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Notes on counselling

Connotations of freedom in counselling

Dr. Soumitra Basu


Freedom has different connotations in counselling. The urge for freedom may not indicate outrageousness but may be due to the Time-Spirit pressing for a transition from the individualistic to the subjective age of the social cycle en route to a spiritual age. Counsellors have to be sensitive and facilitate a freedom in the matrix of harmony and in consonance with the evolution of consciousness.

One interesting point is that one of the most commonly used terms that crops up during counselling sessions is also that which is abstract and elusive and is seldom realised. It is that which we like to cherish for ourselves though not necessarily for others and we would even not mind achieving it at the cost of depriving others. That term is freedom.

Long back Yudhistira in the Mahābhārata had narrated that the greatest paradox in life is that though everyone is destined to die, we all behave as if we are immortal. Extending the same line of thinking, Sri Aurobindo had pointed out that though the human being cherishes freedom, he also likes to be chained, “The whole world yearns after freedom, yet each creature is in love with his chains; this is the first paradox and inextricable knot of our nature (1).”

Thus the ordinary human being is chained to his own subconscious. He is chained to the world of collective suggestions. He is chained to his social stratosphere. He his chained to his cultural roots. He is chained to his environmental integers. And he is chained to the attributes of his own personality — his senses, his desires, his ego and to the fixation of his thoughts.

What is more is that he is also chained to his suffering and illness. In fact, he may even surreptitiously and unconsciously enjoy his illness and eulogise his suffering for some secondary gain.

The problem is that not only the client but the counsellor also is usually elusive about the connotations of freedom. The other day I happened to meet an 18-year-old girl who had the habit of writing the capital ‘I’ as a vertical line (as in typescript) without the horizontal bars above and at bottom. Her counsellor took it as an outrageous act of uncontrolled freedom that would land the poor girl in trouble with her authority figures. Perhaps she would be non-compliant in counselling sessions too if she cherished her freedom too much! She was instructed to put the horizontal bars in place, ostensibly to conform to societal expectations.

I immediately remembered that famous proclamation in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, “For to arise in freedom I was born (2).” And did not the seer in the very beginning of his magnum opus, The Life Divine, explain that freedom was one of those basic principles that could not be subdued but ergo, would rise with greater vigour each time it was suppressed?

As the girl was a bit perplexed, I told her to switch to the cursive mode in writing capital I as that did not need the horizontal bars, moreover it would suit her as she had an artistic flair.

But this seemingly small incident points to a very deep existential issue — the phenomenon of individuation and its relation to the social matrix.The individual of course has to discover his or her uniqueness, which may not or may clash with the social milieu.

Society itself moves through many cycles. There is a conventional stage where social ideals that conform to ethical codes have to be developed. During this phase, certain individual aspirations have to be voluntarily subdued to facilitate the emergence of social norms or else we would have an anarchic situation.

This is why, even though with a heavy heart, Sri Rāma had to take a decision for the ordeal of fire which Sītā had to undertake to prove her chastity. This was supposed to be a role model of moral values. We must remember that Sri Raama, as an Avatar or emanation of the Divine, was entrusted with the crucial work of leading the human consciousness from the infra-ethical to the ethical phase, for the establishment of moral values that the infra-ethical Rākṣasa and Vānara lacked. Sri Aurobindo describes that it was Rāma’s mission, “to fix for the future the possibility of an order proper to the sattwic civilised human being who governs his life by the reason, the finer emotions, morality or at least moral ideals, such as truth, obedience, cooperation and harmony, the sense of humour, the sense of domestic and public order, to establish this in a world still occupied by anarchic forces, the Animal Mind and the powers of the vital Ego making its own satisfaction the rule of life, in other words, the Vanara and the Rakshasa (3)”.

When society is stabilised, humanity gets ready for the phase of individualism where the individual has to discover one’s uniqueness irrespective of societal and ethical norms. And this one can only do by pursuing the freest way in which one’s consciousness can develop, breaking all barriers. An individual poised in the individualistic phase will find it difficult to assess Sri Rāma who belonged to an age where individualism had to be voluntarily, albeit, painfully subdued for establishing ethical codes of conduct. Sri Aurobindo describes Rāma’s predicament:

“In that he was at one with the moral sense of all the antique races, though at variance with the later romantic individualistic sentimental morality of the modern man who can afford to have that less stern morality just because the ancients sacrificed the individual in order to make the world safe for the spirit of social order (4).”

The individualistic phase is based on reason and intellect which initially frees one from the conventional stereotypes. But at a certain point in the growth of consciousness one has to surpass even reason and intellect which cannot solve all existential problems of life. Sri Aurobindo has shown that the individualistic age has to be surpassed by a subjective age en route to a true spiritual age. At an optimal point of individualism, one has to turn from intellectual reason to the truth of the soul where the wayfarer, “can only know himself entirely by becoming actively self-conscious and not merely self-critical, by more and more living in his soul and acting out of it rather than floundering on surfaces, by putting himself into conscious harmony with that which lies behind his superficial mentality and psychology and by enlightening his reason and making dynamic his action through this deeper light and power to which he thus opens (5).”

This also means that a time comes when the ethical codes have to be surpassed too. Sri Aurobindo describes the transvaluation of ethics, whereby the evolutionary trajectory proceeds towards a “supra-ethical (6)”stage. However to be in consonance with the supra-ethical phase, one has also to cultivate supra-rational faculties. Then only one can be creatively free. In other words, one can then enjoy the freedom to take creative decisions and pursue creative acts.

Is one free to take a decision of passive euthanasia for a comatose parent? That is an ethical dilemma one cannot so easily resolve unless one can take an intuitive (supra-rational) poise in consonance with a supra-ethical standard. An intuitive inspiration from a very high plane of consciousness is a truly creative movement.

One could argue that such spontaneity of freedom, that surpasses all societal and ethical codes, could lead to another chaos and anarchy, different from the anarchy of the infra-ethical phase.

But Sri Aurobindo describes that, at a higher level of consciousness, we can have a true spontaneity of freedom without any dis-harmony or chaos;

“It is even possible that our original state was an instinctive animal spontaneity of free and fluid association and that our final ideal state will be an enlightened, intuitive spontaneity of free and fluid association (7).” It would be a divine anarchy where individual freedom would not belittle societal growth but instead would facilitate a new type of higher living.

Such a philosophic Anarchism that, is guided by the inner law of right and spontaneous love, thinking and action, one that is not curbed by societal and ethical codes or governmental laws and strictures, has been the dream of humanity since man began to dream and aspire.

In counselling too we cannot afford to downplay or inhibit the urge to freedom that may not necessarily be a sign of outrageousness, but a product of the Time-Spirit or Zeitgeist that is pressing the human consciousness to rise from the individualistic to the subjective age en route to a true spiritual era. Only we have to be cautious that the freedom we cherish must manifest in a matrix of harmony and must be in consonance with our endeavour to surpass ourselves along the trajectory of consciousness.This would need the help of a new psychology arising from the annals of Integral Yoga, a truly consciousness-based psychology that helps to progress through the supra-cognitive planes of consciousness.


1. Sri Aurobindo. The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 13. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1998, p. 204.

2. Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Volume 34; 1997, p. 652

3. Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Volume 28; 2012, p. 491.

4. Ibid., p. 492.

5. Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Volume 25; 1997, p. 29.

6. CWSA, Volume 21; 2005, p. 104.

7. Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Volume 25, p. 292.

Dr. Christian A. Latino obtained his PhD in Counseling Psychology at the University of Iowa and currently practises as a therapist at the University of California, Davis in the USA. 

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