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Inner approach to health

Foothills to equality — II

James Anderson

Editor’s Note

Once again, the author traces his journey of yoga as it winds through the foothills of equality. It is an interesting account of the path he has taken in keeping with his nature. For each the path is revealed differently, and the signpost of equality has to be crossed by whatever road we arrive.

The decision to find this light, to locate the soul, is surely the first step we take while walking on this path. Everything else is set aside for this task. We have to find our true being and build an individual around it. The Mother has likened the usual human condition to being locked away in a cage. This cage has become our identity and duality is clearly a major part of it. The old person has to be shed in order that something new can arrive. If we want to grow, our ‘personality’ has to be shed. This person amounts to no more than a mass of formations and conditionings which like leeches wrap around our truth. They cover so much that nothing authentic is often left to be seen.

When we embark on a path of growth, two processes seem to take place. First, we do our utmost to strip away these bindings and second, we aim to expand. As we grow and expand, our true individuality begins to appear. But eventually, we start to outgrow our box and it can become very uncomfortable. From time to time, we may be able to enlarge it a little but eventually the dilemma has to be faced. We find ourselves caught between two states of old and new but there is no turning back. When this stage arises, the only requirement is to do everything we can to find more expansive air:

“This sense of one’s own person becomes a kind of cage, a prison which shuts you in, prevents you from being true, from knowing truly, acting truly, understanding truly, it is as though someone had put you in a very hard shell and you were compelled to stay there.

“This is the first sensation you have. Afterwards you begin to tap against the shell in order to break it. Sometimes it resists very long. But still, when you begin to feel this, that what you believed to be yourself, the person doing things and for whom they are done, the person who exists and makes you what you are, yes, when you pass from this to the consciousness that this is a prison preventing you from being truly yourself, then you have made great progress, and there is hope. You feel yourself stifled, crushed, absolutely shut up in a prison without air, without light, without an opening, and then you begin pushing from inside, pushing, pushing, pushing so that it may break.

“And the day it breaks, the day it opens, suddenly, you enter the psychic consciousness. And then you understand. And then, truly, if you have a sense of humour, you laugh; you realise your stupidity (1).”

The Mother describes this happening as definitive and final. All of a sudden, we emerge into the light of the psychic consciousness. This must be a decisive victory but, before then, there seem to be many foothills along the way. As the Mother says, just to feel one is trapped is a sign of progress: it is a consequence of growing.

The result takes us far beyond equality’s foothills and even up to its frontiers. But every time we invoke the psychic being to come forward we expand. Each time we do that we reach higher ground. There is always a joy in expanding but the trouble is it invariably seems to fall back. The dog’s tail has to be straightened, so it is a process which demands much persistence. Our nature needs to get used to this shining sun. Not all of our nature can initially stand up to it. Inevitably though, as long as we live in duality, a shadow is cast until that time when our whole being can stand erect in the full light of day and break out of its box.


Dispersion begins from inside. If one’s nature is tangled up inside it naturally attracts complications from outside. At the beginning of our journey, we find that things aren’t organised in a proper way. There is no authentic control; although the mind might do its best, it ultimately lacks the capacity to harmonise and attend to every detail. If one is aiming at some degree of equality, I believe that we have to start by building a more coherent organisation inside. Every organisation implies a hierarchy and the psychic being is definitely the best figure to have at the helm. But it is not the nature of the soul to step forward uninvited. It is quite content to stand quietly in the background until the nature itself starts to yield to its influence. But the condition of this change is an unquestioning surrender and it is one that must come from the depths of our being.

A sure sign of distortion is how complicated we allow our natures to become. It is also a situation which seems to emerge with age, with the advent of the mind. Most of us tend to lose the transparency of our childhood. Our actual lives inevitably reflect this confusion and on the outside everything can become a mess too. Sooner or later, if the situation is left unaddressed, it is also bound to manifest on the body.

Man is clearly a complex being; he is comprised of many diverse parts. However, he doesn’t have to burden himself with complications. Complications are a twist given to man by nature. Maybe I’m mistaken but I have never observed it in such degree in other creatures. Innately man (like everything else) is perfect but his sense of self-importance seems to imprint him with this curious imbalance. To an extent, it might be looked upon as a mental distortion but man still finds himself tangled up by the different strands of his being.

When I first came here, I found myself enmeshed in a web of complications. So my only solution was to try to simplify the being. A unified nature is, in essence, simple. That is why I maintain that only a simple nature is capable of true equality. Happily there is a part of us which embodies this and that is the soul. So this quality can only arrive after aligning oneself around what is simple and true.

My first observation was seeing the nature gradually unwind. It took a while but it was largely a spontaneous process. It is ongoing too: I am certain that the Mother is still unravelling so many knots herself! It has been a matter of steering me back towards my truth because the truth doesn’t complicate. In my eyes it has been a profoundly important transition and, to be honest, it was not really something that I could even attempt to initiate myself — it just slowly happened. I am no ‘finished article’ so I’m sure the unfolding is still going on. It can take a lifetime to dissolve patterns which go back to distant generations. I don’t believe my experience particularly unique but I have a feeling the Mother’s attention is first called to a suitable lever in our nature. We would all be lost without this hand of Grace.

As we grow, it surely helps to be endowed with a degree of humility. I have noticed that humility usually comes with simplicity. It helps our eyes look upon life with the candid trust of a child. Without self-importance, one can look upon the stage more as a level playing field. Unless one is a little like this, some serious hammering has to take place. In truth, it is only this self-importance that makes us bruise so easily. At least, that is my experience. Ultimately, it is the ego that shadows over the foothills to equality.


The first mountain we have to climb is through endurance. Sri Aurobindo writes:

“Ordinarily we have to begin with a period of endurance; for we must learn to confront, to suffer and to assimilate all contacts. Each fibre in us must be taught not to wince away from that which pains and repels and not to run eagerly towards that which pleases and attracts, but rather to accept, to face, to bear and to conquer…. This is the stoical period of the preparation of equality, its most elementary and yet its heroic age. But this steadfast endurance of the flesh and heart and mind must be reinforced by a sustained sense of spiritual submission to a divine Will: this living clay must yield not only with a stern or courageous acquiescence, but with knowledge or with resignation, even in suffering, to the touch of the divine Hand that is preparing its perfection (2).”

Before this, we usually have to move forward through our blood, sweat and tears. We have to grit our teeth, try to keep open and wait for something new to take over. That is why a simple faith and surrender is such an asset; they save a lot of wasted labour. Otherwise, we have to try to make the best use of the tools that nature has given us. The outer mind copes as best it can but we can endure more easily when the strength of the spirit starts to come forward. So true endurance surely appears when the soul at last finds some resilience and strength:

“The gain of this period of resignation and endurance is the soul’s strength equal to all shocks and contacts (3).”

The will is central to endurance; for that, the process of individualisation must be complete. Ordinarily, we find ourselves divided in our will, pulled around in very different directions. The only solution is to learn to unify our being. The Mother says:

“To learn how to will is a very important thing. And to will truly, you must unify your being. In fact, to be a being, one must first unify oneself. If one is pulled by absolutely opposite tendencies, if one spends three-fourths of one’s life without being conscious of oneself and the reasons why one does things, is one a real being? One does not exist. One is a mass of influences, movements, forces, actions, reactions, but one is not a being. One begins to become a being when one begins to have a will. And one can’t have a will unless one is unified (4).”

Sri Aurobindo calls this period the most heroic stage of growth because it relies upon personal effort and, as long as the lower nature is active, our effort is necessary. It may even take a considerable effort to accept that something new is taking charge.

I look around me and I see quite a few unsung heroes, people whose backbone amounts to no more than a simple faith in the divine Grace. After the devastation caused by the recent cyclone* here, they just seemed to get on with their lives and good-naturedly went about their work to clear up the mess. That, for me, was true heroism.

Two sides

Interestingly, the Mother distinguishes between equality of the soul and equality of the body. Indeed, both are needed:

“The equality of the soul is a psychological thing. It is the power to bear all happenings, good or bad, without being sad, discouraged, desperate, upset. Whatever happens, you remain serene, peaceful.

“The other is the equality in the body. It is not psychological, it is something material; to have a physical poise, to receive forces without being troubled.

“The two are equally necessary if one wants to progress on this path. And other things still. For example, a mental poise; such that all possible ideas, even the most contradictory, may come from all sides without one’s being troubled. One can see them and put each in its place. That is mental poise (5).”

Establishing equanimity in the body gives us the necessary platform to expand and grow. The material base also needs to be sufficiently sturdy for the whole process of change to become total and complete:

“It is good health, a solid body, well poised; when one does not have the nerves of a little girl that are shaken by the least thing; when one sleeps well, eats well…. When one is quite calm, well balanced, very quiet, one has a solid basis and can receive a large number of forces (6).” It is very evident to me that this equanimity can only be based on a solid foundation inside. I guess that the situation becomes a little more problematic when there is an inherent weakness within the body itself. Because of this, it has become ever more imperative for me to align it around the only thing that can cement it into a truer shape, and that is the soul.

The physical must also be taught to endure before it can conquer. The body needs to be robust in order to surmount the shocks it daily faces. In addition to becoming dynamic and supple, it also needs a quality of immobility. With the impacts that beset it on this path of growth, it sometimes needs to be like a rock. Building a hardy physique through exercise is necessary, but I believe that the ultimate prerequisite must be keeping it open to the divine Force. It is only this Force which can instil a peace that truly sustains. To let the Force saturate every pore of the body is now this body’s only panacea: it has come down to that.

Even the nerves themselves have to become equal to every impact. I find that the state of equality, at least in my brief glimpses, can only be founded on this peace. And peace doesn’t have to be static. As the Mother has observed, there can be a dynamic aspect to it too. I believe that when the Peace is allowed to totally reside in the body, physical equanimity is established. The Mother tells us that even our cells can radiate this peace1.

I believe that is a continuous process and that calls for persistence with heaps of patience. The body must grow so accustomed to the Force it can even become indivisible from it. I am sure I am no exception but, as time passes, my life work becomes ever clearer: simply to open the body to the influence of the spirit. Then at last, in one eternal second, the body might find itself moved by it.

The threshold

Rising higher, further preparatory periods of growth are identified by Sri Aurobindo in The Synthesis of Yoga. It is very evident that much work has already been done to get there. Clearly the lessons learned in the lower climbs are very necessary for the more exacting requirements that lie ahead.

Surely, narrow demarcations cannot be superimposed onto anything as complex and far-reaching as the Integral Yoga. We must also allow variation for the complexities of our nature. Sri Aurobindo’s intentions were clearly to lay out the broad lines of progress in this work. I’ve often heard it termed the ‘roadmap’ of His long and sometimes tortuous path. But it is obrious that the work we put in at the early stages instils in us capacities that will later make our equality concrete and true.

Sri Aurobindo tells us that three great summits need to be conquered before one can enter the brilliance of a perfect equality. These are endurance, indifference and submission: will, knowledge and love. We also find ourselves drawn into a two-fold path over this transition. Two poises are necessary. We start by opening to a ‘passive equality’, where we gradually unravel from the bonds of our lower nature. This process might begin very early and is, initially at least, largely a matter of self-protection. I found myself examining the ignorance almost from day one of life here and I don’t believe I’m an exception. There is a Force which simply impels it. We need to hold our heads high amid the madness of the everyday world. Not least of all, we need to ‘protect’ ourselves from disturbance inside.

Later, Sri Aurobindo writes, our equality becomes more ‘active’ and ‘positive’. We expand and widen ourselves. Our equality starts to project outwards from the narrower frame of our individuality. As the individual finds wholeness, he starts to expand into the universe. As he starts to become one, he begins to realise the oneness that lies in all things. His will becomes unified and aligned to the Divine. His knowledge expands beyond every boundary and reaches up to the frontiers of the Supermind. His love becomes vast and transforms into waves of universal Ānanda. He can even see the key to evolution. The enigma of existence becomes bare. Active equality surely beholds the soul in everything:

“One will liberate us from the action of the lower nature and admit us to the calm peace of the divine being; the other will liberate us into the full being and power of the higher nature and admit us to the equal poise and universality of a divine and infinite knowledge, will of action, Ananda (8).”

The state of equality, for me, represents a pinnacle of supreme balance and it only manifests harmony in all it perceives. It is clearly the highest rung of Integral Health. In truth, it is what we all are in essence. Each of us is whole and intact and indivisible from the essential oneness. In that oneness, the innate delight steps forward to saturate our being. I feel love does this and it arrives at the feet of the Divine Mother.


1. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 6. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1979, pp. 332-3.

2. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 20. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 214.

3. Ibid.

4. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 6. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 12970, p. 348.

5. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 5. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1976, pp. 23-4.

6. Ibid. p. 23.

7. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 14. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1980, p. 384.

8. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 21. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p. 681.

*On 30th December, 2011, Cyclone Thane struck the Tamil Nadu coastline between Chennai and Karaikal.

1The Mother’s words: “Peace in the cells: the indispensable condition for the body’s progress (7).”

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

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