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Inner approach to health

Body and soul

James Anderson

Editor's note:

Editor's note This article is written by a person who looks at life from the inner perspective. Normally the soul is supposed to be far removed from the body. Can it affect the body? This article explores the author's own beliefs and experiences.

“The body is the chrysalis of a soul.”*

I have a feeling that it was my soul that brought me here 1. I have a feeling too it wanted me, in this lifetime at least, to bathe in this magical atmosphere and lay my head down at Her feet. I believe that that the soul has brought me back to its true home. Because of this, at times I find it a little perplexing that the soul had found it provident to install itself inside a Western body. Such an apparent mismatch has led to some intriguing complications! But I trust that these are the kind of disparities upon which a true knowledge can be laid.

I say this, because deep down, I feel a great sense of belonging here. In spite of my Western upbringing, I indeed feel a deep kinship with the people of this country. Now, with the gift of experience, I can observe this situation with the deepest reverence and am able to vividly understand how the soul totally organises every circumstance of my life.

I know that the soul is immutable and free. But having said that, I do feel it sometimes may choose to witness the lower nature being imprisoned. Only then, of course, can the prakṛti also rise up and partake in the joys of liberation! At least, that, I believe, is what is happening in this particular life. Trapped inside patterns of the past and what some might consider difficult physical circumstances, the soul has always pointed me the way to true freedom.

Ever since I received the first touches of the soul, I have wanted to follow its example. I have tried to place my gaze upon that alone. That to me is what the Mother means when She says the soul should be one’s true guide. From my first days here, I felt it must be sought so that its intimations could become clear. That search can indeed be painstaking and very long. In a sense however, I don’t find the soul: the soul finds me. Whatever the case, I have found that I move forward gradually upon the stepping stones of experience. As soon as I embrace the soul, I become conscious of the Mother: it is as basic as that. The only thing I have to do then, once I realise this fact, is remain attentive and always follow Her call. Anyway, it is the soul which helps me progress and not vice versa:

“To have any action on your soul you must first be conscious of it. And then when you will be conscious of your soul, you will probably find out that instead of making your soul progress, it is your soul who will help you progress (1).”

The realisation of the soul is such a critical aim of my life; it is the truth upon which everything else will rest. But the soul now is telling me that, as soon I realise that Truth inside, I must then go further! Liberation is not sufficient. The soul must be lived, the soul must manifest and the soul must transform. So that is why I am here, lying prostrate at the Mother’s feet.


When I first arrived at the ashram, I became aware of something, albeit veiled, which sustained me. It gave me the strength to endure. Now contact with it brings rapture and a sense of boundless felicity. It also gives me that precious glimpse of total physical wellbeing. For this body, now, it has become the only true panacea. As the soul comes forward, the body seems to find its only refuge in its arms. This core of truth simply harmonises the being and restores equilibrium. My physical wellbeing now seems to depend upon that alone.

But it would be incorrect to state that the soul immediately assumed a leading influence from my first days here. In a way, I was stumbling in the dark. So although my search for the soul had already begun, the mind assumed a more prominent role particularly (though not exclusively) with regard to the body itself. Some methodical discipline was indeed required. I needed a greater order and regularity in my life. I also needed to be brought back to ground level in order to start afresh. The body had been surviving for some time on dwindling doses of vital force: its condition was haphazard to say the least. So the sense of reason, for some time, took the seat of control. The Mother states that this reason can then be the only safe guide when one is engulfed in haze:

“This is what we call an enlightener: one who gives light. When you are not sure of something, when you are in darkness, in a confusion, if you call to reason, it can guide you very well, make you see clearly where you were in darkness; therefore it is an enlightener. Now, ‘minister of the spirit’ means… that it can be transformed into an instrument for revealing the spiritual reality in the lower parts of the being; ‘minister of the Spirit’ – that’s what it means; a minister is an instrument of something, you see, it means the instrument of the Spirit. And it can prepare the paths for the coming of the rule of the Spirit, precisely make the being balanced and peaceful, right in its judgments, right in its way of acting, so that being in a state of luminous equilibrium, it becomes capable of receiving the Spirit.

A being who is in a whirlwind of darkness is obviously not ready to receive the Spirit. But when by the use of reason one has managed to organise his being logically and reasonably, in a balanced and wise way – reason is essentially an instrument of wisdom – well, this is an excellent preparation for going beyond, on condition that one knows that it is not a culmination, that it is only a preparation. It is like a base, you see; people who have spiritual experiences, who have a contact with the higher worlds and are not ready in the lower domains, have a lot of trouble, because they have to fight constantly against a heap of elements which are neither organised nor purified nor classified; and each pulls its own way, there are impulses and preferences and desires, and so this light which has come from above has to organise all this; whereas if the reason had worked to begin with and made the place at least a habitable one, when the Spirit came it would have been more easily installed (2).”

The mind had fixed the notion that systematic exercise, amongst other things, was the key to the body’s cure. I don’t know whether the body would have fallen prey to inertia and atrophy without it, but it did give a sense of order and such a regime provided a more constructive channel for whatever energy I found at my disposal. Most pertinently of all, it also taught the body to obey.

Personal will

The personal will became paramount too; there was a great deal of effort consumed in those days! Perhaps it was all necessary, I don’t know, but at least it did provide a sound base and ensured that I would not give up the body as a lost cause. Gradually though, I began to admit that its stamp was beginning to become more of a hindrance to the body’s progress. Even now, I find the mind reluctant to relinquish its role as teacher. I feel this ‘will’ has to be recognised for what it really is. This calls to my attention Sri Aurobindo’s words:

“When we have gone beyond willings, then we shall have Power. Effort was the helper; effort is the bar. (3)”

In any case, as the Mother says, this personal will amounts to little more than a hotchpotch of inherited constructions and influences. I feel that the ordinary mind too only fixes limits. I have always held that transformation is the business of turning possibilities into realities. I don’t think I’ll get very far as long as I remain caged in by the surface mind.

So I began to wonder whether, by stripping these influences bare, I might reach a much deeper well. This has become the essence of my inner work. To be honest, I am now just a passive bystander in this process. I can only observe the Mother do this for me. But as I observed deeper with the work inside, I had the feeling that something truer was beginning to emerge. A more resonant Will started to manifest. The spontaneous command of the soul started to appear at odd moments, moments when my being was more in tune with the rhythm of the truth inside.

I now feel that it is only the soul, or the Mother, that now can truly change and transform the body. I no longer look for outside agencies or ‘miracle cures’. Material remedies, it seems to me, have become almost superfluous. The ‘miracle’, if that’s how it is to be put, has to happen first inside. But then I also find from Sri Aurobindo that this process is not really a miracle after all. It is more of an inevitable transition, a consequence of the soul spreading outwards. So now, as my soul gradually moves forward, the body becomes more and more dependent on it; the affinity draws closer.

Soul’s affinity

It is not altogether surprising that this should be so, as the soul is involved in every part of matter, down to the smallest cell. The Mother describes the nature of this relationship very clearly:

“In fact the physical being has a simplicity and even a goodwill (which is not always very enlightened, far from it), but still a simplicity and goodwill which puts it in a closer relation with the psychic than the passions of the vital and the pretensions of the mind (4).”

I often picture the body as a sleepy carthorse – dull and slow-footed, but steady and faithful to its calling! At least, that is my impression. I can’t expect it to become a racehorse overnight: that will surely take years of work and preparation. Due to its tardiness, the body is a much maligned instrument but it has an admirable capacity for endurance. It can brave the most terrible hardships. The word ‘stoic’ also comes to mind.

Most important of all, it is in the body that the soul will manifest. That is one of the functions of the psychic being: to educate, master and finally transform the physical. In that role, the soul is indeed such a patient teacher! I sometimes visualise the immortal Saraswati’s painstaking attention to detail and compare that with the hand of the soul. Nothing flusters Her. I can also witness this trait in the most experienced craftsmen. They treat their materials with such skill and care. Matter has to be given its due consideration and respect and the soul possesses this capacity in abundance.

The work inside

The purpose of this work, I feel, is very simple. It is to unbind what Sri Aurobindo terms the ‘teguments of the soul’ so that the Truth (for that, I believe, is what the soul represents in us) can come forward and govern the entire nature. Something new is implanted and a delight intervenes. When the entire nature is illuminated in that Light, harmony is restored. True balance is attained and wholeness returns. The body will naturally share that lustre too. Because of this, I now find, in my case, that psychological health is now totally synonymous with physical health.

I also find that those elements which mask the soul become more visible and evident with practice. They also weigh heavier on the being. They can now retard the body to terrible degrees. So often I find myself wrapped up in knots without being conscious of what is going on! In such circumstances, I have to simply cope and trudge on. So, for me, the work entails stopping and taking a good clear look at myself, nothing more than that. I simply observe what is before me. But there can be a glorious alchemy too, because if the work is done with consciousness, the hand of the Mother invariably intervenes and can turn everything to gold.

So my practice presently seems to involve two processes: observation and execution. The remarkable thing is, however, they both seem to happen at the same time. This, I feel, is the ‘Consciousness-Force’ that Sri Aurobindo often speaks about: the two go hand in hand.

By turning the consciousness onto the body, by scanning each energy centre from top to bottom, the Force spontaneously intervenes and I witness these knots getting disentangled. I do this by simply observing what is not in place. An indefatigable patience is required, though, as the process may take some time.

If I can look at whatever distortion is surfacing on the body from the poise of the soul, the Force will inevitably part these strands. They tangibly separate and become clear. With a quiet mind, the consciousness can even go right down to the root of the trouble. I can then see the distortion for what is. Everything gets traced back to its source. The root cause of the affliction becomes evident. A knowledge spontaneously dawns. Just being present with the distortion usually suffices. A single affirmation or word of recognition can also often trigger the intervention of the Truth.

With that knowledge, the inner house is put back in order. The pressure of the consciousness draws every stray element up to the surface. It then dissolves into the Mother’s Light. Everything then finds its true place, aligning itself around the soul and starts radiating outwards. A beautiful feeling of delight is implanted into the body and entire being. The body almost visibly expands under the touch of this caress.

My Teachers

The soul also never forgets its Teachers and that is why I always do this work with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother by my side. The atmosphere becomes pregnant with a beautiful solicitude and love. My body is there, physically in Their Presence and They are showering it with all the Light and Force that it is capable of absorbing.

I find that if I do not do this work repeatedly, the nature can become suffocated and, as a consequence, the body is liable to fall out of alignment. The lustre of the Truth seems to fade without this steady consciousness being consistently infused into the outer being.

I have already stated that patience is essential. Sometimes I find that the answers do not come very readily, particularly when the lower nature is enshrouded in such dense fog. The mind may be restless or agitated too. No words seem to adequately convey what I am confronting. I am unable to identify the root cause and all I know is that I’m out of equilibrium and the picture is not so pleasant. I then have to look with whatever consciousness I can muster and call for the Mother’s help. In such circumstances, I can only humbly entreat the Mother to put the situation right and hand it over to Her. There is no point in trying to pretend otherwise. Indeed once I admit this, the knowledge very often comes. In this context, I remember the Mother’s words:

“To come closer to the truth you must often accept not to understand (5).”

The digging seems to be getting deeper too. The awareness often unearths very incoherent patterns from the past. Their very nature is hazy and unclear. Sri Aurobindo states that these kinds of subconscious patterns can truly cramp the physical being. For me, like everyone else, they have such a debilitating influence on the nature. If they rise up high enough, I sometimes feel that they are capable of engulfing the being into complete darkness. With these kinds of elements, I try to get inside the essence and feeling that is being evoked by the distortion. I don’t identify myself with it and just try to look at it with a disinterested eye. I observe and wait. The picture gradually softens and the darkness dissolves. On other occasions, where there is distortion, I might feel compelled to just hold it with love or offer it at Her feet. If it is hard and resistant, I may feel inclined to melt it under the warmth of the Mother’s Love.


There comes a time to withdraw the intensity of this gaze. I cannot presently maintain such levels of consciousness at all times. Maybe one day that state may arrive, I don’t know, but one observation, I feel, is in the meantime worth making.

When I conclude this work, I am usually mindful of allowing the force field to settle and spread outwards. I try to remember that the soul is present in that gaze too. I have occasionally experienced a break in this connection when I have allowed myself to withdraw too abruptly. Something snaps and all the good work gets completely wasted. The threads can be very delicate and a steady vigilance is always required to keep them intact.

I feel that the soul must spread outside too. An unbroken connection is my aim and, ideally, this should be sustained in everyday life. It is not an easy process but I don’t believe it impossible. This, I feel, is the challenge presented by Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga: the soul must manifest in every aspect of life itself. There are simply no half measures.

So I withdraw by slowly opening the eyes and by allowing the vastness and expansion to spread around me. I usually get up slowly from my sitting position and try to stand in true alignment. I do this whilst still maintaining my connection with this thread. I then gradually initiate some gentle movement in a relaxed way. Only when the connection is well-established do I usually permit more dynamic or vigorous action. If the soul is present, if I am allowing the Mother to guide my body, there can sometimes be a radical shift and definitive progress can be made.

The Mother repeatedly tells us that, with bodywork particularly, an unflagging perseverance is essential if the necessary outcome is to be achieved. I don’t believe one should even attempt to count how many times this work must be repeated! This Light must be performed so regularly that the light and rapture of the soul can percolate down into every hidden pore of the being. No detail can be missed. I have to look at time as my friend and try to live in the eternal day. With persistent repetition, experience has proven the efficacy of this work. As with any work on the physical, I should try to move a little forward at each time. But with the soul as my guardian, the results can only endure and stick. As long as I am progressing towards a state of total harmony, I trust that there is no prospect of relapse.

Working outside

By working with consciousness on the outside too, the Mother’s Force can penetrate the body. It also supplements and reinforces the inner work. Sri Aurobindo’s dictum of ‘the two ends can meet’ comes to mind. This, I believe, is really how connections are made. The reality though is that I am trying to work on the outside but with an inner eye. The same criteria are followed. If the soul starts to take command, that systematic exercise I spoke about earlier can then become a joy and not a tiresome routine. To reach that stage, I feel, initial effort is often required, but once the early barriers are surmounted, the soul can then capture the body’s imagination. The body has an abundance of goodwill and once caught by the soul, I trust that its innate aspiration will truly awaken. The soul is, after all, only awakening what is already there. A unique kind of light then emanates from the physical being. The body can then truly become the ‘face’ of the soul: an image of grace and beauty.

Everything matters

I also feel that every contact I have with the world has the power to influence and modify my relationship with the soul. I believe that this work is not just a matter of living inside. I feel I should also try to manifest, in every detail, the soul on the outside too. It is obvious that this cannot be contrived. I believe that every thought, every deed and every action has the power to modify this relationship. The slightest recoil affects it too. The soul can be lived. If I accept this truth, then every imprint I leave on the world influences the body’s passage towards wholeness and health. When the soul and body become more intertwined, I find that such details seem to matter so much more. Nothing is trivial. In this Yoga, one often has to face wave upon wave of the fiercest adversity and attack. But I have been told that it can often be the merest trifle that can lead a man to his fall! So I feel that no stone can be left unturned in this journey with the soul.

Nowhere, I believe, is this more evident than through speech. Certain individuals certainly carry the Mother’s Presence with them. There is a kind of emanation, if you like. The atmosphere can become very charged in their company. No words are really necessary but if spoken they come from that seat of truth. Their very aura seems to encourage the soul forward. On the other hand with others, this is obviously not the case. If a falsehood is uttered too, the air becomes contaminated and ugly. As a consequence, the soul can get smothered in darkness.

All these things, I feel, have an effect on the body. At least, they have an effect on mine. What is experienced by the soul automatically influences the body. The soul’s alignment determines the body’s vigour and state. So, to keep this psychic poise when a tempest is blowing all around is a challenge I am increasingly being asked to confront. It is as if the Mother is putting me on the spot and saying, “Now, try this!” When there is an atmosphere of anger around me, for example, something in me automatically recoils. The body even freezes. These are the sort of tests that confront me virtually every day of my life. I don’t believe I’m an exception. There’s no point trying to “bribe the examiner” too (as Sri Aurobindo writes in one of His Aphorisms**), you have to pass the examination to finally emerge in a way that is totally whole and true.

Mother’s bubble

Thankfully, experience tells me that there can be a way. Once I had experienced some degree of contact with the soul, I started to entreat the Mother to envelop me in Her Presence. Once I started asking Her for this, my life became so much simpler! If I ask humbly and sincerely enough, She will always protect me inside Her bubble of Love. From my point of view, living in the soul really amounts to the same thing. I believe that one can remain poised in any circumstance as long as this state is maintained. It is the ultimate protection against all attacks. To tell you the truth, once I am in this idyllic state, I don’t even notice if anything ‘hostile’ is waiting in the wings. I am just so immersed in Her Grace.

However if the cord gets twisted or broken, a state of disequilibrium ensues with all its unpleasant consequences. This cramps the body terribly and I fall outside Her protection, like a child that has wrestled its way out of its mother’s arms. Something adverse will surely find a weak spot inside. It will seek out some stain or knot hidden deep within my nature, piercing a hole through this once impregnable armour.

So with the Mother by my side, I trust the way is sure. When I am inside Her bubble, She concretely walks my steps. Something new can then take over: the body is almost carried in Her arms. My natural rhythm returns and I can walk straight on my truth. A fresh foundation for true change is being laid.

Once it had woken up from its drowse, the aspiration of this body has become more and more clear. It now thirsts for the touch of the soul. It wants the soul to express itself in every action and movement. My life can then become a dance. It is no longer about ‘wonder cures’: it awaits the day when it can live in constant delight. Just to be a small part of Her work evokes such gratitude and joy; it is truly the supreme adventure.

Call of the impossible?

This is a difficult path – we can’t really pretend otherwise. By heeding the call of the soul am I following the call of the impossible? I can’t believe that. Indeed if it is impossible, it’s solely because my level of consciousness has not arrived there yet. As the Mother says:

“There is nothing impossible in the world except what is outside our consciousness (6).”

The complete transformation of the body is as yet unrealised; it is still but a possibility. But deep down, something tells me that today’s possibilities are surely the certainties of tomorrow. That is the whisper of my soul. So I believe that the moment we sincerely fix our intention upon something with the fullest consciousness, not only does it become possible but it transforms into a truth. The only variable is time.

So by being conscious of my soul, I am holding on tight to every possibility: it is an entirely new realm. The power of the Truth is limitless; I just have to learn to tap it. I refuse to accept that truly changing this body is an impossibility! How can it be when the Mother is working by my side, day and night, to bring it back to wholeness? So the body awaits the golden dawn when it will unite with the soul and become one. This oneness is surely the truth of my being: it is the immortal aspiration of my soul.

“Never forget the goal. Never stop aspiring. Never halt in your progress, and you are sure to succeed (7).”


(1) The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 14. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1980, p. 352.
(2) The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 7. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1979, p.173.
(3) Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 16. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1971, p.377.
(4) The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 6. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1979, p.6.
(5) The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother. Volume 14. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1980, p.212.
(6) The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 8. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p.384.
(7) The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 15. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1980, p.86.

1. To the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

*Sri Aurobindo. Savitri. Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust,1970, p.623.

** “ He who would win high spiritual degrees , must pass endless tests and examinations. But most are anxious only to bribe the examiner.” (Sri Aurobindo. Thoughts and Aphorisms, p.47).

James Anderson is a member of SAIIIHR and coordinating editor of NAMAH.

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The samadhī


The Mother's feet




"Effort is the bar"


A carthorse


Wholeness returns


My Teachers


Dense fog


The soul spreads


Eternal day






Difficult path