be grounded. That’s why I admire those whose example continues to teach me this important lesson.

In Integral Health, everything must be worked upon in unison. This is because every part of our nature is interrelated. It is important not to overlook the truest connection of all: with our soul or spirit. Wholeness, after all, is inconceivable without accessing that part that makes us truly whole.

I notice that every inner movement creates an effect on the outside. From a consciousness perspective, the work I do is identical to that of making myself psychologically unified and present. The aim is to restore the soul to its true position, as master of the house. If this happens, I believe that anything is possible! So after aligning the consciousness, my attention expands outwards and I maintain the contact as I gently initiate a movement or posture with the body.

Being present with the body is not just spatial: it is also a matter of giving it a truer station to what we construe as time. The past, for example, might hold for us many fears and these fears will invariably be hidden and trapped in the cells of our body. Without the necessary attention and consciousness, these anxieties and traumas can get unleashed and cause havoc.

The physical nature has a profound resonance to habit. Anyone on the path of personal growth knows what a blight habits can be. Indeed, they are symptomatic of our very slavery to the past. So I feel the only solution is to take a stance entirely in the present. Even these kinds of patterns, I believe, can be uprooted through detailed work inside. Such is the influence of our psychology; the body can get enmeshed in memories, traumas and associations if they are not deliberately cleared away. And when they are gone the body can reclaim its position in the eternal moment.

The ‘Yoga of the cells’ is lovingly documented in a series of works titled Mother’s Agenda. The level of presence required for this work must have been phenomenal. This seems to me to be the epitome of ‘work in detail’:

“I constantly catch my cells being like that. Naturally I react, but for them it’s a very normal state: always straining after the next moment, never the quietude of the present moment. …As soon as the Consciousness comes (gesture of descent) and concentrates, as soon as I bring the Consciousness into the present moment, everything becomes quiet, immobile, eternal. But if I am not CONSTANTLY attentive, the condition [of restlessness] comes almost as a subcon-sciousness: it’s always there. And VERY tiring — it must be one of the most important sources of fatigue in mankind. Especially here (Mother touches her forehead and temples), it’s very tiring. Only when one can live in the eternity of the present minute does it all stop — everything becomes white, immobile, calm, everything is fine.

“But it means constant vigilance — constant. It’s infinitely more difficult than when one worked even in the vital; in the vital, it’s nothing, it’s child’s play in comparison. But here, phew!… because, you see, in the mind or the vital, it’s all movements of organization, of action, of choice, of decision — it’s very easy to decide, to rule! But that cellular tension is there EVERY SECOND: it’s the activity inherent in material existence” (4).

Spiritual health

In the higher dimensions, it is my understanding that everything exists in the eternal Now. Things do not run in a straight line as we find in material existence. Time is not fixed; it is also not even real as is commonly perceived. Past, present and future stretch out simultaneously in the higher planes in a multi-dimensional context. In them, everything presents itself as whole, not in its individual parts (5). It will obviously benefit our well-being if we can adjust our perspective in a similar direction.

Whenever I begin to identify with these regions, I take a small step out of linear, sequential time. Getting out of the framework allows my being to expand and become freer. If I allow the centre of my awareness to be drawn back to the surface, I immediately become more restricted. When I am dispersed and do a task in a distracted way, I become a victim of time as we know it. On the other hand, I become vaster when I stay present to whatever is at hand. It may be piecemeal, but a strand of infinity is clutched at that single moment.

The aim of every spiritual endeavour is to rise in consciousness and any progress is clearly a consequence of being present. Ultimately the poise helps me identify with the Eternal which is contained in all things. This alone is true and Truth is incompatible with any kind of ill-health. Spiritual health completes the equation that gives Integral Health its complete fullness.


1. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 15. 2nd. ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2004, p. 73.

2. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 10. 2nd ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2001, pp. 200-1.

3. Sri Aurobindo. Birth Centenary Library, Volume 16. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1971, p. 377.

4. The Mother. Mother’s Agenda, Volume 4. 1st ed. English translation. Paris: Institut de Recherches Évolutives; pp. 231-2.

5. Roman, S. Spiritual Growth. Tiburon CA: HJ Kramer Inc; 1989, pp. 136-44.

James Anderson is a member of SAIIIHR and Coordinating Editor of NAMAH.

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